Friday, January 27, 2017

Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson

As a writer, Bill Bryson consistently presents himself as the most jovial of all jovial Americans. (As far as I am aware, he may very well be. All I'm saying is I don't know him personally.) 
He married and settled in England in the early 1970s, and returned to the US with his family a good two decades later. Before leaving, however, he embarked on a final tour of Great Britain and then wrote about it in this book.
I suppose all of the above contribute to the high levels of nostalgia and general reluctance to change which characterize Bryson's work in general and this work in particular.

Yet, for all his backward-striving, which sort of bugs me, he is also thoroughly entertaining! An interesting blend of the typically American openness, the typically British tongue-in-cheek sarcasm and a knowledgeability that does his writing no harm!

A few interesting thoughts I will bear with me :

- How "unfortunate" it is that such an important social experiment as communism was "left to the Russians when the British would have managed it so much better", what with their already acquired taste for deprivation, pulling together, infinite queuing and acceptance of faceless bureaucracies (or even, "as Mrs Thatcher proved", dictatorship). 
Interesting! I personally wonder if the Swedes wouldn't have managed it even better.

- How easy to please the British are, to the point of actually liking their pleasures small ("that is why so many of their treats - teacakes, scones, crumpets, rock cakes... - are so cautiously flavoured") while to Americans, "the whole purpose of living... is to cram as much sensual pleasure as possible into one's mouth more or less continuously." 

- The delicious, British sense of humour! "Even after twenty years here, I remain constantly amazed and impressed by the quality of humour you find in the most unlikely places - places where it would simply not exist in other countries." Couldn't agree more!

- It finally turns out, Bryson shares my dismay of chopsticks. "Am I alone in thinking it odd that a people ingenious enough to invent paper, gunpowder, kites and any number of useful objects... haven't yet worked out that a pair of knitting needles is no way to capture food?" No, Bryson, you are not alone.

Other stuff I have read by Bryson : 
His book about hiking in the US
His book about his childhood
His book about Shakespeare
His book about driving across the American continent
His book about 1927

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