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Notes from a Small Island [Paperback]

Bill Bryson
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (207 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 12 1998
After nearly two decades in Britain, Bill Bryson made the decision to move back to the States for a while, to let his kids experience life in another country, to give his wife the chance to shop until 10 p.m. seven nights a week, and, most of all, because he had read that 3.7 million Americans believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another, and it was thus clear to him that his people needed him.

But before leaving his much-loved home in North Yorkshire, Bryson insisted on taking one last trip around Britain, a sort of valedictory tour of the green and kindly island that had for so long been his home. His aim was to take stock of the nation’s public face and private parts (as it were), and to analyze what precisely it was he loved about a country that had produced Marmite, a military hero whose dying wish was to be kissed by a fellow named Hardy, place names like Farleigh Wallop, Titsey, and Shellow Bowells, people who said “Mustn’t grumble,” and shows like “Gardener’s Question Time.”

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Notes from a Small Island + Neither Here Nor There + In a Sunburned Country
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From Amazon

Reacting to an itch common to Midwesterners since there's been a Midwest from which to escape, writer Bill Bryson moved from Iowa to Britain in 1973. Working for such places as Times of London, among others, he has lived quite happily there ever since. Now Bryson has decided his native country needs him--but first, he's going on a roundabout jaunt on the island he loves.

Britain fascinates Americans: it's familiar, yet alien; the same in some ways, yet so different. Bryson does an excellent job of showing his adopted home to a Yank audience, but you never get the feeling that Bryson is too much of an outsider to know the true nature of the country. Notes from a Small Island strikes a nice balance: the writing is American-silly with a British range of vocabulary. Bryson's marvelous ear is also in evidence: "... I noted the names of the little villages we passed through--Pinhead, West Stuttering, Bakelite, Ham Hocks, Sheepshanks ..." If you're an Anglophile, you'll devour Notes from a Small Island. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Before his return to the U.S. after a 20-year residence in England, journalist Bryson (Made in America) embarked on a farewell tour of his adopted homeland. His trenchant, witty and detailed observations of life in a variety of towns and villages will delight Anglophiles. Traveling only on public transportation and hiking whenever possible, Bryson wandered along the coast through Bournemouth and neighboring villages that reinforced his image of Britons as a people who rarely complain and are delighted by such small pleasures as a good tea. In Liverpool, the author's favorite English city, he visited the Merseyside Maritime Museum to experience its past as a great port. Interweaving descriptions of landscapes and everyday encounters with shopkeepers, pub customers and fellow travelers, Bryson shares what he loves best about the idiosyncrasies of everyday English life in this immensely entertaining travel memoir. Author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Book is a Little Slice of Heaven March 22 2005
Like many people, I read this book during an airplane flight, while returning from one of my semi-regular trips to the UK. This is one of those books that make you howl with laughter despite the odd looks from strangers alongside. It's a perfect book to read while travelling, or indeed just about anywhere. If you are at all familiar with England (and I mean on a first-hand basis, NOT by watching Hugh Grant movies), you are going to find this book screamingly funny. If not, it will probably make you want to visit the UK. Bill Bryson is no twee, chocolate-boxy travel writer - he relates all the disasters along with the fun, in a manner that reminds you that most so-called travel disasters are never as bad as they seem. Bryson is not entirely uncritical of his adopted nation (and that's the fun part), but he's never nasty - and it's plain that his enthusiasm for England and all things English comes from deep in his heart.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bryson does Britain Oct. 22 2002
Bill Bryson is usually known for books that provoke an uncontrollable urge to laugh out loud while reading them. That's certainly true of "A Walk in the Woods" where Bryson and a bibulous friend try manfully to hike the Appalacian Trail. It's not so true in "Notes from a Small Island."
Bryson doesn't have his hapless friend Katz along on this jaunt, a walking trip through Great Britain. But his sense of humor is intact and his eye sharp for local foibles. My favorite observation was actually his description of the boundless joy the British express when presented with a steaming hot cup of tea. "Ah, lovely..." At the fifth repetition of this, you begin to appreciate Bryson's description of the British people and their funny rules, such as one that applies to public paths (you can cut right through anything that lies on a public way, and Bryson struts through some remarkable places exercising this right.) He takes the predictable potshots at British Rail and the propensity for tearing down quaint buildings and putting up steel and concrete monstrosities, a trait that Americans seem to share with their British progenitors; I myself felt strangely at home in Birmingham--it could have been any American city except for driving on the wrong side of the road.
While this book was not as scream-with-laughter funny as "Walk in the Woods", it had its moments. If you are a Bryson fan you might be a bit disappointed as this books is a bit subdued compared to his others. And Katz is nowhere to be found. But if you don't require to be entertained every single page, you probably will find this an amusing book. I did.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A casual stroll through the UK June 30 2006
Bryson is much less critical about his country of adoption than he is of his homeland in The Lost Continent. He is also fairly more enthusiastic about nearly everything, making the trip generally more pleasing for himself and positive for the reader. Although this makes him sound less of a social outcast (he actually meets and talks to people this time around) it also takes away a bit of his irreverent humour. That is not to say he never makes fun of anyone or anything, far from that! The book features several hilarious moments nonetheless, along with Bryson's many entertaining and clever observations about life in general and British people in particular.

There's a lot of typically British vocabulary and spelling in the book (such as "tyres"), which feels a bit peculiar in the hands of an American, though never completely forced.

He makes the UK sound like a charming little place to someone who's never been there. His book is a nice little diversion though it never approaches what I'd consider mandatory reading, and I don't regard it as one of his best so far either.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Addressed as much to Americans as to the British July 16 2004
Format:Audio Cassette
Bill Bryson first came to the attention of the British public through the readings from his book of a journey across the USA, 'The Lost Continent'. That was on BBC Radio Four, it was back in 1993, and it was read by Kerry Shale. Unfortunately, such was the impact of those readings that for much of the British public, Kerry Shale still IS Bill Bryson. Shale has much the same cynicism as Bryson, but his voice is tougher, and a bit more no-nonsense.
So when you first listen to Bryson reading 'Notes from a Small Island', it comes as a bit of a shock that Bryson's true voice is more softly-spoken, and a little camper. To my ear, his accent sounds a little more southern states than I would expect from Iowa, but that shows you how much I know. Bryson never tries to hide his American accent -- even when imitating old English crones or drunken Scotsmen.
Bryson gives the view of the outsider, despite his having lived in England for 20 years when he wrote the book. If he makes the odd error of judgement, we forgive him. But most of the time he is dead right about the British towns and cities he visits during his seven-week tour. He exposes our quaint eccentricities -- both the ones we knew we had and some that we didn't.
My feeling is that Bryson is so popular with the British listener because it is clear that, despite his criticisms, he loves the place and the people. This is no gratuitous American 'I love the UK' simply to buy popularity -- even the foreign tennis players at Wimbledon have worked out that the quickest way to our affections is to say this is their favourite venue. Bryson's love of Great Britain is deeply felt.
In this audio CD, he takes us to many places we'd never even heard of, let alone places that we'd told ourselves we must visit some day.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Do not read while drinking, or eating, or on an airplane
Mr. Bryson nails what England is like exactly and perfectly. I myself have had similarly bewildering encounters with the english when traveling there, and I was born and raised... Read more
Published 5 months ago by idonotusescreennames
4.0 out of 5 stars As curmudgeonly as ever
While I will say that Bryson's writing improved over the years, it's hard not to enjoy reading his perspective on the United States. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Dennis Myers
5.0 out of 5 stars A favourite
I have read this book a half dozen times or so. It is Bryson (almost) at his best. There is very little in the way of historical fact, or socio-economic observations here, rather,... Read more
Published on Sept. 4 2010 by C. J. Thompson
1.0 out of 5 stars repetitive and excruciatingly boring
I usually enjoy brysons work but this book was painful to finish. very few interesting insights into the british. Read more
Published on March 28 2010 by Jason Certi
4.0 out of 5 stars An honest, hilarious and rather true diary!
I saved reading this book for my lastest trip to England, and finished it on the plane home. Bryson gives a fantastic, tongue-in-cheek description of small town, and well, large... Read more
Published on Jan. 1 2005 by L Merryweather
5.0 out of 5 stars Bryson's best book
Bryson's best book is "Notes From a Small Island," about traveling in Great Britain. It's one of the funniest books I've read. Read more
Published on July 6 2004 by Thomas D. Kehoe
4.0 out of 5 stars Helpful Background
Having learnt of Bill Bryson via the Australian book (tape, really), I set out to read and/or listen to all his stuff. The man can use the language, wonderfully. Read more
Published on June 23 2004 by Steve Woodard
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth the read.
I'm a Bryson fan, and I enjoyed this book a great deal. I did not think it measured up to 'A Walk In the Woods', or even his latest ('Brief History'), but it is a solid book. Read more
Published on June 2 2004 by J. Boley
5.0 out of 5 stars Bryson at his best.
Before returning to America from England in 1994, Bill Bryson (A WALK IN THE WOODS, A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING) embarked on a grand farewell tour around the "green... Read more
Published on May 31 2004 by G. Merritt
4.0 out of 5 stars Bill Bryson
WOW!! Bill Bryson did it again. From notes from a small island to notes from a big country. This was amazing. I'm only 11 and usually wouldnt understand this, but it was GREAT. Read more
Published on May 5 2004
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