Friday, July 3, 2015

Book review: "Notes from a Small Island" by Bill Bryson

After nearly 20 years of living in England, Bill Bryson comes to a surprising conclusion about the British: "They are the happiest people on earth."

The key, he says, is that the British find happiness in simple things -- tea cakes, scones, crumpets, puddings, jams, biscuits -- and in the simple company of others.

"Watch any two Britons in conversation and see how long it is before they smile or laugh over some joke or pleasantry," Bryson writes in the book "Notes from a Small Island. "It won't be more than a few seconds."

In this book, Bryson recounts his six-week meandering trip through England and Scotland. "Meandering" is the key word here. He wanders somewhat aimlessly from the south of the land to the north, and so does the book. A little focus would have helped -- perhaps Bryson should have had some goal, like to find the best crumpet, But while the book hits some flat spots, Bryson often rescues it with insightful or funny observations.

He make amusing notes on Britons giving driving directions, cellphone users,  chop sticks and even something as simple as sand.   He misfires occasionally, as when he makes fun (to readers) of fat people who happen to be dining near him.

Bryson gives a good sense of the quirks of the British, noting that they seem to think the island is bigger than it is and that the weather is worse than it really is.  He notes how a newspaper reported on a "blizzard" that had dropped "more than two inches of snow."

Unfortunately, the book is rather dated, as it was published in 1995, and more years are not going wear on it well.

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