THE ROAD TO LITTLE DRIBBLING by Bill Bryson | Review

One of my goals this summer is to learn as much as possible about British culture as well as specific locations I should make a point to visit while I’m studying abroad in England. My wonderful boss must know how to read minds because on my first day of work she gave me a copy of Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling. In this sequel to his 1995 book Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson travels across England and recounts his adventures and observations in each delightfully British location. As a citizen of both the United States and England, Bryson offers an interesting perspective on the similarities and differences between these two nations.

I admire Bryson’s important overall message that we should strive to preserve and appreciate the little things that make Britain so great (according to Bryson, these details include independent shops, beautiful countryside, updated and educational museums, lively seaside communities, etc.). However, the message could have been delivered in a much more positive way. Instead of complaining about all of the disappointing things he came across, he could have celebrated and highlighted the wonderful aspects of the locations he visited. The majority of the book is written with a negative tone (though thankfully this is not true for the chapter on Oxford!) and after a while I wanted to sit Bryson down and ask: “Don’t you have anything positive to say?” I find it hard to believe that someone could be so cynical about being able to travel to all of those interesting places. Perhaps I’m misinterpreting Bryson’s sense of humor here– or maybe I just don’t find him funny.

Not only did I not love Bryson’s sense of humor, but I found a lot of his observations to be rather redundant. It only takes a few chapters to notice a definite pattern in their structure: each chapter begins with a short anecdote followed by a transition into talking about the location at hand. He then talks about the lack of independent shops there, the expensive prices of food and admission to tourist attractions, and how he always had “one pint of beer too many” before heading off to bed at night, only to repeat the entire process in the next location. Eventually I began to wonder what the point of writing a nearly 400-page long book was if he was simply going to restate the same ideas in different words ad nauseam until the reader started to agree with what he was saying. I feel as though this book probably could have been condensed to half its current size.

Overall, I enjoyed this book for practical purposes but not necessarily for its entertainment value. Not only did I learn a lot about British culture from an American’s perspective, but I also now have a very general understanding of the geography of England. It has helped me create an exciting list of museums, towns, shops, and beautiful countryside that I would love to visit while studying abroad. Unfortunately, Bryson’s sense of humor and writing style did not click with me at all. Nevertheless, I’m glad that I read The Road to Little Dribbling because the background information it provides will undoubtedly be helpful as I learn more about England in the future.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes, if they were planning to visit England or were very interested in learning more about the nation in general.

What are your thoughts on this book? Are there any books you would recommend for someone studying abroad in England soon? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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12 thoughts on “THE ROAD TO LITTLE DRIBBLING by Bill Bryson | Review

  1. Lovely review. I am glad this book is very useful to you especially since you are moving. I have not read alot of Bryson. Juts the History of everything. I really enjoyed that one. Too bad the structure of chapters tend to repeat. And yes, 400 pages is alot of words. But glad it was a useful read to you

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  2. As I was reading your blog post, I remembered Bill Bryson’s style from Notes from a Small Island, the only one of his books I’ve read so far, and felt amused by your opinion. Because yes, you’re right. Bill Bryson is a cynical person. That is, it’s the tone he chooses for his books. I’m not sure if he really is a negative person himself.

    Anyway, I think it comes down to whether you enjoy cynism or not. I, for one, had to laugh a few times with his stories. He is a great storyteller. Having said that, I get what you’re saying and totally understand why you didn’t like it all that much.

    In any case, you don’t need to worry. Oxford is glorious. Personally, I prefer Cambridge, but Oxford definitely has its charm. And when you’re there, you can have lunch at The Eagle and The Child, the famous pub where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien regularly held their meetings.

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  3. Interesting! I’ve been wanting to read both of those books, but I wasn’t expecting all the negativity! I appreciate a lot of different types of humor, so maybe I’ll like it, bit it sounds like a bummer! I’m always so enchanted by new places (especially when I was in England), so I wonder if this would make it less enchanting? I hope not!

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    1. I think it depends what kind of humor you like and what you’re looking for from a book like this in general, but I was definitely hoping for a bit more positivity. I don’t think it would ruin the enchantment of actually traveling to England, but it does give a very cynical perspective.

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    1. Oh and I was trying to think of another book to recommend but I guess I don’t read much about the UK. If you haven’t read Phillip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ though they are partially set in Oxford (a parallel world Oxford but there are similarities. If you plan on visiting Ireland as well you could try ‘Round Ireland with a Fridge’ by Tony Hawks (no not the skateboarder)

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      1. I love The Golden Compass! I completely forgot it was set in a parallel Oxford. Also, thanks for the Tony Hawks recommendation! (I would have totally thought you were talking about the skateboarder haha)

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  4. I can’t speak to books about England, but I can definitely recommend another Bill Bryson book that you might enjoy a little more: A Short History of Nearly Everything.

    It’s essentially a record of him learning more about life’s biggest questions: the Big Bang, the rise of civilization, what are supernovas and why are they important, the theory of relativity, etc.

    But the lovely part is that he distills incredibly dense science into the most readable book possible. It is a page turner, if you can believe it. Highly recommended 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember reading a few chapters of A Short History of Nearly Everything for one of my science classes in high school and I really enjoyed it. (I was much more interested in learning about science theory than actually doing the experiments!) Thanks for the recommendation!

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