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!