Bill Bryson: Notes from a Small Island and The Road to Little Dribbling

I’ve seen a few requests on Facebook for funny books. One of the funniest authors I know is Bill Bryson. An American from the Midwest, he has lived in England since 1977, with a brief sojourn back to the US in the early 2000’s. He is most noted for his very accessible books about science and the natural world, but it is his books about England that I find hugely entertaining.

When I first read Notes from a Small Island, the beginning was so funny I had to set the book down and do something else for a while before I could get myself together in order to read it. He is a really good writer, and his observations of his adopted country are, as the English would say, spot on.

A couple decades after he wrote Notes, he followed it up with a sequel: The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning, when he reflects on first arriving in England in his 20’s:

In a pub I asked what kind of sandwiches they had. ‘Ham and cheese,’ the man said. ‘Oh, yes please,’ I said. ‘Yes please what?’ he said. ‘Yes please, ham and cheese,’ I said, but with less confidence. ‘No, it’s ham or cheese,’ he explained. ‘You don’t do them both together?’ ‘No.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, surprised, then leaned towards him and in a low, confidential tone said: ‘Why not? Too flavourful?’ He stared at me. ‘I’ll have cheese then, please,’ I said contritely. When the sandwich came, the cheese was extravagantly shredded – I had never seen a dairy product distressed before serving – and accompanied by what I now know was Branston pickle, but what looked to me then like what you find when you stick your hand into a clogged sump. I nibbled it tentatively and was pleased to discover that it was delicious. Gradually it dawned on me that I had found a country that was wholly strange to me and yet somehow marvellous. It is a feeling that has never left me.

-Bill Bryson, The Road to Little Dribbling, Doubleday (Great Britain), 2015, pp. 19-20.

(His sandwich story reminds of me a 1972 experience in a bakery in London re: a Mandarin Torte.)

So if you want a good laugh and some wonderful insights about England, do check these out!





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