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BOUND TO PLEASE / Bryson takes the scenic route around Britain again

The Japan News

By Sara Hunnisett / Japan News Staff WriterThe Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes From a Small Island

By Bill Bryson

Black Swan, 476pp

It’s been a challenging couple of months for Britain. The Brexit vote and all the associated political turmoil have taken quite a toll on my home country’s reputation.

With this in mind, I thought Anglophile Bill Bryon’s second travel memoir on Britain, “The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes From a Small Island” might be the perfect tonic to the doom and gloom and remind me that there is more to Britain than tabloids and xenophobes.

In case you aren’t familiar, Bryson is an American-born writer whose travel books (and volumes on subjects as diverse as Shakespeare, science and history) have been phenomenally successful. Twenty years ago, he went on a trip around his adopted home of Britain and the resulting work, “Notes from a Small Island,” became one of the best-selling travel books ever. But, as his acquisitive publisher reminds him, 20 years have passed and the time is ripe for a sequel. So, Bryson sets out on an anniversary journey.

Having figured out that the longest distance you can travel in a straight line in Britain is from the beach town of Bognor Regis in southern England to Cape Wrath at the rocky northern tip of Scotland, he decides to make his way between the two, meandering around the country in between.

Bryson, 63 at the time of writing, visits towns, cities and landmarks, both well-known and obscure. In his idiosyncratic and frequently hilarious style, he offers assorted observations, anecdotes and little-known facts. He ruminates on everything from the frequency of cow attacks to how Mt. Everest was named after a man who had never seen it.

He calls the British out on peculiar habits, such as putting jam on cakes and how “when things go very wrong and they have a legitimate reason to bitch deeply, bitterly and at length, that is when they are the happiest of all.” There are also paeans to the verdant landscapes of a country “casually strewn with glory.”

Both Britain and Bryson have changed a lot, and his writing is peppered with laments for yesteryear. “Britain had achieved a kind of perfection around the time of my arrival,” he writes. “I wish it could be that place again.”

Bryson has become a good deal grouchier, and his diatribes are directed at such subjects as: stupidity, wheelie bins, bad grammar, the National Trust, former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and imbeciles working at McDonald’s. Thankfully, his expletive-dotted polemics are thoroughly entertaining and often had me laughing out loud.

Although the book is a lot less flattering to his subject than previously, it’s still an engaging read about the country he describes as the world’s “most perfect accidental garden.”

However, he warns that unless we take care of it, it may not stay that way. “There is a strange, blind, foolish inclination to suppose that the features that make the British countryside are somehow infinitely self-sustaining, that they will always be there, adding grace and beauty. Don’t count on it.”

Where to Read

In a teahouse, pub or country garden. If it’s raining, all the better.

Maruzen price: ¥1,750 plus tax (as of Aug. 17, 2016)

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