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Notes from a Small Island Paperback – May 15, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Reacting to an itch common to Midwesterners since there's been a Midwest from which to escape, writer Bill Bryson moved from Iowa to Britain in 1973. Working for such places as Times of London, among others, he has lived quite happily there ever since. Now Bryson has decided his native country needs him--but first, he's going on a roundabout jaunt on the island he loves.

Britain fascinates Americans: it's familiar, yet alien; the same in some ways, yet so different. Bryson does an excellent job of showing his adopted home to a Yank audience, but you never get the feeling that Bryson is too much of an outsider to know the true nature of the country. Notes from a Small Island strikes a nice balance: the writing is American-silly with a British range of vocabulary. Bryson's marvelous ear is also in evidence: "... I noted the names of the little villages we passed through--Pinhead, West Stuttering, Bakelite, Ham Hocks, Sheepshanks ..." If you're an Anglophile, you'll devour Notes from a Small Island.

From Publishers Weekly

Before his return to the U.S. after a 20-year residence in England, journalist Bryson (Made in America) embarked on a farewell tour of his adopted homeland. His trenchant, witty and detailed observations of life in a variety of towns and villages will delight Anglophiles. Traveling only on public transportation and hiking whenever possible, Bryson wandered along the coast through Bournemouth and neighboring villages that reinforced his image of Britons as a people who rarely complain and are delighted by such small pleasures as a good tea. In Liverpool, the author's favorite English city, he visited the Merseyside Maritime Museum to experience its past as a great port. Interweaving descriptions of landscapes and everyday encounters with shopkeepers, pub customers and fellow travelers, Bryson shares what he loves best about the idiosyncrasies of everyday English life in this immensely entertaining travel memoir. Author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 324 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (May 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0380727501
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380727506
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (432 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,307 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa. For twenty years he lived in England, where he worked for the Times and the Independent, and wrote for most major British and American publications. His books include travel memoirs (Neither Here Nor There; The Lost Continent; Notes from a Small Island) and books on language (The Mother Tongue; Made in America). His account of his attempts to walk the Appalachian Trail, A Walk in the Woods, was a huge New York Times bestseller. He lives in Hanover, New Hampshire, with his wife and his four children.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

199 of 207 people found the following review helpful By Lauren E. Pomerantz on February 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
I have to stop reading these books. People are looking at me funny in restaurants and on the train when I burst out laughing. But Bryson's books are SO GOOD. What's a person to do?
If you read A Walk in the Woods and felt a deep yearning to walk the Appalachian trail, haul out your suitcase. This book will make you want to follow Bryson's footsteps again as he travels across England, Wales, and Scotland by foot, by bus, and by train. He spends a day or so in dozens of small towns and cities, disecting them for our education and amusement. He tours galleries, musuems, and historic homes; visits pubs and restaurants; and stays in an amazing variety of shoddy hotels. (There are fine hotels in England. They just cost more than he is willing to pay.)
Even if you don't plan to go to England anytime soon (and why not? it's a lovely country full of friendly people we Americans and Canadians can mostly understand) this book is a reminder to those of us who are far too insular that the world out there is different and that difference is a good and quite frequently amusing thing.
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111 of 114 people found the following review helpful By Bucherwurm on July 18, 1998
Format: Paperback
Bill Bryson expertly captures the mental amusement and bemusement of an American living in Britain. I am an American who also lived in England, and I laughed myself silly reading this book. This isn't meant to be a travel guide or an in depth academic study of British culture as some reviewers must evidently believe. There are many ways to reminisce about life in a foreign country, and BB chose to tell us fond, funny stories of his life in the UK. Let's not be stuffily chauvinistic about these things. I'm sure many Brits could write equally hilarious tales of their lives over here in the USA. For me its hard to understand that any American who has lived in Britain would not find funny such tales as the train/bus schedule incident (As I remember it the Brit Rail agent couldn't understand Bryson's difficulty with a schedule that had a daily train arrive in a town minutes after the scheduled departure of the daily bus that took travellers to their next destination.)
If y! ou are a Bryson fan, this is as good as he gets. You will especially enjoy it if you have spent time in both the US and the UK.
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69 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Frank Cunat on April 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a great read, a fascinating book about the writer's journey through Great Britain, with the author's impressions cleverly expressed. He's like an earthier Paul Theroux, or like Peter Mayle as channeled by Dave Barry. Bryson is good at using both humor and hyperbole to illustrate good points about his British travels as well as disappointments. After reading the book, you feel you've had a conversation with an old friend who gave you the lowdown on his trip without any sugar-coating. You feel that everything Bryson says comes directly from the heart.
The only reason I didn't rate the book 5 stars is that, a few times too often, Bryson goes into great detail about how rude he was toward service people who were just doing their jobs and whose performance wasn't precisely what he wanted. He reaches a low point when he takes almost a page to describe his reaction to a McDonald's employee who made the mistake of asking if he wanted "an apple turnover with that." Maybe it's because I've waited tables, but Bryson struck me as exactly the kind of arrogant, self-righteous, condescending customer you prayed you wouldn't have to serve. He comes close in these passages to personifying the ugly American: willing to enjoy England's riches, but not tolerant of its shortcomings.
Nevertheless, that's no reason not to read the book. Bryson's insights into the places he visits are more than worth the price of admission.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Allyson Ranallo on February 18, 2003
Format: Paperback
It all started with A Walk in the Woods. A friend loaned it to me, and almost didn't get it back. Then he loaned me Notes From a Small Island, but with a warning. "You may not like this as much," he said, "I didn't even finish it. But give it a go." Curious about his tepid reaction to the book, I took it with me to jury duty. I sat in the cafeteria, literally laughing out loud. I could have gotten off a case by pleading insanity -- I'm sure that's what people at the surrounding tables were thinking. Bryson's turn of phrase is truly magical. His appreciation for England, for people, for family, is deep. His observations are so well-worded, they give you chills. Two of his passages made it into my journal of quotable-quotes. So I got through half the book at jury duty. Cut to my couch at home. I'm reading the latter half of the book, and come across his description of his drunken attempt to get back to his hotel after an evening at the pub. Downhill. I tell you, I was crying, I was laughing so hard. It's hard to get me to chuckle, and forget LAUGH, during a comedic movie, much less a book. I reread the paragraph two or three times, like rewinding a scene on video tape, and laughed harder and harder. Bryson is a gift to readers who love good writing. And a good laugh.
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41 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Paul Weiss on February 9, 2008
Format: Paperback
After a lengthy residence in England, journalist Bill Bryson and his family had reached the decision to move back to their native USA. Before leaving, Bryson pulled out all the stops and embarked on a freewheeling 7 week whirlwind tour of England, Wales and Scotland. Shank's pony, bus, train, and the occasional rented car were his only modes of transportation. Of course, as one would expect, the journal from that trip formed the core of a book about the English people, their habits and customs, their towns, their buildings, their history, and the countryside and its landscapes.

Fresh from a reading of Bryson's brilliant Appalachian travelogue, "A Walk in the Woods", I was psyched and I had enormously high expectations for "Notes From a Small Island". But, in the words of the Britons whom he had lived amongst for almost 20 years, "it were a bloomin' disappointment wot didn't come up to snuff!"

Oh, to be sure, there were moments of unutterably funny comic brilliance! But I found that on far too many occasions, Bryson used the book as a platform to preach and whine, over and over again, about the loss of British architectural heritage to the ravages of much more boring 20th century buildings and lack luster store fronts. And, please don't misunderstand me ... I couldn't agree more! To tear down some of these beautiful structures that are hundreds of years old or to raze a hedgerow for no other purpose than to erect a mall filled with a Boots, a Marks & Spencer and a MacDonalds is an unforgivable travesty. But, bless me, Bryson seemed to go on and on ... and on again!
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