|Cloggie: booklog: Bill Bryson|
Notes from a Small Island
published in 1996
Bill Bryson is an US journalist who lived in the UK for twenty years, from 1975 untill 1995. In 1995 he decide to return to the US with his family, in order to give them an opportunity to see what living in the US was like. Before he did so, he embarked upon a "farewell tour" of Britain, which led to this book.
Bryson deftly mixed personal memories and anecdotes with social commentary about the British, some of their stranger habits and information about the towns and districts he visits. Usually funny, but at times more nostalgic or even angry at the way certain towns mishandle their past.
This was the first book of his I read and I liked it enough to read the other books mentioned here. None of the others managed to live up to the quality of the first, which is I think a testament to the depth of feeling Bryson put in this book.
Notes from a Big Country
published in 1999
This is the followup to Notes from a Small Island and is a collection of columns written around Bryson's impressions of living in the US again, after having lived abroad for so long. Where the first book was nostaligic, this book has more of an undertone of amused puzzlement at some of the stranger facets of living in the US.
In fact, at times Bryson is more complaining then entertaining. It's clear from some of the columns in here that Bryson has some difficulties readjusting to the US way of living, even if his family doesn't.
A Walk in the Woods
published in 1998
This is Bryson's report of his experiences on walking the Appalachian Trail. As always he manages to mix personal experience and anecdotes about his trip with a great deal of information about the Trail, its history and its management.
Made in America
478 pages, including index
published in 1998
Made in America is a book about the origins of US English, about how it diverged from UK English, how it's used today and how it constantly renews itself. It is not a dull book.
Bill Bryson has written about language before, in Mother Tongue, which was about English in general. As usual, he is extremely readable and offers an informed layman's view of the American language. Every chapter starts with an amusing, insightful or interesting anecdote about a specific part of the language, or just something that he encountered when doing research before it delves into a broader overview. Recommended if you like reading about language.
Neither Here nor There
published in 1991
Another one of Bryson's travel books, I found this to be not as good as e.g. Notes from a Small Island but still worthwhile. This time Bryson travels through Europe, starting at Hammerfest up in Norway, working his way down to Istanbul, where Europe meets Asia. In the process he travels through Norway, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, Yugoslavia, Austria, Sweden, Italy, Switzerland, Bulgaria and Turkey, not always in the most obvious order.
This wasn't the first time he did a grand tour of Europe either: twenty years earlier he had done so as a poor student, together with a friend of his called Katz. (I think this may be the same guy who would later walk the Appalachian Trail with him --not a quick learner.) Throughout the book, reminiscences of that earlier trip are interwoven with his experiences this time. As usual, both his memories as his current experiences are highly hilarious to the reader, if not to Bryson himself.
Neither Here nor There suffers a bit from being outdated; a lot has changed in the decade since this book was published. Nothing major though and it makes up for it with being incredibly funny.
Mother Tongue: The English Language
270 pages, including index
published in 1990
This is an whirlwind tour of the English langauge, a layman's introduction to the rich variety, depth and width of English, its peculiarities and the ways in which it's (ab)used. Language and especially the English language seems to be Bill Bryson's other major obsession (the first one being travelling) and as is usual with him he manages to translate his obsession into an eminently readable book, from which you can also learn something.
You cannot expect Mother Tongue to be a scholary work of course; instead it's more of a celebration of the English language. Equal room is given to its history and evolution and its pecularities: swearing, wordplay, etc. It's all a bit disjointed to be honest. Bryson's enthusiasm for English is infectious and you're soon swept up with it. He's like a kid in a candy store showing you all the treasures on offer, too excited to give you much time to take much in.
In short, Mother Tongue is not meant as a serious introduction to the English language, but as an celebration of it. If you love English, you'll love this book as well. If not, then not.
The Lost Continent
published in 1989
The Lost Continent is not just another of Bryson's travel books; it is in fact his first. After the death of his father and when he was still living in the UK he was gripped with a homesickness for Des Moines, Iowa (where he grew up) and small town America in general, the result of which was a trip through 38 of the lower 48 US states, as well as this book.
As usual with Bryson, The Lost Continent is a mixture of interesting facts, travel anecdotes and personal reminiscences all done in a light humourous voice. It's all done fairly well and certainly interesting, but ultimately forgetable. I've quite enjoyed reading this book, but to be honest I can't say I'll remember much of it in a few weeks.Webpage created 04-09-2001, last updated 10-01-2003