The Road to Little Dribbling
3 journalers for this copy...
Let me start off with my greatest disappointment in this book. At no point - unless it was so quick I missed it on the audiobook --was there ever a discussion of a place called Little Dribbling. I am unsure if it even exists or was made up for amusement. Lots of other funny place names, but I kept waiting (in vain) for Little Dribbling.
20 years after the release of Notes from a Small Country, Bill Bryson sets out to reexamine his relationship with Great Britain. He is older – and a grandfather – and the country has changed more than he would like. He manages to bring a lot of grumpy old man energy, most of which is fine, although I was a bit peeved at some of his descriptions of women he did not find physically attractive and the significance their lack of appeal to him had on their apparent value, even as passing background characters. It was interesting to learn about George Everest (who pronounced his surname EEV- REST), as it never once occurred to me that the mountain was named after someone – and it turns out that there is no rhyme or reason for it being named after him. The information about Mary Shelley and what is potentially the most crowded grave in England was interesting. As was the discussion of Trip Advisor refusing to accept information of news articles detailing criminal and health code violations by places they list. These are the reasons to read a Bryson personal-experience book, the interesting tidbits and the sarcasm. My favorite story, so far, though has been learning the difference between Marks and Spencer and H&M. 😊
There are a few really good Bryson-isms here. One is his son’s description of the region of Norfolk – too many people, not enough surnames. Another is his description of how a certain literary critics positive qualities would fit within a proton and still have room for an echo. I will say that he has taken on a bit of an Andy Rooney grumpy old man style – it may have always been there, but now he is looking askance at the “younger generation” so it is more obvious. I am conflicted about how to react to his discussion of an article in the paper he read about trans rights in which he speaks a little scathingly of Caitlyn Jenner using her deadname. But research shows me that Caitlyn Jenner only came out publicly about the time this book was published (after it was published) and many parts of our world have grown a great deal in our understanding of trans people and trans rights as a result. I am hopeful that Bryson is enough of a liberal to be one of them.
There are distinct advantages to an audiobook. For instance, I have long stumbled over the name of the Welsh city Aberystwyth and when I see it on a page I cringe. But Bryson went to Aberystwyth so it was pronounced for me enough times that I will always remember it – at least for a few weeks. The descriptions of Wales and Pembrokeshire in particular were so enticing that I thought maybe I should go there on my next trip to Europe. Even the Peaks district didn’t sound as appealing.
He writes a lovely paean to Stonehenge which is evocative enough to transport me back to aspects of my visit I had forgotten. I did take the provided ride to the stones from the visitor’s center instead of walking, but in my defense I had not read this book before I went. (In Bryson’s defense, it was probably published about the same time I was there.) Stonehenge and Wales are linked in my mind because our little intrepid group tried to go to Wales after Stonehenge, just to say we did, but the GPS was dead set against it. It would say 5 miles away, turn right, and then when we were around the corner it would say 35 miles away; this happened over and over. Our driver, a former cab driver in Australia, was loath to surrender, but we were going to be late for dinner in Oxford, so we gave up. I would love to get the chance to actually see it. And Yorkshire and the Lakes District and the Cairngorms and Durham and many of the other localities he enjoyed so much and described so lovingly.
I learned that Neandertals are the source of the gene for red hair. I learned that nowhere in England is farther than 75 miles from the nearest seafront, which likely explains why they balk at distances that we don’t even think about. (I recall being told of someone who only sees her Mum a few times a year because of the great distance separating them – a 45 mile drive by car. I used to drive 35 miles one way to work every day and 35 miles back home again.) I learned about steam train societies and roundabout societies and holiday camps for adults and one of the meanest men in all of England who died and gave the money for one of the best museums in the country, at Oxford (Pitt Rivers). I do love how he waxes poetic over snippets of history and well-run museums of any size and gets excited to see this or that historic place. But he was surprised to encounter Ken Jennings’ book Maphead (on my wishlist) and even more surprised to really enjoy it – although when he said the name of the book I was certain it was his type of thing. He mentioned another book as really annoying and as proof that young journalists and their publishers don’t do their homework – and I realized that I had read the book several years ago. It’s called You Can Get Arrested for That about two English guys who set out to break the absurd laws in different parts of the US. For instance, in Baltimore it is against the law to take a lion to the movies. Except, Bill Bryson did the actual research and found out most of these laws are not really laws just urban legends, which is a great relief to me and my lion friends.
At the end of the journey and the book -- actually while sitting in Indianapolis -- Bryson endeavored to list the 5 reasons he lived in Britain. The one that he came up with first is, I think, one of the things that pulls me to visit -- the fact that for such a small place, there is so much of it that it is unknowable. He talked about how people count things there and how they had determined that if you were to visit one spot of significance (per official listings) per week every week it would take you well over 100 years. There are so many little pockets that sound like a lovely place to visit and just BE -- and Bryson has done more than his share of increasing my list.
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But what's up with the title? This is the second book I've read this year where the title had no connection to the contents of the book. In this case, as far as I can tell, there is no such place as Little Dribbling, so it appears to be another case of Bryson making up silly place names. Still, I'm not quite sure why the title couldn't have a more relevant connection to the stories in the book.
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