Travel writing classics: Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
Notes from a Small Island, by Bill Bryson (1995)
Published at Cool Britannia's zenith in 1995, for many this is not only a travel writing classic but Bryson at his very best; his What's The Story? (Morning Glory), without the subsequent slow-decline, bickering and break-up that that signalled for Oasis.
It perhaps says something about the United Kingdom that it takes an outsider to accurately observe and record the peculiarities of the country and its people. It's certainly testament to Bryson's wit and charm however that he wasn't exiled from the land as a forgeigner - no, worse, an American - who had deigned to lay bare the wildest excentiricities of the British. If anything the effect was quite the opposite: Notes from a Small Island was made into a TV series by ITV; voted the book that best represented Britain in a World Book Day poll in 2003; and even netted Bryson the position of Chancellor of Durham University, thanks to his effervescent description of the city within its pages. They even ended up naming one of the university's libraries after him.
It's easy to get caught up in the legacy of this book, not least of which is Bryson's place in the hearts of the public, and perhaps overlook what a feat of writing it is in itself. Bryson's choice to (try) to travel the country by public transport is in itself and inspired one - and could be said to be a major contributing factor to the books' insight.
If you haven't read it, do not do so in public as you will laugh openly and loudly - a very un-British thing to do. But do so quickly as later this year comes the sequel - The Road to Little Dribbling.