For Bill Bryson fans, Mr. Bryson can do no wrong. And you’d better believe I’m a Bill Bryson fan. His travel stories are the perfect blend of grouchy internal monologue and “oops did I say that aloud” less-than-internal monologues. As a grouchy internal monologue super-user, I identify with Bryson every time the human race does something dismaying.
Even within the close confines of that small island of Britain, there’s plenty of room for the human race to do something dismaying. Our favorite globe-trotting grouch encounters morose barkeeps who turn away dinner patrons from empty rooms because the kitchen is slammed, witnesses a total lack of English grammar in the land where English grammar was born, and a poster of Jeremy Clarkson being judgmental (also without grammar). It’s enough to make a person weep for the future.
Luckily, he also finds views. Marvelous, marvelous views.
The Road to Little Dribbling is filled with descriptions of views. The view from the top of a hill, usually. Sometimes the view from a cliff, for a slight change. Sometimes a view of a lake, or an ocean, or more hills. I’ve never been so raptly fascinated with the concept of showy landscape. I reached a point where I was Googling each place Bryson visited, so that I could take it all in right alongside him. I now want nothing more than to go tramping through the most unknown, under-appreciated corners of England, following the so-called “Bryson Line,” taking in all those magnificent views.
Along with those views, there is also a little bit of melancholy — again, a staple element of a Bryson trip. So many things gone, or teetering on the edge of being gone… buildings, livelihoods, shops, and yes… perfect landscapes. They’re always on a precipice of being lost, whether from a lack of funds, a lack of thought, or a lack of foresight.
Bill Bryson’s latest book makes me long to go to England, not just the England he’s tramping through today, but the England of two hundred years ago, the England of two thousand years ago, and even further back than that, because, as I’ve newly discovered, Britain is unimaginably ancient.
Until I can get there, I’ll just reread his book, laughing out loud in public and sighing over those longed-for views.
The Road to Little Dribbling will be released in the US on January 19, 2016.