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Page Turner Book Review

By Elizabeth M. Marshall

The Road to Little Dribbling

By Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson has done it again in his latest book, The Road to Little Dribbling. In this rather hefty volume he describes his travels through the nooks and crannies of the British Isles by car, foot, bus, and train. His keen observations and acerbic wit are always at the ready and at time laugh-out-loud funny.

Seemingly slower paced than his previous books, it remains a good read just different in tone from Notes from a Small Island and A Walk in the Woods.

No matter how tiny and unassuming the village he visits, Bryson always manages to find that little unusual something that makes a place special. He especially beckons us to explore the coastal areas of Britain, to smell and feel the invigorating and tangy sea salt breezes.

Many of these towns are failing, having closed their butcher shops, greengrocers, bookstores, hardware stores, and even tea rooms. Somehow many villages in Britain continue to show a jaunty face saved by old residential areas, beautiful streets and byways, and exquisite landscapes featuring cliffs, steep wooded valleys, and idyllic meadows.

The author bemoans the decline of many of these villages and seaside resorts. For example, in Bournemouth he found that domestic day tourism fell by 2.3 million visitors between 2000 and 2011 and that visitor nights fell from 23 million to 11.4 million. One wonders how these towns continue to survive. Once Bournemouth boasted a renowned symphony orchestra, the Winter Gardens, the Pier Theatre, and the giant IMAX theater. All have been closed. It seems as if Bournemouth’s only attraction these days is a swim in the icy cold sea.

Bill Bryson married an English woman and made Britain his permanent residence. His writing about his adopted country not only describes the quirky side of the Brits but evinces a truly heartwarming fondness for the country and its people.

However, lampooning and snarky remarks show that Bryson continues to be in fit form, as in his snit over the numbering of British highways and byways and the Postal Code numbering. For example, E4 does not, as one would assume, denote the eastern portion of London, but stands for northern London. The weights and measures system also confuses the author, and when questioned he receives the following response from a Brit: “Of course they make sense,” the British person will sniff. “Half a firken is a jug, half a jug is a tot, half a tot is a titter, half a titter is a cock-droplet. What’s not logical about that?”

The Road to Little Dribbling is also chock full of information and interesting tidbits. For example, the author states that “Happisburgh rarely attracted the attention of outsiders until 2000 when the flint scrapers found there by archaeologists were dated to nine hundred thousand years ago. These were the oldest human artifacts ever found this side of the Alps…. Nobody else in the world was this far north at that time…. That is a truly extraordinary fact. They had the whole world to themselves and they chose Happisburgh.”

The book is available for loan at La Biblioteca under the call number 914.1048BRY.


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