Books

THE ROAD TO LITTLE DRIBBLING by Bill Bryson narrated by Nathan Osgood

Perhaps we should get the meaning of the title over with first. For the bewildered reader who is wondering where Little Dribbling is, especially as it is not actually mentioned in this volume, it is, of course, a joke. It could refer to any number of things: the British propensity to live in villages with silly names, such as Little Snoring in Norfolk where Bryson lived for a while. (BTW, there is also a Great Snoring.) Or it could be a parody of T.S. Eliot’s Little Gidding, an allusion to George Orwell’s THE ROAD TO WIGAN PIER,  dribbling in Soccer, or something less salubrious. In any event, the title is a JOKE.

Having cleared that up, I (like other readers) found this book to be a bit of a disappointment. Bryson’s writing is wonderful, as always, but this volume lacks the energy and curiosity of his earlier work NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND, about a trip around the UK that he took in 1995. To be fair to the author, this trip, taken twenty years later, is NOT just a re-run of his previous trip. He finds new places to go and new observations to make. So why does he sound so grumpy?

I was really struck by this, by his rather frequent use of the term “idiot” as well as his propensity to drop the F-bomb a bit too often for my taste. As an expatriate Brit living in the US, it occurred to me that perhaps Bryson had imbibed too much of the British tendency to be too negative, a quality thankfully lacking in the US of A. Or perhaps it was because the “perfect” country he encountered in the 1970s when he first moved there is long gone.

Whatever the reason, it IS true (to be fair to him again) that Britain has lost much of its charm in the past 40-50 years. People are not nearly as polite as they used to be. They don’t have that ingrained sense of duty that was dinned into me as a young person growing up in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s. The country is a LOT more crowded, particularly London, which on an average day feels more like New York City. Politics have become way more polarized (the Brexit disaster.) And so on. Maybe the author does have a reason to feel grumpy, and to express his dismay about a country with such natural richnesses as its wonderful, varied countryside, which sadly, too many people don’t seem to care about as they dump their crisp packets and cigarettes here and there, in a typically thoughtless fashion.

I know this is going to make me sound like an old fogey (I turn 60 this year) but when I was a child growing up in Britain, if I dropped a sweet wrapper in the street, an older woman (who always seemed to be attired in a hat and coat) would accost me. Not only did I have to pick up my rubbish while she looked on, I was expected to apologize to her for my thoughtlessness.

Sadly, those days are long gone. However, if you are a homesick Brit stuck thousands of miles away, or an American (Australian, Canadian, South African, New Zealander) who has always wanted to visit the UK, this book is for you. Four stars.