bill bryson – the road to little dribbling


  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (January 19, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385539282
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385539289


quotesWhat a joy walking is. All the cares of life, all the hopeless, inept fuckwits that God has strewn along the Bill Bryson Highway of Life, suddenly seem far away and harmless, and the world becomes tranquil and welcoming and good.


I cannot overstate how much I love the UK, and I’m not speaking simply as the typical Anglophile American who likes to watch BBC America and lusts for Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy – though we won’t go discounting that completely. I mean a deep in the marrow passionate love for the British Isles, begun in earliest childhood, nurtured carefully through the course of my life. I cut my teeth on Lewis Carroll, the tales of King Arthur and Robin Hood, nerded my way through high school with Dickens and Walter Scott, then fell in with Eliot, Austen, Woolf and the Brontes as time wore on.


Come, let me towel you off. There's a good lad!

Come, let me towel you off. There’s a good lad!

And it’s not just (I say just like that’s a small thing…) the literature, but the music and the culture and the land, as well. So on and so on, deeper than deep. Seventy-nine percent of my DNA deep, if you’d like to get science-y, which I apparently would as it gives me bragging rights and suits my needs.

Small wonder I find Bill Bryson’s books such a joy, considering like him I’m an American with a great appreciation for the Mother Country. After having discovered the joy that is Notes From a Small Island, a riotously funny look at the UK through American eyes, I’ve been following him around for decades. And I do mean that somewhat literally, as I contacted him previous to his last trip to America and was kindly told no, he had no time for an interview, but would love to meet me when he came to Chicago. And meet him I did, finding him as kind and sweet and gracious a man as ever I’d imagined and hoped.

The Road to Little Dribbling is a sort of sequel to Notes From a Small Island, written many years on and from the perspective of a more mature man looking at the UK through eyes far more wizened. If you’ve read his earlier book, you’ll see the dramatic shift between the two. In Notes, Bryson was young and in love with his newfound home, smitten but not without more than a dash of sardonic wit. Little Dribbling features that sly Bryson snark but is much darker in tone, more inclined toward serious passages railing at what’s slipping away from British culture, as well as a disturbing new trend toward disregarding the history and natural beauty of a land he’s grown intimately acquainted with, by the people with the most vested interest in keeping it – the British people themselves.

Does it take the eyes of a non-native to see what’s slipping away, the perspective of someone with the sharp observation of a journalist to notice, stand up and cry foul? Maybe, and in The Road to Little Dribbling this is one thing he does, and quite pointedly.

Ah, but there’s plenty here for those who love Bryson’s dry, wicked humor. The writer we’ve grown to love is alive and well here, but he’s also using his fame to say lots of pointed things about the dangers facing the land he, too, loves so dearly. And well he should. Those with the ability to speak out against injustice, to reach a wide audience, have a moral obligation to do so. And in this book Bill Bryson has done just that, all while happily traveling his way through Britain, tramping past places familiar and new to him, bitching and moaning and loving and remembering.

The Road to Little Dribbling is a must-read if you’ve read the author’s other books, and frankly a must-read even if you haven’t. Read the damn thing and love him, then go on to read all his other stuff, because you ought to and because he has one hell of a lot to teach – and do we ever have one hell of a lot to learn.

He’s not the only person of increasingly mature years inclined toward bossing people around. Two can play at that game, thanks very much, and you are entirely welcome.

Sunday Salon: October 9, 2011 Edition



Banned Books Week 2011 has been and gone.

My Booker Shortlist read has stalled, and besides, I promised Sebastian Barry (swoon) I'm putting all my karma on a Julian Barnes win. So I'm calling it: Julian Barnes for The Sense of an Ending. Never lie to an Irishman. Especially when it comes to karma. And when he's as fantastically, unearthly amazing as Sebastian Barry. Who should have won the Booker himself!


Not that Barnes's work isn't mind blowingly great. Oh, it is. It's great in the lean, concise style I love. And Barry's great in the poetic, soul-touching way. I love them both but I shall always feel bitter about Man Booker 2011.




Reading news? I'm working on S.J. Watson's fantabulous Before I Go to Sleep. Ironically, it's been keeping me up nights.




Ditto Nimrod's Shadow by Chris Paling.



I've also been downloading free eBooks from Amazon, long-forgotten older works someone should be reading. So I've elected me.

And the titles are occasionally hilarious:

Poise: How to Attain It

The Spinster Book

Books Fatal to Their Authors

Little Fuzzy

The Real Dope

The Unspeakable Gentleman

and, one of my personal favorites:

Space Viking


Also finished up Colson Whitehead's Zone One for review. Never thought I'd be so intrigued by zombie literature but it's heavily character-driven, written in Whitehead's lush style. I thought it a bit heavy-handed at first but it started to grow on me. Ignore the flippin' Amazon reviews. I'm not sure who's writing them, nor do I care why they've been so down on it.

The problem may be its style, actually. I found it perfect for this particular book but it does come off sounding fairly … Not sure how to put it. Dismissive? Aloof? Something like that. But my advice is to read it. It's started me on a Colson Whitehead hunt. I picked up Sag Harbor at one of the Borders funerals. Once I finish that I'll eventually get through his other stuff. Have you read his articles? Holy mother of God.

Plus, the cool of that man is legendary.




Need I elaborate? Didn't think so.

Post-apocalyptic fiction? I guess I was pretty enthralled by Stephen King's The Stand, back in my teens. I read the whole honkin' thing straight through, barely coming up for air. For food, rather and the occasional bathroom break. I holed up in  my bedroom with it; I could not put the thing down. Dismiss Stephen King all you will but The Stand is a fine, fine novel. Much better than that Dan Brown thriller crap as far as page-turners go.


Next week I'm meeting Chris Bohjalian, on his The Night Strangers tour. He's coming to the Waukegan Library on the 10th and I already okayed a short interview/chat with him. Excited for that.

May get to the Bill Bryson reading/signing via Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, IL, too. Only that's one of those auditorium events. And I'm not sure I have the energy to chat up his agent for an interview. Lacking that, I'm sure he's a fun speaker. He's a damn funny writer. Maybe I will.

Week after that, Michael Cunningham, Goldie Goldbloom and Elizabeth Berg.


And that's it for now from Bluestalking Headquarters.