Thursday Book Feature: Notes from a Small Island

Notes from a Small Island

by Bill Bryson

Copyright 1995

 

Journalist Bill Bryson, author of A Walk in the Woods and other travel books, grew up in Iowa, then moved to England, where he married and started a family. Later, his family moved back to the U.;S. so his children could be exposed to American culture. Before doing so, he took one last trip through England and parts of Scotland, sometimes on foot but mostly using public transportation. A couple of times, he rented a car.

Notes from a Small Island describes this journey, starting at Dover and ending near Inverness. Bryson describes each town he visited, giving some history and sharing memories of earlier visits. With humor, he reflects on the idiosyncrasies’ of the English bus and train system and of the English people in general. He emphasizes his love for England.

I found this book not only informative but also amusing. Bryson’s descriptions of English people reminded me of Garrison Keillor’S comic depictions of people in Minnesota. His account of a shopping trip with his wife, while taking a break from his travels, reminded me of James Thurber’s short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mittee, in which the protagonist daydreams to escape his demanding wife. Bryson’s descriptions of times when his guidebook misled him reminded me of a trip with my father to Mexico years ago when we had the same problem.

Why waste time, money, and effort on a trip to England when you can read this book instead? Of course things may have changed since Bryson made the original journey, but it’s still a good read.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

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What I Read in June

Chasing Utopia: a Hybrid by Nikki Giovanni. Published by William Morrow, an Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, Copyright 2013.

 

This is a collection of the author’s poems and essays. Utopia, in this case, is actually a type of beer, and in the title piece, she talks about her search for this rare, expensive beverage. Other topics include black culture, hip hop music, family memories, poetry, and living alone. Although most of her essays were interesting, I was bored by a lot of her poems. They were just what I needed to put me to sleep on a Friday night in a strange motel room while attending a writers’ conference.

 

Where Aspens Quake by Tory Cates. Published 1983 by Simon & Schuster.

After photographer Christin Jonsson receives a negative review of her exhibit at an Albuquerque gallery, she quits her mindless job as a graphic designer, dumps her apathetic boyfriend, and flees to New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains where she is hired as a cross-country ski instructor at High Country Lodge. She falls for the establishment’s owner, Grayson Lowerey, but he turns away. His developmentally disabled daughter and past relationship with his ex-wife have created a barrier that Christin must help him overcome before the story can reach that happily ever after ending.

This book brought back memories of photography and skiing. My younger brother Andy dabbled in photography as a kid. Reading scenes where Christin is developing photos of mountain scenery in a rented dark room in Taos, I was reminded of the times I watched Andy develop pictures in an upstairs bathroom converted to a dark room. I also thought back to my two attempts at downhill and cross-country skiing during which I landed flat on my back and gave up. If I had an instructor like Christin, I might have succeeded. I liked the way she took the time to ensure each student’s success by starting them out on a level plain and then gradually increasing the route’s difficulty. In any case, during hot summer months, this book will refresh you.

 

Country Girl: A Memoir by Edna O’Brien. Copyright 2013.

 

Author Edna O’Brien talks about her life growing up in the Irish countryside before and during World War II and her life in Dublin where she apprenticed at a pharmacy and became involved in the theater and literary scene. She also describes how she married another writer against her family’s wishes, gave birth to two sons, and moved to London where she did most of her writing. She discusses the objections of Irish people to her novels and her husband’s resentment of her success as a writer and how that eventually led to a messy divorce. She then describes meeting such celebrities as Paul McCartney and Marlin Brando and other aspects of her writing life including how she wrote plays for stage and screen. That was about as far as I got before deciding not to finish the book.

Although I enjoyed Edna O’Brien’s reading of this book on a Hachette Audio recording, after her divorce, her experiences seem to become more and more bazaar. She describes a party during which a man offered to use an electric drill to bore a hole in her forehead and a session with a pseudo psychotherapist during which she and the man took LSD. After that, I decided enough was enough.

 

Wake the Dawn by Lorraine Snelling. Copyright 2013.

 

In the woods near the small town of Pineview, Minnesota, on the Canadian border, Ben, a patrol officer, finds an abandoned baby girl and takes her to a clinic run by Esther, a physician’s assistant. They work together to save the life of the baby and others in the wake of two severe storms that hit the town almost simultaneously, resulting in downed trees and power lines and damaged houses. Ben has turned to alcohol to help him cope with the death of his wife in a car accident. Esther suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of a hit and run. Eventually, the two of them help each other divest themselves of their emotional baggage and achieve that happily ever after romantic ending.

Once I started this book, it was hard to put down. I was not in danger of falling asleep while listening to this one, another Hachette Audio recording. Although it wasn’t read by the author, the narrator did an excellent job, even using a Minnesota accent with some of the characters’ voices.

However, this book contains some religious overtones I could have done without. The themes of forgiveness and trusting in God aren’t introduced until the middle of the story by the time you’ve gotten into it and absolutely must know how it ends. Had I know this, I might not have read the book. Otherwise, it’s a good story.
Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author,

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