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

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Memoir Portrays Mother-Daughter Relationships

Glitter and Glue: A Memoir

By Kelly Corrigan

Copyright 2014

 

In the 1990’s soon after graduating from college, Kelly Corrigan set off on a trip around the world in search of adventure. Broke in Australia, she found a job as a nanny for a widower’s two children, ages five and seven. In the five months she spent with the family, she learned what it’s like to be a mother and not to have a mother and about her relationship with her own mother.

She describes caring for the children, the little boy who immediately accepted her, and the little girl who was aloof at first. She also explains how she developed friendships with the widower’s step-son and father-in-law, often flashing back to her own childhood, how her mother viewed parenthood as something that had to be done while her father was more affectionate.

After returning to the states, she moved from her home in the East to San Francisco, found a job, and eventually got married and had two daughters. She talks about her relationship with her daughters, a time when she thought she would lose her mother, and her own cancer scares.

I’ve never been on a trip around the world and doubt I’ll do that now, but it was fun to read about Kelly Corrigan’s adventures. She tells a great story about mother-daughter relationships but also delivers a powerful message. You never really know what you had until it’s gone. This Mother’s Day, whether your mothers are living or not, I hope you’ll take time to appreciate them.

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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

Click to hear an audio trailer.

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Memoir Depicts Empowerment through Travel

It’s Already Tomorrow Here: Never Estimate the Power of Running Away

By Lucetta Zaytoun

Copyright 2016

 

After leaving an abusive marriage with her two young children, Lucetta Zaytoun opened a bakery in North Carolina. She then met and married her second husband, a widower with four children, gave up her bakery, and became a stay-at-home wife and mother, happy to help raise six children and adopting a boy from Africa. In 2010, after her second husband left her for another woman, the children grown and scattered across the country, inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, she put everything she owned in storage, sold her car, shut down her phone, and traveled for a year in an attempt to find herself.

She spent the first three months in Costa Rica, learning Spanish and becoming certified to teach English as a second language. After a brief visit home, she spent another three months in Tanzania, Africa, volunteering with a women’s empowerment center. She spent the rest of the year traveling through Africa and Asia before flying to Hawaii to meet her daughter.

Along the way, she describes such experiences as living with a host family in Costa Rica, camping in the jungle in Tanzania, kissing a giraffe in Kenya, bungee jumping and mountain climbing in South Africa, and spending time with her son in Thailand. While relating her adventures in Africa, she flashes back to her childhood during the 1970’s when schools were desegregated and reflects on that, compared to Apartheid. During one instance when she’s comforting an African woman with a dead baby, she shares her own experience with losing a child during her first marriage. In the end, she describes getting off a plane in Hawaii, where a customs official welcomed her home.

I was drawn to this book by an interview with the author in the March issue of Poets and Writers. I was lucky to find a recording of her reading this book on Audible. I enjoyed hearing her relate her adventures. She made me laugh one minute and angry the next.

However, I couldn’t help wondering how long this would go on. What if she put off deciding what to do with the rest of her life indefinitely? Would she travel the world forever in search of herself? It was a relief when she landed in Hawaii.

I would like to have known more. According to her website, Lucetta Zaytoun is a certified life coach, but how did she get to that point after landing in Hawaii? Did she immediately return home or travel some more? An epilog would have answered many questions. Otherwise, this is a great book for anyone in the mood for some armchair traveling and perhaps a little soul searching.

***

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

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

An Encounter with a Drunk Indian

When I was a student at Rocky Mountain College and Montana State University, both located in Billings, I often traveled the 150-mile trip home to Sheridan by bus. Years later, I heard a radio interview with a writer who published a collection of poems based on her experiences traveling across the country on a bus. After hearing her read some of her poems about people she encountered on her journeys, I remembered a particular experience I had and was inspired to write the following poem which appears in this year’s issue of Serendipity Poets Journal.

Intoxicated Crow on a Trailways Bus

December, 1984, in the early afternoon,

I board a bus in Billings, Montana,

for the three-hour trip to Sheridan, Wyoming.

A college student going home for Christmas,

I sit behind and to the right of the driver.

Storm clouds gather, as the bus leaves town.

 

An hour later, he gets on at Crow Agency,

sits next to me, tells me he’s Crow.

I tell him I’m one small part Cherokee,

the truth, but he doesn’t respond.

I ask where he’s going.

He says nothing—we ride in silence.

It starts to snow.

 

In the darkness about twenty miles outside of Sheridan,

the bus is surrounded by white.

The driver, a robust black man, slows down.

Wipers slap their own rhythm against the windshield.

 

The Crow tells me he’s scared.

I ask why—he doesn’t reply.

He stands, stumbles to the back,

returns, places his long legs over my short ones.

 

The busybody behind me asks if I’m comfortable.

I tell her I’m fine—I’m almost home, anyway.

She marches to the driver,

tells him about the drunk Indian on my lap.

After glancing in our direction,

the driver pulls the bus to the side of the road,

approaches the Crow, gives his shoulders a rough shake,

carries him off the bus.

Driver and Crow disappear in the swirling white.

 

I see no buildings, no trees,

nothing to shelter one ejected from a bus.

The driver returns, mumbles,

puts the bus in gear.

Wondering, I disembark in Sheridan

to begin my Christmas vacation.

Have you ever traveled anywhere on a Trailways or Greyhound bus? Did you meet any interesting people?

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver