Admittedly, there are several places in this book that I have not so far visited, but I have some familiarity with enough of them that I could occasionally smile knowingly and other times wonder at how much difference perspective can make. And that is really the point of this book, which details a wandering tour of Europe Bryson made in 1990, and regularly compares it to one he made in 1973 (I think) as a teenager with a friend, as well as an earlier solo journey.
I’ve never read any Bryson before, although I have seen various of his books umpteen times on personal, library and bookshop shelves over the years, as he’s been prolific and popular, particularly in the British Isles. Interestingly (to me) my mother just read her first book by him in the last couple of weeks as well (another of his travelogues from the 1990s) and we appear to have had the same impression: that he’s on-and-off funny but rather crude, and that he’s too much of a tourist, barely speaking to anyone on his travels or doing more than scratch the surface of the places he visits. I did my first (and relatively extensive) travelling with my parents, so I suppose it’s unsurprising that like my mother I want to get to know places a little, both by going there for a bit of time and by reading up on it before, during and even after the trip. Whenever possible, I like to go and actually do something (a course, or a job/volunteering, say) in the city/region that gets me meeting people there (often but preferably not only other incomers) and living a bit of life there. That’s not to say that I haven’t done short visits to cities like Venice, Prague and Amsterdam, just that I wouldn’t expect anyone to be interested in my opinions on those cities other than in relation to making a similar-length visit of their own.
Perhaps I’m being unfair, since Bryson is quite upfront about how he’s travelling and what he’s writing about, but honestly I’m not really all that interested in the name of the hotel he stayed in and what tourist tat was available. I wanted something that this wasn’t, and I wanted it to be funnier without all the jokes being at the level of stereotypical and stereotyping schoolboy humour. If I were going to give Bryson’s writing another chance I’d probably go for one of his books about Britain (where he’s apparently lived for many years) or the USA (where he’s from), as there are real flashes of insight in this book when he’s discussing places and things he knows better, and isn’t just making it clear how homesick he was by the end of the journey.
- Book Review! At Home by Bill Bryson (nerdist.com)
- In A Sunburned Country (bootsnall.com)
- Notes from a Small Island (bootsnall.com)
- Inspire me to grand adventure (ask.metafilter.com)
- Have beard, will travel (australiablog.com)
- Protecting England’s Rural Landscape (gardenclubsalon.wordpress.com)
- The 6th Floor: Armchair Traveler (6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Kitchen Scraps (jenawix.wordpress.com)
- A Tribute to Authors (writrsblok.wordpress.com)