Bill Bryson is funny. Not the funniest, but funny. But that’s not what I love most about his writing. He’s a gentleman, good-humored, insightful, intelligent without being pompous. He teaches without seeming to, and only gives you the good stuff.
Here, a few quotes from one of his books, The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain. I think from these you’ll see what I mean.
- I recently realized with dismay that I am even too old now for early onset dementia. Any dementia I get will be right on time.
- Nothing—and I mean really, absolutely nothing—is more extraordinary in Britain than the beauty of the countryside. Nowhere in the world is there a landscape that has been more intensively utilized—more mined, farmed, quarried, covered with cities and clanging factories, threaded with motorways and railroad tracks—and yet remains so comprehensively and reliably lovely over most of its extent. It is the happiest accident in history. In terms of natural wonders, you know, Britain is a pretty unspectacular place. It has no alpine peaks or broad rift valleys, no mighty gorges or thundering cataracts. It is built to really quite a modest scale. And yet with a few unassuming natural endowments, a great deal of time, and an unfailing instinct for improvement, the makers of Britain created the most superlatively park-like landscapes, the most orderly cities, the handsomest provincial towns, the jauntiest seaside resorts, the stateliest homes, the most dreamily-spired, cathedral-rich, castle-strewn, abbey-bedecked, folly-scattered, green-wooded, winding-laned, sheep-dotted, plumply-hedgerowed, well-tended, sublimely decorated 88,386 square miles the world has ever known—almost none of it undertaken with aesthetics in mind, but all of it adding up to something that is, quite often, perfect. What an achievement that is.
- And it is just packed with stuff. London has 50,000 listed buildings, 150 scheduled ancient monuments, 900 conservation areas, 550 archaeological sites, and four World Heritage sites. It has forty-three universities, more than any other place else in the world. It has nearly three hundred museums. It has a garden museum, a cricket museum, a museum of typefaces and fonts. There are museums devoted to magic, canals, Freemasons,
- You can never run out of things to look at in London.
- What 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.
- Isn’t it amazing how many people in the world hate you? Most of them you will never even meet, and yet they really don’t like you at all. All the people who write software at Microsoft hate you, and so do most of the people who answer phones at Expedia. The people at TripAdvisor would hate you, if they weren’t so fucking stupid.
- Did you know, Britain has 108 steam railways—that is surely 106 or so more than any nation needs—run by 18,500 volunteers? It is an extraordinary fact but a true one that there are thousands of men in Britain who will never need Viagra as long as steam trains are in operation.
Get the entire recommended reading list at Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday.