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Thursday, April 7, 2016

#RPLDiscover: "The Road to Little Dribbling" by Bill Bryson

I found my first Bill Bryson book totally by chance. It was at the Printers Row Lit Fest downtown a few years ago, on a display outside the tent of a bookstore I had never heard of before. That book was The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Bryson's autobiographical memoir about his childhood and adolescence in Des Moines, Iowa.

It was such a cohesive book—nearly perfect in its balance of humor, examination of American culture in the fifties, and the history of Des Moines—I knew I had discovered a special author.

My name is Brett Peto, and I'm one of the Public Services Assistants at the Roselle Public Library. You'll find me weekdays nights and weekends at the Library Cards desk (between Circulation and Reference).

I've been a lifelong reader and writer, and I'd like to share with you what I've discovered. It's gonna be mostly books, but a movie or audiobook may find its way in occasionally.

Disclaimer time: these posts are my opinion and don't necessarily represent the opinions of the Roselle Public Library District. The library is all about ensuring everyone has access to valuable information they can use in their daily lives, but sometimes the amount of information becomes overwhelming.

I want to help you discover new things you may not have considered, seen, or heard of before. I want to help you #RPLDiscover. I'll highlight only the stuff I like the most; I'm looking to recommend great items, not tear down ones I might personally dislike.

If any of this seems rambling, it may be because I'm momentarily channeling Bryson. He rambles in the most endearing, interesting ways, like a house guest who's already made breakfast by the time you're up.

Bryson knows his history. He's lived in Great Britain for twenty-plus years, and his affection for his adopted home is clear. No matter how much he may pick at the loose ends of British culture ("I have never assumed that anything is fun just because it looks like the English are enjoying themselves doing it," he says), it's always in a friendly, just-joking manner, where you can see him saying it with a wink, a nudge, and a sip of tea.

The premise—though it's not really followed, and the book is honestly better for it—is to travel something called the Bryson Line. He made it up himself: the longest straight line one can travel across Britain, from Bognor Regis in the south (known for George V's dismissal of Bugger Bognor to Cape Wrath in the north (where the ferry stops for the winter).

Bryson, of course, never follows his own line. It's more of a general direction than a strict instruction. He spends most of his time in the south of England, and I do wish he had written more on the north of Britain and on Scotland, both of which have long experienced tensions with the south over economic and cultural differences.

It's probably the book's biggest weakness.

But what's there is, to me, gold. He's picked up the British habit of self-deprecating humor. He's constantly entertaining, even when he's discussing Derwent Dam (something, he contends, would be on license plates and postcards if it were in Iowa, but in Britain it's just easily ignored) or holiday camps in East Anglia, and you get the sense Bryson genuinely cares for the future of Great Britain.

In Notes from a Small Island, Bryson's first jaunt through the country, he wasn't quite so concerned with political issues, but in Little Dribbling, the gloves come off. Americans may not have much of an opinion one way or the other, but he makes his cases well.

He sees Britain as one of the smallest places in the world packed with the most history, calculating that even if you visited one culturally important locale every week the rest of your life, you wouldn't come close to seeing a tenth of all the landscape has to offer. There's just too much to see, too much to do, and the British need to somehow preserve it all.

Of course they won't. They can't. There aren't enough resources on the island to save hundreds of thousands of artifacts, many of which are threatened by industrial and residential development.

But Bryson believes they should at least try.

"It's the world's largest park," he says of Great Britain. "It's the most perfect accidental garden."

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