Monday, January 25, 2016

Bill Bryson's Latest Walk in The World's Largest Park

I had never read Bill Bryson. Book after book came out and sounded interesting but I never managed to get a hold of one and actually read it. So when I saw The Road to Little Dribbling on NetGalley I requested it. It was about time I read the man!

The Road to Little Dribbling chronicles Bryson's travels across England, a follow-up to his 1995 travel book Notes from a Small Island. He starts in Buggar Bognor in the south and zig-zags north to Cape Wrath. He revisits places he knew and loved, noting the changes--mostly for the worse. "In countless small ways the world around us grows gradually shittier," he notes. Where quaint gardens beautified houses there are driveways with cars and trash cans.

Much to my husband's chagrin, I opened the book and started roaring almost immediately. He thought he was reading the humorous book. We had a moment of competing busts of laughter, but after four pages I was still at it. He admitted defeat and left the room.

Bryson never misses an opportunity to note the foibles, imbecilities, frailties, and ridiculous in human nature. And, we are educated about the threat of attack by cows. It is very real. In Britain every cow attack is national news. Four people were killed  in 2009 after all.

I was in a cow field at Putt's farm when I was a little girl. I traipsed through the cow pies to pet one. Neither she nor her girlfriends made any threatening moves. (Unlike the goat at a tourist trap in New York State that went after my coat when I was four!) I can't imagine living in a country where a cow attack is considered a threat. Here in America we are fearful of real threats. Like getting Ebola or the plague. The news wouldn't report it if it weren't a threat, right?

Bryson is involved in The Campaign to Preserve Rural England, The Metropolitan Green Belt around London protects against the urban sprawl we have in America. I spent a great deal of my lie in urban sprawl, i.e. the 'burbs. I am used to miles and miles of big box stores, chain restaurants, and houses that look all the same. The Economist magazine argues that the Green Belt limits growth. Who needs pretty, pristine, open spaces when we can have another coffee house?

I actually like the idea of open green spaces in a city. I think of the parks in Philadelphia. William Penn planned five parks to provide open space. Over 60 parks including Fairmont Park along the Schuylkill River and the Wissihickon Park with its gorge that inspired painters like Thomas Moran, cover 9,200 acres in prime real estate areas.

When Bryson is admiring the moor around the River Colne, unchanged for a thousand years, he listens to the roars of Heathrow airport and learns they want to build a runway on that will destroy most of Wraysbury Reservoir. I remembered the Tinicum Wildlife Refuge nestled between the Philadelphia Airport and Gulf Oil. It was a bird sanctuary along the migration paths. Jets flew low overhead as we admired a Green Heron or saw thousands of Snow Egrets turn the trees white.

Bryson covers some things that were quite interesting, but other times I didn't feel much connection to what he was writing about. He can come across as curmudgeonly. I began to think the England I had wanted to see forty years ago had vanished. But in the end he affirms his love of his adopted country, especially for the beauty of land that I have always imagined.
Hedgerow in England

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased

The Road to Little Dribbling
Bill Bryson
Doubleday Books
Publication Date: January 19, 2015
$12.99 ebook

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