Well, this was fun! Many of the travel books I’ve read have been about far-flung exotic locations and although fascinating, have felt rather remote. But Bill Bryson has the knack of writing about ordinary, everyday sorts of places and still making them interesting or presenting them in a new light.
In this, he describes his travels around small-town America in search of the sort of perfect town remembered through rose-coloured specs from childhood holidays. Whether or not he finds it is a different story *grin* but in the meantime he encounters simply dozens of weird and wonderful towns, restaurants, stores, museums and national monuments – and the even weirder people who inhabit or run them.
I’d already read his book ‘Notes on a Small Island’, where he reveals his love for all things British and manages to laugh with, rather than at, the strange little customs and the sillier side of British life. Here, perhaps because he’s writing about the land of his birth, he’s a good deal less restrained and can sound vicious as he describes the endless dreary miles of shopping malls and gas stations that appear to have taken over middle America.
If I had a gripe at all, it’s that too many sentences start with the sort of mind-numbing ‘next I drove 57 miles north along highway 152’ detail beloved of train-spotters. It must be hard to write a travel book without mentioning the travel but here it does start to intrude after a while. And the book’s structure is a little odd, too. Well over half is given over to the eastern states, and the west is tacked on in what feels like rather an afterthought, almost as though he ran out of things to say about the east before the agreed word-count had been reached.
But I still thoroughly enjoyed the book and found it opened my eyes to some of the better (and worse!) aspects of American life.