Should the students of Estudios Ingleses read a non-fiction bestseller? I think they should. They would be sharing an experience with a quarter of a million Britons who seem to be reading the same book right now –and enjoying it. Oddly enough, the book is written by an American who has recorded his most recent trip around Britain. But Iowa-born Bill Bryson (pronounced braison) is not so American –he has now dual nationality American-British– and the view of Britain can be as fictional as the title The Road to Little Dribbling. Twenty years ago, Bill Bryson went on a trip around Great Britain and wrote Notes from a Small Island, which was voted the book that best represents Britain, so forget George Mikes’ How to be an Alien. The idea of the cultural shock received by an American who tours Her Majesty’s big island is not new, not even for Bryson, and I also recommend Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad to those interested in the shocking experience of European uses and habits for a group of 19th century Yankees. Anyway Americans –and everybody else– are still fascinated and frustrated by British eccentric pastimes and place names. The trip begins in Bognor Regis on the south coast (Bugger Bognor! is the first chapter after a hilarious prologue) and ends in Cape Wrath, UK’s most north westerly mainland extreme. This is called the Bryson line, which is followed and abandoned at will to fetch up in Wraysbury, the failed capital of Motopia, the Cornish coastline around Lyme Regis –remember The French Lieutenant’s Woman?– or Lauharne (pronounced larn), where Dylan Thomas’s writing hut still stands perched on the cliff’s edge. There’s the sentimental return, the disappointing rediscovery and the permanent bewilderment. Bryson’s insight is both funny and perceptive so this reading will give students the opportunity to enjoy and perhaps understand some of the contradictions of Britain today.
But the fun doesn’t end in Cape Wrath because Bryson has written a couple of books on the English language: The Mother Tongue: The Story of the English Language and Made in America: An Informal History of American English. Who said that linguistics cannot be entertaining and popular?