Having taken a rather memorable few trips through Europe in his youth and early adulthood, Bill Bryson decides to repeat the experience solo as an adult. After all, at the time of writing he lived in England but had hardly ever traveled across to the continent. In an effort to remedy that, he first sets off for Norway to watch the Northern Lights, then slowly makes his way south to city after city of hotel rooms and amusing cultural insights, ending up in Istanbul.
It’s no secret that I am a big fan of Bill Bryson, and now that I’m off on my first ever trip to the Continent myself, I thought it was the perfect time to be reading this book. I’m only going to Paris right now, but I have big plans for the future, and I couldn’t wait to read Bryson’s perspective on Europe. (I did plan to read a book more specifically on Paris, but the library lost it before it got to me, so I chose this instead.) Bryson didn’t disappoint me at all, and I found myself laughing along at all of his jokes and thoroughly enjoying this book. I also discovered that it was perfect for late night Read-a-thon as everything he says just becomes hilarious when you’re that tired. I may possibly have preferred more depth – a bit more detail on the history of each place perhaps – but I was still quite pleased with what I got.
What I like most about his books is that while he encounters stereotypes and in many respects has a “typical” experience in certain countries, I never feel like he’s stereotyped the country without a good bit of humor. He pokes fun at them, but he also regularly pokes fun at himself in the world, so it’s impossible to be offended by anything – something which I admired when reading his books about my own country. I like that Bryson’s books feel like a friend has sat chatting with me about his trip; they’re not high literature or particularly sophisticated, they’re just about a really funny writer who has had quite a few memorable trips and life experiences.
Contrasting his trip now with his trip years ago really brought to life how much the world has changed in a short span of time and simultaneously how much remains the same. Our world is indeed evolving, but in ways perhaps different from what we might expect. The most poignant section of the book for me was his trip back to Sofia, Bulgaria, formerly in his mind a wonderful place with a particularly notable huge shopping mall. When he arrived this time, there were queues for bread and the shopping mall was virtually empty. The landmarks were the same, but the entire feel of the city had changed and was set to change again just a short time later.
I’m definitely looking forward to reading more by Bill Bryson – his later writing is definitely better, if The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is any indication, so I’ll be rounding out my collection of his books sometime in the very near future. In the meantime, Neither Here, Nor There was an amusing, sarcastic little read and I would definitely recommend reading it before or during a trip to Europe.
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