I've heard Bryson's books mentioned over and over again in the book blogging world. He seems to be the type of author whom you either love or hate, and in addition to writing travelogues, he's dabbled in science writing and general non-fiction. To be honest, I wasn't really sure if I would like travel writing because I didn't know if I would find it interesting or entertaining. But in discovering Bill Bryson's work, I needn't have worried so much. The man could make using a phone booth interesting and funny, and at times I couldn't contain myself when reading this book. I guess I'm sort of a funny reader because most comic writing seems to leave me tepid, and about the only author that seems to consistently make me laugh is David Sedaris. That is, until I met Bill Bryson.
Bryson starts his adventures in Hammerfest, Norway, and right from the beginning, things begin to spiral out of control when he's not listed on the flight's passenger manifest. After a hilarious and eye opening chat with the ticketing agent, I began to see just what this book was going to be like. It was going to be a slapdash romp through the European countryside, filled with a provocative peek into some of the worlds most picturesque places. It was likely to be very weird as well.
As Bryson travels to both the known and unknown stretches of Europe, he gives an account of what the land and people are like in that part of the world. He describes beautiful mountain vistas, bucolic fields and rolling hills, and marvelous descriptions of lakes and rivers. He also likes to spend a lot of time in museums, and chooses some of the more famous haunts along with some new ones: like the tobacco museum in Vienna, where he comes across a whole lot of smoking implements and ashtrays and more than a few portraits of people smoking. It was these weird bits that kept me entertained. The story of the strangely erotic portrait in France, or the graphic arts museum that seemed to hold no art—these things were the tidbits I looked forward to on each page, and though I did enjoy the sedate information on the attributes of each area, I was all about finding the funny.
Some of the things Bryson relates were totally foreign to me, such as the severely depressed economy of Bulgaria and his observations that shopping there was more like scavenging for anything that was for sale. Stores have empty shelves and sell their wares out of a crate. When the crate is empty, the store closes for the day, and people with handfuls of useless money go into insane buying frenzies over pairs of mustard colored socks. I was also surprised to find that it's perfectly acceptable for drunken businessmen to pee against buildings in Amsterdam, and that a general state of disrepair was all too common in most areas of Europe. It was eye opening for me, because I've never really been a traveler, and to get this inside look into a place that I had always considered mysterious was to get a look into a world completely foreign from my own.
Bryson doesn't always get caught up in the negatives though, and there are a lot of sections that relate the cultural bonding of travelers and natives, who truly appreciate and celebrate their differences and similarities. Bryson speaks with passion about these people and their country, and shares meals, accommodations, and conversation with them, as well as getting the scoop about places that he might not have found on his own. Of course, there are some drawbacks to mingling with the natives, especially when you don't speak their language, and Bryson wittily dissects these moments as well, sharing his perplexity with the reader in an utterly hilarious way.
I think I annoyed the stuffing out of my husband, following him around the house and reading passage after passage of this book to him, whether he wanted to hear it or not; but he often smiled and a few times even guffawed along with me at Bryson's take on Europe. I think that is the best recommendation that I can give to a book. When I pester and pester you with quotes and asides it's likely that I am having a great time with that particular book, and for those who haven't read Bryson yet, I would definitely advise picking up one of his books. Neither Here nor There was lively, entertaining and fun, and might just make you wheezy with laughter. Recommended.