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Bill Bryson – Neither Here Nor There

May 21, 2014

34. Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson (1992)

Read By: William Roberts
Length: 9h 05min (245 pages)

Genre: Non-Fiction

Started: 20 April 2014
Finished: 25 April 2014

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? It had been a while since I’d read any Bill Bryson.

I’d bet vacation
in Europe would make me less
grumpy, not more so.

Summary: Bill Bryson travelled around Europe as a young man. In the early 1990s, he decided to retrace his steps. He starts out in Norway, hoping to see the Northern Lights. He then makes his way through the rest of Scandinavia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Turkey, reminiscing about his previous trip, and reporting along the way about the hassles of transportation, the odd accommodations, the highlights and lowlights of the various cultural attractions, and the attitudes of the locals he encounters.

Review: Not his best. From reading his other travel writing (Notes from a Small Island and In a Sunburned Country, and to some extent A Walk in the Woods), it’s pretty clear that Bryson is, at best, a grumpy traveler. I’ve occasionally wondered why, if seemingly everything about travel irks him so badly, he continues to do it. I suspect that he’s not really as grumpy as he puts on, but instead is dealing with the same minor inconveniences as any traveller, just amping up the curmudgeonliness for comic effect.

But the thing was, in this case, the grumpiness outweighed the humor, although there were some parts that were relatively amusing. But Bryson didn’t seem to enjoy much of anything about Europe except Italy, and also ogling the asses of every young European woman he saw. (Seriously, he comments on women’s bodies a lot, enough that I not only noticed but was also grossed out by it.) The biggest problem was that not only did Bryson not make me want to visit these places, it’s that he didn’t give me a particularly good feel for most of them, either. He doesn’t really talk to the locals (other than station agents and hotel clerks and the like), and he doesn’t include much of the type of history or tangents that mark some of his other travel books. So for all that he tries to point out how much cultural diversity Europe contains, all of his destinations tended to blur together, and it makes it hard to remember if this rude waiter or that crowded museum or the really terrible traffic was in Copenhagen or Vienna or where. And given how dated this book is at this point, it’s hard to say how much of the impression that he does give is still accurate at this point. (So maybe this book did make me want to go to Europe after all, if for nothing else but to compare!) 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: It’s not terrible, but it’s out of date, and it’s not Bryson at his best at any rate. I think it might actually be better for those with some experience traveling in Europe already, who can impose their own experiences over Bryson’s grumbling.

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First Line: In winter Hammerfest is a thirty-hour ride by bus from Oslo, though why anyone would want to go there in winter is a question worth considering.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 22, 2014 3:04 am

    I love Bill Bryson, but I definitely think that his travel writing is not his best work, though the one where he goes to Australia is okay. It irks me because it’s what he’s known for! People should be paying attention to The Mother Tongue and a Brief History of Nearly Everything as well! Thanks for the review :)

    • May 22, 2014 4:22 pm

      Jace – The Australia book was fun, especially listening to it as I was packing for my own trip to Australia. I haven’t read The Mother Tongue yet, but I love love love ABHoNE!

  2. May 22, 2014 4:01 pm

    Reading just one of Bryson’s travel books was enough for me. Notes on a Small Island was too curmudgeonly for me, and I’ve never tried another one of Bryson’s books. I’m hoping for better things from his non-travel-book nonfiction, though!

    • May 22, 2014 4:27 pm

      Jenny – Yeah, I found this one even more curmudgeonly than Notes on a Small Island. But A Short History of Nearly Everything is brilliant. And I think A Walk in the Woods does a good job of bridging the travel/non-travel gap – it’s still a travel book, technically, but it includes a lot more “informational” non-fiction blended in, and in that case the grumpiness is actually funny most of the time, since it’s about situations that are legitimately more unpleasant than hard-to-decipher bus schedules.

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