Summer being what it is (to wit, comparatively warmer and drier), no doubt you’re planning on taking a vacation in the next couple of months. Maybe you’re heading to the beach. Maybe you’re going abroad. Maybe you’re attending a family reunion on a nuclear submarine and staging a singalong version of The Sound of Music at 900 feet.
“Oh, Dad, I’m so glad we found you! You’re playing the Reverend Mother, remember? Climb Every Mountain is up next — hurry and get your wimple.”
For many people, vacations are a chance to explore a culture or an area they’ve always loved. And for many of those people, actually arriving in that area and experiencing that culture firsthand can be a bit of a shock.
For example, I grew up in a popular tourist town on the beach. Every summer, we locals would have a great time laughing at the tourists who showed up on the beach with their bikinis and sunscreen, not realizing that our beach is not the kind of beach where one basks in the sun, drinking appletinis and exchanging flirtatious glances with lifeguards. Our beach is more of a place where one tests out the wind-buffering capacity of new ski gear. My dad sometimes says that the town’s most lucrative industry is selling sweatshirts to optimistic tourists.
But no matter how rude an awakening those tourists get when they see our fog and drizzle, many of them keep coming back again and again. It’s like they’ve learned that their ideal beach town is fictional, but they’ve found something even better in its place.
Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island is like that discovery. As he narrates in the book, Bryson, an American, stopped in England on his way home from a European jaunt and ended up getting a job in a mental hospital there, where he met his future wife. Nearly two decades later, he and his family decided to move back to the U.S. — but not before Bryson toured the width and breadth of England one last time, saying farewell everything he loved (and hated) about the country.
If you’d like to visit England, Notes from a Small Island is a good crash course in the quiet nooks and crannies of the nation. If you’ve already spent some time there, Notes will remind you of the endearing (and maddening) details you’ve forgotten. And for all readers, Bryson will inspire and delight as he broaches the questions of belonging and adapting with a level of humor many travel writers lack.
What are your travel plans for this summer? Is it a new destination for you, or an old favourite?
Just a short reminder — the game’s still on for our Harry Potter appreciation week! Post links to your HP-inspired essays, artwork, music, recipes, and crochet patterns, and they’ll be eligible for featuring on this blog!
Photo credits: Book cover from Better World Books; submarine interior from tpsdave at Pixabay.