Although I had been told that Bill Bryson was a wonderful writer I, for some reason, avoided his books for a long time. Now I’ve read a handful of them, and I would like to join the chorus that claims his books are wonderful. He is very funny, and very insightful. His books are easy to read, yet intelligent. And I nearly squirted milk out of my nose trying to hold back a laugh while reading Notes from a Small Island tonight. Loud laughs from my room at 10:00pm on a Sunday night would probably concern my flatmate, so thus the laugh trying to escape out my nose, milk in hand. Here’s the part that got me:
Prolonged solitary travel, you see, affects people in different ways. It is an unnatural business to find yourself in a strange place with an underutilized brain and no particular reason for being there, and eventually it makes you go a little crazy. I’ve seen it in others often. Some solitary travellers start talking to themselves: little silently murmured conversations that they think no-one else notices. Some desperately seek the company of strangers, striking up small talk at shop counters and hotel reception desks and then lingering for an uncomfortably long period before finally departing. Some become ravenous, obsessive sightseers, tramping from sight to sight with a guide-book in a lonely quest to see everything. Me, I get a sort of interrogative diarrhoea. I ask private, internal questions – scores and scores of them – for which I cannot supply answers. And so as I stood by a greengrocer’s in Thurso, looking at its darkened interior with pursed lips and a more or less empty head, from out of nowhere I thought, Why do they call it a grapefruit? and I knew that the process had started.