Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson

Notes From A Small Island By Bill Bryson When I started this book I was laughing at his spot-on descriptions of everyday scenarios. He has an ability to describe a situation so you could mentally visualize the setting…. as if you were right there. Here is a writer who brought England into my home, vivid imagery of places we visited as well as lovely accounts of English villages we have not been fortunate enough to see on a vacation.

Bryson had the good fortune to live in England for almost 20 years of his adult life. He met and married an Englishwoman when he was working at a hospital. Once he and his family decided to move to the USA, Bryson made a 7 week tour of England, Wales and Scotland. He hiked, he took buses and rented cars in this quick walk-about, all the while journaling the sights, and his impressions/opinions about various towns, histories and the people he encountered. This book is a result of those journal observations.

That being said, there were a few disappointing passages which revealed Bryson as arrogant and condescending. While I won’t say it ruined the book, it made me sad to know the image he portrayed as ugly American. Usually we don’t include antidotes and stories that place us in a bad light; I know I don’t. Surprisingly he relayed a story about verbally abusing a McDonald’s counter clerk.

The young man asked if he’d like an apple pie with his order and Bryson went off on him. Bryson asked if he thought he was brain damaged and ranted. How rude! Anyone who has ever had to endure a fast food job knows you are sometimes required to suggest another menu item to the customer. Any adult (most especially a visitor in another country) that would berate a young person publicly doesn’t sit highly in my book. It’s more than rude, it’s being a bully.

I abhor the idea of the reputed “ugly American” and it embarrasses me when my fellow countrymen make asses of themselves when vacationing abroad. Sadly, this is the reputation that sticks. We aren’t all bombastic, pompous idiots!

So, overall the tone of the book (with the exceptions of two boorish incidents) was a detailed travel journal, one man’s opinion and observations on his trek around Great Britain. It’s full of good information about the tourist places as well as gems on villages off the beaten track. Overall a funny read but I don’t think I will see if he behaves in Australia and pass on that book I was planning to read.

For a foodie inspiration, I recall the signs Put British Pork on Your Fork when we traveled there on vacation.


While I am not serving pork from a British source, we do shop locally and buy meats from locally raised animals. This pork tenderloin came from Jones Country Meats, just 25 miles from home in southern Georgia. Would you like some Apple Brandy-Glazed Pork Tenderloin?

Apple Brandy-Glazed Pork Tenderloin
From Cooking Light, December 2013

3 cups unfiltered apple cider
1/2 cup brandy
3 thyme sprigs
1 large shallot, sliced
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
2 (3/4-pound) pork tenderloins, trimmed
Cooking spray

Combine first 4 ingredients in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook until reduced to 1/2 cup (about 32 minutes). Remove from heat; discard thyme and shallot. Stir in butter, mustard, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Preheat oven to 475°.

Sprinkle pork evenly with remaining 3/8 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Lightly coat with cooking spray. Place pork in a roasting pan; bake at 475° for 9 minutes. Turn pork over; brush evenly with 2 tablespoons cider mixture. Bake an additional 8 minutes or until thermometer inserted in the thickest portion of pork registers 140°. Let pork stand for 10 minutes. Slice pork, and serve with remaining sauce.

This book was on my list for the The Eclectic Reader Book Challenge. Also adding my review to Goodreads and Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking Series.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

28 thoughts on “Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson

  1. This sounds awesome. I haven’t read this Bill Bryson, but I’ve loved all the books of his I’ve read. Sorry that he put you off, but you might want to try In a Sunburnt Country anyway. Or his Walk in the Woods, if you want to stay in America.


  2. I know what you mean about brash, rude American tourists. Many travel abroad and expect everything to be exactly as they are used to in the States and they complain and demand. It does make you embarrassed to be American.

    I’d still like to read this book, though, especially if, as you say, his descriptions are so spot on you feel you are right there.

    I’ll have to try this pork tenderloin recipe!


  3. I’ve felt that about Bryson before and I think this comes out even more when he’s reading his books on audio rather than reading them in print (though there were a few places in In the Woods where I raised my brows). It’s unfortunate the way some behave both abroad and in our home country!


  4. Odd that he writes about his own rudeness, but that doesn’t make it any better. Behavior like that is one thing I can’t stand. Onto nicer things, your pork sounds lovely!


  5. Love all of Bryson’s books, but don’t remember the rude outburst to the poor fast food worker. Usually, his humor is very self-deprecating and the rants are in his head and on paper.

    Anyway, I would love to put some British pork on my fork!


  6. Isn’t it disappointing when an otherwise good book includes something like that?! Takes you right out of the enjoyable reading experience. *sigh*

    On a happy note, your pork tenderloin looks delicious!


  7. I have been meaning to read more of Bill Bryson’s books, including this one. I’ve read the Appalachian Trail one and The Short History of Nearly Everything and enjoyed them. Too bad about the humor going wrong in a few places in this one!


  8. The boorish comments have changed my opinion of Bryson. I love his writing yet cannot stand someone who feels the new to downgrade someone else. Thanks for this honest review. I also buy only local meats and feel happy about celebrating true farmers near me.


  9. Pingback: In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson | Novel Meals

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