‘Neither Here Nor There’ is neither terrible nor great

Look, I enjoy Bill Bryson’s writing quite a lot. The first Bryson book I ever read was Notes from a Small Island (1995), an account of an American man’s travels around Great Britain. I remember finding it ripsnortingly funny at the time, and also on a subsequent re-read a few years later. I went on to enjoy quite a few of his other humorous travelogues over the years, as well as his memoir, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (2006).

So over the past few years I’ve found more enjoyment in his more straightforward histories, such as At Home: A Short History of Private Life and One Summer: America, 1927(2010 and 2013, respectively). But when I found Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe (1992) forgotten on my bookshelves, I decided to give it a try before donating it to the library book sale.

Neither Here nor There has some funny passages, to be sure. The book opens with Bryson’s nearly futile quest to see the Northern Lights in the far north of Norway without freezing to death in the process. But other sections are a little too freighted with an unattractive provincialism, as when he disparages a Swedish clerk in a train station for not speaking English, apparently forgetting that he is the one visiting her country who did not bother to learn even the most rudimentary Swedish phrases to ease his travels.

So, yeah. If you’ve enjoyed Bryson’s other travelogues and don’t find them to be distastefully xenophobic, I suspect you’ll enjoy this one as well. The themes here are well established in his other work; only the names and places have changed.

Published by Julia

I learned to read before I started kindergarten, and I haven't stopped yet.

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