Bill Bryson is the author of a dozen or more books. I’ve read almost all of them and I’ve never been disappointed. He has a knack for describing the most ordinary moments in a way that is both simple, engaging, and laugh-out-loud funny. His book, “Neither Here Nor There: Travels In Europe” is no different. In fact, it may very well be his most prime example of simple, honest writing.
In the book, Bryson, on the verge of what many may interpret as a mid-life crisis, travels to Europe and retraces the steps that he and his college buddy, Katz, made when they were in their twenties.
Traveling through a number of key European cities and countries, Bryson describes Europe the way he sees it, without a filter protecting the people or the places he finds along the way.
While some may find his interpretation of European people and places terribly offensive, I found his work to be both daring, brave… and just plain honest. The lack of intellectual padding made me feel as though I had stumbled across Bryson’s private journal and the thoughts I was reading on the page were the ones he had made then, there in the moment, as he slowly made his way through Europe.
While reading reviews on Amazon.com, I came across the following comment, which I believe, sums up my impressions of “Neither Here Nor There”.
Well, to those who fail to catch the humor here: book a flight to Europe, and see for yourselves. Europeans aren’t somehow beyond the possibility of being unintentionally funny, and Bryson is not being an ‘ugly American’ for pointing out their foibles in very funny ways–witness, for example, his devastatingly funny transliteration of Dutch conversation, or his adventures getting travelers’ checks replaced after they’ve been stolen by a Gypsy girl in Italy.
Bryson is also honest. He tells you what he likes, and what he doesn’t, and, far from being xenophobic or parochial, he’s perfectly willing to change his mind when a place he visits either exceeds or falls short of his expectations. He lavishes praise on the most unlikely of destinations, and avoids the fawning tones of many travel writers who feel somehow obligated to adore every place they visit, especially the most famous ones. All real travelers are familiar with this phenomenon: the most intense joys of travel are most likely to be experienced in the least obvious places, and often at the most inopportune times.
Finally, Bryson is simply funny, and this book is too.
I think that pretty much sums it up.