I listened to the audiobook, which was my undoing in the end. I was blown away by Bryson - a very workaday sort of author - going all Proustian with the flashbacks and flashforwards. He would visit Prague as an adult, which would kick off a passage about visiting Italy as a callous young man, back and forth like this through time. It was a commentary on the nature of travel and getting older, and on the ability of "where you are" to remind you of "who you used to be." A staggering work of subtlety, and from such an unlikely source. If some of the transitions were a little rough, well, I just chalked that up to the limitations of the audiobook format. You can't hear chapter breaks, or passages separated by a few extra line breaks, that sort of thing.Then when I was syncing my iPod I discovered the truth. ITunes had neatly shuffled all the files. Instead of listening to it like:Chapter 1 Part 1Chapter 1 Part 2 Chapter 1 Part 3 (etc)My iPod played it to me like:Chapter 1 Part 1Chapter 2 Part 1Chapter 3 Part 1I fell in love with a book that never existed. Also, it seems that William Burroughs was right.Can I recommend this book? Only if you read it completely out of order.Pvw
Didn't read all of this, just picked out the places I'd been to myself. But if I hadn't reached the libraray deadline, I would surely have read the rest as well.I enjoy traveling alone and making small notes of the funny things I see. Bryson does this at least as good (and possibly a lot better) than I do. I had lots of good laughs with his adventures in Belgium, I agree with him about the shock it must be to have a clean kept city like Bruges only at a one hour train ride from the unimaginably ugly city of Brussels. There's also a nice remark about the waitresses in American diners, who are so unfriendly that, when you order, they give you a look as if you just asked them if it was okay for you to sodomise their youngest daughter and take her on a road trip to Mexico in search of narcotics and booze.Apart from the funny style, most chapters really made me feel like visiting the places where Bryson went to. I think he is right in saying that Amsterdam, beautiful as it still may be, is also suffering from its own reputation for absolute tolerance and freedom. Next to that, Bryson made a good case for going to Haarlem, the less known city nearby with a lovely centre dominated by a huge cathedral. It is definitely on my destination list next time I visit the Netherlands!Leftbanker
Why bother to actually travel when you can just regurgitate stereotypes that have been passed around since man invented borders? Honest to God, he really complains about haughty Parisian waiters. I didn’t find anything in this book of essays to be even remotely insightful and I don’t ever find Bryson to be funny. Most of what I have read by him is just a collection of his gripes against the rest of humanity. I have never read any of his travel stuff where he actually meets an interesting person who has something worth saying. When I first read this several years ago I just figured that it was the first thing Bryson wrote, perhaps when he was a college student packbacking around Europe. It was published when he was 48 years old. It is completely lacking in the sort of wisdom you would expect from a writer that old.Melbourne on my mind
2.5 stars. Definitely my least favourite Bryson book. It's an interesting and entertaining read, as always, but I think it lacks a little of what I love so much about Bryson - his random historical/cultural sidebars. You know, the bits where he goes off on a tangent and tells a story about some nineteenth century dudebro who...IDK, got sick of girls rejecting him so dedicated his life to chopping down the mightiest tree in the forest with a herring or whatever. This, on the other hand, is more of a straight travel story, and the majority of the tangents are of the "When Katz and I were in Europe in the 70s..." variety, which tended to suffer a little from the rose coloured glasses of nostalgia. For me, it rapidly became a "here's what's wrong with the place" sprinkled with occasional "this cathedral is super pretty", with complaints about the cost of food and beer and accommodation, detailed descriptions of everything that was wrong with every hotel, and some really awkward and slightly racist complaints about how Asian tourists are ruining travel. It also feels pretty dated now, having been written as the Iron Curtain was starting to fall and therefore paints a pretty bleak picture of Eastern Europe.Where I find most of Bryson's books fascinating and filled with hilarious titbits, this became a little formulaic with each of the 22 chapters dedicated to a different city or country and going through the following steps:1. Arrive in city, find a hotel2. Complain about hotel room, go out and find a bar3. Complain about wait staff/cost of beer/cost of food/quality of food4. Locate a museum or cathedral. Talk about how pretty it is. If museum, complain about how much of the collection is not on display.5. Walk through city and complain about how dirty everything is.6. Decide to leave city for another place that you hazily remember loving in your early 20s.The formula is entertaining to begin with, but if you read more than a couple of chapters at a time, it rapidly becomes tedious. Better than okay, but not sufficiently so to call it good.Susan
Current read-aloud with daughter Kristen.Parts of this book were "laugh out loud so hard I snorted and almost dropped the book on the floor" moments. Bryson's take on Parisians, for instance, and an episode where he felt down and hurt certain sensitive body parts. Or the smelly family crammed into his train compartment. Please note that this was a *read aloud* book, so these moments made it quite difficult to get back to task. :) Other parts left me feeling a little "meh" about the book, particularly those parts which were regurgitations of his earlier travels on the same general route with his buddy in the '70s. WAY too much focus on sex and booze for me in those - I just wanted to tell him, "Oh c'mon, grow up, will ya?"Overall, though, it was wonderful to get a glimpse (albeit a very, very one-person-specific glimpse) at cities and countries I've not visited, and to see how my own impressions compared to his in places I have visited. And those hilarious moments were often truly spectacular. 3.5 stars.Cheryl in CC NV
I generally don't rate books unless I finish them, but after reading other reviews I do believe I got far enough in to be able to judge this. Here's Bryson wittily whining again - sharing little bits of interesting insights into bits of Europe amongst lots of boring stuff about him and his inability to admit he'd have a lot less to whine about if he planned ahead just a little bit. A line of Americans for the Louvre!? Really?! Who'd've thunk!!Margaret
I am really struggling with rating this one. This books was incredibly hard to get into, but it could have been my own restlessness. I just found myself wishing he would interact with others more, because his own observations were pretty dull through a large chunk of the book. That said, I appreciate Bill Bryson's sense of humor, and he did have some interesting insights along the way. In fact, I had a similar trip through Europe and found our observations were often in sync. However, he spends way too much time in Northern Europe, gripes a bit too much, and spent way too much time talking about his travelers checks. His endless critiques of Italy became annoying as well. Yes, Florence is Disneyland for adults with way too many tourists and touristy shops, but all you need to do is go to the smaller towns around it to escape this influence. The same thing goes with Switzerland. He went to the two worst cities in Switzerland. That country has so much natural beauty if you leave the cities and go into the country. He should have thrown away those guide books, and gotten in touch with Rick Steves. Of course, I don't think Rick Steves had published guide books at that point. He was also lacking the wonders of the Internet and things like Hostels.com in 1992. I have traveled with Fodors Guidebooks before, and they truly suck. I got the impression that they were written by super old rich white men with bad taste. Anyway, I gave this book two stars, but I think others might like it a lot more than I did.Anna Savage
This book is terrible. I listened to it on CD, and the writing was so predictable that I found myself completing each sentence before it was spoken. That was, in fact, the only way I managed to keep my attention on the book rather than contemplating the fascinating landscape of Indiana visible out my window. But the book wasn't just boring, it was also embarrassingly bad. I was a huge Bill Bryson fan in high school. I decided to hike the Appalachian Trial after reading A Walk in the Woods. But I think if I went back and read that book, I would find it just as obnoxious, boring, and lame. Anyone with more than 15 years of life experience would have to. His jokes are in bad taste, which would be ok if they were funny, but they are not. He is so self-deprecating as to make it obvious that he actually has a huge ego that he's trying to conceal so the audience will like him. I wish I had never listened to his book, because my opinion of him is forever tainted. Also, who writes a travel book that describes the meals, repeatedly, with "I dined lightly," or "I dined heavily," and the buildings with "It was lovely," or "It was disappointing"? Wow. That really makes me want to go to...nowhere.Cynthia .
"Hugely funny (not snigger-snigger funny, but great-big-belly-laugh-till-you-cry-funny" - Daily Telegraph.Hmmm... I think that review is a trifle misleading falsehood. Sure, some parts were funny, but it wasn't the sort to make your belly hurt and make you cry. I can sum up the book with this: Mr. Bryson goes from one country to another and:1. Finds himself a hotel. Always expensive. So he ends up complaining. 2. Finds a restaurant/bar. Finds it expensive and/or food is terrible. So he ends up complaining. 3. Walks around the city. Always finds flaws here and there. So he again ends up complaining. 4. Finds himself in a crowded train station, and again complains about the long queues. In the book's 22 chapters, that was almost always the scene. Not one part of the book gave me the sense of excitement; which I believe it should have! It is a book about traveling anyway... in Europe!! What Bill Bryson did was not traveling at all. He lacked the whole sense of it. Traveling is not just about roaming around, stopping by bars, getting drunk, noticing how awfully constructed a building is, or how noisy and dirty the streets are. It is about getting into the heart of a country... id est, its culture.. its people. He missed that.Rob Warner
You know the canonical essay question, "If you could meet anyone in history, who would it be?" My answer is Bill Bryson. He's a treasure. I'd love to watch him write. I imagine him tugging scraps of paper from him pockets, pawing through notes, scribbling a few sentences through the haze of pipe smoke, and chuckling a bit before pulling out more notes. He's hilarious. He commands the English language like Pele commands a soccer ball, etching metaphors that resonate and wonder why you didn't think of it first.brendan
while bill bryson does possess a fair amount of the cranky traveler that has overwhelmed the genre these days (and is found particularly appealing by the united states audiences) it fails to appeal to the younger traveler-more hopeful travelerthe comments that i found to be most exciting/humorous/poignant were those involving mr bryson's earlier european travail with the unfortunately unlikeable katz, particulalrly their almost pathetic and as my bryson claims, "catholic" starved sex drives, adventures with the opposite sexpeople out of their twenties may find mr. bryson incredibly poignant and humorous, however i feel that that may be the extent of his appealJessica
Overall I enjoyed reading this travel memoir. Mr Bryson is witty and at times I was laughing so hard I had a hard time breathing. BUT, I found his repeated racial slurs annoying, then tiresome, then as they continued I was offended and somewhat disgusted. He goes a bit too far about Germans joking that he could recognize them by their jackboots. He loves to paint an entire country's population with the same brush. He says a couple of times that he thinks the Italians shouldn't have been told about the invention of the car because of the way they drive, but forgets the fact that they have designed and built some of the most amazing cars the world has ever seen. There are many more examples of his overly simplistic worldview that I will not include. If I was actually from any of the countries he traveled to I think I would have dropped his book in the nearest garbage can as soon as I read the first paragraph of his visit to my country. Lucky for me I am Canadian and could read on with mild annoyance. If you have enjoyed his writing in the past or if you yourself are slightly or even very racist you will enjoy this book.Piotr
Have I ever mentioned, that I love this guy hopelessly and unconditionally?I would definitely buy every new book written by Bill Bryson even if it suddenly struck him as a good idea to write a gardening guide or a household appliances manual. His sense of humour reaches deep down into my brain, pulling some loud, incomprehensible, wheezing sounds out of it, which is particularly interesting when I read his books using public transport. On such ocassions all my fellow-travellers usually look at me with a mixture of fascination and horror, and move back a step or two, just in case. And I just can't stop gurgling."Neither Here Nor There" is not an exception. It should seriously have a warning: "don't read it in public or face the consequences". Or something like that.Even if practical information in this book are mostly out of date (it was written in 1990 after all, when Europe was just on a brink of the biggest political, social and geographical change since World War II), his thorough social observations are still valid in most cases. Anyway, he was fully aware, that his visit to Central and Eastern Europe (he visited Yugoslavia and Bulgaria) was probably the last chance to see it before it become similar to the rest of the continent. And now there is no Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria is a member of the European Union, looking almost the same as any other european country. Lucky bastard has cought it just when these countries were about to transform completely.But even when he writes about Western European countries, that look more or less the same for the last couple of decades, he always notices things we usually miss when we travel as tourists. And these observations are not always optimistic, to say the least, even if spiced with his brilliant humour.He's great at spotting things. Little differences between cultures, curious customs or habits, annoying details of every day life that could make it miserable if they weren't so ridiculous.Bill Bryson is capable of deactivating every bomb of potentially dangerous differences simply with laughter.Have I ever mentioned, that I adore this guy?Jessica
The reason I read this book is because there have been some excellent extracts from it in the course books I teach from. Unfortunately I think those extracts were actually the best bits... I certainly learnt nothing new from reading the entire book.Bryson is funny, but after a while he comes across as whiny and just a touch xenophobic. I've never quite understood the point of travelling and then asking for 'something that would pass for food in America' to eat.Furthermore, the chapter structure became a little tiresome after a while: the routine of arrive, find hotel, have steaming hot shower/bath, wander round town, have something to eat was rarely deviated from.Perhaps this book was considered quite differently at the time of publishing, before the era of cheap flights meant Europe was easily accessible to all.Katie
Bill Bryson is amazing. He captures the essence of the peculiarities of travel.. of people in general. I read this before going to London (also read Noted from a Small Island- about England which was also excellent).. If you've traveled or want to travel, it's a great little book full of entertaining short stories. I read part of the 'Belgium' chapter to my grandmother (she's from Antwerp) and she nearly went off her rocker. No really, she almost fell off her chair laughing. :o) I recommend.