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10 Memoirs for Anglophiles

10 Memoirs for Anglophiles

I finally got around to reading Bill Bryson’s latest book, The Road to Little Dribbling.  It’s a follow-up to Bryson’s popular book, Notes From a Small Island, which was published in 1995.  In Little Dribbling, Bryson sets out to travel the length of Great Britain.  He starts his journey in the seaside town of Bognor Regis in the south.  Eventually he ends up in Cape Wrath, Scotland, which by his calculation is the northernmost edge of Britain.  Along the way, he reports on parts of the country that few tourists ever visit.

The Road to Little Dribbling had just been published when I was in England last fall.  It was receiving rave reviews, but I put off reading it.  In part this was because there were many other things on which to spend my precious stash of pounds, and in part because I hadn’t particularly enjoyed Notes from a Small Island.  I finally decided to give it a try when I saw it on the shelf at my local library.

The book jacket is filled with accolades.  The Times reviewer said “There were moments when I snorted out loud with laughter while reading this book in public…”  The Sunday Times reviewer said “Fans should expect to chuckle, sort, snigger, grunt, laugh out loud, and shake with recognition…”  Like these reviewers, I soon found myself laughing out loud, and I ended up enjoying it immensely.

Bryson makes no attempt to whitewash the country’s sharp corners in this witty and endearing tribute to his adopted country.  He also ends up doing a beautiful job of explaining why there are so many Anglophiles in the world.  After savoring all 376 pages of The Road to Little Dribbling, I started thinking about my all-time favorite books by Americans traveling in Great Britain.  I came up with a list of 10 memoirs for Anglophiles.  I highly recommend them all, although some of them may be a bit difficult to find these days.  They’re arranged roughly in order of the time period in which the authors’ experiences took place.

Our Hearts Were Young and Gay (1942) by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough
The Roaring Twenties firmly underway, and 19-year olds Skinner and Kimbrough convince their parents to let them embark on a solo trip to England and France.  The hapless duo soon find themselves entangled in one mishap after another.  From a bout of measles that threatens to derail their trip before they even get off the ship in Southampton, to a traumatic afternoon in the maze at Hampton Court Palace, to a chance encounter with the author H.G. Wells, they rampage across England and France with a panache that only the young and clueless could achieve.  Kimbrough also wrote a funny but lesser-known follow-up called Forty Plus and Fancy Free (1954).  It’s an account of her 1953 trip to Italy and England, capped off by her live reporting on the coronation of Elizabeth II for CBS radio.

With Malice Toward Some (1938) by Margaret Halsey
Halsey’s book is full of biting yet witty observations about a year she and her husband spent living in England and traveling around Europe while her husband was on a faculty exchange at a small college in Devonshire.  Many travel memoirs focus on London, but Halsey’s book is set in a more remote part of Britain.  The result is a portrait of a time and place that’s been less well-documented in travel memoirs over the years.

84, Charing Cross Road (1970) and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (1973) by Helene Hanff
Technically, 84, Charing Cross Road is not a travel memoir.  It’s a compelling record of Hanff’s 20-year correspondence (1949-1968) with English bookseller, Frank Doel.  The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street recounts Hanff’s long-awaited journey to England.  The film adaptation of 84, Charing Cross Road, starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins (with a cameo by Judi Dench), is one of the few movie adaptations I’ve found that actually does justice to the original book.

My Love Affair With England (1992) by Susan Allen Toth
I fell even more in love with England while reading this enchanting account of Toth’s travels.  It chronicles her first trip in 1960 through her visits in the early 1990s.  She also wrote two enjoyable follow-ups, England as You Like It (1995) and England for All Seasons (1997).

Looking for Class (1993) by Bruce Feiler
New York Times columnist Feiler, better known for such books as Walking the Bible, takes readers behind the gleaming spires of Cambridge University as he chronicles the year he spent there while working on a master’s degree in international relations.  By the time you finish reading it, you’ll feel as if you’d spent the year there too.  Feiler also wrote the funny and absorbing Learning to Bow, which recounts his earlier adventures teaching English in Japan.

And finally, Notes From a Small Island (1995) by Bill Bryson
While doing some research for this post, I discovered that English readers chose Notes From a Small Island as the book that best represents England as part of a 2003 poll for World Book Day.  With this in mind, I decided to re-read it.  I enjoyed it so much the second time that it now rounds out my top ten list.

I hope you enjoy these 10 Memoirs for Anglophiles!

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