Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Bill Bryson Calls It Quits - No More Notes from Small Islands

Bill Bryson (photo from The Independent)

I've seen several articles these last few days in which author Bill Bryson has announced his retirement. I wasn't all that surprised when Philip Roth made a similar announcement at age 79, but I have to admit that the 68-year-old Bryson's announcement does surprise me. I just can't imagine a man of his talent calling it quits at so young an age.

As shown from this Bryson quote reprinted in The Guardian, Bryson is enjoying life right now and feels not the slightest urge to "pick up his pen" ever again:

 “I don’t know how much of this is pandemic-related [but] I’m really quite enjoying not doing anything at all. For the first time in literally decades I’ve been reading for pleasure and I’m really enjoying it. Whatever time is left to me on this planet I’d like to spend it indulging myself, rather than going out and trying to cover new territory.”


“I was worried, as I think most writers would be, that maybe I would run out of things to do in my leisure time, or that I would just miss having an occupation, professional distractions … but so far that hasn’t been the case,” he said. “The world is full of lots of other things you could do that are enjoyable without any of the pressures that come with trying to do these things as a job.”

I see from my notes that I've been reading Bill Bryson books since 1989, beginning with Neither Here Nor There, but that I haven't read him since 2018 when I enjoyed One Summer so much. In all, I've read eleven of Bryson's books, but a little digging this afternoon shows me that, with a little effort to find them, I still have quite a few Bryson books to look forward to - especially since most of the ones I've read are among the author's travel books.

Bryson's travel books include:

  • The Palace Under the Alps
  • The Lost Continent
  • Neither Here Nor There
  • Notes from a Small Island
  • A Walk in the Woods
  • I'm a Stranger Here Myself
  • In a Sunburned Country
  • Bill Bryson's African Diary
  • The Road to Little Dribbling 
 He's also written several science books, a memoir, and some history in recent years:

And there are a few others, including several language books.

If this is truly the end of the line for Bryson, I'm going to miss him. Let's hope that maybe he'll discover that he just needed a nice long break before he finds his second wind. 

(The three highlighted titles link to reviews previously posted here.)


  1. Bill Bryson is responsible for me killing myself laughing more than any other writer I can think of. (Terry Pratchett would be the runner up.) Two episodes spring to mind, his explanation of cricket in Down Under and his description of buying bread in a French bakery in Neither Here Nor There. Both had me 'crying' with laughter. I too still have a few of his books to read. My favourite is Down Under, so far. I'm wondering what The Palace Under the Alps is...

    1. Cath, I discovered Bryson just a few years after I was able to start traveling to the UK regularly, and he always comforted me by reminding me that Americans who travel are all pretty much in the same boat when it comes to the UK. We think we understand the country and the language...but often we don't. And that's a big part of the fun, really.

  2. Oh NO! I didn't read this previously. I've read or listened to several of his books and the one that I loved most was The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt kid. Bryson is just a bit older than me and his memoir really spoke to me.

    1. I enjoyed that memoir a lot, too, Diane. Bryson is definitely a unique individual and I love his sense of humor.

  3. From that first quote, it definitely sounds like Bryson is enjoying his retirement. Sounds like it's going well and well deserved! I've never read anything by him although several of his books are on my TBR list.

    1. Susan, I seldom strongly recommend an author to anyone because I know how subjective our tastes are and how they change from year to year, but I really think you should explore some of Bryson's travel writing, especially the earlier books. I think that Notes from a Small Island is probably near being considered a travel book classic by now.

  4. That is surprising...and sad. I love his books. He always makes me laugh. I think my favorite is his Walk in the Woods. But In A Sunburned Country is a very close second. :D

    1. Did you watch the movie made from A Walk in the Woods? I couldn't believe they actually made a movie out of a book in which most of what happens really takes place inside the heads of the walkers. I hated the movie, but that's probably mostly because it starred Robert Redford, an actor I literally can't watch anymore (never was much of a fan to begin with).

    2. I did see the movie, but you're right, it was nowhere near as good, or as funny, as the book!