One of my favorite ways to get to know a country I’m traveling or moving to is to read about it. I become impulsive, reading everything I can get my hands on. From blog posts to guide books, fiction novels to non-fiction travelogues. I love to see the country from a local’s perspective as well as an outsiders. I want to know about the government and how people feel about them, about the people and how they feel about each other. For me, there’s not better way to pre-travel than heading to the library.
Books about Britain
Thanks to my British born boyfriend, I’ve been visiting the UK on and off for almost six years. For the last six months it’s been my base for working, for exploring more of Europe, and for learning more about the quirky people that reside on these islands.
These are a few of the books that I’ve enjoyed reading. They are books that have taught me more about the country, had me laughing about the customs that I sometimes don’t understand, and have opened my eyes to ideas and points of view that I never would have seen otherwise. It’s also sparked so much wanderlust for seeing more of this small yet varied country.
If you know anyone British, if you like British comedy, if you have ever been to or plan on visiting Britain, you should read this hilarious account of British customs and quirks. It made me laugh so hard and it’s so funny they’ve turned it into a TV show here in the UK. It’s a self-deprecating look at how and why Brits are the way they are. It dissects their social oddities which I laugh so hard at it makes my stomach hurt. As the long time girlfriend of a very British man, I find it quite nice to know I’m not alone in my wonderment of some of this behavior.
I picked this book up at the local library because I am endlessly fascinated by canal boating and the whole culture surrounding it here in the UK. Mostly a past time of the retired, it’s becoming somewhat ‘hip’ to rent or buy a narrowboat and explore the country. It’s something Luke and I have always talked about doing, a way I would love to live for a period of time.
Too Narrow to Swing a cat is a very funny look at life on the canals. Steve takes his cat with him and mayhem almost always ensues. The cat loves rain and spending several days away from the boat all the while Steve waits impatiently for him to come back. Steve loves canal boating, but loathes it at the same time. It’s a great exploration of life, our stresses and worries, as well as pointing out some absolutely beautiful parts of the country that often get neglected by visitors. He has a whole collection of narrowboat books and I’ll definitely be working my way through those. Narrowboat Nomads is definitely next.
Bill Bryson has always been one of my favorite travel writers. His account of travel in Australia had me in absolute stitches and his book about touring England by public transport was no different. I feel like Bill and I are kindred spirits. He has a British partner, he loves the Yorkshire Dales (he lived there for many years) and when he’s told by his wife that it’s time to move to America for “more space”, he refuses to do so without first taking one last tour of the country he feels most at home in.
One of my favorite things about Bryson, and something he does beautifully throughout this book, is to make the mundane details, the conversations he has with people, the thoughts he has about what he’s seeing, so utterly hilarious. He’s a storyteller and a damn good one. He makes me want to keep reading, makes me want to know what’s going to happen next. He doesn’t take himself too seriously and is able to really capture a sense of what the locals are like (as best as any outsider can anyway).
George Mikes is Hungarian born, but has been living in the UK for more than 40 years. He lays out different ways that things should be done the British way, and they’re hilarious. The book is literally written like a guide book on how to be British. I think anyone would find this book funny, even if you haven’t yet visited the UK. But it will be an even better read once you’ve visited.
Like every other book on this list, it had be laughing out loud. I think that’s a credit to the British sense of humor that all the books I’ve ever picked up about the UK are pure comic gold.
Confession, I haven’t actually read this yet, but I know I’ll love it. I am a longtime lover of Paul Theroux. I read his books and constantly repeat his words in my head like poetry. He writes in a way that I wish I could. He is eloquent yet relatable. He pokes fun himself and everyone else around him, but it never feels like he’s complaining or mocking.
Like Bryson, Theroux is a wandering American who found himself in love with a Brit and then life in Britain. After living there for over 11 years he decided to finally pen a travelogue about it. The Amazon description says, “Paul Theroux set out to travel clockwise round the coast and find out what Britain and the British are really like”. I’m sure the results make for an excellent read.
Featured image via Flickr