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England, in an American's words

Britons say Bill Bryson's book best sums up their nation.

March 06, 2003|Sue Leeman | Associated Press

LONDON — The book that best sums up England's identity and the state of the nation in the 21st century was written by an American, according to British readers.

"Notes From a Small Island," Bill Bryson's bestselling travelogue, was chosen after months of voting by some British book lovers. The results were announced to coincide with World Book Day today.

World Book Day, supported by the Publishers Assn. and the Booksellers Assn. of the United Kingdom and Ireland, is a celebration of the printed word. Organizers will give children in Britain and Ireland tokens for book discounts, and schools and libraries are planning readings.

A native of Des Moines, Iowa, Bryson lived in Britain for 20 years, working mostly as a journalist. He currently lives in the United States, but is planning to return with his wife and children.

He said he was "both grateful, and surprised, to receive this honor." His book pays tribute to "a country that fought and won a noble war, dismantled a mighty empire in a generally benign and enlightened way ... and then spent the rest of the century looking on itself as a chronic failure."

"This is still the best place in the world for most things -- to post a letter, go for a walk, watch television, buy a book, venture out for a drink, go to a museum, use the bank, get lost, seek help, or stand on a hillside and take in the view."

Welsh readers chose "Work, Sex and Rugby," by Lewis Davies, as the book that best sums up their nation. Scotland's choice was "Me and Ma Girl," by Des Dillon. Northern Ireland's winner was "Desire Lines," by Annie McCartney.

Organizers placed cards in bookstores and libraries across Britain asking people to submit their views. Some 4,000 replies came from England, about 2,500 each from Scotland and Wales and around 800 from Northern Ireland.

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