After living in Britain for 2 decades, Bill Bryson recently moved back to the United States with his English wife and 4 children (he had read somewhere that nearly 3 million Americans believed they had been abducted by aliens - as he later put it, "it was clear my people needed me"). They were greeted by a new-and-improved America that boasts microwave pancakes, 24-hour dental-floss hotlines, and the staunch conviction that ice is not a luxury item.
Delivering the brilliant comic musings that are a Bryson hallmark, I'm a Stranger Here Myself recounts his sometimes disconcerting reunion with the land of his birth. From garbage disposals ("everything a labor-saving device should be...and so dazzlingly good at what it does you cannot imagine how you ever managed without one") to careless barbers ("in the mirror I am confronted with an image that brings to mind a lemon meringue pie with ears"), I'm a Stranger Here Myself chronicles the quirkiest aspects of life in America, right down to our hardware-store lingo, tax-return instructions, and the cupholder revolution ("cupholders are taking over the world").
©1999 Bill Bryson; (P)1999 Random House, Inc.
This isn't a deep meaningful book. It's not even really a book so much as a collection of columns. Having finished it, I couldn't tell you what was in it. But I can tell you that I enjoyed it immensely, in a laugh-out-loud-in-several-places way.
The real problem is that some crackhead in an office somewhere decided that it needed to be abridged, because apparently people who buy audiobooks don't like hearing long engaging stuff by talented writers that make fabulous readers.
I love Bill Bryson and would love to hear and read everything he has written. So a word of caution to those like myself. "I'm A Stranger Here Myself" was published in Britain as "Notes from a Big Country". Do not make the same mistake as I did and purchase it twice.
Otherwise, I enjoy Bryson's wit and sarcasm. I laughed out loud several times listening to this.
I wouldn't go so far as to say "worst book," but this one was pretty disappointing. I'm a big fan of Bill Bryson, but this book -- which is a collection of newspaper columns -- seems choppy and gets more than a little formulaic. Practically every one ends with "Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go (do something related to what I was just talking about)," something you can get away with, I suppose, as long as people aren't reading a string of your columns at once. It's clear Bryson is more comfortable with and much better at the longer format.
Even if you are a Bryson fan, I would pass on this book. Bryson explains (warns) at the begining that this is just a collection of weekly columns that he wrote for a British magazine, and that he often did not really have much to stay. I am a fan of his work, and thought he was being modest - he wasn't. It is very clear that most of the columns were written at the last moment and based on what he did that day or is seeing out the window - and those are the good ones. For the others it seems that he just picked an article out of the paper, grabbed a few facts (usually getting them wrong) and then get sanctimonious about the subject he clearly does not have any clue about. Perhaps he felt that his British readers would not know any better. Imagine if you took Seinfield's "observational humor", removed ALL the humor and then even botched most of the observations. Extremely disappointing.
I've always rated Bryson highly, I recommend his books, and give them away as gifts.
This book however is just really bad. It's a compilation of magazine articles written for a British audience so he really just ripping on America in every segment, and it's not even funny stuff.
That's not some flag waving defense of the ol' homeland either. I mean I absolutely love his other books, if I had a problem with his politics I would have fell out with him over those as well where he's not necessarily shy about his ideological views. But those views don't interfere or define his writing though.
In this book however they do define the writing, and it's just not very good.
I'm an Englishman who married an American and ended up in the US. Bryson captures the bewilderment and awe one experiences in moving from one country to the other and finding we really are "Two peoples seperated by a common language". He goes way beyond this however. He reveals his affection for his family with the same dry humor that he applies to everything. Bryson has the ability to see humor in almost anything as he covers everything from setting up Christmas lights to facing the language barrier in the hardware store. He has the ability to take in the mundane and turn it into humor.
While I typically enjoy reading Bryson's books, this one was a struggle to finish. Why? Because all he did was complain about life in America. I didn't mind his criticisms, but it just became overwhelmingly negative after a while. If you have have a friend who is always pessimistic and complaining then you know what I'm talking about.
Since the articles in this book were written between 1996-1998, some of them are a great time capsule of American life during that period. The others are timeless, poignant and funny!
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