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The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British | [Sarah Lyall]

The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British

Sarah Lyall, a reporter for the New York Times, moved to London in the mid-1990s and soon became known for her amusing and incisive dispatches on her adopted country. As she came to terms with its eccentric inhabitants, she found that she had a ringside seat at a singular transitional era in British life.
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Publisher's Summary

Sarah Lyall, a reporter for the New York Times, moved to London in the mid-1990s and soon became known for her amusing and incisive dispatches on her adopted country. As she came to terms with its eccentric inhabitants (the English husband who never turned on the lights, the legislators who behaved like drunken frat boys, the hedgehog lovers, the people who extracted their own teeth), she found that she had a ringside seat at a singular transitional era in British life. The roller-coaster decade of Tony Blair's New Labor government was an increasingly materialistic time when old-world symbols of aristocratic privilege and stiff-upper-lip sensibility collided with modern consumerism, overwrought emotion, and a new (but still unsuccessful) effort to make the trains run on time. Appearing a half-century after Nancy Mitford's classic Noblesse Oblige, Lyall's book is a brilliantly witty account of 21st-century Britain that will be recognized as a contemporary classic.

©2008 Sarah Lyall; (P)2008 Tantor

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  •  
    03-13-09
    03-13-09 Listener Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "An American in the U.K."

    As a English person living in the U.S. I was intrigued by the experiences of a writer who was doing the reverse. The author made many keen observations that were insightful and witty. It is always a shock to see ourselves as others see us! However, this recording is blighted by the narrator. Her attempts at English accents would make Dick Van Dyke in "Mary Poppins" sound positively Shakespearean. Also the production was littered with egregious mispronunciations which greatly diminished the enjoyment of the book. This is a situation that could so easily have been rectified.

    16 of 16 people found this review helpful
  •  
    brendanstallard 07-08-12
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    "A cold hearted, curates egg"

    I'm an Irisher, lived in England most of my life, now resident in Atlanta. This type of foreigner abroad will always have an interest for me. The grandaddy of them all is Bill Bryson's, "Notes from a Small Country." A witty, wide-eyed and underneath the sharp-eyed observation, a loving portrait of the UK.

    This is sharp, in places justifiable, but is too filled with bitterness to be very enjoyable. I am a cricketer, so the laughably asinine reflections on a day at Lords and cricket in general were funny, but for the wrong reasons. The observer attempts to compare cricket with baseball. Comparisons are odious, Ms Lyall, and in this case, witlessly so.

    There was a deal of accurate criticism, deserved. Food, service, bathroom facilities and the cost of everything in the UK is horrible. Underlying the portrait was a sense of irritation. That irritation won't work anywhere in the world, will it?

    I can imagine quite a few folks, having read this, would have told Ms Lyall to,"bog off back to America, ya miserable Yank!"

    While the narrator had a lovely voice, really lovely, there are some unforgivable mispronunciations. Quite a few errors on simple words which should really have been picked up by the producer. (They are supposed to listen, right?)

    Living in Atlanta, I find a regular hoot of differences, cultural and practical, which are a constant entertainment. Ms Lyall could take note and try and be a bit more leavened with kindness. Britain is a mad place, like everywhere else.

    An irritable American writing about it with savage misunderstanding ain't going to fix it anytime soon. A cold hearted curates egg of a book, not my favourite.



    brendan

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Moire Linden, VA, United States 06-26-09
    Moire Linden, VA, United States 06-26-09 Member Since 2002

    Life long fan of the mystery story. I like books where something actually happens, so history and biography are favorites of mine also. I also think that even good books are improved tremendously when an actor performs the narration.

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    "Dreadful"

    Narration is not the best -- but I was expecting the kind of 'laughing at ourselves' humor found in "Notes from a Small Island" by Bill Bryson, or "Three Men in a Boat" by Jerome K. Jerome, but Lyall is condescending, sarcastic, and sanctimonious in her comments about English living. According to her, everything is better in American and in every chapter she sneers at the British (politics, sports, etc.) with the implication (if not the outright statement) that the Americans are so much better at everything (particularly newspapers). The book lacks warmth or any love of the British way of life, and (perhaps because she is a NYT reporter) presents what seem to be just the facts, but I found to be nasty jibes at a culture that is different and therefore fair game for snide commentary.

    15 of 17 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Wayne Jamaica Plain, MA, United States 04-05-09
    Wayne Jamaica Plain, MA, United States 04-05-09 Member Since 2004
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    "Good Book; Amateurish Narration"

    The book is a witty, intelligent, insightful and very interesting take on the English. The narration is shockingly amateurish. The book dwells at length on the importance of correct pronunciation among certain classes in Britain, and yet the narrator mispronounces numerous words from Leonid (as in Brezhnev) to Glyndebourne. The combination of her borderline-arrogant tone with these embarrassing gaffes makes the book itself seem less intelligent than it really is.

    13 of 15 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Allison Wilkinson Gresham, OR, United States 05-22-12
    Allison Wilkinson Gresham, OR, United States 05-22-12 Member Since 2009

    Love historical fiction, good light reading, histories, and theological treatises.

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    "Good narrator, negative view"

    I really don't mind seeing the seedy or unattractive parts of any country; I think that sugar coating things makes them unreal. However, while I bought the book with the hope that I would hear some of what I heard (insights into the English, some day-to-day realities of living there, their culture and their sociology) it seems like most of it is one massive whinge. She does make a point in the beginning of pointing out good things about the country, bringing fairness to her criticisms, but somehow when the book is done, I was left with a feeling of disgust towards the British. And I am a total Anglophile! Re-listening to try see if my first impression was accurate.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    R. Campbell Glastonbury, CT, United States 05-22-13
    R. Campbell Glastonbury, CT, United States 05-22-13 Member Since 2002

    Ray Campbell

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    "Funny, Not Flattering"

    This is a critical, tongue in cheek look at contemporary British culture. Lyall is an American journalist who has lived in Britain for more than 20 years. She points to the usual stereotypes and attempts, rather unscientifically, to rationalize, justify and explain why they are true. Lyall covers bad teeth, bad weather, sexual dysfunction, the House of Lords debating the existence of UFOs, bad public healthcare, bad public schools, intense class division, economic stagnation, hedgehogs and cricket. While the book isn't laugh out loud funny, it is amusing so long as you are not offended by it or take it too seriously.

    My grandparents were immigrants and my father, an only child, is very English in his character. Though his teeth and health are fine, even at 80, I know I inherited many attitudes and ideas that are British. So, while my wife and children look on in confusion as I find Monty Python brilliant, eat anything put in front of me and take bad weather in stride, I know I inherited these qualities from my British father. So, it's fun to read another Americans send up of the good people of our little island.

    Again, this is a memoir, a series of stories and reflections on the author's personal experience. While she sights some statistics and no doubt emphasizes the bit of truth in many comic aspects of British society, I know that any 2,000 year old community of several million people are bound to have their issues. Immensely readable, fun, funny, though clearly a send up. I almost didn't make it through the first chapter explaining the homosexuality of most British men quoting P. G. Wodehouse and other expert sources (this is sarcasm). However, I am glad I did. I wanted a light read as a break from a series of heavier non-fiction historical studies of British monarchs. The "Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British", was exactly what was called for. Did I mention you shouldn't take this too seriously?

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Douglas C. Bates Boston, MA 04-13-12
    Douglas C. Bates Boston, MA 04-13-12 Member Since 2010
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    "Mildly Amusing But Not Much Substance"

    This is a humor book. Sorry. I mean humour book. One mustn't leave out the superfluous British extra letter. It gets a bit funnier than that, but not all that much; although I'll never forget the line about Britain being a "formerly industrialized nation". It has a few funny stories, but in no way does this book live up to its title "A Field Guide to the British." It's not that coherent.

    Much of the material is narrow. In particular the large amount of content about Parliamentary reforms and the historical behavior of members of Parliament, especially those in the House of Lords.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Virginia Spring, TX, United States 07-16-12
    Virginia Spring, TX, United States 07-16-12

    vmohlere

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    "Made me stop listening to audiobooks for months"
    What disappointed you about The Anglo Files?

    I'm not sure which was more mean-spirited: the text or the snotty narration. Did the snarky tone of the narration (see other reviews about the cringe-worthy accents) make the text seem mean? Or did the mean text make the narration seem so arrogant? Maybe it was synergy. I have described this as "the book about how all British people are smelly, rude, bad at sex, crazy, and horrible, even though she married one of them."

    I tried very hard to give it the benefit of the doubt and hear it as funny, but I was not successful.


    Would you ever listen to anything by Sarah Lyall again?

    No


    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gary Smith Austin Texas 08-30-13
    Gary Smith Austin Texas 08-30-13 Member Since 2007

    good stories have always been a passion since childhood.

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    "Really enjoyed it. Informative with lots of laughs"
    Would you consider the audio edition of The Anglo Files to be better than the print version?

    Only heard audio version.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The author did a great job explaining her love hate relationship with a culture that is on face value not much different than ours. You could feel her many honest emotions come through. This type of book could have easily turned into a "bash the British, because they are different than Americans" a real cheap joke fest at the expense of the Queen and the British lifestyle. Instead,I now have a deeper respect and understanding of Great Britans humanity.


    What does Cassandra Campbell bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    I found her voice, tone, and presentation very easy on the ears.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    I really stepped outside of my normal genres on this one. Laughed at many parts. Even my wife, who normally cannot stand my habit of enjoying an audio book at bedtime ended up foregoing the nightly ear plugs to follow along on this one.That is very rare.


    Any additional comments?

    I surprised myself by really enjoying all of it. Well worth a Credit.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Christopher Williams San Diego, CA United States 08-13-13
    Christopher Williams San Diego, CA United States 08-13-13 Member Since 2000

    Chrees

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    "Surprisingly Poor"
    What disappointed you about The Anglo Files?

    The Brits have a pretty good sense of humor and are more than able to laugh at themselves. This book, however, became more and more hostile about the Brits and certainly less and less amusing.

    As a displaced Brit living in the USA I probably have a better perspective than most on life on both sides of the pond. The Brits certainly have some odd traits: wacky political activities, heavy drinking, beating people up during football games in as many countries as they can easily fly to, basic slobbishness. But this is a minority of Brits and not the whole bunch of them. This book points out all of these negative traits with glee and indicates that they are essentially universal in Britain. The author also bashes the traditions of the country - it was not clear why, just that they are horrible things that the poor unfortunate Brits have to live with.

    The author then goes to great lengths to point out, by inference or direct statement, just how perfectly wonderful the United States and its citizens are. In the USA the politicians are all polite, honest and diligent about their jobs, no one drinks in the US, there is no violence or racism in the US, and indeed the US is simply the most Utopian country on earth if not in the entire universe.

    That is when I lost interest. I believe she would be better off back home in New York than mingling with the elite she finds herself amongst in the UK - she clearly does not belong there and seems to hate it more than anything.

    After reading 70% I stopped. I recommend you do not start. I say this as a kindness so you can read something else instead.


    What could Sarah Lyall have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

    Brought humor to the tale - bash the Brits by all means but do it with a smile and not a cudgel with a nail in it.


    What does Cassandra Campbell bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    She did a great job overall - even did a pretty good English accent.


    You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    Not really. I think the premise had possibilities but they were never realized.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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