I’m a Stranger Here Myself by Bill Bryson

December 8, 2011

Summary (from the publisher): After living in Britain for two decades, Bill Bryson recently moved back to the United States with his English wife and four 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, twenty-four-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. The result is a book filled with hysterical scenes of one man’s attempt to reacquaint himself with his own country, but it is also an extended if at times bemused love letter to the homeland he has returned to after twenty years away.

Liked:

  • I know the reading public’s opinion on Bryson is pretty evenly divided into those that think he’s funny and those that think he tries to hard and falls well short of the mark. I tend to subscribe to the former belief, and therefore enjoyed many smiles and chuckles while reading this book.
  • I think Bryson did a nice job of capturing the things that strangers to America would find odd, funny, or endearing. I studied abroad for two years while in college, and when returning home even after such a short time away, I noticed many of the same things that Bryson did. Having some of the same experiences as the author greatly increased my appreciation of the book.
  • This volume is actually comprised of recycled newspaper columns that Bryson wrote for a British publication upon moving back to America. As such, each piece is a quick read presented in an easily digestible chunk.
  • Some of my favorite essays include the graduation speech to a group of N.H. high school seniors; the one about the author dropping his oldest son off at college; the one about the often incomprehensible instructions accompanying computers and similar devices; and the several odes to small-town America that are sprinkled throughout the pages.

Disliked:

  • Some of Bryson’s setups for the columns were so outlandish–and obviously contrived simply for the purpose of serving as an introduction–as to take me right out of the reading experience. Obviously not all of the things Bryson wrote about actually happened to him, and he clearly allows himself a great deal of poetic license when “retelling” certain events. I understand that, and am not asking for a purely factual account of incidents in his life. But still… the essays would have been much improved if the setups were just a bit more plausible.
  • I didn’t like Bryson’s occasional forays into political philosophy, including his rant about the U.S. government’s stance on the illegality of drugs. If I want to read about politics, I’ll pick up a book by an analyst. I just wanted to be entertained here, not subjected to the author’s opinions on the law.
  • Even though this book was short, the theme felt pretty played out by the time I reached the end. I think it had to do with Bryson portraying himself as a bumbling idiot who was completely overwhelmed by the tiniest obstacle. I mean, yes, there are a lot of ridiculous rules and regulations out there, but you don’t have to be a doofus to be befuddled by them. Was he just trying to be self-deprecating? I don’t know; but the shtick got old.

Rating:

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