Bill Bryson: I first learned about him when I read “A Walk in the Woods,” his book about hiking (part of) the Appalachian Trail. I enjoyed that book a lot, and so when I found a few more books by Bryson in a Little Free Library near my house last fall, I helped myself (after leaving some of my own books, naturally). Recently I finished one.
I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America after Twenty Years Away
So, the premise here is that Bryson, his wife, and their four kids lived in England for 20 years. They moved back to America (to New Hampshire, to be precise), and this book is comprised of a series of essays Bryson wrote for a British newspaper. They’re ostensibly about the differences he observes between England and the US, although honestly a majority of them don’t even address that topic. It is definitely a topic rich with possibilities. You may remember that I spent three weeks with my Italian penpal several decades ago, and wrote about some of those cultural differences.
Reading this book reminded me of how much I enjoy Bryson’s writing. He has a keen sense of observation, and an excellent ability to express what he sees. The way he uses language is wonderful. His writing is hilarious in a dry-humor type of way that I love.
He describes the aspects of America that thrilled him upon his return: “I was as dazzled as any newcomer by the famous ease and convenience of daily life, the giddying abundance of absolutely everything, the boundless friendliness of strangers, the wondrous unfillable vastness of an American basement, the delight of encountering waitresses and other service providers who actually seemed to enjoy their work, the curiously giddying notion that ice is not a luxury item and that rooms can have more than one electrical socket.”
He waxes eloquent about his love of all the freebies our country offers, countering that with a Yorkshire baker’s “where you had to pay an extra penny — a penny! — if you wanted your loaf of bread sliced. It’s hard not to be charmed by the contrast.”
There are parts of this book that are dated (it was published in 1999), and a few bits, like Bryson’s gripes about the government, that I didn’t feel worked too well. But I can’t even fault him much for that, because I loved the writing in this book so much. I’ll be reading more of Bryson’s books.
Have you ever read anything by Bill Bryson?