I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away

ISBN: 076790382X
ISBN 13: 9780767903820
By: Bill Bryson

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Biography Currently Reading Essays Favorites Humor Memoir Non Fiction Nonfiction To Read Travel

About this book

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.

Reader's Thoughts

Alkatraz

A wonderfully poignant collection of Bryson's published news paper article. After twenty years in England, where he married and had his children, Bryson returns to America to an interesting version of culture shock. We follow him over a few years worth of articles as he reeducates himself with the strange ways of Americana. Everything from a day at the beach to children leaving the nest, Bryson shows us his world, both intimate and familiar. His style is humorous and quirky, a lovely mix. You can see Queen's English as well as American English in his writing, a trait I rather enjoy. He is at times annoying with his views, as an old man on his front porch, but then he's no spring chicken. Some of his writing are silly and happy memories from childhood, or experiences with his own children. Other occasions show his profound disappointment in the difference between England and America. One gets the feeling that, while he is a patriot, he's also a "red coat". The articles are all short, a few pages at most, and makes for a quick read. I would definitely recommend this book to, well just about anyone.

Adam

Bryson is a great observer of contemporary life and a supremely funny writer. His unmatched word choice, transparent exaggeration and Anglo-Iowan viewpoint will always resonate with me. This collection, however, is unnecessarily crippled by its format; brief dispatches for a weekly column in England. For one, his best material shows up in the earlier articles (when the concept was fresh), and by the end, the articles are a little more second-rate. Secondly, too many articles end on some trite one-liner that only peripherally connects with the hook (at times quite awkward). Both of these tactics undermine Bryson's strength in memoir-y travelogues. Too bad, he is better than this. This is still prime bedtime reading material, light, often very funny and familiar. But it is not Bryson's best work by any means.

Miranda

Having thoroughly enjoyed A Walk in the Woods and At Home, I expected to feel the same way about this book, and I was not disappointed – or, if I was a little disappointed, it wasn’t enough to keep me from giving the book four stars. Some authors you just feel compelled to reward regardless of the gradations in their output. I admit this is a somewhat lazy and less than honest style of reviewing, but I am sure I’m not alone in this practice, or in feeling this way about Bryson. Besides, the disappointment stemmed mainly from the structure of the book, and only because I didn’t know what it was beforehand. I’m a Stranger Here Myself is a collection of columns, written by Bryson for a British newspaper between 1996 and 1998, after he and his family moved from England to a small town in New Hampshire. Each addresses a peculiar facet of American life, or just life – Thanksgiving, doing taxes, aging. Each is short and pithy and relayed in Bryson’s uniquely self-deprecating style. (“…I must say, it was good to be reminded that postal employees are not just mindless automatons who spend their days mangling letters and whimsically sending my royalty checks to a guy in Vermont named Bill Bubba but rather are dedicated, highly trained individuals who spend their days mangling letters and sending my royalty checks to a guy in Vermont named Bill Bubba.”)One could see how reading these columns one at a time, as columns are meant to be read – having a burst of Bryson to look forward to every week – would be wonderful. Laid one right after the other, they start to be a tad much, perhaps because Bryson does have such a particular voice, and the same turns of phrase and kinds of theme show up repeatedly in his work. Apart from that, seeing as this book was written in the late ‘90s, by a then-middle-aged man who is clearly a bit old-fogey-ish by nature as it is, all of its many complaints about This Modern Life are laughably dated. Personally, that didn’t really diminish my enjoyment. To read Bryson’s laments on the difficulty of programming his VCR or setting up a computer, or his tributes to the vanishing American diner, or American drive-in, or American motel, was like – well, it was like reading my dad. (Who also loves Bill Bryson, of course.)And truthfully, it’s not like what he’s written about here is any less true now than it was back then. Small towns are an (increasingly) endangered species, flying is an enormous pain in the ass, and Americans do all they can to avoid walking or spending time outside a climate-controlled environment. It’s just that these are no longer new and interesting ideas; the world has grown accustomed to these things and moved on to more current issues like cyberbullying and paleo diets. In my obviously biased opinion, taking I’m a Stranger Here Myself exactly for what it is, it’s still four-star-worthy.

Cara

This is the first Bill Bryson book I have read and I found it laugh out loud funny. My husband was given it as a christmas gift and when he started reading it kept reading bits out to me because he thought they were so funny. We gave up on that approach and started reading it together and both loved it. Some of that might have been that we have just moved back to Australia from the US and enjoyed the reminders of some of the more quirky aspects of US culture that we miss, and also could relate to some of the frustrations he experienced in moving back there. This has inspired me to check out some of his others books which if the reviews on here are to go by should be even better than this.

emi Bevacqua

In Bill Bryson's collection of essays written for publication in a British paper, based on his relocation to the States after 20 years in England, he pokes fun equally well at Brits and Yanks, and had me in tears I laughed so hard. Every time somebody gave me a look for bursting out in laughter inappropriately I recommended the book to them. Originally written in 1999, there are bits which haven't aged well (regarding technology mostly) but still so way much worth reading anyhow - even just for the list of great British vernacular on pg 266: gormless, skive, chivvy, berk, pillock, plonker, naff, prat. (!!!)

Colin

I rated this a little lower than other books by Bryson because it shows the constraints of being a collection of newspaper columns, written to a length limit and a deadline. That said, there were some real gems in the mix. The column about re-learning an adult vernacular (spackle? Polyfiller?) was good for a laugh - at the time, I was struggling with the same thing over infants' paraphernalia (diaper? nappy?) because despite having lived in the US for years, I hadn't had to use those words since I was a child... and hadn't updated accordingly.The columns about the post office and the skunk were also good for a laugh.However, my favorite was probably the column about his son's departure for university. Bryson walked up to the edge of maudlin but didn't cross it, leaving instead a very affecting snapshot of a man facing the first of several abrupt transitions in life.

Elizabeth Wright Korytkowski

I have kept reading Bill Bryson, however after this book I think I'm going to have to admit that he's something akin to winter snow: the first one is magical and fantastic, and then after that it all just goes downhill. Bill Bryson has never been able to recreate the excellence of "A Walk in the Woods"- which was the first book of his that I read. That book blew me away- witty, thoughtful, entertaining, and dreamily wonderful. Probably one of the best books I've read these past 10 years. So I sought out others of his books hoping to be transported by that same magic: 'In a Sunburned Country' (ok), 'Notes from a Small Island' (painfully bad), 'Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid' (oddly lame), and now this one. Nothing seems to even remotely compare.I'm a Stranger Here Myself is a compilation of short essays he wrote which were published in a British newspaper and document his ponderings upon his return home (after 20+ years) to the US. Understanding that the audience for the original tales was the British masses (and not a US reader) does nothing to lessen the mediocrity of his storytelling. It's all just feels like he's 'mailing it in.'I'd rate this one not as good as the Sunburned Country, but definitely better than Small Island and Thunderbolt Kid-- however the bar between all of these 4 books is relatively low. My real recommendation is: read 'A Walk in the Woods' and then just pretend that this was all that he wrote. You'll be much happier with this strategy.

Ob-jonny

This is a hilarious take on modern-day America from the perspective of someone who came from living in the UK for many years but who grew up in America. Reading this is like discovering how the ordinary things about the US are actually bizarre and funny. The phenomenon of eating yourself sick on holidays is not something everyone does in the world. I didn't know that people were so much more polite in American than in Europe. Waitresses in the US pretend to enjoy their work. He was amazed at all of the free food and coffee offered at various business that we take for granted in America. They never charge for little things here like they do in the UK. Also, it's funny how people don't walk anywhere in the US like they do in Europe. The author has the unique experience of experiencing the 50s and 60s in the US and then coming back after 20 years to be completely disoriented and knowing only outdated ways of life in America. Here is a funny quotation about this experience:"Coming back to your native land after an absence of many years is a surprisingly unsettling business, a little like waking from a long coma. Time, you discover, has wrought changes that leave you feeling mildly foolish and out of touch. You proffer hopelessly inadequate sums when making small purchases. You puzzle over ATM machines and automated gas pumps and pay phones, and are astounded to discover, by means of a stern grip on your elbow, that gas station road maps are no longer free. In my case, the problem was intensified by the fact that I had left as a youth and was returning in middle age. All those things that you do as an adult—take out mortgages, have children, accumulate pension plans, take an interest in the state of your guttering—I had only ever done in England. Things like furnaces and storm windows were, in an American context, the preserve of my father. So finding myself suddenly in charge of an old New England house, with its mysterious pipes and thermostats, its temperamental garbage disposal and life-threatening automatic garage door, was both unnerving and rather exhilarating."

Mia Friel

This is the first Bill Bryson book I have read, which, I am told, was a mistake. I know several people who consider Bryson one of their favorite authors and they all seem to agree that this book is not a good "ambassador" for the rest of his work. This book is a collection of newspaper articles that document his move from England to the United States. Most of them explain his bewilderment toward American culture and customs and often longs for the "simplicity" of the British lifestyle. I was originally under the impression that Bryson was British himself, until I discovered that he was born in Des Moines and moved to England at 24. He has spent the same amount of time in both countries, but it seems like he prefers to consider himself British. That's weird. The articles are funny and short, which make for a quick read. At times, however, his humor was a bit over the top and somewhat whiny. I am excited to give Bryson another chance with his highly recommended "A Walk in the Woods" but I would not suggest this book to friends.

Stefanie

Can we please discuss for a moment how much I adore Bill Bryson? I loved his book A Short History of Nearly Everything, but alas, I never really picked up anything else. Until now. Though this compilation of articles stretches over a three-year span (late 90s? the problem with the iPad and having janky copies of books is that it's hard to go back and check copyright dates) is markedly less informative than Short History, it is no less amusing. Bryson captures the intricacies (and sometimes hypocracies) of American (and to a lesser extent, British) life by comparing how life in America has changed in the 20 years he lived in England. Bryson is funny, and comes across as a lovable, curmudgeonly old grandpa.Despite the definite light-heartedness of these articles, and despite them basically being op-ed pieces, many of them still contain a great degree of insight into American culture, whether examining our expectations, the standard pace of day-to-day, and our fondness for nostalgia. Unlike Short History, you won't necessarily gain a pile of information from this book, but boy are some of the passages a damn hoot. (In particular I can think of his version of the IRS's tax forms.) For a good, light-hearted read that still makes you think about the world around you, I can't think of a better book.

Az

Bill Bryson grew up in Iowa, then spent twenty years in England. He has returned to the U.S. with his British wife and children. I'm a Stranger Here is selections from his newspaper column which chronicles his experiences. Some of them are funny, like "Dying Accents" and "The Best American Holiday". Others, particularly anything is which he tries to mock the writing style on instructional booklets, electronics, the government (I'm all for mocking the government, but he just doesn't do it well), are overreaching and dull. He also has the annoying habit of showing off a keen sense of understanding, both of general topics and the English language, and then goes on long rambling paragraphs about how he doesn't understand anything.

Janel

Today I had a doctor's appointment and that is when I remembered I am also reading this book. It is a series of humorous columns written by the author detailing his experience returning to the US. It makes for quick reading and is good when I am somewhere busy like a waiting room or airport.Well, it took several doctor's appointments and a hospital stay but I finally finished the book. The time it took me to read is no reflection on the quality of the book. Bryson is an outstanding writer. I can't wait to read another of his many books.

Beverly Zearley

I really enjoyed this book. It is not something I would normally pick, but really glad I did. Bill Bryson is a great author, very funny ;)

Emily

I liked a couple of Bryson's more serious essays in this collection - the ones about Western consumerist culture and sustainability issues. There were a few too many essays in this volume that used similar literary devices and turns of phrase to mockingly describe confusing aspects of American life. The wordplay is fun, but it can get old after a while. Other than that, the writing was pretty good and I laughed out loud more than I yelled at the CD player.

emily

Contains such fascinating tidbits as: VCRs: Needlessly complicated!Americans: Friendlier, fatter than Brits!Kids these days: not what they used to be!And yet I chuckled on nearly every page. So sue me.

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