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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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

Samantha

Short essays from a unique perspective: that of a native son who lived abroad during his early adult years and his observations about American life and culture upon his midlife return to the U.S.Bryson is curmudgeonly in a likeable way. His essays are chocked full of neat information all balanced out by his grumpyish approach to many of his topics. I would give the essay about the post office another listen, though I'd skip over his President's Day article as it doesn't give much credit to lesser known presidents which was a bummer for me, a self-proclaimed presidential enthusiast. The Titanic essay struck me as a little insensitive upon my first read/listen, though I think it would comes across as more humorous given the right frame of mind.I listened to the audiobook version as read by the author and it makes for good road trip material. Recommended for readers who like a little entertainment with their information.

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.

Robert Cubitt

While living in Britain Bill Bryson wrote a regular feature for a British newspaper entitled "Notes From A Small Island" in which he commented on day to day life in his adopted country. On returning to the USA to live with his family in New Hampshire he was then asked to write a similar feature for the same newspaper, but this time about life in the USA, with particulalr focus on the differences between life before he departed and that on his return. This book is a collection of those articles.As a Brit I found it quite entertaining, especially the quirkiness of some aspects of American life, such as the quality of food on offer in supermarkets. The book paints a rich picture of American rural life. It is unashamedly nostalgic but a bit dated now as there have been significant changes since this book was written, not least of which is the internet explosion. Bryson refers a couple fo times to visiting his local library to do research which he would now be able to do "on-line". Not withstanding that there is a lot of very strong writing here with Bryson's typical wry slant to it. I particulalrly enjoyed his spoofs on the completion of income tax returns and immigration documents.I am a Bryson fan, and this book didn't disapoint.

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.

Sandy Wood

I previously thought Bill Bryson must be the smartest person in the world when I read (and loved) his remarkable book "A Short History of Nearly Everything" which is a masterpiece. Just to check out his style I read "I'm a Stranger Here Myself". He grew up in the US but spent 20 or so years in England and then moved back to the US. This is a series of short 4-5 page vignettes he wrote for an English weekly newspaper about re-introducing himself to the US and our culture. What I did not realize is that he is fantastically amusing and I spend most of my time laughing out loud as I read his vignettes. To make it even more personal he moves to Hanover, NH where I lived and raised my family. He constantly refers to familiar places like Lou's, Occom Pond, Dartmouth, Norwich, etc. which enhanced the experience for me but isn't crucial. He is an outstanding observer who questions in a very witty manner all the quirks in our life. There aren't many books with laugh out loud moments every few pages but this accomplishes that feat. Try it out!PS: The only reason it doesn't get 5 stars is that it is a compendium of vignettes and therefore doesn't seem quite like a true book to me. (And if you haven't already read "A Short History or Nearly Everything" please do and be prepared to be blown away.)

Emily

I read this several years ago, so I have no idea what it was about. But I do know that I have LOVED every Bill Bryson book that I have ever even seen, let alone read. I think Bill Bryson is very cool. I'd like him to be my neighbor. He could write stories about me. Like "I have this neighbor who stands in her garden and chats with her plants. She introduces the new ones when they arrive. She asks everybody how they are doing and if they are thirsty. Boy, she sure is a great lady." Ok, I don't remember if he even wrote stuff like that. But since I really like him, I like to think that if he was my neighbor he would.Perhaps I got a little off topic here. I think it is because of the man (I'm at the library) right behind me who is coughing a lot. There's a lot of phlegm. I am struggling not to concentrate on that.

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.

Lennie

Bill Bryson is an American who grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. As a young adult he moved to England and after twenty years of living there, he decided to move back to the United States. Coming home after being away for so many years left him feeling out of touch. He discovered that during his absence, America had gone through a lot of changes and improvements. He was grateful for the many conveniences that made life easier and enjoyed household items such as refrigerators that dispense ice cubes, walk-in closets, and central heating. In this book, Bill Bryson describes what those first three years were like and how he tried to adapt to his new life living in a modern America. There were a few funny moments in this book that made me laugh but mostly I appreciated the author pointing out all those things in American culture that we Yankees take for granted as well as those things we should be embarrassed about—-like our love for junk food! It would be interesting to know what Mr. Bryson thinks about modern America now, thirteen years after he published his book. Perhaps he would consider a follow-up book.

Peter Castine

A collection of articles, mostly humorous, written weekly for the Mail on Sunday (this may be massively prejudiced on my part, but definitely a half star off for writing for that execrably bigoted rag--ironically, the Mail's editors are now campaigning to keep people like the young Bill Bryson from entering the UK). It is perhaps in the nature of a weekly column that the individual items are a mixed bag, and not all equally successful. Fair enough for that, and there are some deft descriptions. For my money, Bryson's at his best when he spends a day in the library collecting factoids and putting them together to paint a picture of, say, the rise and fall of the American diner (often prefixed, in a flight of mixed emotions, with the appelation "greasy spoon"). And there are a fair few examples of this sort of essay in the book. His incompetency with technology… meh (and didn't anyone explain to Bill the real background of the infamous Y2K crisis? oh, well…)Anyway, a largely interesting view of life in these United States at the end of the 20th Century. Best read in small doses (although there's always the temptation to read "just one more").

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.

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.

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."

Robertisenberg

I think Bill and I would make good friends, and I certainly won't judge his personality on this book. There's nothing worse than an author who makes jokes for the sake of making jokes, and "I'm a Stranger" is fat with needless hyperbole. The quotes and stories aren't real -- they're clearly exaggerated for the sake of wit, undermining every word of this ridiculous book. Friends have recommended "Stranger" for years, citing its amusing indictment of American consumerism; but Bryson lives around Dartmouth, a progressive Ivy League college, in a small, walkable New Hampshire town. Bryson may have spent years in Britain, but the transition from rural England to rural New England isn't that significant; like everything in this dusty book, Bryson scrapes the barrel's bottom for shavings of difference. Now, had he lived in Romania and then moved to Kansas City, THAT book wouldn't require exaggeration -- the culture shock would have sourced limitless comedy (or, I don't know, un-ironic introspection). Here, Bryson imitates Dave Barry (what could be less noble?), proving just how provincial Americans can be: Even a best-selling travel writer thinks that Britons are exotic.

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.

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. (!!!)

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