I distinctly remember being in high school, looking at the countries of Europe and Asia and thinking that America had no real culture. Recently I've learned to take a step back and study American culture for what it really is, discovering that it can be just as weird and interesting as other countries. Bill Bryson must have experienced this paradigm shift in a big way. Although American born, he spent twenty years of his life in England. When he returned to United States, he couldn't help but notice how different certain things were than the America he grew up with. The results of his musings can be found in I'm a Stranger Here Myself, a collection of brief essays originally collected in a a newspaper. Here, he examines our culture, from obviously American elements such as baseball, shopping, and the fact that we tend to be more than a little sue happy, to less obvious things. He has essays on his love for American post offices, Presidents Day, cupholders, warning labels on products, and the wondrous trial of doing your taxes. All these essays are delivered with the wonderful mix of sarcasm and earnestness that make Bryson's writing both interesting to read and laugh out loud funny.
This is my third Bill Bryson book. My first was the brilliant A Walk in the Woods, a travelogue that covers his time on the Appalachian Trail. My second was Notes from a Small Islands which tells about his times living in England. Despite being quite interested in maybe visiting England one day, there was something about Notes from a Small Island that disappointed me. I'm happy to say that I enjoyed I'm a Stranger Here Myself much more. Written over ten years ago, I couldn't help but notice that some of the ideas were a little outdated, but I was surprised to see how many of his thoughts still were relevant. Much like A Walk in the Woods, this was a book that I could not read in public, as it had me laughing constantly. It's true that eventually it eventually becomes a bit repetitive (I found myself saying, didn't he already write about shopping? Didn't he write about airlines before?), and by the end of the book, it begins to feel as if he's running out of ideas, but as there are seventy short essays in here, that's probably to be expected.
Although I'm A Stranger Here Myself did not capture the brilliance of A Walk in the Woods, I found it to be a fun read. I suspect that I won't wait such a long time before picking up another Bill Bryson book again.
Rating: four stars
Length: 288 pages
Challenge: This book is part of the new genre challenge
Similar Books: A Walk in the Woods is another interesting study of American culture, although more focused on the Appalachian Trail
Other books I've read by this author: A Walk in the Woods, Notes from a Small Island
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