Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

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I don't review books I don't like!

*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
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*       = Good, with reservations


****I'm a Stranger Here Myself

Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away

by Bill Bryson

Reviewed May 15, 2003.
Broadway Books, New York, 1999.  288 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (973.92 BRY)
A Sonderbooks’ Stand-out of 2003:  #6, Nonfiction Rereads

I’ve recommended this book to so many people at the library, I thought it was high time that I reread it myself and posted a review.

Bill Bryson spent twenty years living in England with his British wife.  When he recently moved his family back to America, many things struck him as quite different from what he had gotten used to in England.  He writes with tremendous humor and great fondness of the foibles of America, its people and its government.  Maybe this book strikes me as utterly hilarious because I can also look at America with the fresh eyes of someone living in Europe, but I think anyone will find things to laugh at in these pages.

Bill Bryson notices strange American ways like a fondness for cup-holders and avoidance of ever stepping into the outdoors.  He celebrates the great American holiday of Thanksgiving, while mourning the fact that we don’t celebrate Boxing Day after Christmas.  He points out American habits like telling everyone to “Have a nice day.”  (I laughed at that one especially, because I believe that someone trained the German guards at our base gates to say that to every American coming through.  Either that, or they figured it out in self-defense.)  He’s especially hilarious when he mocks bureaucratic officials and instructions.

He makes some wildly funny observations about Americans that he might not have noticed if he hadn’t been away.  For example he points out that “an advertisement in Britain for a cold relief capsule, for instance, would promise no more than that it might make you feel a little better.  You would still have a red nose and be in your pajamas, but you would be smiling again, if wanly.  A commercial for the selfsame product in America, however, would guarantee total, instantaneous relief.  A person on the American side of the Atlantic who took this miracle compound would not only throw off his pj’s and get back to work at once, he would feel better than he had for years and finish the day having the time of his life at a bowling alley.”

This is the sort of book that makes me stop my family and force them to listen to bits that I can hardly read to them without laughing.

Another book by Bill Bryson:  Bill Bryson's African Diary

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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