I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away

I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away

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...

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Title:I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away
Author:Bill Bryson
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Edition Language:English

I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away Reviews

  • Bianca

    When in doubt and/or a funky reading mood, pick a Bill Bryson book - that's my (newest) motto.

    As much as I'd love to re-read favourite books - if only to reacquaint myself with the story/characters and/or to check if they still thrill me as much, it's difficult to do so, when many unread books are beckoning me to pay attention. For the past month or so I've been a reluctant reader. Luckily, I'm still able to listen to audiobooks. So when perusing the library overdrive for audiobooks, I spotted t

    When in doubt and/or a funky reading mood, pick a Bill Bryson book - that's my (newest) motto.

    As much as I'd love to re-read favourite books - if only to reacquaint myself with the story/characters and/or to check if they still thrill me as much, it's difficult to do so, when many unread books are beckoning me to pay attention. For the past month or so I've been a reluctant reader. Luckily, I'm still able to listen to audiobooks. So when perusing the library overdrive for audiobooks, I spotted this book and I had to download it even though I read it 10-15 years ago.

    If the number of owned books is an indication of how much you love a certain author, then the eleven Bill Bryson books gathering dust on my bookshelf make him my favourite author. My love for him, better said for his wit, humour, intelligence, sarcasm, curiosity, observation skills and snark, has reached its highest level and after all these years it's still intact.

    This book is a collection of weekly columns penned by Bryson between 1996-98. Dated, right? Or is it? Let's see:

    - mass incarceration for minor offences, injustice, the death penalty issues relating to the immense costs, inequality of who gets put to death and most importantly, people wrongly convicted - still current and getting worse;

    - airline companies not doing a very good job as service providers - check

    - people being dumber and dumber, and the increasing trend of dumbing down - check

    - too much choice, too much of anything, over-consumerism, disregard for the environment and conserving resources - check

    - mindless shopping - check

    - having a million and one TV channels and nothing to watch - check.

    I'm guessing most people still have to drive everywhere as most places don't make any allowances for pedestrians?

    Things that have changed: desktop computers seem to have put the serial numbers in more accessible places :-), oh, and who remembers the last time they spoke to a real person in a company about installing/setting up anything you bought from them?

    While listening to this, I couldn't help wonder "what would Bryson make of today's this and that". I wish he still wrote weekly columns. I would even buy a magazine/newspaper subscription to read his musings.

  • Diane

    Have you ever visited a foreign country for a length of time, to the point where you were caught up in a completely different lifestyle and society, and then when you finally returned home, you experienced a form of reverse culture shock?

    That is what happened to Bill Bryson when he moved back to the U.S. after living in England for two decades. This delightful book is a collection of weekly columns he wrote for the

    newspaper from 1996 to 1998. Bryson has fun talking about American

    Have you ever visited a foreign country for a length of time, to the point where you were caught up in a completely different lifestyle and society, and then when you finally returned home, you experienced a form of reverse culture shock?

    That is what happened to Bill Bryson when he moved back to the U.S. after living in England for two decades. This delightful book is a collection of weekly columns he wrote for the

    newspaper from 1996 to 1998. Bryson has fun talking about American food, going shopping, holiday seasons, going to the movies, going to the beach, the U.S. postal service, U.S. tax forms, and dozens of awkward and humorous encounters he had with fellow citizens.

    Even though some of the columns showed their age a bit (such as referencing pre-Internet computers and habits) or they included statistics from the 1990s when Bryson was trying to make a point, the pieces were still largely relevant and got at the heart of what it was like to live in America.

    No, that honor would go to "A Walk in the Woods," with "At Home" getting second place.

    Yes, but I would say that I don't think it should be the first Bryson book you read. The short columns are fun, but they're not as cohesive as his travelogues or history books.

    Yes, I would. Bryson is a wonderful narrator and I think I enjoyed the book more because I listened to him tell these shorter stories.

    WHOA. Everyone can calm down. I'm not obsessed, I've just been working my way through a collection of his audiobooks. They are a delightful way to pass my daily commute to work. You should try it -- some days a Bryson story makes me laugh so hard that it brings tears to my eyes. It's a great way to start the day. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go listen to his book about visiting Australia.

    Some favorite quotes:

    "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."

    "Some weeks ago I announced to my wife that I was going to the supermarket with her next time she went because the stuff she kept bringing home was -- how can I put this? -- not fully in the spirit of American eating. I mean, here we were living in a paradise of junk food -- the country that gave the world cheese in a spray can -- and she kept bringing home healthy stuff like fresh broccoli and packets of Swedish crispbread. It was because she was English, of course. She didn't really understand the rich, unrivaled possibilities for greasiness and goo that the American diet offers. I longed for artificial bacon bits, melted cheese in a shade of yellow unknown to nature, and creamy chocolate fillings, sometimes all the in same product. I wanted food that squirts when you bite into it or plops onto your shirt front in such gross quantities that you have to rise very, very carefully from the table and sort of limbo over to the sink to clean yourself up."

    "I'm going to have to be quick because it's a Sunday and the weather is glorious and Mrs. Bryson has outlined a big, ambitious program of gardening. Worse, she's wearing what I nervously call her Nike expression -- the one that says, 'Just do it.' Now don't get me wrong. Mrs. Bryson is a rare and delightful creature and goodness knows my life needs structure and supervision, but when she gets out a pad and pen and writes the words 'Things to Do' (vigorously underscored several times) you know it's going to be a long time till Monday."

    [On why his mother was not a great cook] To be perfectly fair to her, my mother had several strikes against her in the kitchen department. To begin with, she couldn't have been a great cook even if she had wanted to. She had a career, you see -- she worked for the local newspaper, which meant that she was always flying in the door two minutes before it was time to put dinner on the table. On top of this, she was a trifle absentminded. Her particular specialty was to cook things while they were still in the packaging. I was almost full-grown before I realized that Saran Wrap wasn't a sort of chewy glaze. A combination of haste, forgetfulness, and a charming incompetence where household appliances were concerned meant that most of her cooking experiences were punctuated with billows of smoke and occasional small explosions. In our house, as a rule of thumb, you knew it was time to eat when the firemen departed."

    My rating: 3.5 stars rounded up to 4

  • Barbara

    Bill Bryson is an Anglo-American author of books on travel, science, language and other non-fiction topics.

    Bill Bryson, born in Iowa, lived in England for twenty years before returning to the U.S. with his family. This book is a compilation of humorous articles about America that Bryson wrote for a British publication. The book, published in 2000, is somewhat dated. Even taking this into account many articles have a snarky, annoying tone. This was disappointing as I usually like Brys

    Bill Bryson is an Anglo-American author of books on travel, science, language and other non-fiction topics.

    Bill Bryson, born in Iowa, lived in England for twenty years before returning to the U.S. with his family. This book is a compilation of humorous articles about America that Bryson wrote for a British publication. The book, published in 2000, is somewhat dated. Even taking this into account many articles have a snarky, annoying tone. This was disappointing as I usually like Bryson's books.

    Parts of the book did make me smile 😊, including a few satirical - but overly long - articles detailing the million steps required to: fill out an income tax return; get a foreign-born family member declared a legal resident of the U.S; and set up a new computer (of course this is much easier now).

    Other things on Bryson's mind were more problematic for me, such as his: whining about smoking restrictions because people want to avoid second-hand smoke; griping about letters being returned even though he didn't know the correct address (he seems to feel the post office has an obligation to figure out where he wants his letters delivered); day-trips for fun - which he generally describes as endless hours of driving for 10 minures of recreation, and so on. I wanted to tell Bryson, "if you don't like it here, go back to England" (which he actually did in 2003).

    The book might be worth checking out of the library but it's not worth buying. He's written much better ones.

    You can follow my reviews at

  • Melki

    I normally love Bill Bryson's books. Unfortunately, I could swear this one was written by

    .

  • Jason Koivu

    Okay, maybe it's not an exact 1000. Some of the books I've added to my GR read list are not even books. On the other hand, I know I've forgotten some of the books I read as a kid, so maybe it evens out in the end, and GR's count is probably as accurate as it's going to get. Therefore, let the good times roll!

    Oh my goodness, that was fun. Okay, back to business.

    is a very long title. It rambles a

    Okay, maybe it's not an exact 1000. Some of the books I've added to my GR read list are not even books. On the other hand, I know I've forgotten some of the books I read as a kid, so maybe it evens out in the end, and GR's count is probably as accurate as it's going to get. Therefore, let the good times roll!

    Oh my goodness, that was fun. Okay, back to business.

    is a very long title. It rambles a bit, doesn't it? Unfortunately, so does its author, Bill Bryson. This book loses focus. Sure, these are essays, but even within each essay he gets lost now and then.

    I am a Bryson fan, but this was not one of my favorites of his. It's a collection from his column in a Brit newspaper. It's mildly interesting for its take on American life viewed through the lens of an American ex-pat returning home after Englishing himself up for a few years. That could be a good premise and most of this is fairly entertaining, but often it devolves into complaining rants. The humor also occasionally falls back on John Cleese's list tactic of comedy creation, where if you don't have a strong premise, you just keep adding to it so that the preponderance of substance eventually feels like quality. You can almost see Bryson flailing around for things to write about. Creating content for a weekly column is no easy task!

    I prefer when he focuses on a topic and sticks with it for the length of the book. For instance,

    is about walking the Appalachian Trail.

    is a humous look at the deadliness of Australia.

    is a delightful recounting of his childhood in the Midwest.

    is...self-explanatory. All of these are better than

    as far as my tastes go.

  • Roy Lotz

    Bill Bryson has become something like my spiritual guide. Taken together, his works form a roadmap for living life as a middle-aged, oversensitive, bookish, misanthropic, curious, and curiously inept man; and I am following his lead into the sunset.

    This book was particularly relevant for me, because I recently returned to New York to renew my visa. Like Bryson, I would be seeing my native land after a spell abroad (although my time away was much shorter). As usual, I got the audiobook version s

    Bill Bryson has become something like my spiritual guide. Taken together, his works form a roadmap for living life as a middle-aged, oversensitive, bookish, misanthropic, curious, and curiously inept man; and I am following his lead into the sunset.

    This book was particularly relevant for me, because I recently returned to New York to renew my visa. Like Bryson, I would be seeing my native land after a spell abroad (although my time away was much shorter). As usual, I got the audiobook version so I could savor his delicate voice and charming transatlantic accent. The whole experience warms my heart.

    originated as a newspaper column for a British magazine, written about the trials of moving back to the United States after living his whole adult life in England. As such, this book is more of a collection than a unified whole. The subject jumps from buying fax machines to filing immigration paperwork, from playing ball with his son to gardening with his wife, not to mention thanksgiving, hair cuts, spell checkers, air travel, the economy, and much else.

    Strangely enough, the imposed brevity of a newspaper column allows us to see more of Bryson, not less. He mainly writes about whatever is on his mind, and frequently lapses into autobiography. We meet his wife and kids, examine his memories of his childhood, and get a tour of his town. If you like Bryson, this will be delightful; and if not, not.

    As far as the ostensible subject goes—and I say ostensible because Bryson often strays from it—I cannot say Bryson quite captures the experience of seeing American culture from a distance. He remarks that people here eat too much, walk too little, and consequently weigh too much. He notes our preoccupation with rules, our predilection for junk food, our reflexively optimistic attitude. To his credit, Bryson presciently condemns American xenophobia and our disastrous ‘War on Drugs’. But in general his observations seem rather superficial. Certainly he is no Tocqueville.

    I cannot resist including one of my own observations here. The thing that has most struck me upon moving back is the paranoia. There was a heat wave when I arrived, and everybody was worrying about it. When it gets cold, we’ll worry about that too. My family and friends are all biting their nails about this election. Indeed, I think it’s fair to say that fear has taken over this election season. On the right, they’re worried about immigrants, Muslims, communists, and Clinton; and on the left, we’re mainly worried about the possibility of a Trump presidency. When I turn on the local news I see there’s been a murder in Brooklyn, a man struck by lightning in Queens, and a fire in Manhattan. In other news, there might be something wrong with our water, certain foods might kill you, and certain hair products might cause cancer. And don’t forget that a terrible epidemic is on the horizon.

    This example is just to show that Bryson could have gone much further in his cultural analysis. But the book is not meant to be a serious work of cultural criticism, so I suppose it’s unfair to fault a lighthearted collection of newspaper columns for being trivial. The pieces here were not meant to change your life or open your eyes, but to provide a modest dose of entertaining reading. And that’s what they do. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go practice my transatlantic accent.

  • Miranda Reads

    Bryson grew up in America, married his English wife and moved to England with her. Now, after 20 years across the pond, he moves back.

    I suppose I feel a milder version of this whenever I visit my p

    Bryson grew up in America, married his English wife and moved to England with her. Now, after 20 years across the pond, he moves back.

    I suppose I feel a milder version of this whenever I visit my parents or extended relatives. Reading his take on returning home was a delight and there were

    As always, I enjoyed his colorful scenarios and contemplations. His

    was charming and engaging. How could you not enjoy such thoughtful musings such as:

    His book certainly brings to light several "normal" things that Americans don't quite realize how

    This book was a bundle of joy. However, the spark that so charmed me at the beginning fizzled out - it just got a bit samey-samey.

    Great book (if I judged solely on the power of the voice (William Roberts)). The reader had excellent timing and tone.

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  • Valerie

    As an expat about to return to the US, this book simply wasn't Weird enough for me. It in no way captures my experience of how completely absurd the US feels upon returning after an extended absence.

    Obsessions with skinny white girls named Jessica; the unbelievable noise, especially from radio and TV; un-ending ads for stuff on sale (which exist in other places, but when it's in another language, I just tune it out); the fact that no one walks anywhere; the enormous bodies(quitting smoking mayb

    As an expat about to return to the US, this book simply wasn't Weird enough for me. It in no way captures my experience of how completely absurd the US feels upon returning after an extended absence.

    Obsessions with skinny white girls named Jessica; the unbelievable noise, especially from radio and TV; un-ending ads for stuff on sale (which exist in other places, but when it's in another language, I just tune it out); the fact that no one walks anywhere; the enormous bodies(quitting smoking maybe wasn't such a great idea, folks...); the amount of non-food items for sale in a grocery store; the general ignorance and out-right disinterest in news from other places; the list goes on.

    I like Bryson's humor, but I think I like his earlier work best. ("Fat Girls from Des Moines" remains one of my favorite Granta reads.)

  • Mario

    First think I will say is that this isn't the book I would finish if I didn't have to, for university. I'm not saying that this book isn't good, I'm just saying that this book wasn't for me.

    Second thing I will say is that I can't believe that I finally finished it. I don't think I've ever needed this much time to finish one book (and the book wasn't even that big).

    (or as it was released in England:

    ) is a collection of columns. When Bill Bryson

    First think I will say is that this isn't the book I would finish if I didn't have to, for university. I'm not saying that this book isn't good, I'm just saying that this book wasn't for me.

    Second thing I will say is that I can't believe that I finally finished it. I don't think I've ever needed this much time to finish one book (and the book wasn't even that big).

    (or as it was released in England:

    ) is a collection of columns. When Bill Bryson moved to the United States he started writing columns for British newspapers, and those columns were later collected and put together into a book. And in these columns all Bryson did was moan, moan and (yeah you've guessed it!)

    . It was fun reading it at the beginning, but after few columns it just got annoying.

    But one thing I liked about this book (and the reason I didn't give it one star) was the humor. Bryson have sarcastic and dark humor, and in few columns it showed and even made me laugh. If he used his humor more, I might have actually liked the book more.

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