In the summer of 1996, just after moving his family to New Hampshire after 20 years in England, Bill Bryson began writing a weekly column about America for the British magazine Night & Day. In 1999 the best of these columns became I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away.
Another lovely read
Bryson was born in America (in Iowa, of all places), but his columns sparkle with the enthusiasm of someone who is in complete awe of quintessentially American things like garbage disposals, cupholders, and Thanksgiving.
As always, I am charmed by Bryson’s magnificent talent for turning a phrase. When writing about skiing as a child, for example:
…I decided to ski down our back porch steps. There were only five steps, but on skis the angle of descent was surprisingly steep. I went down the steps at about, I would guess, 110 miles an hour, and hit the bottom with such force that the skis jammed solid, whereas I continued onward and outward across the patio in a graceful, rising arc. About twelve feet away loomed the back wall of our garage. Instinctively adopting a spread-eagled posture for maximum impact, I smacked into it somewhere near the roof and slid down its vertical face in the manner of food flung against a wall. It was at this point I decided that winter sports were not for me.
It’s a true testament to my enjoyment of a book when I annoy my family by reading sections of it aloud — I did this a lot with this book (just ask them).
That said, I must admit that I’m a Stranger Here Myself is my least favorite of Bryson’s books. It shares many of the characteristics of At Home and A Short History of Nearly Everything in that it can be enjoyed in small bites or all at once, but the topics were so varied—and the articles so short—that I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to.
But of course calling a Bryson book my “least favorite” is like calling Emma my least favorite Jane Austen novel — it’s still completely wonderful.