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I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away
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111 of 115 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2000
So what's this then? A collection of columns written by Bill Bryson for the British Night & Day magazine, assembled into a book? I was sceptical when I first picked it due to the unfamiliarity here; I thought he was a travel writer. But then I started reading through the first few pages and am delighted to report that they were so entertaining and accessible that I ended up finishing the book very satified.
This book is about America, about consumerism, hypocracy, politics, culture and everything else in between, such as motels and boring interstate highways and the condition of AT&T service these days. Why should all this be so interesting? Because Bill Bryson's voice shines throughout, dissecting normally more complex subjects into bite-sized articles which are eminently readable to the extent that it is at times impossible to stop. Of course, his trademark humour is present too. If you read this in public, there is the risk of embarrassment by your involuntary snorts of laughter.
However, 'I'm a Stranger here Myself' isn't perfect. Much of the book is predictable, and 85% of the time, Bill appears to be complaining. Someone as talented as Bill Bryson should know not to engage in such indulgence because the end result is that the reader occassionally feels frustrated over the ostensible monotony. You also can't help but feel that an assemblage of brief columns is not enough to make a book.
Although this book is not standard Bill Bryson fare, it still manages to excel. It really is exceptionally enlightening, to read what he has to say subsequent to spending 20 years in England. He compares the contrasts between the two nations and questioning so many aspects of life that Americans take for granted, such as driving from shop to shop when they are merely footsteps apart, or the blatant excesses of junk food. Each article (in my edition, Black Swan) covers only five pages so they are very easy to get into.
If you are an American, perhaps you will enjoy this book more than anyone else as you will undoubtedly find it compelling to look into the views of an outsider in the process of 'assimilation'.
'I'm a Strange here Myself' doesn't feel like a book, more like a colelction of columns binded together. If you are willing to accept this, it is an extremely rewarding, insightful and refreshingly diverting read. This is enough to gain a hearty recommendation.
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85 of 87 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2005
About two years ago when my husband and I made up our minds to study abroad in the U.S., one of my friends, who have lived in Boston for many years recommended Bill Bryson's I am a Stranger Here Myself to me. She told me this book reflects American life and will help me learn American ways of living. I kept her words in mind, but didn't read this book until it was chosen as our assigned material in a reading class in the U.S. After reading through this book, I realized why my friend suggested me read it. This book is really a great comfort to foreigners, because what Bill Bryson told the readers mostly resonates with what we've encountered in our daily lives in the U.S.

As foreigners, we usually assume that lack of proficiency in the language is the cause of ineffective communication and it puts us in a very awkward situation. However, in the chapter, "What's Cooking," we know that though a native speaker, Bryson is also bewildered by the complicated terminology the server uses to introduce the special dishes in a fancy restaurant. And in "How to Rent a Car," Bryson has a difficult time figuring out the complexly tiered options in the contract just as I did when I rented a car in the U.S. for the first time. Sometime it makes foreigners feel secure and relieved when realizing that a native speaker is in the same boat.

I am so glad that I got the chance to read this book. Not only did I understand more about American customs and culture, but I also benefited greatly from the author's funny expression and vivid description in English. For foreigners, making ourselves acquainted with American ways of thinking and speaking is crucial to dealing with daily events in a foreign country. In my opinion, Bill Bryson plays the role of a spokesperson for Americans as well as foreigners. In his sarcastic but intriguing tone, Bryson candidly points out some ridiculous phenomena in American society. Some may regard him as a grumpy man complaining a lot in his book, but I was fascinated by his unique humor. I sincerely suggest anyone who would like to travel to the U.S. read this book beforehand. This book is of great help to getting a broad outline of the life style in America.
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49 of 56 people found the following review helpful
This book, which consists of columns Bryson wrote for an English paper after moving to the US, is a mixed success, in my eyes. Bryson is one of my favorite authors, and some pieces were classic, classic Bryson---so funny you really do laugh out loud for a good long while! I liked best the pieces on pop culture---diners, motels, TV, dieting, etc. However, a few pieces were about subjects you can read about in almost any newspaper editorial any day of the week---government waste and stupidity, how hard tax returns are to prepare, and the overactive legal system, to name some. I found those pieces were not really done as well---they could have been written by any skilled writer and did not have the distinctive Bryson voice. Maybe this is because they were not written for an American audience originally, and maybe those topics are not as overdone in England. Overall I still did like this book a lot, although I think I would have liked better something that was less a collection of thoughts and more a real tale of coming back to America, from a more personal viewpoint.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2002
"Oh, what the heck? I liked 'A Walk in the Woods,' so let's see if this is any good."
That was my line of thinking as I checked out this book from my local library. On the way home, I opened the cover (akin to opening a bag of my favorite chips) and sampled a bite. And another. Soon, I was eight chapters into the thing, wiping tears from my eyes to the amusement of my wife and children. Then, the ultimate test: I read a page out loud to my wife. Now I'm not intimating that she has any laughter inhibitions--she'll laugh up a storm within the first minutes of a good comedy flick--but to subject her to oral readings is to watch her mood take a serious downswing. Must be the expectation levels I project. ("Come on, honey, don't you get it? Are you listening?")
Test results: A+
Next thing I knew, I was fighting my wife for moments to gobble down another chapter or two. No kidding. Bill Bryson, in his inimitable manner, adds punch and humor to subjects normally as tastless as...well, as week-old chips. He pinpoints the lunacies in our daily routine, the frustrations of red-tape, and the nostalgia of yesteryear. He makes me wonder why we Americans behave in such ways, then leaves me shaking my head at the idea of living anywhere else.
We're all strangers, in one way or another, in this diverse land of ours. And that's just it...it's our crazy kaleidoscope of ideas and customs that make us the colorful nation we are. I wouldn't trade it for the world. Thanks, Bill, for helping me let off some steam so that I can fall in love with this place all over again.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 1999
I am a Bill Bryson reader in England and I would like to say I have read the UK edition of this book and several other Bill Bryson titles, and I think Bill Bryson has done a lot to enhance the image of the USA in Britain, not harm it, and has increased understanding between British and American people. I think Bryson is so popular in America because British people like America so much and so are interested in his commentary of it. I am glad to see most reviews by Americans here are positive, but I think the ones which aren't are missing the real point of what Bryson is trying to do. To begin with I feel that the criticism offered of the USA can constructive, rather than just complaining for the sake of it. Bryson obviously loves America but is saddened by some aspects of it and wants to offer an alternative view of how, in his opinion, the USA could be improved even further. I find that people rarely bother to suggest improvements for countries they don't like because they don't care about them. It's only because Bryson obviously loves America that he cares enough to try and suggest ideas to improve the areas in which he feels the country has lost its way. Also a lot of the criticism is not actually comparing America unfavourably to other countries, but to America as it was before he left it- he's suggesting that some things have improved but others used to be better in the past-there's nothing anti-American about suggesting that some older American ideas and values should have been preserved. I think criticising Bryson for a "phoney accent" is a little unfair- he did live in England for almost two decades and it is well-known that people tend to pick up the speech patterns of those around them, which explains why Bryson may have a sort of American/English hybrid accent. Bryson certainly can be said to love England and be an Anglophile, but that doesn't mean he can't love America too- being patriotic does not mean you have to love your own country so much that you can't be allowed to see anything good or even better in another country, or enjoy living in another country- and remember that much as Bryson loved England, he still moved back to America to live- not something he would have done if he disliked America. This book contains much praise for America as well as criticism and I think it is balanced and fair. Bryson certainly exaggerates some of his experiences but it is obvious when he is doing it and it is just for comic effect, not to be misleading. This book has made me want to visit the USA more, not less. I would suggest US readers try and obtain copies of his excellent book "Notes from a Small Island" about Britain- they will find Bryson offers exactly the same blend of praise- AND CRITICISM!- of Britain as he does of the USA. I found his book on my country to be inspiring- certainly it was nice to read the praise but instead of feeling upset by the criticism I found myself agreeing with most of it and thinking about how Britain might change for the better. It's only through balanced criticsm a country can keep constantly re-evaluating itself and so keep cutting-edge through constant improvements. Bill Bryson is offering the USA his own opinions on how America might be improved because he genuinely loves the country- whether you agree with him or not, I think that's a statement of his confidence in the USA, not his dislike of it! Whether you come from the USA, Britain or elsewhere, buy this book- and enjoy!
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2000
This is unfamiliar territory for me--a collection of articles written for a British public. I was drawn into the book mainly because of Bill's sarcastic wit, and was held there by a humorous look at life in America, written by an ex-expatriot.
The book is really well done. The chapters are short, originally written as newspaper articles. Several of his chapters bordered on boring--taxes, how to assemble a computer, etc. Mostly however, they were charming, well-written, and surprisingly personal. Bryson is at his best when tackling travel, and perhaps this is no surprise as he has written several well-received travel books.
Originally I bought this book for someone else, but as I was traveling myself I began to read it, and found I could not put it down. The format lends itself very well to readers like me, who can often only read in short bursts. Finally, while Bryson's readers in Great Britain may have learned something of life in America, I also learned about life in Great Britain--what an experience at the post office is like, what renting a flat is like, and the great furniture debacle.
Honestly I very often laughed out loud, drawing curious looks from others in airports and train stations. Highly recommended.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 1999
I am English and have to say that the highlight of Sunday mornings was reading Bill's Column in the Night and Day magazine of the Mail on Sunday. To say that I was devastated when he announced in there that he was finishing these columns and doesn't plan to write anymore was an understatement.
However, now I have this book, a collection of all of the columns and I have to say that it just goes to show why the English love Bill so much. He is funny, insightful, clever, self-deprecating, ironic. Did I mention funny??
I love the way he makes the most ordinary of everyday activities seem completely different. He talks a lot in the book (and even in the book's title) about how everyone around him seems to think of him as English and that gives him his distinctive edge. Sometimes its for comic effect - like going into a hardware store and announcing "I need some stuff to fill in holes in the wall with. My wife's people call it Polyfilla" (we do)and other times it gives him the opportunity to observe America and American attitudes from the perspective of an outsider.
The Brits love Bill and his wicked sense of humour, and also his ability to laugh at himself. They also understand when he is being ironic, and when he is truly despairing of his fellow Americans, whether it be setting up a hot-line for dental floss questions or the litigation culture that has sprung up in America and other such examples.
So, Bill Bryson, long may you continue. I look forward to your book on Australia.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
After quite a number of years living and writing in England, Bill Bryson returned to his native land, the United States, with his family and apparently continued his writing career. Mr. Bryson wrote a series of weekly articles, a column, for a British newspaper, recording his experiences, thoughts and observations on his native land and his return after a long absence. This book, I'm A Stranger Here Myself is a collection of these articles which were printed in that British paper.

I like Bryson. I enjoy reading his books. This one was no exception. I suppose the first thing I like about this author, is that we both have the same attitude toward life. We are both rather inept in many ways. We neither of us seem to take ourselves very seriously. I can relate to that. One of the big differences between is though, is that he has the ability to articulate his thoughts, attitude and experiences, in a way I never will be able to. They guy can write and he can write well.

When I first picked up this book, I did with a bit of a sense of dread. I did not want another "lets get together and bash American" book. I need not have worried. Yes, he does point out some funny, amusing, odd and silly things about our culture, but he is just a quick to point out that these different little oddities can be found around the world, only in different forms and customs. Let's face it, there is a lot a bout this country that is absolutely great, in fact, most things are. The author is quick point this out. On the other hand, there is much about our culture, our people, our government and our lives in general that is, if viewed from a certain angle, absolute hilarious. Bryson is quick to point this out too.

Everything is free game in this little work. Everything from the postal service, cars, diet, computers, holidays, work, play, language, government, family relationships, and so much more, are free game to his pen. Through all of his work though, he is constantly laughing at himself more than anyone else. Most of the articles are funny, many of them absolutely hilarious, and some of them are quite serious, simply due the subject matter. Each article the author has written (he even rather humorously refers to making money on his recycled work), makes up one chapter in this book. It is well written, easy to read, and, if you are like me, addresses subjects we all feel the same about, but just cannot say them in the way Bryson can.

Enjoyed this one and it was a well written, relaxing read.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 21, 2002
*A little warning: Bill Bryson, whom fans saw waving good-bye to jolly England in his last book (Notes from a Small Island), is found here in lovely little Hanover in the New Hampshire mountains. I have inordinate fondness for Hanover, having spent my undergrad years there, so I am both very familiar and very biased here. I am also inordinately fond of Bryson (who I saw once sitting at our local pub) as a smart, witty, keen-eyed writer. Stranger gives you plenty to think and laugh about (sometimes simultaneously). I can't recommend him enough! I never travel without a Bryson book with me.*
After spending almost all of his adult life in Great Britain, Bryson has to relearn those fun experiences like mortgages, neighbors, and raising kids, American-style. From spackle to post offices, from haircuts to the lost art of walking, the little things in life are highlighted and inspected in Bryson's funny, funny way. He is sarcastic and befuddled by turns, but with the wry humor of a man who knows life is messy and complicated, but grand all the same. He makes the most of his surroundings and modern America.
The chapters are actual columns that originally ran in a British newspaper, so they are somewhat tailored to that audience. Of course, this means there are a few "explanations" of American customs, but hardly anything to get upset over as some reviewers have. Bryson speaks of his own perceptions of his own experiences, not so criminal in a memoir. And it is quite clear that he enjoys life in the US - strange as it is for him at times, which is what makes the book hilarious. Check out his thoughts on taxes, computer tech support, death statistics, and America's car dependency. Not to mention the general theme of a very confused middle-aged man trying to get back in sync with the country he grew up in.
Bryson has mellowed gradually, with each of his books. Here he is wonderfully human - a happy family man, an earnest citizen, an ardent observer looking at America from a unique perspective. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how it will make you appreciate, or at least consider, the little things we Americans take for granted. A fine, intelligent work that will have you entertained from cover to cover.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
I loved this book and told all of my friends about it. In addition to being funny, it was well-researched, interesting, and informative. The author is humble and gracious and is able to laugh at himself, a quality I find admirable and refreshing. He is honest in his opinions without being self-righteous; and even in his criticism of the country, he expresses a hopefulness that it is possible to correct social injustice if we work together as a nation.

However, none of that is the main point of the book. It is simply a collection of his columns written for a British audience in which he makes observations about Americana that are hilarious most of the time. I found myself laughing out loud in a waiting room full of people and then explaining to others what I was reading. If you're looking for a book that will make you smile on an otherwise dreary day, this is the book for you.

Divided into short chapters, it's a book that's easy to read in short bursts--a great book for someone who has difficulty commiting to a lengthy novel.
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