For the second time Bill Bryson has emerged out of the dusty bookshelves to help me through culture shock. The first was Notes from a Small Island, where he gave amusing perspective on the decades he had spent in the UK. For a Canadian/American living abroad for the first time, it was a valuable tool to see that it ‘wasn’t just me’. This was a very different culture.
Returning back the the US a few years later proved an almost equal culture shock, with the added strangeness of feeling it when I was ‘coming home’. Somewhere in the midst of this I bought I’m A Stranger Here Myself and have enjoyed reading it over the last few months.
It’s important to note that the book is mostly made up of columns that he wrote for a UK newspaper after returning to the UK after living in the UK. Unlike some of his other books that you could easily read in a sitting or two, this book is quite broken up by the format. It also results in him only addressing topics that can fit nicely into the weekly column format. Still enjoyable, but as readable as Notes From a Small Island. It’s also worth noting that he’s writing from a pre-9/11 US, which makes this a bit of a glimpse into history. The columns on technology also feel a bit dated 10+ years later.
Tacked on at the end is another short piece on his childhood in Iowa. It wasn’t clear in the Kindle edition if this was part of the book or a preview of one of his other books. It was good, but since I lack the experience of growing up in the US midwest in the 50s, I had a harder time relating to it.
I found his tackling some of the curiousities of US life from the perspective of the Brits really helpful to me right now. He helped me understand some of why I’m feeling so out of sorts.
Bryson had me laughing out loud at many points in the book, a feeling regular Bryson readers are quite used to, I’m sure. However, I felt the column format really constrained him and his witty observations, particularly if I read too many at a sitting.
Overall I enjoyed this book and found it helpful. It definitely wouldn’t be the first Bryson book that I would recommend, but it was a good read, particularly for this reverse culture shocked reader.