I'm a Stranger Here Myself by Bill Bryson

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If you have never read anything by Bill Bryson, it is time to start right now. He is a wonderful travel writer: he can dazzle you with description, make your stomach ache with laughter, and also get a point across. The Chicago Sun-Times puts it well: “Bill Bryson could write an essay about dryer lint or fever reducers and still make us laugh out loud.” He has written books on many subjects, from hiking a 2,000 mile trail over several months, to one about the oddities of the English language.

I have read many books by Bill Bryson, but one of my favorites has always been a collection of essays called “I'm a Stranger Here Myself”. The essays were originally pieces that he wrote for a weekly newspaper column, about his return to his native America after living England for 20 years. The topics for the various columns are extremely diverse: focusing on something in American culture, something in his life, a commentary on a current event, a totally random fiction piece, or just a funny ramble with a loose topic. Whatever he writes about, it will have you laughing and thinking, “wow, I never thought about it in that way before!”

I feel that these short pieces really showcase the talent of Bill Bryson. While reading his personal account of hiking the Appalachian Trail, titled A Walk in the Woods, he sometimes overdid it with the description, and also, as much as he was funny, came across somewhat disrespectful towards others. While Bill Bryson can display his insightfulness and fascinating descriptions in his novels, I think that his strongest writing is “short and sweet.” In the space of a few pages, he utilizes comical dialogue, sarcasm, and his fresh insight to get his point across, sometimes coming off as serious, but most of the time lighthearted. You know what they say, quality over quantity.

One point about this book I particularly enjoyed was the fact that you could relate to a lot of it. Many parts of the book, I found myself going, “yeah, I've had that happen to me before,” to something Bill Bryson points out. Bill Bryson in his travel books also has a wonderful way of describing faraway objects in a way your average Joe would be able to relate to. It is also made much funnier when Bill Bryson was writing about a peculiar part of American culture he notices, when you could nod your head and think, “Well that's how it is in America.” Even though Bill Bryson was new to America when he wrote this book, his interesting perspective on commonplace things new to him amazes me.

The fact that this book is a collection of essays was something that I enjoyed. I never have really read a book with a collection of essays centered on a main theme, but I have learned they make for good reading. Firstly, you can digest it from time to time, and not worry about remembering what happened before you left off, since each chapter is its own little story. “I'm a Stranger Here Myself” works especially well, because if you're feeling down, you can just flip to a story, and lighten up with a good laugh.

All in all, I highly recommend reading books by Bill Bryson. He is a fabulous travel/humor author, but out of all the books I've read by him, “I'm a Stranger Here Myself” is definitely my favorite.





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