Bryan's Reviews > I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America after Twenty Years Away

I'm a Stranger Here Myself by Bill Bryson
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Mar 05, 2012

it was ok
Read in March, 2012

This one isn't for everyone, meaning this book isn't really for me. But I really thought it would be for me, because I've enjoyed Dave Barry as much as the next guy, and everyone seems to compare Barry and Bryson. Plus, this book was specifically recommended to me by a trusted recommender.

Also, having spent my years in England, I thought an extended comparison between the countries would be a refreshing revisit. But the book wasn't really what I'd hoped it would be. Maybe my expectations were too high.

Bryson pulled together this book by smashing together years worth of weekly newspaper submissions from his job as a columnist. Right there we see a problem: this book was not written to be read as a book, and therefore if you read it like a book instead of a weekly newspaper column you may be disappointed, as I was. I kept thinking "This is where David Lebovitz gets his style" after every chapter.

So really this boils down to a work of some publisher who wanted to make a few more bucks selling books made up by taking material Bryson had already produced. I wonder if the publisher even asked Bryson. I feel comfort in knowing that I didn't buy it from this publisher but got it from the public library twelve years after it appeared in bookstores.

Like Lebovitz, Bryson is self-depreciating. He also enjoys hyperbole, and other forms of exaggeration, and I often can't decipher whether--at any point in time--he is being funny or stating some remarkable or interesting fact. For example, is he really that confused by his own tax returns? Tax returns aren't that bad, just read and follow the instructions, or shell out a couple hundred bucks (I know he's good for it) and get a professional at H&R Block to take care of it.

And no, Bryson, that's not how Thanksgiving ended up being on the 4th Thursday of November. Or maybe you were just trying to be ridiculous? Either way, I certainly won't be reading "A Short History of Nearly Everything" because I won't know when you are telling history or being funny.

He loves parenthetical statements (as do I) and uses them mostly for comical interjections (ha ha ha), and always finishes his columns/chapters with an attempt to funnily bring up something he wrote earlier in the column. But if I've forgotten what was written after only 500 words, don't you think it wasn't that great the first time around? Again, Lebovitz loves this strategy, and I can't stand it. I suppose it would be more palatable if I only read something like this once per week.

And in the midst of it all, Bryson suddenly will strike a harmonious and clever note, something pleasant and refreshing and interesting. Much like listening to Dave Matthews. Or Yanni. The good parts are enough satisfaction--just barely--to keep you reading.

Plus, Bryson is a professional writer, so he knows what he is doing. Reading his work is easy, unlike reading my critique of his work. So, in the spirit of weekly funny columnists like Bryson, I'll finish this review by saying "I guess it's time for me to finally get to those tax returns, but because I'm too clumsy to read the instructions--or too lazy--I'll just go to H&R Block. Maybe they'll have them done in time for Thanksgiving (ha ha ha)."
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