I’m a Stranger Here Myself…
You’ve got to love Bill Bryson. Well I do anyway. I can almost guarantee a laugh when I read one of his books. And it’s not just any old laugh; it can range from an audible giggle to a roll on the floor until your belly hurts and you can’t see for the tears, kind of laugh; which is great if you want to improve your mood, but it can get kind of embarrassing if you happen to be reading one of his books in an airport waiting area.
And yes, that happened to me not too long ago. On a recent solo trip to the UK and back I decided to take a Bryson book with me for some unknown reason. Perhaps it was the irony of the title, ‘I’m a stranger here myself’, seeing as I was returning to my country of birth, which having lived a quiet life in France recently, can seem a little overwhelming. Or perhaps I just wanted some entertainment on my trip. Anyway, whatever the intent, I found myself in a French airport chuckling to myself and trying desperately to hold my guffaws in! Somehow I’d forgotten how funny his writing could be.
I don’t own all his books, though I do have a great many of them, but I’d never managed to get round to reading this one. Perhaps I felt an affinity with the author as this tome was all about Bryson’s return to the USA after having lived in the UK for 20 years.
In fact it was all a mistake – he never meant to write it at all! Now you may be wondering how you accidentally write a book, so I’ll try and explain.
The book is a collection of weekly columns written over a two-year period for a magazine supplement of a Sunday newspaper in the UK. Fair enough you may say, but I still don’t get it.
The problem came about when the editor of said magazine rang up Bill one day, shortly after he’d returned to the States, to ask him to write a column about his life in the US. Bryson said no. Actually he said, no he couldn’t do it, he was way too busy and didn’t have the time. He also said, ‘I can’t take on a weekly column’ and a few other things, but the editor didn’t seem to hear him… Bill suspected that he was doing several other jobs at the time, including reviewing models for a swimsuit issue, but I suspect it was just a cunning ploy.
Anyway after the editor had hung up Bill Bryson ended up with a weekly column to write for a British audience about his return to the US and I’m so glad he did. This book, written over the period 1996 to ’98, tells you about his fascination for garbage disposals, the pros and cons of the UK versus the US postal systems, what drive-in movies are all about and his general observations on US life 20 years after having left the place.
The thing is he’s funny. Whether it’s his way of looking at things, or just the fact that he’s not very practical, or technical and seems to go through life in a semi-permanent state of bewilderment, I don’t know. But he doesn’t half make me laugh!
Let me try and give you an example… Most of us travel at some point in our lives. Not always abroad, but we may have to use a train, bus or plane as well as the good old reliable motor. Now remember, Bryson is most known for his travel writing, but he always seems to end up having some kind of minor disaster.
Take for example his time on an aeroplane where in his seat he realises his shoelace has become untied. Of course, not wanting to trip himself up later he decides he should retie it. Just at the moment he chooses to bend down in his seat to redo his lace the person sat in the seat in front opts to throw their seat back into the fully reclined position pinning Bill helplessly bent double, in effect leaving him ready for a crash landing. It’s only by flailing his hand around and pawing at the man sat next to him is he able to be released! Look, I’m even giggling now at the memory.
I don’t know how he does it. Bill Bryson manages to paint pictures in my head that make me fall about laughing, and though I know I’m not necessarily your average female and tend to live a slightly different life myself, I’m not the only one who finds his writing hilarious. On the back of this book someone from the San Francisco Examiner tells me, ‘Bryson writes about today’s America in a way that is both trenchantly observant and pound-on-the-floor, snort-root-beer-out-your-nose funny’. Well you can’t say fairer than that can you?! Perhaps you might want to take a peek…
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