I'm a Stranger
Here Myself
by Bill Bryson
Book Review by Amy Coffin
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Bill Bryson has established his image of humorist, best-selling author, and Cosby-esque family man. After 20 years in England, he returned to America with four children and an English wife in tow.

Bryson settled in New Hampshire, writing a column for a British newspaper. The two years' worth of installments focused on the author's re-entry into his native land. Seventy of those articles have been compiled into a book titled "I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America after Twenty Years Away."

The book's subtitle gives readers an idea of what to expect. Bryson's columns can pretty much be divided into three categories: oddities of pop culture, absurdities of American life, and standard complaints of government procedure.

These pieces were originally written for a British audience, which is the same way the book leans. There are many humorous pot shots at lazy Americans (who will drive across the street instead of walk) and their excess (aisles of sugar-coated cereals).

There's a Seinfeld-like nature to some topics. "I discovered that nearly all household products these days carry a hotline number. You can, it appears, call up for guidance on how to use soap and shampoo." Other episodes feature the Bryson clan in a Cosby Show sort of way. Nobody is safe from mention when you know a columnist.

Bryson has no problem taking jabs at American government. The first essay under this heading seems funny. The second one sort-of amusing, and so on until the joke gets old. Foturnately, there are some very funny technology-related rants to help American readers forget their own stupidity.

There are two columns that were funny on September 10, 2001 which aren't too funny now. It goes to say that many authors wish they could change certain references in their pre-terrorism work. My guess is Bryson would change the name of his newly-installed computer to anything but Anthrax 2000. Eerie, isn't it?

I'm a Stranger Here Myself is best read in small amounts. Ingesting a few pieces at a time will enhance the humor and decrease the familiarity factor. This book has many funny moments but I wonder if it was such a good idea to combine them for sale in the United States. Are Bryson and his British audience laughing with Americans or at them?

Also by Bill Bryson:
A Walk in the Woods
A Walk in the Woods
The official Bill Bryson web site