Friday, November 7, 2008

I'm a Stranger Here Myself - Bill Bryson

1999; 288 pages. Genre : Comedic Narrative. Overall Rating : B-.

    Bill Bryson returns to the USA after spending 20 years in England. He buys a house in rustic, Newhartesque New Hampshire, and shortly thereafter, a journalist friend talks him into writing a weekly article for a British magazine called Night & Day; loosely themed around readjusting to American life. IASHM is a collection of 70 of those articles.

What's To Like...
    It has the typical Bryson dry, self-deprecating humor. Since they are weekly articles, all 70 chapters are essentially the same length - about 4 pages each. The topics vary widely, so if one doesn't float your boat, be of good cheer, you'll shortly be reading about something completely different.

    .It is obvious that Bryson reads a lot, and oftentimes that spawns the weekly topic. You will learn things like the origin of Drive-In Theaters, and that computer hackers successfully breached the Pentagon's security systems 161,000 times in 1996. He's possibly the only person I know that can write four pages about cup-holders (in the car and on the PC) and keep you interested. To appreciate that, try putting out four witty pages on that subject yourself.
What's meh...
    While you'll catch yourself laughing out loud at times while reading IASHM, this is an easy book to put down. The problem isn't Bryson; it's the format. Being limited to four pages means none of the articles have any depth. One of the chapters deals with inherently good- and lousy-sounding words.

     Kewl beans and something I'd really enjoy, but just as soon as the chapter got rolling, it was done.
.The other format problem is the weekly deadline. It must be difficult to be newsworthily witty once a week, every week, for several years. What do you do when your Muse takes a couple weeks vacation? Some of the topics seem to suffer in this manner.
Uncle John, you have competition...
    It took me a lot longer to get through IASHM than I anticipated. After reading a half-dozen chapters in one sitting, they all start to blur together. I think it would be better to use this book as a Bathroom Reader. We'll give it a B-, and recommend that this not be your introduction to Bryson.

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