Notes From a Big Country

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When an old friend asked him to write a weekly dispatch from New Hampshire for the Mail on Sunday's Night and Day magazine, Bill Bryson firmly turned him down. So firm was he, in fact, that gathered here are nineteen months' worth of his popular columns about the strangest of phenomena -- the American way of life.Whether discussing the dazzling efficiency of the garbage disposal unit, the mind-boggling plethora of methods by which to shop, the exoticism of having your groceries bagged for you, or the ...
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I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America after Twenty Years Away

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Overview

When an old friend asked him to write a weekly dispatch from New Hampshire for the Mail on Sunday's Night and Day magazine, Bill Bryson firmly turned him down. So firm was he, in fact, that gathered here are nineteen months' worth of his popular columns about the strangest of phenomena -- the American way of life.Whether discussing the dazzling efficiency of the garbage disposal unit, the mind-boggling plethora of methods by which to shop, the exoticism of having your groceries bagged for you, or the jaw-slackening direness of American TV, Bill Bryson brings his inimitable brand of bemused wit to bear on the world's richest and craziest country.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A compendium of wisecracks and jibes so hilarious that it was often difficult to remain upright while reading it." -- Toronto Star

"One can't read Bill Bryson's Notes from a Big Country without a great deal of amusement, mixed with admiration for his seemingly effortless skill in eliciting it." -- Globe and Mail

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385258227
  • Publisher: Doubleday Canada
  • Publication date: 2/15/2000
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 5.03 (w) x 7.81 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951. He settled in England in 1977, and lived for many years with his English wife and four children in North Yorkshire. He recently moved back to the States. He is the best-selling author of The Lost Continent, Mother Tongue, Neither Here Nor There, Made in America, Notes from a Small Island and A Walk in the Woods.

Biography

A backpacking expedition in 1973 brought Des Moines native Bill Bryson to England, where he met his wife and decided to settle. He wrote travel articles for the English newspapers The Times and The Independent for many years before stumbling into bestsellerdom with 1989's The Lost Continent, a sidesplitting account of his rollicking road trip across small-town America. In 1995, he moved his family back to the States so his children could experience "being American." However, his deep-rooted Anglophilia won out and, in 2003, the Brysons returned to England.

One of those people who finds nearly everything interesting, Bryson has managed to turn his twin loves -- travel and language -- into a successful literary career. In a string of hilarious bestsellers, he has chronicled his misadventures across England, Europe, Australia, and the U.S., delighting readers with his wry observations and descriptions. Similarly, his books on the history of the English language, infused with the perfect combination of wit and erudition, have sold well. He has received several accolades and honors, including the coveted Aventis Prize for best general science book awarded for his blockbuster A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Beloved on both sides of the pond, Bryson makes few claims to write great literature. But he is a writer it is nearly impossible to dislike. We defy anyone to not smile at pithy, epigrammatic opening lines like these: "I come from Des Moines. Someone had to."

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    1. Hometown:
      Hanover, New Hampshire
    1. Date of Birth:
      1951
    2. Place of Birth:
      Des Moines, Iowa
    1. Education:
      B.A., Drake University, 1977

Read an Excerpt

EXCERPT
Mail Call

One of the pleasures of living in a small, old-fashioned New England town is that it generally includes a small, old-fashioned post office. Ours is particularly agreeable. It's in an attractive Federal-style brick building, confident but not flashy, that looks like a post office ought to. It even smells nice--a combination of gum adhesive and old central heating turned up a little too high.

The counter employees are always cheerful, helpful and efficient, and pleased to give you an extra piece of tape if it looks as if your envelope flap might peel open. Moreover, post offices here by and large deal only with postal matters. They don't concern themselves with pension payments, car tax, TV licenses, lottery tickets, savings accounts, or any of the hundred and one other things that make a visit to any British post office such a popular, all-day event and provide a fulfilling and reliable diversion for chatty people who enjoy nothing so much as a good long hunt in their purses and handbags for exact change. Here there are never any long lines and you are in and out in minutes.

Best of all, once a year every American post office has a Customer Appreciation Day. Ours was yesterday. I had never heard of this engaging custom, but I was taken with it immediately. The employees had hung up banners, put out a long table with a nice checkered cloth, and laid on a generous spread of doughnuts, pastries, and hot coffee--all of it free.

After twenty years in Britain, this seemed a delightfully improbable notion, the idea of a faceless government bureaucracy thanking me and my fellow townspeople for our patronage, but I was impressed and grateful--and, I must say, it was good to be reminded that postal employees are not just mindless automatons who spend their days mangling letters and whimsically sending my royalty checks to a guy in Vermont named Bill Bubba but rather are dedicated, highly trained individuals who spend their days mangling letters and sending my royalty checks to a guy in Vermont named Bill Bubba.

Anyway, I was won over utterly. Now I would hate for you to think that my loyalty with respect to postal delivery systems can be cheaply bought with a chocolate twirl doughnut and a Styrofoam cup of coffee, but in fact it can. Much as I admire Britain's Royal Mail, it has never once offered me a morning snack, so I have to tell you that as I strolled home from my errand, wiping crumbs from my face, my thoughts toward American life in general and the U.S. Postal Service in particular were pretty incomparably favorable.

But, as nearly always with government services, it couldn't last. When I got home, the day's mail was on the mat. There among the usual copious invitations to acquire new credit cards, save a rain forest, become a life member of the National Incontinence Foundation, add my name (for a small fee) to the Who's Who of People Named Bill in New England, help the National Rifle Association with its Arm-a-Toddler campaign, and the scores of other unsought inducements, special offers, and solicitations that arrive each day at every American home--well, there among this mass was a forlorn and mangled letter that I had sent forty-one days earlier to a friend in California care of his place of employment and that was now being returned to me marked "Insufficient Address--Get Real and Try Again" or words to that effect.

At the sight of this I issued a small, despairing sigh, and not merely because I had just sold the U.S. Postal Service my soul for a doughnut. It happens that I had recently read an article on wordplay in the Smithsonian magazine in which the author asserted that some puckish soul had once sent a letter addressed, with playful ambiguity, to

HILL
JOHN
MASS

and it had gotten there after the postal authorities had worked out that it was to be read as "John Underhill, Andover, Mass." (Get it?)

It's a nice story, and I would truly like to believe it, but the fate of my letter to California seemed to suggest a need for caution with regard to the postal service and its sleuthing abilities. The problem with my letter was that I had addressed it to my friend merely "c/o Black Oak Books, Berkeley, California," without a street name or number because I didn't know either. I appreciate that that is not a complete address, but it is a lot more explicit than "Hill John Mass" and anyway Black Oak Books is a Berkeley institution. Anyone who knows the city--and I had assumed in my quaintly naive way that that would include Berkeley postal authorities--would know Black Oak Books. But evidently not. (Goodness knows, incidentally, what my letter had been doing in California for nearly six weeks, though it came back with a nice tan and an urge to get in touch with its inner feelings.)

Now just to give this plaintive tale a little heartwarming perspective, let me tell you that not long before I departed from England, the Royal Mail had brought me, within forty-eight hours of its posting in London, a letter addressed to "Bill Bryson, Writer, Yorkshire Dales," which is a pretty impressive bit of sleuthing. (And never mind that the correspondent was a trifle off his head.)

So here I am, my affections torn between a postal service that never feeds me but can tackle a challenge and one that gives me free tape and prompt service but won't help me out when I can't remember a street name. The lesson to draw from this, of course, is that when you move from one country to another you have to accept that there are some things that are better and some things that are worse, and there is nothing you can do about it. That may not be the profoundest of insights to take away from a morning's outing, but I did get a free doughnut as well, so on balance I guess I'm happy.

Now if you will excuse me I have to drive to Vermont and collect some mail from a Mr. Bubba.

(Some months after this piece was written, I received a letter from England addressed to "Mr. Bill Bryson, Author of 'A Walk in the Woods,' Lives Somewhere in New Hampshire, America." It arrived without comment or emendation just five days after it was mailed. My congratulations to the U.S. Postal Service for an unassailable triumph.)

From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 72 )
Rating Distribution

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(32)

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(10)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 72 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 3, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Stranger, but no Danger

    Every book I read by Bill Bryson is worth every penny I spend on it. This book is no exception. After his 20 year hiatuse from residing in the US, Bill Bryson's adventure to American normalsy makes you think about your own home town and why it's unique. This book is great for anyone who wants to begin reading and get educated and be amused in the process to the experienced reader looking for a comedic break from the other reads out there. As awlays with Bill Bryson's books, ENJOY!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 16, 2010

    Must Read, Must Laugh

    I have bought this book 13 times! Three for myself (two copies taken unabashedly), 9 as gifts. Bill Bryson is by far the best living author, ever. He is the answer to the question 'If you could have lunch with any living author who would it be?'. He is uncomparable. This book is hysterical! One of the few books on the planet that will make you laugh out loud, alone, while you're reading it. It will make you laugh out loud in public and make other people look at you strangely and in a perplexing manner. His use of the English vocabulary is stunning. I love a book that you must look up the definition to a word because you've never heard it before. That's how brilliant and eloquent he is. I've read them all, and they're all amazing, but this is my favorite. If you like this read them all, from the travel to the science to the linguistics.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2009

    Bill Bryson,s book, I'm a Stranger Here Myself, had me laughing from start to finish.

    Mr. Bryson, a Yankee from the state of Iowa, gives his observations of life in the U.S.A as he sees it after having lived abroad for over two decades. His satire on computers,taxes,exercise habits, and other Americanisms, is written with a good blend of humor and sarcasm. Anyone can appreciate this laugh-aloud book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2012

    Hilarious

    Bill Bryson manages to make me laugh on every page with his wry descriptions of everyday life in America. This is told via newspaper columns he has written and really makes me think about things I take for granted as well as making me love it all over again.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 25, 2011

    love this book

    I ABSOLUTELY, love this book. It is laugh out loud fun.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 9, 2010

    Collection of Newspaper Columns

    Product warning! This is not a non-fiction narrative but rather a collection of Bryson's newspaper columns. They are campy observations produced in standard 5 pages essays. Very disappointing.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2014

    Very outdated

    Written iin 1997, this book is so outdated. I can't believe people in New Hampshire still leave their houses uunlocked? I usually love all his books but this was not worth the money. While certain articles did give a few laughs, it. sounded more like a diatrab on anti-gun and environmental laws. I guess living back in the states didn't work out for him as he is once again living in England

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2012

    Lullabuy ace atkins robert parker

    Robert parker ace atkins........Lullabyparker

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2010

    Bill Bryson's Humor

    After reading "A Walk In the Woods", I thought that another Bill Bryson book would be equally entertaining. Now that I've finished "I'm A Stranger Here Myself", I must edit my opinion. Unlike "A Walk in the Woods", this book is not a story, but a collection of newpaper columns that the author put together, bound, and called a book. Most of these columns are unrelated to each other. I realize that his columns are supposed to be about random ideas, but when they are put together in a book, as a reader I thought that I would find a common theme. Not so. I would definitely not recommend this book if a reader is looking for another narrative.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 11, 2010

    great read

    Bryson is an excellent writer, and this book is no exception. He is very observant, and his take on every day situations is so entertaining. As I read, I can relate to what he's talking about, and I can't help but laugh out loud. I recommend not only this book but also his books about his travels.

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  • Posted January 30, 2010

    Laugh out loud funny

    Bill Bryson never fails to tickle my funny bone. His wry observations about life in the U.S. after living in England for 20 years is hilarious, thought-provoking and just all-out fun to read. I found myself laughing out loud while waiting (by myself) in my doctor's waiting room--to the point that other waiting patients wanted to know what I was reading. That's good writing!

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  • Posted March 25, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Laugh out loud

    This is one of my favorite books. Bryson is an ex-pat who came back to the USA to live after several years living in England. His take on things American is hilarious. He sees things a bit as a foreigner yet life is still somewhat similiar to his youth in Iowa. Don't pass this up!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2008

    Laugh out loud

    I know I'm years behind reading this hilarious book but reading it has lifted my downed spirits amazingly. I'm only half through & have laughed out loud dozens of times already. I just love this guy! Thanks Bill for all the laughter!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2002

    A Bit of Humor, Well Taken

    Bryson has been described by better critics than myself as a sort of combination deTocqueville/Dave Barry, and it's not an unfair analogy. As usual, I will ignore some of Mr. Bill's political persuasions, which are not intensely objectionable, though somewhat divergent of my own, and emphasize instead the marvelous way he takes the essence of day to day life and finds the grain of humor, sometimes hysterical, sometimes wry, sometimes even ironic with a tinge of 'sad but so', and finds the link that we all can recognize and relate. No, this is not a book for the grim, deep thinkers among us. Life, the book suggests, revolves around themes and patterns more mundane than the profound thinkers, bound up in their own profundity, would ever dare admit. Bryson reminds us of those commonplace things and what is sad, funny and reflective about them. Thus, he is a far better agent for change than all the preachermen of whatever political stripe who regale us. It's the sort of book that provides at least one major GUFFAW per article and that is my only, singular, slight objection to this 'book'. For it is not a book at all, but rather a collection of columns our Mr. Bill has written since returning to America in 1995, after 20 years of British living. That aside, it is a wonderful perspective on our 'Vie Americain'.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2001

    Hilarious, a must-read!

    This book was so hilarious I cried with laughter and had to read it again. I promise it won't be a disapointment!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2001

    Could have been better

    After reading 'The Mother Tongue' and 'Down Under' I expected better writing from Mr. Bryson. There were several chapters that I did enjoy, but overall it was disappointing. Perhaps he should stick to travel writing and leave the social commentary to others.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2001

    Engaging

    Bryson has a lot going for him. He's less fussy than Andy Rooney, less depressing than Garrison Keillor, less wacked out than Dave Barry. He writes simply and it's rare to see him 'reaching' for a linguistic effect. I found his take on America after many years abroad to be interesting, and quite conducive to his small-scale humor. He loves the conveniences like sugar packets and all-night 800 numbers for dental floss but doesn't understand why he can't get a plain cup of coffee from an expresso cart. Don't expect earth-shattering topics, but you'll probably come away with a smile.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2000

    a mood-elevating respite

    I enjoyed this book. It was a collection of what must have been columns written for a newspaper. Each chapter was short which made it easy to read @ the end of a long day. It was humorous, very current, and well-written. While this seems like a contrite review, the book was actually very funny & thoughtful. Like a Dave Barry read but not so wacky.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2000

    Insightful analysis of North American culture.

    This book is the US edition of the book published elsewhere as 'Notes from a Big Country'. Although the US edition has lost some of the strengths of the original, it also retains most of its enjoyable content. Bryson makes insightful and witty observations about American culture. Based on his weekly newspaper columns for an English newspaper, Bryson describes life in America. Readers are guaranteed to laugh out loud, but at the same time the humour delivers much food for thought about North American culture. For North Americans who are perhaps guilty at times of arrogance, such self-examination and a critical close look at ourselves is of great benefit. This is an entertaining as well as thought provoking read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2000

    World's Best Travel Writer

    Bill Bryson has again shown himself to be the world's greatest travel writer. In every book, he has made me laugh out loud at his hilarious looks at the world. In 'I'm a Stranger', he causes us to see the U.S. as an outsider would and loving laugh at the culture we call American. Truly enjoyable, even if you're not a traveler.

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