quotes Elisquared likes

"Saying 'I notice you're a nerd' is like saying, 'Hey, I notice that you'd rather be intelligent than be stupid, that you'd rather be thoughtful than be vapid, that you believe that there are things that matter more than the arrest record of Lindsay Lohan. Why is that?' In fact, it seems to me that most contemporary insults are pretty lame. Even 'lame' is kind of lame. Saying 'You're lame' is like saying 'You walk with a limp.' Yeah, whatever, so does 50 Cent, and he's done all right for himself."— John Green


Review: I'm a Stranger Here Myself by Bill Bryson

    In 1995, Bill Bryson moved his family from England, where he himself had resided for twenty years, to Hanover, New Hampshire for no other reason then “it seemed an awfully nice place”.  In 1996, an old friend of his, Simon Kelner, contacted Bryson to write a weekly column for the British magazine Night & Day about living in America.  In I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away, Bryson catalogs his experiences returning to America, and the strange situations he constantly finds himself in a series of essays adapted from the columns written for Night & Day.

    In the first essay of the book titled, “Coming Home”, Bryson chronicles exactly how it feels returning to his home land:

    “Coming back to your native land after an absence of many years is a surprisingly unsettling
     business, a little like waking from a long coma.  Time, you discover, has wrought changed that
     leave you feeling mildly foolish and out of touch.”

This sense of bewilderment and displacement is evident through out the essays, which span topics from a visit to the barbershop to buying a new computer.  Everything that Bryson has done as an adult, such as taking out a mortgage or buying a new car, he has done in England first and adjusting to the “American Way” is turning out to be just a little difficult.

     The experiences Bryson had in England are what enables him to turn the habits of American society upside down, making the activities which Americans find so natural utterly absurd .  No essay shows this better than “Why No One Walks”:

    “The fact is, we not only don’t walk anywhere anymore in this country, we won’t walk anywhere,
     and woe to anyone who tries to make us, as a town here in New Hampshire called Laconia
     discovered to it’s cost. “

Essentially, the poor government officials in Laconia spent $5 million in order to make the downtown shopping district pedestrian friendly, and while it was a beautiful design it was also a  financial disaster, pushing away the shoppers, who having to walk a block back to the parking lot, turned their patronage to suburbian malls.  The charming quirk to refuse to walk is just one of the wonderful things about living in America Bryson points out.

    However it isn’t all tongue in cheek; Bryson does reflect on the good aspects America has to offer, such as Thanksgiving, in his essay “The Best American Holiday”:

     “Perhaps the nicest, and certainly the noblest, aspect of Thanksgiving is that it give you a formal,
       official occasion to give thanks for all those things for which you should be grateful.”

As Thanksgiving remains one of the least commercialized major holidays in America, we can all sit back and appreciate it’s simplicity.  Reading of Bryson’s fond memories from his childhood, and the warm feelings brought on from his current Thanksgiving allows readers to reflect back on their own memories and smile.

     Throughout the book Bryson manages to paint a wildly funny, and oftentimes biting, portrait of America, leaving no tradition unexamined, no idiosyncrasy unturned.  Seeing America from the view of an insider who became an outsider who became an insider is a refreshing and infuriating read.  If that sounded confusing , as soon as you pick up I’m a Stranger Here Myself you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.

Bryson, Bill.  I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away. New York, NY: Broadway Books, 1999. 288 pages. $14.95.
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