I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America after Twenty Years Away
© 1999 Bill Bryson
After living in Yorkshire for twenty years, Bill Bryson and his family decided to go for a change of scenery and moved to America. For him, it was a return, though not to his home. To be sure, New Hampshire was much different from his native Iowa, but America itself had changed in the intermin, in ways both bewildering and delighting. I’m a Stranger Here Myself collects various columns Bryson wrote about life in late-90s America, most of them funny. Bryson is not the cranky old man of Road to Little Dribbling, but here only a late-middle age father who insists on inflicting his childhood memories on his children, only to discover that dumpy motels and drive-in movie theaters aren’t nearly as fun as they used to be. There are also a couple of satirical pieces — fake computer instructions, fake IRS directions, and a morbidly funny story from the last night of the Titanic. (Inspired, no doubt, by the move release.) A few of the pieces are personal in nature, merely Bryson making fun of himself for being an absent-minded fuddy-duddy who has a tendency to mail his pipe tobacco instead of his letters and frequently needs to phone his wife to be reminded why exactly he’s in town. Other times, he is more serious, as when he comments on the loss of local accents and the impending doom threatened by everyone driving everywhere instead of walking, like the English do. (The one time he tries walk across the street in America, he is nearly run over.) There’s also a chapter called ‘Our Town’, which mourns the loss of small-town America — which I was happily surprised by. I’ve been thinking about buying Bryson’s book about travels through small towns,but assumed Bryson would sneer at them for being provincial. Instead, he’s as sentimental about them as I am, so don’t be surprised to see The Lost Continent pop up here within the next few months or so.