Cover image for I'm a stranger here myself : notes on returning to America after twenty years away
I'm a stranger here myself : notes on returning to America after twenty years away
Bryson, Bill.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Broadway Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
xiii, 288 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


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E169.04 .B778 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
E169.04 .B778 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
E169.04 .B778 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E169.04 .B778 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E169.04 .B778 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E169.04 .B778 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Author Notes

Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa on December 8, 1951. In 1973, he went backpacking in England, where he eventually decided to settle. He wrote for the English newspapers The Times and The Independent, as well as supplementing his income by writing travel articles.

He moved back to the United States in 1995. His first travel book, The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, was published in 1989. His other books include I'm a Stranger Here Myself, In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words, Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe, Made in America, The Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson's African Diary, A Short History of Nearly Everything, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, Walk About, and Seeing Further: The Story of Science, Discovery, the Genius of the Royal Society. A Walk in the Woods was adapted into a movie starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.

Bryson's titles, The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain, Notes from a Small Island and Neither Here Nor There made the New York Times bestseller list in 2016.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Bryson is the author of the best-selling A Walk in the Woods (1998), about his hike along the long stretch of the Appalachian Trail. Before that, he lived in Britain for 20 years with his English wife and their four children, working there for the Sunday Times and other publications. After his return to his native U.S., he was asked to write a weekly column for the British Night & Day magazine about his adventures and observations as he underwent the process of repatriation. These columns, written over a two-year period (1996^-98), are now gathered in book form. His subject matter is the idiosyncrasies of contemporary American life, and according to Bryson, speaking from the vantage point of having been away for a long time, we certainly have loads of peculiarities in our national "personality." This is humor writing at its sharpest, and his saving grace is that he does more laughing with us than at us. When he has problems with his computer and calls for help, he moans, "This, you see, is why I don't call my computer help line very often. We haven't been talking four seconds and already I can feel a riptide of ignorance and shame pulling me out into the icy depths of Humiliation Bay." Drug laws and the virtues of garbage disposal are only two of the many facets of American life that Bryson has fun with. --Brad Hooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

Ex-expatriate Bryson, who chronicled one effort at American reentry in his bestselling A Walk in the Woods, collects another: the whimsical columns on America he wrote weekly, while living in New Hampshire in the mid-to-late 1990s, for a British Sunday newspaper. Although he happily describes himself as dazzled by American ease, friendliness and abundance, Bryson has no trouble finding comic targets, among them fast food, computer efficiency and, ironically, American friendliness and putative convenience. As he edges into Dave Barry-style hyperbole, Bryson sometimes strains for yuks, but he's deft when he compares the two cultures, as in their different treatment of Christmas, pointing out how the British "pack all their festive excesses" into that single holiday. Bryson also nudges into domestic territory with regular references to his own British wife, the resolutely sensible Mrs. B. In a few columns, Bryson adopts a sentimental tone, writing about his family and his new hometown of Hanover. In others, he's more sober, criticizing anti-immigration activists, environmental depredation and drug laws (though he draws out the humor in these as well). Not all the columns hit their mark, and they are best read in small groupings, but this collection should sell well enough, although not likely to the heights of A Walk in the Woods. Agent, Jed Mattes. Author tour; BDD audio. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

After living in Britain for 20 years, humorist Bryson (A Walk in the Woods, LJ 4/1/98) moved his family back to the United States and settled in a small New Hampshire town. His British editor convinced him to write a weekly newspaper column about his impressions of America. "Mostly I wrote about whatever little things had lately filled my daysÄa trip to the post office, the joy of having a garbage disposal for the first time, the glories of the American motel." This book is a collection of those pieces, charting Bryson's progress "from being bewildered and actively appalled in the early days of my return to being bewildered and generally charmed, impressed, and gratified now." While featuring his trademark humor (fans find Bryson hysterically funny, while others think he's snide and sarcastic), I'm a Stranger Here Myself seems a bit slight and choppy. Because of Bryson's popularity, this will be in demand, but steer first-time readers to Notes from a Small Island (LJ 4/1/96) or The Lost Continent (LJ 7/89). [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/99.]ÄWilda Williams, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



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.) Excerpted from I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America after Twenty Years Away by Bill Bryson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. xi
1. Coming Homep. 1
2. Mail Callp. 5
3. Drug Culturep. 9
4. What's Cooking?p. 13
5. Well, Doctor, I Was Just Trying to Lie Downp. 17
6. Rule Number I: Follow All Rulesp. 20
7. Take Me Out to the Ballparkp. 24
8. Help!p. 28
9. A Visit to the Barbershopp. 31
10. On the Hotlinep. 35
11. Design Flawsp. 39
12. Room Servicep. 43
13. Consuming Pleasuresp. 47
14. The Numbers Gamep. 51
15. Junk-Food Heavenp. 55
16. How to Have Fun at Homep. 59
17. Tales of the North Woodsp. 63
18. The Cupholder Revolutionp. 69
19. Number, Pleasep. 73
20. Friendly Peoplep. 77
21. Why Everyone Is Worriedp. 81
22. The Risk Factorp. 85
23. The War on Drugsp. 89
24. Dying Accentsp. 93
25. Inefficiency Reportp. 97
26. Why No One Walksp. 101
27. Wide-Open Spacesp. 105
28. Snoopers at Workp. 109
29. Lost at the Moviesp. 113
30. Gardening with My Wifep. 117
31. Ah, Summer!p. 121
32. A Day at the Seasidep. 125
33. On Losing a Sonp. 129
34. Highway Diversionsp. 133
35. Fall in New Englandp. 138
36. The Best American Holidayp. 142
37. Deck the Hallsp. 146
38. Fun in the Snowp. 151
39. The Mysteries of Christmasp. 155
40. Life in a Cold Climatep. 159
41. Hail to the Chiefp. 163
42. Lost in Cyberlandp. 167
43. Your Tax Form Explainedp. 171
44. Book Toursp. 175
45. The Waste Generationp. 179
46. A Slight Inconveniencep. 185
47. At the Drive-Inp. 189
48. Drowning in Red Tapep. 194
49. Life's Mysteriesp. 198
50. So Sue Mep. 202
51. The Great Indoorsp. 206
52. Death Watchp. 210
53. In Praise of Dinersp. 214
54. Shopping Madnessp. 218
55. The Fat of the Landp. 222
56. Your New Computerp. 226
57. How to Rent a Carp. 231
58. The Wastelandp. 235
59. The Flying Nightmarep. 239
60. Enough Alreadyp. 243
61. At a Lossp. 248
62. Old Newsp. 252
63. Rules for Livingp. 256
64. Our Townp. 261
65. Word Playp. 265
66. Last Night on the Titanicp. 269
67. Property Newsp. 273
68. Life's Technicalitiesp. 277
69. An Address to the Graduating Class of Kimball Union Academy, Meriden, New Hampshirep. 281
70. Coming Home: Part IIp. 285