Thursday, 19 July 2018

Notes From A Big Country by Bill Bryson


Notes From A Big Country by Bill Bryson
Published in the UK by Doubleday in November 1998.

How I got this book:
Borrowed from my partner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : from £6.99 (PB)
Wordery : from £6.97 (PB)
Waterstones : from £6.99 (PB)
Amazon : from $0.03 / £1.01 (used HB)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

Bill Bryson has the rare knack of being out of his depth wherever he goes - even (perhaps especially) in the land of his birth. This became all too apparent when, after nearly two decades in England, the world's best-loved travel writer upped sticks with Mrs Bryson, little Jimmy et al. and returned to live in the country he had left as a youth.

Of course there were things Bryson missed about Blighty but any sense of loss was countered by the joy of rediscovering some of the forgotten treasures of his childhood: the glories of a New England autumn; the pleasingly comical sight of oneself in shorts; and motel rooms where you can generally count on being awakened in the night by a piercing shriek and the sound of a female voice pleading, 'Put the gun down, Vinnie, I'll do anything you say.'

Whether discussing the strange appeal of breakfast pizza or the jaw-slackening direness of American TV, Bill Bryson brings his inimitable brand of bemused wit to bear on that strangest of phenomena - the American way of life.

I thought Notes From A Big Country was my very first Bill Bryson book, but Goodreads tells me I had previously read At Home way back in October 2011. That was before I started reviewing everything I read and, I have discovered, if I don't write my thoughts about a particular book then my having read it often fails to lodge in my brain. Does anyone find this or is it simply a personal weirdness to me?

I'm supposed to be reading a literary novel at the moment, but it is just so hot on our campsite that I struggled to focus on it. Glancing around for an alternative, Bryson's volume of collected newspaper articles seemed to be a perfect fit for my attention span! Originally written twenty years ago, Notes From A Big Country is now a fascinating snapshot of American life at the end of the twentieth century and also, in several aspects, a prophetic glimpse of what British life would become. Articles about ridiculous displays of choice in supermarkets, creeping obesity, ubiquitous effort-saving devices that are anything but, and practically-fraudulent advertisements, all seem uncannily familiar.

I love Bryson's dry humour which frequently struck me as very unAmerican - did this develop during his British years? He is endearingly inept with a great eye for a self-depreciating tale and I often giggled out loud at his observations and mishaps. There's nothing like schadenfreude to make a Brit laugh! If your reading mojo is suffering from heat overload too, I'd recommend a few of Bryson's short essays to revive you!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Bill Bryson / Biographies and memoir / Books from America

6 comments:

  1. Reviewing definitely helps me when it comes to remembering more details about the books I have read as well. In fact, that's why I originally started reviewing in the first place - just for my own memory! I have heard a lot about this author and I always see him on different adults shelves when I visit their homes. I should try something of his because this sounds good.

    My recent post: https://oliviascatastrophe.com/2018/07/heart-land-book-review/

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    1. I loved his sharp observations and his sense of humour definitely chimes with mine so that made this a very entertaining read

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  2. This sounds like fun! Love the idea of an american coming home after being abroad and trying to fit in. ♥️ I even keep notes as I read because my memory is so bad! And yes, I partly write reviews to remember the story and keep its distinct aspects clear.

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    1. There's one fun article where Bryson is in a DIY shop (hardware store) and seemingly everything he wants to buy is called by a totally different name!

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  3. OMG read Notes From a Small Island - a trip around the UK that has such an incredibly accurate description of Panda Pops! XD

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    1. I've not read that one yet, but certainly want to get more Bryson books. So entertaining!

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