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


  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:

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

  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.

    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!

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

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