This book advertises itself to be “notes on returning to America after twenty years away.” I am a Bill Bryson fan, and have read quite a lot of his books. I know that he is an American who moved to England not long after he graduated from university, fell in love with an English woman and settled there, had a family, and stayed for a while. I find his views on my own country well-observed, unique and highly amusing. As a Brit living in the US, I have a few views of my own about the differences between our two countries, so I was looking forward to reading what he had to say.
It turns out that the chapters of this book were originally used as regular columns in some publication or other in the UK. I will agree that some of them are as advertised, and notes on returning to America after time away, but may of them are humorous comments on modern life in general, or in fact Bryson’s life in general. If you like Bill Bryson, then you will like his stories, but do not expect a book full of anecdotes about America from the perspective of someone who has just arrived. It is probably about 35% that.
I read this for the Sin City Bookers book group, in 2013, and the book was written in 1999. There are references to the millenium bug and fax machines quite a lot of grumbling about the computer that makes it a little dated. There are some issues that he discusses that I did enjoy, even on arriving from the UK in 2011 I can say that I was also baffled by the sheer amount of junk food, personal taxes, the “war on drugs,” the excessive number of cup holders American cars have, why no-one in this country walks anywhere, Thanksgiving, how very bloody cold the North East can get, the advertising of lawyers and pharmaceuticals, diners and shopping. To name but a few.
Whilst this is not my favourite Bryson book, it’s a funny one. It is not as good as the travel ones or the researched factual ones because you do not learn so much, and you do get the feeling that he is recycling his material a little in this one. There were still a few points that I had tears of laughter on my face, and many points that I had to read aloud to my husband.