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“Notes From A Big Country” – Bill Bryson (a Book Review)
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“Notes From A Big Country” – Bill Bryson (a Book Review)

I’ve always been a fan of Bryson’s work so it was with anticipation that I started reading this account of his native country. I think I share his rather cynical view of modern human existence, his complete incomprehensibility of the “logic” of Microsoft and things electronic in general.

This book started its life as a series of articles when, having returned to the States with his English wife and their four children after a twenty year stay in England, he was cajoled by Simon Kelner, the editor of the Mail on Sunday’s Night & Day magazine.

Apparently ignoring Bryson’s pleas that he was far too busy to commit himself to such an undertaking, the English editor’s persistent transatlantic phone call pays off with the resultant publication “Notes from a Big Country” and I, for one, am glad for Mr. Kelner’s tenacity.

Each article of about twelve to fifteen hundred words touches on a complete range of subjects entrenched in the American way of life including eating habits, Christmas and other festivities, shopping, politics, corruption, finance, the mind-boggling intolerant attitude to drug culture in America and their bizarre worship of the automobile.

It is one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time, far outstripping his previous “Notes from a Small Island” which is an amusing journal of his years in the UK and his observations of the quaint British eccentricities.

Perhaps it is because of his self-imposed exile from his country that brings out the very best in Bryson’s humour but rarely does a book come this close, in parts, to having me rolling around on the floor giggling hysterically.

For instance his chapter on “rules” that must be obeyed or his take on the red tape situation in the US. His chapter on design flaws again had me in fits with his lack of understanding of certain functions on his computer keyboard (I’m with you on that one, Bill).

Equally, the chapter on gardening with his wife where his horticultural experiments had “been a success and I achieved some interesting and novel mutational effects. I once got a fence post to fruit, for instance.”

One of the highlights for me was a gem entitled “Your Tax Form Explained” as was his experiences when he buys a new computer. Wonderful!

I was absolutely appalled to learn just how many commercial breaks the poor Americans have to put up with on TV or the vast amount of waste generated by the country. I was amused by the article on America’s apparent obsession with in-car cup holders as with all things automobilic.

In his indomitable way, Bryson bombards us with facts and figures, statistics and exploded myths and presented with such lack of real criticism or prejudice. He just tells it like it is from his usually quirky point of view. Equally serious in parts as it is funny, it really is fascinating stuff and a thoroughly good read.

“Notes from a Big Country” Bill Bryson pub: Doubleday - £9.99


Street Talk

Good article. Getting laughter from reading is a good rec already:-) Thanks for sharing in detail. Having lived in both countries, they're both likely to be fun for me. For example, when we were in London my mom wanted to have purchases shipped rather than manage four little kids with all the packages. The clerk asked her how many pounds it was and my mom, surprised, answered that it really wasn't all that heavy, it was about the kids and traveling. Their conversation, in remembering, was quite funny. Neither had any idea what the other was talking about. Both probably could have safely concluded the other had bats in their belfry (as I heard in Belfast later as a saying:-)

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Ha!

Reply
  about 1 decade ago
Joan S  

I look forward to reading his books. You gave me two already. Now I'll add these to it. Thank you Kim.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

You're welcome Joan!

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Thanks for sharing. Sounds like a good winter read.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Good review.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

I have the book but haven't read it yet. I'll see to it soon. Thanks for the review

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

You're welcome Maria

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

I haven't read it yet Kim but I'll put it on my list. Thanks for the review.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Thanks for your interest. Perhaps I should be on commision from Mr. Bryson?

Reply
  about 1 decade ago
Golfspice  

I enjoy Bryson's work as well, so will check this one out.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

One of his best I think.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Thanks for the great write up of the book, it's certainly one that will hit my "to purchase" cart on my next shopping trip. Really sounds a good book.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

He's a great inspiration to me, Rob.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

Dear Kim, After reading you article about this book and your experience, I must put this book on my list, thanks for your share.

Reply
  about 1 decade ago

You won't be disappointed Alfred!

Reply
  about 1 decade ago
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