I’ve just been devouring Bryson’s books lately. This one is a compilation of columns that he wrote for a UK paper after returning to the US from 20 years abroad in the UK. He comes back to the country he grew up in and is charmingly confused by many of the ways in which US and UK cultures are different. He writes up these little observations in newspaper-column length and sends them overseas where they amuse British readers. This is easily one of the most readable of Bryson’s books, though sometimes that’s at the expense of some of his herculean trivia expositions. He talks about American customs and traditions like decorating the house for the holidays, arcane income tax hurdling and sending your kids far away to go to college.
The book is at its best when it details the weird little differences between US and UK culture and weakest when it’s just talking about the US because, well, I already know about the US. I am not this book’s intended audience at some level though I enjoy it just the same. The book drags when Bryson seems a bit too much like Dave Barry and goes with the “I’m just a dumb man and can’t button my own shirt” easy laugh. It’s still funny it’s just not as smart as Bryson usually presents himself. There are many pleasing reflections on New England life which, since Bryson lives about 30 miles from here, rang very true to me. As an interesting sidenote, he was writing these columns at about the same time as he was working on A Walk in the Woods, his story about walking the Appalachian Trail. As such, every now and again he’ll mention the writing of that book in this book. Since I am reading both of them at the same time, it adds a weird little jolt of recognition “hey, he was just talking about that trip in the other book!” that makes this short collection of essays seem even more relevant and current.