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Notes from a Big Country - Bill Bryson

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Author: Bill Bryson / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 05 June 1999 / Genre: Travel Writing / Publisher: Transworld Publishers Ltd / Title: Notes from a Big Country / ISBN 13: 9780552997867 / ISBN 10: 0552997867

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      17.02.2012 21:17
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      This collection of 'letters from America' still raises a smile some 14 years on.

      Bill Bryson needs little or no introduction nowadays, as one of 'our' best known travel writers. This collection of 'letters from America' still raises a smile some 14 years since their first publication in book form. Bryson's 'Notes from a Big Country' remain as fresh and sharply observed as when they first appeared in his reluctant weekly newspaper/magazine column some months before that. I'm glad he was persuaded to write these and really enjoy revisiting them from time to time.

      On reflection, this may be a good time to read or re-read this. Hence this brief review. Many of the trends described here so entertainingly may now seem quite familiar on this side of the Atlantic. Take the piece entitled 'The great inside' and visit any of our more recent out-of-town shopping centres, all should be revealed.

      Judging by previous reviews, I'm not alone in appreciating this earlier work of Bryson's. Maybe it's partly the brief article format that suits some of our diminishing attention spans. In any case, many of us do still seem to enjoy dipping in. While this is typically Bryson, information-rich and wide-ranging, it's arguably more accessible than some of his more recent works.

      This may not be Bryson's latest or most significant work but these 'Notes' are brief, keenly observed and witty as ever. His perspective is interesting, having been born and brought up in the USA, then having lived for 20 years in the UK. It's as much a retrospective on the America he once knew as it is a contrast with 90s Britain. This makes for some interesting reading from our own era.

      With 78 articles, originally published separately, there may be some degree of overlap, but the subjects range far too widely to list here. From convenience food to litigation and other aberrations or obsessions, much of this seems remarkably familiar.

      In a piece about the New England 'fall', Bryson refers to a prosaic natural history author who briefly waxes lyrical about the autumn colours, only to return to dull prose shortly after. Bryson's tone varies considerably too. Some of his reflections on family life and loss are particularly poignant. But it's always the humour that appeals most to me.

      It may seem slightly ironic (though we are reminded here that irony largely escapes our American cousins!) that my favourite passage from the book relates to an episode when the author's family are actually in transit, checking in at an airport for a transatlantic flight. Here's an abridged version, as a taster:

      'The zip on the bag was jammed. So I pulled on it and yanked at it [...] but it wouldn't budge, so I pulled harder and harder, with more grunts. Well, you can guess what happened. Abruptly the zip gave way. The side of the bag flew open and everything within [...] was extravagantly ejected over an area about the size of a tennis court [...]

      'I watched dumbstruck as a hundred carefully sorted documents came raining down in a fluttery cascade [...] and the now lidless tin of tobacco rolled crazily across the concourse, disgorging its contents as it went [...]'

      He loudly bemoans the loss of his pipe tobacco, thinking how much more this would cost since the last UK budget price rise, shouting 'My tobacco!' in horror, then changes the cry to 'My finger!' as he realises he has gashed this on the zip...

      'It was at this point that my wife looked at me [...] and said "I can't believe you do this for a living."

      It's these episodes that I enjoy most, along with his sense of the ridiculous and (often useless) information and statistics.

      I also particularly enjoyed his vivid description of a disastrous haircut, though I can't help feeling this could have happened just as easily over here! In fact, this might now apply to much of what he describes here - and it's not all bad, by any means.

      ~~Verdict~~

      An easy read - still good to dip into. All human life may not quite be here - but there's more than enough insight and wit to divert, inform and entertain.

      ~~Availability & price~~

      Widely available in paperback, hardback, audiobook and Kindle editions. Prices range from £2-£3 new for paperback and currently £5.84 for the Kindle from Amazon UK.

      ~~Related links~~

      *www.billbryson.co.uk

      [© SteveS001 2012. A version of this original review may appear on other review sites]

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        29.06.2011 13:09
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        One of my favourite Bryson books

        I have been a fan of Bill Bryson for at least ten years. There is an enormous array of books which are described as being 'laugh out loud funny' and rarely live up to their promise, but in all of Bryson's offerings, and this one in particular, even my sense of humour has been satisfied.

        The novel is actually a collection of newspaper columns written by Bryson over more than a year. This means the chapters are limited to perhaps three or four pages, but this is of great benefit to the book. Each chapter covers a different aspect of American life, experienced by the author as he returns to his home country after a long period spent living in the UK. The overwhelming sense you glean from Bryson's narrative is of a genial yet hapless middle age gentleman who is utterly bewildered by life. The chapters cover a whole range of topics including a spoof of a tax form (one of my favourites), DIY, bizarre statistics and return to his home town of Des Moines.

        Perhaps the one criticism I have of Notes from a Big Country is that there is not enough space in the column/chapter for the author to explore the topic in any real depth. However, the writing is of a superior quality, and Bryson himself so likable you cannot help but sympathising with his plight. The way in which he describes situations and the inventive description allows the circumstances in which the writer finds himself to leap from the page.

        This remains one of my favourite Bryson books, and due its structure and relative lack of continuity can be enjoyed without following it chapter by chapter. It does not have to be 'got in to' and I defy anyone not to identify with Bryson's dilemma at least once. A fantastic read, and highly recommended.

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          22.10.2010 13:18
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          Not his best, but still a winner.

          Notes from a Big Country is one of the books written by Bill Bryson after he returned to the USA, having lived for so long in England. He travelled back to his homeland with his English wife and children, and over the course of two years (1996-1998) wrote a series of columns on re-adpating to American life and his observations of American culture, often focusing on the excess and absurdity of the country and the ways that it does things.

          I´m not a big fan of this type of book - by which I mean books which are assembled from columns and put together in one volume. I think they´re always a bit hit and miss and patchy, and if you´re used to the author writing longer pieces, it can be frustrating when the stories are so short and unrelated to each other. This is a problem here, and as a result it´s not as good as Bryson´s other books, not having the same focus or consistency. Some parts are brilliant (the trip to the beach is one of my favourites), but others are only okay.

          However, Bryson´s a brilliant author, and even when he´s not right at the top of his ability, he manages to write incredibly funny, entertaining anecdotes that give you a sense of place and heart, and he is ideally placed to write this kind of book. It was written for the Mail On Sunday, so it was for British audiences, so there´s plenty of cross-Atlantic humour and the angle at which you look at America is extremely funny. Bryson isn´t afraid of making fun of his country or its people and this makes for a good book.

          Overall, this isn´t the best thing Bill Bryson has written, but it´s still a good account. The stories are short, so even if you don´t liked one, you´ll probably love another. I think Notes from a Small Island is much stronger than this, and in some ways this is his weakest book, but it´s still very good. I would recommend it to all lovers of the author or good travel writing in general.

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          04.05.2010 15:19
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          Possibly Bryson's best to date, a very good read.

          Notes From a Big Country is without a doubt my favourite Bill Bryson book ever, making it one of my favourite books ever and is indeed one I return to on a regular basis. The format of this book makes that simple to do but I'll come back to that it a moment.
          Bill Bryson returned to America after spending time living in Britain and took his wife and family with him. In doing so, he broke one of his own golden rules, namely, 'You can never go home again.' The America he returns to is largely different to the America he left and his attepmts to familiarise himself with the changes are extremely funny.
          A major note worth making about this book is that it was not originally intended as a book. It is instead a collection of articles he wrote for Night And Day magazine, a weekly column he had for 2 years. As such, this book is just that, a collection of articles, each around 5 pages long about various different topics, some more interesting than others. Some are very funny, some provoke irritation at US policy, some are heartwarming. But each one really makes you think.
          This book is best read in small doses. That's not to say it cannot be read in one fell swoop, just that it is more effective if limited to 1 or 2 columns a day. Indeed, it provides fantastic bedtime reading, or is perfect for short bus trips. Just learn to live with the stares you'll inevitably invite when you snort out loud.
          All being said, I thoroughly recommend this title. It can be purchased for around £7 (shop around) and it'll be the best money you've spent in a while. The one negative comment, which is no fault of Bryson's, is that with this ever changing world, some columns are very outdated and the information can be irrelevant. But this is a small price to pay for very good writing. Bryson is a master at this.

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            05.10.2009 23:13
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            Excellent book, well recommended.

            Most travel writers seem to be adventurous, organized types- the sort of people who go base jumping, or at least that's what TV tells us.

            Bill Bryson definitely challenges this idea, being rather rotund, cultured, and absent minded and in this book he even challenges the idea that you need to go out of your front door to write a travel book.

            This book is a collection of newspaper articles written for the Mail on Sunday (don't let that put you off if you're not a mail fan!) all around the theme of being an American expat who has gone "home" after years of living in Britain.

            Bill compares the two countries with his adopted British sense of humour, and finds both the good, the bad and the confusing (the article on tax returns is particularly hilarious.)

            This book has not stood the test of time, but rather seems a slightly sad commentary on how America used to be different from us, and how quickly we have grown to be a America clone.
            Nevertheless, I would recommend this book to anyone, it's bite sized portions are addictive, and it is both a funny social commentary and a rather sweet personal biographical account of a average family.

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            06.02.2009 14:56
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            Overall, a fabulous read.

            Let me start by saying that this book has got to be the funniest non-fiction book out there and by some distance. Drawn from his articles written in the British press, Bryson tells us about how his family have settled after they have moved back to America. It is a completely unbiased take on American life and as I have said before, I don't laugh out loud as a rule but this book made me guffaw. Some parts of it are so funny that in trying to read them to others, I simply cannot for laughing.

            For me, the only writing in non-fiction that comes close is Tony Hawks, especially the Irish one. It is an amazing gift to be able to write seemingly so easily and yet put an effortless smile on people faces. There are so many good points that it is easy to gloss over the problems. Occasionally, there are boring chapters that never really get going but the chapters are in such lovely bite size chunks that they soon pass. The book is so easy to pick up and read for five minutes when you have the time and unlike so many other books, you don't have to get back into the flow of it.

            If I were to list my favourite chapters, I would be hear all day but suffice to say if you read the one about getting the Christmas decorations and it does not at least put a smile on your face, I will be more than amazed. I love Bryson's sarcastic (in his head mostly) response to things as they are the kind of things I would love to say in that situation but do not have the confidence.

            The writing is flowing and easy to comprehend and you really feel compelled to listen to his family's troubles and successes. It outlines the country of America superbly and would be an invaluable resource for anyone thinking of moving to live there.

            If you have not read this, please do, you will thank me I think.

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            11.07.2008 11:37
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            A lot of laughs!

            ---Intro---

            I've read several of Bill Bryson's books and thoroughly enjoyed them, so when "Notes from a Big Country" came up on BookMooch I was looking forward to reading it without having to pay for it (I know the library is another option, but I like to keep books written by my favourite authors - and Bryson is certainly in my top 20).

            Rather than being a book as such, it is a collection of 78 short articles which Bill Bryson wrote for a column (which he was coerced into writing for!) in the Mail on Sunday's Night & Day magazine during 1997-1998. Therefore as you'll see it is very much written for a British audience.



            ---About Bill Bryson---

            Born in Des Moines (Iowa) in 1951, Bryson moved to England in the late 1970s and spent 20 years over here before moving back to the US with his British wife and children. This gives him a very different outlook on things, and he has been described as an honorary Brit. It means that he can joke about the Americans and their ways without being accused of anything, after all he is one of them. But having been away and experiencing a different culture it also means he can look at the American way of life in a certain kind of detached way. He also has a very British sense of humour; something which I'm sure you'll agree (Bill Bryson does) is a rarity in American.



            ---The Book---

            Through the book Bryson covers many different aspects of modern American life, from free doughnuts in the post office, to unfortunate accidents involving underwear; from energy wasting to hiking in a mall; from gizmos and gadgets to Thanksgiving, Christmas and Presidents' day. Everything that is modern America is in there, and also everything which was America when Bryson was growing up, but is sadly no longer. And since the book is now 10 years old I imagine that things are even worse (or better depending on which way you look at things) than they were then.

            This is the sort of book that you can dip in and out of - ideal for bedtime or toilet reading. However I generally read books from start to finish (and I don't read in the toilet), and perhaps I missed out by reading it like this. But I was enjoying it so much that I wanted to read onto the next story.

            I will share with you a summary of several of the articles in the book:



            #Coming Home#

            The first article in the book - Bryson talks about what it was like returning to his home country after so long away, describing it as "a little like waking from a long coma". While some things are the same, others have changed, and having not been middle-aged in the US before Bryson has never had to deal with things like buying Polyfilla (called Spackle) and wiring a house the American way. This article sets the scene for the rest of the book.


            #Junk Food Heaven#

            Following a rare clean of the fridge, Bryson comes across a breakfast pizza which had been hidden there! Living in "a paradise of junk food" while Bryson's long-suffering wife has been buying Ryvita and broccoli, he has been dreaming of yellow squirty cheese, 200 types of breakfast cereal and chocolate fudge devil dogs.....the stuff which fills American supermarkets.

            "I wanted food that squirts when you bite into it or plops onto your shirt front in such gross quantities that you have to rise carefully and limbo over to the sink to clean yourself up."



            #Where Scotland is, and Other useful tips#

            Interested to find out how much the Americans really know about the UK, Bryson heads off to the library to do some research, and searches the travel guides. Learning that Scotland is north of England and that Glasgow doesn't rhyme with cow....well it's hardly surprising why Americans appear to us to know nothing!



            #Our Friend The Moose#

            Of course this is my favourite chapter (due to the moose aspect), and I had read it before several years ago when a friend photocopied it for me. Bryson is talking about the BSE scare in the UK, put putting a novel twist on the situation, suggests the following rather than slaughtering the cows:

            "My idea is that we should ship all those cows over here and set them loose in the Great North Woods...My thinking is that this might distract the hunters from shooting moose."

            Sounds good to me! I love Bryson's description of a moose as "a cow drawn by a three-year-old" and their "antlers that look like oven gloves". I'm not too sure about the "boundless lack of intelligence" though, although after reading about their escapades on the road I might have to rethink!


            I'm afraid that my summaries really cannot do justice to Bryson's writing style. Just trust me, he's funny!



            ---Conclusion---

            A lot of times you'll probably find yourself saying "only in America" (although some things increasingly apply to modern Britain too), and if you're like me getting a bit frustrated and irritated.

            I would certainly recommend this to anyone who wants an insight into modern (well, late 1990s anyway) American life, anyone who likes Bill Bryson, and anyone who gets frustrated with the following - commercials, filling in forms, junk mail, junk food, computers, haircuts, rules for the sake of rules, the rise in chains of restaurants (etc) and decline in tradition, and general stupidity (among others).

            You'll almost certainly get some laughs out of it!

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              05.02.2008 14:04
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              A great read and a fabulous insight.

              I bought this book due to the reviews that I have read and family recommendations. I thought that the book was going to be good as Bryson has a Worldwide reputation for being the best travel writer. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from this book as it was my first Bryson book that I read.

              My first impressions of Bryosn after the first few chapters were that he is your average guy and a light hearted, relaxed writer. I was impressed in how much detail that he got into his concise subjects and how incedibly funny he was in his subtle mocking of American people and their values.
              The stand out chapters of this book are where he went to the supermarket and was amazed by the amount of breakfast cereals and hoe ridiculous it was that people could eat this for breakfast. He talks about how New Hampshire is the friendliest state in America and how you can leave your house and cars unlocked with absolute no worry, he mentions how locals looked at him when he locked his car at the mall as if it was an insult towards them.

              My personal favourite chapter is called "Why No-One Walks", in the he talks about how people use their cars to drive their neighbours house for dinner. How people offer him a lift when he is walking and how guilty they feel when Bryson turns them down.
              This book is fantastic and really gave me a insight into modern America and how eccentric the people are compared to the UK were people are "normal". This book does become a bit tedious as his writing style is not very varied and a few more of his funny storied should be included to improve this book.

              Overall this book is a good read if you are interested in American society and you want to read a book that will make you laugh.

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                31.03.2007 17:13
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                Collection of articles on some American idiosyncracies.

                Taken from Bill Bryson's weekly column in the Mail on Sunday's Night and Day magazine, and is a compendium of over seventy of his articles there. They focus on American life, the oddities of, differences from here, and generally anything funny and interesting about our neighbours across the pond.

                One of my favourite chapters is the one in which Bryson examines reasons for visits to A&E while he is flicking through books in a library. Some of them are strange to say the least.

                For example, more people are injured each year by sound recording equipment than are by razorblades!? And somehow over 260000 people each year manage to injure themselves with ceilings, walls or inside panels. Amazing!

                Other chapters deal with topics such as convenience food, beaurocracy, winter in Des Moines, the American obsession with rules, reasons to be worried (apparently the Pentagon gets hacked a LOT, and police forces sometimes lose explosives in public places...) computers, and going missing in the woods.

                The one about computers is good. Surely most of us have felt like chucking one out of a very high window at times, and Bryson embraces this frustration with a humorous instruction manual prose. Effectively everything a manufacturer should tell you but don’t.

                Breakfast is a simple thing. Cereals for example, there are quite a few varieties available, but not so many as to make your head spin. Well whilst back in America, Bryson visits a supermarket and is overwhelmed by the assortment on offer. From chocolate chip cookies masquerading as something you eat from a bowl of milk, to peanut butter crunch and a marshmallow cereal.

                There is a particularly hilarious offering about the delights of putting random objects into a waste disposal and watching what happens. Well you really need to test it to see exactly what it can do, don't you?

                Have you noticed how there are more and more things made and done for our 'convenience' these days? Well Bryson makes the point that this is all just a con, and that we are actually being routinely inconvenienced by all the crap we buy, and hassles we endure in the name of convenience.

                One chapter I can entirely relate to has the author telling an anecdote of a time he was looking to buy a coffee at an unearthly hour in an airport, and having to go through a series of questions about the specifics of the beverage required. He simply wanted a coffee. They wanted to sell him something with or without whipped cream, regular or decaf, large, medium, or small. Sprinkles? And all of this was after waiting in line for ages, behind people who spieled off very long and baffling orders, for the precise drink they wanted. I'd want to kill someone too.

                This title retails full price at £7.99, but can be found on Amazon from as little as 45p second hand!

                Overall, a really decent read, and although I found myself reading chapter after chapter at a single sitting, it may be one to dip in and out of for some.

                If you like any of Bryson's other books you will like this one, but as it is a series of short articles, there is unfortunately no story to follow as such. However, like in the rest of his travel books, he provides anecdote after anecdote to keep even the most easily bored of readers entertained.

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                  26.02.2004 23:22
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                  Notes from a big country

                  I'm a fan of Bill Bryson. I like his dry, acerbic wit, and the way he bombards the reader with lots of dry facts yet manages to still keep it entertaining.

                  The latest book of his I read (although not the latest written) was, NOTES FROM A BIG COUNTRY.

                  As I said, delivering trivial facts and figures in an amusing fashion is Bryson's forte and when those facts are about the land of his birth (USA), and are compared then related to his once adopted homeland (UK), I can visualize him virtually drooling at the prospect.

                  And so, following his return to live in New England after 20-odd years domiciled in Olde England, when the editor of the British newspaper, The Mail on Sunday, asked him to write a weekly magazine column documenting his return home, you would imagine he'd leap at the chance.
                  Actually, he kept complaining that he didn't have the time and was dragged into the enterprise kicking and screaming.
                  I'm afraid it shows.


                  The book is a collection of 78 of these articles which were written over a period of 18 months between Oct '96 and May '98 after he and his English family returned to the US and settled in New Hampshire.
                  As they were originally published in the aforementioned newspaper, there's not a great deal of point reading the book if you're a subscriber to that paper. I'm not, so it was all fresh reading to me.

                  Or it would have been, if certain incidents, facts and anecdotes didn't keep cropping up with annoying regularity throughout.

                  Each of the 'chapters' is a little over two pages, so it's easy reading and also very adaptable to picking up and putting down. But, because each chapter is a
                  complete work as such, certain little passages are repeated and this can make the book as a whole seem very repetitive.



                  The dominating theme of the book is his astonishment, and sometimes horror, at how American* society has changed while he's been away. This is counterbalanced by his English-born family's immediate adoption of their new, American way of life, which he finds a little difficult to understand.
                  This reaction to his family is quite a strange attitude from a man who settled in England for many years and who so readily embraced the different culture there. Of course, as Bryson points out so often, Americans sometimes don't quite get irony. Which is all rather...erm...ironic, really.

                  The subjects of each article are wide and varied, so it's almost impossible to give a synopsis of the book here. Suffice to say, that Bryson does his usual clinical job of pointing out the absurdity of normal, everyday life.

                  Things like: The American obsession with law-suits, a day at the beach and all the horrors entailed, setting up a computer, crime, the quality (or lack) of TV, movies, air conditioners, pollution and wasting resources, holiday seasons, and a whole host of other subjects.

                  Sometimes he trashes the culture of the USA in his writings, but not always. He waxes lyrical in praise of a new England fall, old-fashioned barber shops, and many others.

                  There are poignant chapters too - when his son moves out to go to college. and the times when he tries to re-kindle long-lost childhood memories. Some of these more personal anecdotes read a little like a diary and give some insight into the man.
                  It's also clear from his writing that he misses many things from the UK - although many things he most certainly doesn't....rotten weather being most prominent.



                  I've read many of Bryson's books, and I've yet to find one that I didn't enjoy - and this one was no exception. However, I would probably rate this as far from his best.
                  This is purely down to the fact that it is a collection of short articles, and as I said before, a lot of it is repetitive. Quite often many passages are repeated.... (hey, if it's good enough for Bryson, it's good enough for me).

                  I'm sure if I had read this in it's original, weekly column form, I would have been so much more impressed. In fact, possibly the way to get the best out of this book is by only reading a passage or two each night, or week, and so read them as they were written.
                  Sounds like a good idea, but I'm afraid I find Bryson hard to put down and read the whole lot over two nights...actually, I suppose that's a testament to how good his writing is.


                  In conclusion: It's not Bryson's best book (if it really can be classed as book) but still enjoyable. Personally, I think since he'd already been paid for the weekly column, he could have at least edited the the content into a more cohesive format - one that scanned better.


                  * Obviously I'm aware that Canadians, Mexicans and Chileans are Americans too, but as I'm unfamiliar with any term to describe the citizens of the USA other than Americans, I'm afraid that's the term I've used.
                  Any ideas?


                  IBSN 0385 4101190
                  Published 1998 by Doubleday




                  Thanks for reading,

                  ©proxam2004

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                    18.08.2003 04:12
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                    After spending nearly two decades in England, Bill Bryson and his family decided to settle in America, the country he was born and raised in. Although he once lived there, Bryson's mission in this book is to re-discover what it is like living in America, which given Bryson's ability to find himself out of his depth wherever he is, should make for an entertaining read... 'Notes From a Big Country' is not really a travel book (as such), but more a collection of 78 short stories or accounts about life in America - mainly dealing with Bryson's experiences since returning to his home-land, and the American way of life. These stories include accounts of Bryson's experiences of American TV, Christmas, junk food, summer time and shopping, to name a few. The opening chapter (called ' Coming Home') is Bryson giving his story of what it was like to return to America and how he felt instantly lost, especially at the hardware store! But this is a good indication of what is to come - stories of what it is like to become almost a foreigner in the country you grew up in. And you also get a better insight to Bryson's family - you find out more about his relationships with his wife and kids, and time he spends with them. Some of these aspects end up being integral parts of most of the chapters. All of these stories come from the weekly column Bryson wrote for the Mail on Sunday's Night & Day magazine, over an eighteen-month period. Lots of different topics are covered, all relating to America and in particular modern life in America. Bryson doesn't actually travel to somewhere or from place to place like he does in his other travel books, but does talk about the places he's visited since returning to America. One thing Bryson has a liking for in the book is examining the level(s) of intelligence in America, especially in recent times. At least 4 of the chapters are concerned with this, and one chap
                    ter (called 'Stupidity News') is devoted entirely to looking at how stupidity has become commonplace in modern American life. But, in reality, he says it's more down to the fact that things like the media liking to state the obvious. There are also several chapters where Bryson observes how many Americans today (especially young people) know little or nothing about the rest of the world - but this is (again) mainly due to the amount American newspapers devote column space to news stories from countries outside the US. Bryson also talks a lot about computers - another topic close to his heart! He has mentioned in his other books about how he is easily confused by computer jargon and manuals, and here the chapter 'Your New Computer' (written in the style of a computer manual) perfectly highlights that. If you have ever attempted to set up a new PC, you'll love this chapter and identify with everything Bryson says. Like all other Bill Bryson books, his wit and humour shines through on every chapter - and 'Notes from a Big Country' is definitely no exception. He explores loads of different issues and themes, all commonplace in American life, but mainly the book is based on Bryson's own thoughts and experiences. In fact, given the title you'd expect the book to be almost like a sequel to his best known book 'Notes From a Small Island'. In some ways it is - but Bryson isn't actually travelling anywhere here, or at least not in the same way as in 'Notes from a Small Island'. If you liked any of Bill Bryson's other books, or just fancy reading something humorous and factual, 'Notes From a Big Country' is a good, entertaining read that will appeal to both fans of Bryson's work and those who are just curious. And if you didn't enjoy Bryson's other books, this might just surprise you...

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                      08.03.2003 22:02
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                      Even though i own nearly all of Bill Bryson's books, i have to say that 'Notes from a Big country' would be one of my favourites, along with 'Notes from a Small Island'. All of Bryson's books are worth reading, but i found 'Notes from a Big country' particularly enjoyable. The 'big country' of the title refers to America; Bill Bryson was asked to write a regular column about life in America for a British newspaper, and the results are contained in this book. Many aspects of life are covered - Food in America, holidays, Drug culture, gun culture in America, shopping, sport - with plenty of Bill Bryson's usual humour and wit crammed into the book. All the chapters are very short - no more than 4-5 pages long. I was happy about this, as it helps make 'Notes from a Big Country' an easier read, but no less enjoyable. Many of the chapters are hilariously funny, while others (especially about drugs or guns) are more serious with the odd joke. A lot of the time, Bryson mentions about how much he loves life in America, but often says he misses certain aspects of British life. It mainly deals with Bryson's new, and older, experiences with the American way of life. He is also normally associated with the 'travel writing' genre, but there's little in 'Notes from a Big Country' that compares well with his other books. The book is funny for many reasons: the fact that Bryson can laugh at himself as well as others; the kind of anecdotes and brand of humour he puts into the book are hilarious; and that he can take ordinary everyday things like food, gardening, using a computer, and can make them funny and enjoyable to read about. Sometimes he mentions about how he can't get to grips with some things, like using a computer, or following rules in certain places, and seems out of his depth at times. The chapters all have titles like 'How to have fun at home&
                      #39;, 'Junk food heaven', 'Shopping madness', and 'Stupidity news', all which should give you some idea where Bryson is coming from. The last one i mentioned is about stupid quotes from celebrities and statistics on how stupid some people can be. It's all well-written, and sometimes informative as well as funny, which makes it a more interesting book. This wasn't the first Bill Bryson book that i read, but it would make a fairly good starting point if you've never read any of his books before. For British readers, you might be better off reading 'Notes from a Small Island' first, as it's more typical of Bryson's work and also about Britain, so there may be more to relate to than in 'Notes from a Big country'. But overall, 'Notes from a Big Country' was a good read, and i enjoyed it from start to finish, as it's so funny and enjoyable, and there's plenty to get your teeth into, even if each chapter is a little on the short side. So if you can, buy or borrow a copy, you won't be disappointed!

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                        19.08.2002 16:33
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                        Definately worth reading this one!! It is really entertaining and one you will find hard to put down. Each short chapter is an insight into the American way of life and you will not be able to read just one you will say to yourself oh well I'll just read one more! Make sure you read it alone as I have been informed that it is very annoying to have someone laugh out loud at a book! It is one that ive been meaning to read for a while and Im goad I did. I think its especially funny if you have seen americans in action or been to the states. Watch out for the waste disposal comments, v. funny

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                          27.06.2002 19:52
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                          I had my first taster of Bill Bryson in a high school mock exam in which I was taken outside and explained to that you simply cannot start laughing your head off during an examination. Although the extract was from 'Notes From a Small Island', the witty, sarcastic and downright hilarious humour is also evident in Notes From A Big Country. The thing that is so addictive about Bryson's writings is that he has the ability to take the mickey out of himself constantly. Infact, he rips into his home town, the rest of America, and even his own fellow Americans – this is Bryson at his best. The book contains eighteen months worth of his columns written for the Mail on Sunday, which means that you don’t have to read this book in any particular order – just pick a column and start laughing! His ability to collect the most absurd and useless data and record it in a book (an example being the number of Americans wounded by their bedding) is so compelling. I loved the column about American junk food; I found the ‘Breakfast Pizza’ especially humorous – my boyfriend often goes round the supermarket finding the most unhealthy junk – then complaining it tastes like cardboard anyway. This is another bonus – you can relate to so much of it, even in the most round-about way, such as being on the phone to a computer helpline! “’Problem: I keep getting a message saying: Non-System General Protection Fault.’ Solution: This is probably because you are trying to use the computer. Switch the computer to OFF mode and any annoying messages will disappear.” Sound familiar? In essence, this isn’t really a travel book. But it’s hilarious anyway. Read it!

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                            24.02.2002 21:23
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                            If you have read this brilliant book then just skim through this opinion as you know how cool it is,VU would be apreciated!. If you haven?t then i recommend you buy it yesterday as its that good.I may give away too much if you haventhere though. And if you don?t intend to just zip to the bottom, Very useful again and comment so I know you have been and I will return the compliment.Lol! What I like most about his stuff is they are so readable books and not full of big words to alienate and make you feel dumb and the author intellectually superior. Bryson expresses the humor in his sharp, descriptive boyish way inviting you in, painting images in your mind you find hard to shake. And having been to the US a few times now, this book really hits the funny bone with that simplistic style and flow. It?s a collection of articles taken from the Mail on Sunday supplement between 1997-98 written in short concise chapters. The author has returned to his country of birth after along stint living in England. Blighty has awarded him with a new insight on life and its reflected bitterly with his often critical look at a new land of the free as he perhaps didn?t remember it. This sardonic look at the US in his mind since he left, raised many an eyebrow when it hit the bookstands over the pond in the late nineties. This is the second time I have read this excellent book and its even more profound now post September 11th.One such passage meant as humor in 1997 couldn?t be more apt. It concerns the apparent ease that Americans can board domestic internal flights. He rolled up to Logan International in Boston to the customs guy to be asked I?any fruit and vegetables sir?. He replied I will have a kilo of carrots please. Now Americans have no sense of irony or fun with retorts like that and often give you a terse but puzzled reply. Next to the check in desk where for those domestics you only have to show photo id. Bryson is asked
                            to present some at the check in desk and can only find an old Iowa driver?s permit .The sniffy attendant points out that the license has expired. So therefore unexceptable. But the author is undeterred and calls for his supervisor. The boss again stipulates that an Iowa driver?s permit is not on the list of permitted visual cognitive images. The author promises dryly that if you let him on the flight he will promise not to fly the plane with it. A further discussion and lecture, Mr. Bryson thinks on his feet and pulls out a copy of his book he just so happened to have with his photo on the back. How about this guys. Again no luck. He then points out that if he was a terrorist then why would he write a best selling travel book just to get on a domestic flight to Buffallo!.By now theres a crowd scene around the desk with punters and a guy selling jewelry out of an aluminum case. Eventually he got on the flight and this chapter emphasis?s Americas obsession with rules and regs but not instinct and common sense. The point is very well taken post September 11th and apparently you can still stroll on to a US internal flight with average security to allow the pursuit of profit in the cash strapped airlines. He also quite rightly points out that who else has shown such earnest desire to get to Buffalo.I have been there and no where he?s coming from. Theres about 75 chapters on everything from America?s obsession with junk food, homeshopping, to summer movies and diners. The vagarious and fascination of waste disposal units, and what the author can stuff in them without breaking it, and the wife finding out. But women can hear everything that wobbles and smashes in the house except husbands in pain. Next up are America?s surprisingly bland chocolate bras, which I can vouch for, and the tentative trip to the barbers. Where?s as girls are fleeced at the stylist for thirty quid men pay a fiver and get just that for value.
                            It can be very traumatic for men when it goes wrong as we have little means of correcting it. Let alone trying to make a call on their deregulated convoluted phone system. Iv tried that to and those people that beg on street corners in America just need a quarter for the phone to get out of strange towns in pursuit of loose change and home. Video recorders that are a mystery in any country also get a going over by Bryson. He rightfully points out vigorously that who really needs to program it up to a year in advance. The hunt for the remote control, which is the average Americans most daily exercise also, makes you laugh out loud. America TV is worthy of five chapters in my humble opinion although Bill spares it only on. But as P J O`rourke once said?You don?t have to watch it to see what?s on, but to see what else is on. Computers being the bane of every writer and office employee?s life get a good kicking. He to ponders why the hell theres no half fraction key on the keyboard and the dumb American who complained that he couldn?t find the ?any key?when asked to strike one in the instructions. Also why is it that spell checkers can not do simple non-complex tasks. The substitute words you are offered bare no resemblance to the one in trouble. I have a big problem with necessary and as you can see it?s nothing like the correct one (oh it corrected!), with the dread red and green wiggles unable to help. Most US products have free phone lines on you can call to check you are using the product correctly. This guy actually rang up to ask that question. Well maybe he did or the author here is elaborating a little like most do. You can actually ring up to see if you are eating the pretzels correctly (take note George junior) or for supermodels to check very really do have to concentrate with orange juice. Most Americans are xenophobic at best and dumb at worst. Did you know that 42 percent of Californian kids
                            when tested didn?t know one Asian country. That?s pretty bad considering they have invaded most in the last century detailed in their rather short and inglorious history books. One unfortunate yank marveled at the cup holder on his computer. When calling one of those help lines the operator seemed bemused by his reference to a cup holder on an Intel. Yes you guessed it, yep! , the CD ROM player. If you Staybrite window reps are annoying here, spare a thought for Americans whose telemarketing industry generates 35 billion dollars of trade. I think this means they actually quite like talking to these annoying people and help to the country into its current debt of four trillion dollars. All those defaulted payments on everything from winabagoes to Stenna Stairlifts. Theres an extremely funny chapter on hunting with Americans he men love of soft targets, mainly the Moose. Bill points out that these animals are so docile and aimless that they run like they have eight legs all going in different directions. The Americans have managed to reduce a 4 million herd to 300 in the low point of the nineteen sixties. The type of beast you sneak up on and down with a newspaper. I like the author love motels in the United States. You never know what you are going to get for your money and the statuary size of the roach. If you are really lucky you might get the back end of some free punters porn subscription that fled in a hail of gunfire. These rooms are often sparse for your 15 bucks and one bar on the heater for the weekend is the norm. But the author brilliant quipped when watching Psycho for the one-hundredth time during the famous scene. At least she got a shower curtain. The book is just relentless with great anecdotes and sharp funny writing. At the half way point your head is full of alarming facts and quirky stats. America?s macho irrational obsession with guns is one such alarming detail. You are twice as likely to die fr
                            om gunshot wounds there than an automobile accident. And an incredible 500 times more likely to die from a gun in the States than in Afghanistan!. The bulk of fire arm deaths in the US are young children in the home.They are twenty times more likely to die that their parents who own the gun though accidents in the home. Americans are so confident in cars that forty percent don?t wear seat belts, which results in more accidents as they rely on the airbags to save their lives. This has led to suffocation to small children and far too much fearless gung ho driving. But their government are more concerned with banning smoking from just about every inch of America when clearly the above are responsible for the bulk of accidental deaths. That brings up the lottery paradox where punters by tickets and are more likely to die of fags, cars, or guns than winning $10!.But hey that?s the point of the lottery and don?t tell no one ok!. I couldn?t stop chuckling at their attitudes to recovering unpaid taxes. Because most Americans pay it in one big chunk at the end of the year theres a lot of lateness and default. A pressure group was set up to reign in as much of that 100 billion unpaid revenue as they could. They spent 100 million dollars doing it and recovered 8 billion. A sizeable slice and very good value for money you would think. But the fastidious government actually capped the expenditure that had recovered a net 7.9 billion dollars through the Federal Reduction Program that had spent the original one hundred million. The British do a similar thing here when trying to recover fraudulent dole money lost. They spend nine-pounds on every one recovered with social security fiddles only accounting for only 7 percent of all fraud. Most of the money left of course goes in a family budget after tax day goes on your kid?s education. If you think its tough here in England says Bryson then in America we call our children up at univ
                            ersity to borrow money. Apparently it costs 33 thousand pounds to put your children through an Ivy League school just on study fees alone. Oxbridge are itching to ?select?pupils here and American education will point the way Blairs going to marginalise ours. Car hire gets another thorough going over by Bill and I must admit it was a real pain when I was there. You try renting a car to take out of state or drop off and you are hammered for fees. At the airport theres everything from impact insurance to international death cover with swamp gas protection on top of that!. I remember hiring a Hertz rental at Dallas and the original price of $97 quickly hit two hundred after extras. The fuel top up fees are extortionate and you have to get the car back with a full tank exactly to avoid being hammered again. Bryson goes into a diatribe of renting the dreaded car at airports and how the agent will tell you if you want your mileage bonus accumulator billed under ?unexplained charges?. Finding the car in the car park is another trying experience, me and the author both agree with. Go across car park C, up to level three, over the grass verge, climb the runway fence and you will find it under a tarpaulin in a cornfield. Being a regular traveler to the USA I can immediately get the bite of the book as you recognize situations and occasions with great familiarity. A great line from Bill about America?s obsession with convenience tools and getting the machines to do the job for them. They buy hoards of devices that quickly become inconvieninat and hard work. Motorized carving knives that send Christmas Turkeys into the wall at great speed. But like he say it?s a vicious circle of labor saving devices that the harder you work, then the more devices you buy!. With the compensation culture seeping into Great Britain spare a thought for America as they have more lawyers there than the whole of the world put together!.
                            800-000 legal eagles ply their trade from everything to paving stone trips. Class action is all the rage over there and I recall reading about a small town who was invaded by the rodents (lawyers) after the local chemical factory had a minor spill. 500+ blasted into town in their air-conditioned four-wheel drives and orchestrated the towns folk to all have medical check ups and treatment. The 70,000 population eventually sued for 180 million dollars with the company settling out of court. Only 27 townsfolk had chemical related problems with the lawyers bagging 40 million of that. Bryson enlightens us with an even more bizarre case of a Milwaukee brewery executive who recounted the racy plot of a Seinfeld episode only to be sued for sexual discrimination by the female employee he was telling it to. The brewery then responded by sacking the poor guy who sued for wrongful dismissal and was awarded an incredible 26 million!.Crazy isn?t it. When I was in New York there were lawyers walking the streets waiting for someone to trip on an uneven paving stone. Then in some cases immediately offering then a check for two and a half grand on the spot if they can take that case to court to earn far more. The book finishes on the annoyance of commercialism?s lust for Christmas that kicks off in August in the UK. In America points out the author that their Thanksgiving holiday gives them a restbite from that run in on Americas least most commercial day. Americans also can?t escape the barrage of junk mail like any country in the world with the average yank receiving 300lbs a year. Which is a similar amount of coffee they jam down their gullets. The coffee shop phenomenon has swept into England now and I can say it?s the biggest con since CDs. Theres a cracking paragraph on Americas death row policy where it takes an average of ten years red tape to fry or ply one of the 5000 on the green mile. Most put down through capitol
                            punishment are male and disproportionately black and who have killed white folks. For some reason blacks that kill blacks, be it gang or drug or what ever related don?t seem to make it this far. %83 of current death row inmates had been convicted of killing whites, even though Caucasian?s represent only half of all murder victims. Black and Hispanics are seven to ten times more likely to die on the chair or table. The reverse of white killing black is just as perverse towards the paler shade of skin. In 1996 (election year) this saw a record number of killings in Texas and Florida (Bush and Bush) totaling more than the rest of the USA states put together. It?s the funniest rye travel book I have ever read and I recommend it to any reader who likes it simple and non-testing. P J O`rourke he ain?t but boy is he on the general publics humor resonation?s. The book finishes on the author?s reflections on his country and the cute and opaque differences between his new home and old. When going through customs to visit friends in England on one of his many return trips. A customs guy at Heathrow looked at him and said?you?re that author guy aren?t you?. Bill blushed and replied, why yes I am. With disdain in his voice he replied?come here to make more money ave ya?. Why yes he has and we love him for it. Bill signs off in Uncle Sam style on the last two lines in that customary way over there. Now please, really! Have a nice day!!!!!.

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