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Notes from a Moose Country!
Notes from a Big Country - Bill Bryson
Member Name: marymoose
Notes from a Big Country - Bill Bryson
Advantages: It's Bill Bryson, hilarious, excellently written, short stories
Disadvantages: Some parts repeated from other books, can be irritating !
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.
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:
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!
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!
Summary: A lot of laughs!
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