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I loved the TV series so was delighted when the book came out. Despite my first instinct to rush out and buy it, my brother is always really good at knowing the books I want so I waited and as expected unwrapped it on Christmas morning.
The only problem I had with the series was that everything seemed a little rushed and there was clearly a lot more that could have been included. The book is a little more detailed and there are 5 pages allocated to most states, where there is a fair bit of general information given as well.
A lot of the people he meets and places that are covered are the ones that were seen in the show, but some do seem to be in more detail. I do however feel I have learned more about the places from reading the book as often with the programme it was tempting to look at the scenery as much as listen to what was being said. The book does have some of the same views but with as much time as you want to look at each page I found I was able to look as long as I wanted and then read.
A nice addition to the book is the couple of pages at the end where they reproduce some of the American words that we don't use so it made it that bit easier for me being able to look up words rather than guessing what they meant. One word that is used so often when people are ill is "mono" and I always thought it would be something quite exotic so was quite disappointed to find it is just glandular fever.
I loved the book equally for the scenery shown and the fact that Stephen Fry is the center of it. It brings the mixture of wit and intelligence that he is best known for along with a sympathetic look at things that some of us may find uncomfortable. My favourite examples of this are the research facility in Tennessee where they watch how bodies decompose to allow medical examiners to get an accurate time of death, along with the fact that he showed the rich and poor, good and bad just as they were and without passing judgment.
Having read the book from cover to cover when I first got it I have also found I am reading through bits here and there when I have a little time to spare.
Just a few details about it - it is printed by Harper Collins and has 314 pages. It was printed in 2006 and at the time cost £20 but will be available for much less now.
If you like America and Stephen Fry it is the ideal book for you. There is however a lot of information about the States meaning you could still find it a good read even of you don't share my love of Stephen Fry.
Stephen Fry is a much loved British television personality and actor who has appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows, such as 'Kingdom', 'A Bit of Fry and Laurie', and 'QI'. In this book, he documents his journey (in a black London taxi) through all 50 states in the USA, meeting people and doing things that are often overshadowed by the media's shiny, glamorous portrayal of the country. The book was published in 2008, to accompany Stephen's 6-part television series, also documenting his trip.
The book's recommended price is £8.99, and has 344 pages, as well as 21 pages of colour photographs, and a quiz at the back (really handy if you're putting together a table quiz). The front and back covers are adorned with several familiar American landmarks and icons, like Mount Rushmore, and a dollar bill, as well as Stephen himself, dressed as a gun-toting cowboy. The cover is very bright and eye-catching and is really what encouraged me to buy the book; I hadn't watched the 'Stephen Fry In America' TV series so I had no preconceived ideas of what the book would be like.
The book is very easy to read, partly due to Stephen's style of writing (which I will mention later) and partly because of the way the book is laid out; his 50 state expedition is divided firstly into general area eg. 'South East and Florida', then secondly into state eg. Georgia. Each state is then further divided into specific towns he visited/activities he took part in. I like how this is done as it makes the book easier to digest. Also for each state, Fry includes some key facts, like the state motto, capital, and well known residents.
As well as writing about his exploits in each state, he includes a lot of historical and political facts; now history and politics aren't top of my list of interests, but he makes all the facts relevant to what he is visiting or who he is meeting and at no point during the book, did it feel like a chore to read. Fry's style of writing really drew me into the book; he uses such wonderful vocabulary and it's very clear that he is an extremely intelligent man. He has a nice gentle sense of humour, and while he sometimes mocks places or people, he always does it in a very mild-mannered way, which is more affectionate than malicious, and he is always the first person to make fun of himself; "I look like ten types of gormless arse."
Highlights of the book for me were Stephen's fire-fighting in Connecticut, canoeing on the Mississippi River in Arkansas, and his visit to the Wild Horse Ranch (which was also the subject of a Louis Theroux documentary 'Louis and the Brothel') in Nevada.
The colour photographs are a nice addition, compliment his writing, and show him doing various activities he mentioned throughout the book.
The only negative aspect to the book was the little time given to each state although I'm sure if he documented every single thing he did, the book would have been the size of an encyclopedia.
If you are familiar with Stephen Fry, one of the real joys of reading his book, is hearing his charming voice narrating it inside your head, and his detailed (but never boring) descriptions of the sites and sounds he encountered, all make this a highly enjoyable read.
I'm a big fan of Stephen Fry; if I'm honest I would happily listen to him read through a shopping list such are his comforting dulcet tones. I also have a strong desire to visit America - real America that is, not a few days in Disney land Florida or a quick shopping trip to New York. So when I heard that Fry and America were combining to produce a BBC series in which he gets stuck into the real underbelly of the USA I couldn't have been more pleased. True to form the series delivered on its promises, Fry visited each and every state of America by way of a London taxi, specially hired for the occasion. Alas, as is common with most television programs the memory fades to be replaced with other, newer experiences. Imagine my delight then, when I received the hard back book to accompany the series as a present not so long ago. Now I had a permanent record of Mr Fry's exploits to enjoy at leisure. For those who think this is just another travel guide then you simply must think again. Fry avoids a lot of the more obvious and famous locations in favour of real America, and real Americans. Not content with mere sightseeing Fry tries his hand at myriad jobs and tasks, from a lobster fisherman in Maine, to a coal miner in West Virginia. He even partakes in a whaling trip off the coast of Alaska, although he freely admits that he is more than happy that no whale met its end on his watch.
Ben & Jerrys, Pride of Vermont
My personal favourite entry - and there was plenty to choose from - is probably Vermont. Like a man after my own heart Stephen eschews the joys of Maple syrup and the blazing colours of the leaves in autumn in favour of a trip to the Ben and Jerry's factory in Waterbury. His unswerving task of investigating this abode of dairy deliciousness is rewarded when he is given the freedom of the ingredients cupboard and asked to concoct a new ice cream flavour. What follows is somewhat akin to a mad scientist in his laboratory, but after much experimentation and head scratching "Even Stephens" is produced - an amalgam of vanilla ice cream, toffee and walnuts. Happily this type of culinary experience is repeated many times, with food playing a pivotal role as Fry criss-crosses America. Destinations are marked with foods peculiar to the region just as much as buildings or other landmarks. Deep fried turkey enjoyed on a cotton plantation in Georgia to celebrate thanksgiving and Clam chowder and boiled lobster dipped in clarified butter and gobbled down in Maine to name but two culinary treats, both as deliciously described as they undoubtedly are.
Ceremonial Ducks and Cadavers, Just another day in Tennessee
Possibly the state that offers Stephen the biggest contrasts is Tennessee; and to the famous Peabody Hotel we find ourselves for a truly curious spectacle. A selection of ducks live on the hotel roof - not necessarily anything queer about that - save for the fact that at 11am every day a 'Duck Master' escorts these quacking inhabitants through the hotel, into the lift and down to the fountain in the reception area where they stay, happily wetting their feet until - at 5pm - the whole precession is reversed with the ducks returning to their rooftop roost for the night. Such is the spectacle of this occurrence that it draws a crowd from miles around as the waddling birds complete their journey to the tune of John Philip Sousa's 'King Cotton' as a Duck Master looks on (and clears up any errant duck poo deposited en-route).
Twenty-four hours later Stephen can only yearn for such niceties as he visits an innocuous looking area to the rear of a parking lot owned and maintained by the University of Tennessee. This is the Body Farm - an area of woods, grass, buildings and flowerbeds where bodies of the recently deceased are stored, dumped and placed in various situations and in various positions to decompose, and thus provide useful information like timelines and states of rot depending on how or where a body is positioned. There are bodies in bushes, bodies in bags, even bodies in car boots - all rotting away merrily and no doubt proffering vital information to aid crime fighters the length and breadth of America. Those harmless ducks must have seemed a world away to Stephen, and if ever the phrase 'from the sublime to the ridiculous' had truer meaning I'd love to hear it.
Stephen Fry In America is part travel guide, part journal, part historical reference book neatly divided into fifty chapters comprising one state each. These chapters are further bundled into groups dependent on their geographical location within America - The Deep South or New England for example. Each states entry is five or six pages in length, and offers a smattering of gloriously coloured photographs as well as a little box proffering the key facts of the area - my favourite of which imparts the identity of the state pie or muffin! And just to make sure attention has been paid there is a little quizette to enjoy at the end testing knowledge of state capitals and the meanings of American words in English.
Nothing other than the full five stars as far as I'm concerned; the book manages to entertain, amuse, educate and titillate with Fry's own unique humour and outlook on life. The flow of the narrative is rather like being read to by a kindly uncle, and who amongst us wouldn't enjoy that.
One of the criticisms levelled at Stephen Fry's excellent BBC documentary charting a road trip across the United States was that the time afforded to each chunk of the trip was simply not enough.
How, people asked, could you possibly document a state like, say, Florida, in the space of a brief minute or two?
This book, then, at 320 pages, provides the answer. Fry is able to go into more detail on his trip, and usually that detail is insightful, witty, and always entertaining.
One thing that stands out is how clearly Fry's personality resonates from every page - at times it is impossible to not read it in his voice - this is a travelogue written by an Englishman for the English, and the nature of his observations and writing style really hammer that point home.
While that isn't everyone's cup of tea, this is a book which will go down well with the vast majority of readers, especially those who enjoyed the TV series.