Book Reviews · Travel

Book Review: Notes From A Big Country

Notes From A Big Country sees Bill Bryson take on his homeland of America after living in England for 20 years. After a long time away, Bryson feels like a stranger in his own country.

What Notes From A Big Country Is About

book cover of Notes from A Big Country by Bill Bryson

Notes From a Big Country was adapted from weekly columns for the Mail on Sunday into one coherent novel. The chapters are short and to the point. It was perfect for reading around college but led to many “oh, just one more chapter,” and of course, one chapter often led to five. However, as far as the book goes, that’s a virtue seeing as I was more interested in it than some of my classes.

It’s a series of mini-entries about the difference between American and British culture. It’s always interesting to learn about cultural differences between the US and other English-speaking countries. I think Bryson is the only one who can make it entertaining reading it on paper.

What I Thought

Bryson is experiencing culture shock to some degree after living in the UK, and so are we, as most readers won’t have been living in both the US and UK at some point. At least to me, it was shocking to learn some of the real anecdotes from suburban America. I’ve been to America a few times, but it’s usually tourist America.

My favourite story was about a woman driving across the country who believed there was a likely possibility of being kidnapped. To save herself if worse comes to worst, she writes a note about being kidnapped, instructing whoever finds it to call the police. She drops the note, and a good citizen picks it up and does as instructed. The woman keeps on driving, oblivious to the chaos and panic that has ensued.

Bryson isn’t intentionally degrading or belittling Americans. He seems rather quite proud to be American. Most of his readers know not to take everything he says at face value. His topics range from satirical computer construction manuals, a ridiculous amount of product choices, the lack of sarcasm in American culture, and how North America is not built for pedestrians. He knows how to make his readers laugh, even if you’re reading in public.

I’ve never read anything like this before. I’m going to assume you haven’t either, so I would highly recommend Notes for a Big Country.

The Bottom Line On Notes From A Big Country

Generally, I prefer novels that are one big story, I rarely like collections of short stories, but it’s always good to branch out and read new things. So far, Bill Bryson is my wild card author, and it always pays off because I like pretty much everything of his I read.

If you enjoy this and Bill Bryson in general, you might consider adding A Walk in the Woods and A Short History of Nearly Everything to your reading list.

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