In 1996, Bill Bryson was asked to write a weekly column about America for the "Mail On Sunday's Night & Day" magazine. Even though Bryson claimed not to have the time for writing those "Notes From A Big Country," his friend Simon Kelner insisted on his doing so. The result is an often hilarious, sometimes thought-provoking approach to the unique US culture. Having been born in Iowa, but having lived many years in Great Britain, Bill Bryson has the advantage of being American and being able to see his own culture from a different perspective.
The book "Notes From A Big Country" contains 78 columns from the first 18 months of Bryson's work. In the first one titled "Coming Home," he tells the reader how it was for him to come home after spending nearly two decades in England: "Returning home after such an absence is a surprisingly unsettling business, a little like waking from a long coma." (p 15) Reading the remaining 77 columns is like being taken by the hand by the author, who re-discovers the uniqueness of his own culture -- things he remembers from his childhood, things which have changed since he had left, and things which are new for him. Bryson talks about the positive sides of the American Way Of Life, but doesn't hesitate to mention negative sides. Some of the columns' headlines are somewhat telltale: "Dumb And Dumber," "Junk Food Heaven," "Commercials, Commercials, Commercials," "Friendly People," "Those Boring Foreigners," "Why No One Walks," "So Sue Me," "The Waste Generation," "Shopping Madness," "The Fat Of The Land," and "Stupidity News" to name only a few.
Bill Bryson did an excellent job bringing out the essence of US culture in a highly entertaining way. The book is a great read both for Americans and non-Americans. Some of the essays might lead to interesting discussions -- teachers might want to use them for their English classes. All in all, "Notes From A Big Country" is a fun and also educating book for everyone interested in learning more about American culture while being aware that Bryson is also a master of irony.