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on 7 October 2003
Much as I find myself trying to convince myself otherwise, I'm rather a fan of Bill Bryson books, his style of writing, his choice of places to visit. Notes from a Big Country is a little different to his other books as it's not really a book with a story at all - it's a collection of articles Bryson has written for a national newspaper.
Bill Bryson was born in Iowa, USA, moved to England in the late 70s and then returned "home" with his new family in tow. On his return, he wrote a weekly column for the Mail on Sunday's Night and Day magazine, about, well, pretty much whatever he wanted, and has now put them into a book.
Generally Bryson writes about things he missed from Britain, or things he cannot understand how he managed without - a same selection of topics include TV advert breaks, visiting a movie theater (cinema to you and me), weather and friendliness. Everything is written in the quite unique style of Bill Bryson which means that at times you feel rather sorry for him, and at times even more sorry for his wife!
I chose to read the book continuously which in hindsight I regret - far better to read a bunch of his articles, leave the book for a few weeks, read a few more and so on.
Definitely a recommended read - Bryson at his irrelevant best!
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on 22 February 2003
I read this book before moving to California in 1999. It was a fantastic way to prepare for the culture shock that ensued. I had a great time in the States, largely because I could recognise the absurdity that Bryson talks about.
His unique perspective (American living in Britain, moving back to the US) puts a delightful spin on all the things we Brits make fun of the Americans for. His wonderfully witty writing style is laugh out loud funny - especially beacuse it's all true.
So much American culture is already part of life here in the UK, I would say anyone will identify with this send up of all things from across the pond.
Great travel writing, very humorous and hugely entertaining!
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on 31 August 2005
I read this book on holiday and finished it on the way home on the airplane. I wonder what the guy in the seat next to me must have thought because I just couldn't help myself laughing out loud every few minutes. Once I even had tears running down my cheek, I was laughing so hard. This is definitely one of the funniest books I have ever read. It captures the US mentality and way of life so well and with such enormous humour. If you haven't read it, you've deprived yourself of a treat! Well done, Mr Bryson!!!
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on 13 February 2007
Bryson brilliantly combines comic asides with the most serious of subjects. If you like Bryson's dry wit, you'll love this book. At first I didn't like the format (exactly four pages per chapter) but after a while I liked the thought that if I had ten minutes to spare, I could read a chapter. And new chapter, new topic. Brevity at its best.

My only regret is that I missed the columns when they appeared in The Mail on Sunday's Night and Day Magazine. Hope the editor intends to commission more soon.
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on 9 September 2004
Like the rest of the correspondants have said, this is a fantastic book that will have you laughing out loud. Without a doubt this is my favourite Bill Bryson book so far and is great to dip in and out of as each chapter is only 3/4 pages long and easily read in 5 mins. I can't pickup this book without knocking out 4 chapters and have re-read it on numerous occasions. I still, in moments of quiet reflection, wonder whether they ever found that small plane in the woods ?? Everybody I've leant this book to, has loved it and bought copies themselves or have gone on to buy his other books... I wish I was on commission ! Just buy it, you'll love it !
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on 22 July 2000
Bill Bryson is not only a witty travel writer, a deep connoisseur of the peculiarities of American English and one of the greatest homour writers of our age; he is also an acute and dispassionate observer of the defects and the petty follies of our fellow humans. In "Notes from a Big Country" he shows once more this ability of his in its full glory: after living in Britain for almost 20 years, he decided to go back to his native country with his whole family. So, whereas his wife and children are fascinated and charmed by their new life in the USA, he sets to criticize his fellow Americans with unquenchable humour and deep understanding of their inner worlds.
Some of the columns collected in this book will be regarded as outstanding specimens of Bryson's best prose: the columns on Xmas decorations, on plane travels, on computerand on the maddening tax system in the USA are small masterpieces that one can't read without feeling the urge to laugh out loudly, regardless of where one is.
My favoutite column is the one concerning seaside vacations; it chanced that I read it on a crowded noisy beach of the Adriatic Sea, amid busloads of German tourists and Italian holidaymakers. Needless to say, in Bill Bryson's witty pages I found something familiar...
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on 8 August 2007
Bill Bryson has a somewhat unique point of view for writing a book on American life, born in America but living a long time in England before returning to America with his English wife and children. The result was a regular series of newspaper articles (unsure what newspaper) which are collected together here.
The articles are observant, witty, and wonderfully funny. Bryson is so normal and easy to relate to that the articles are infectiously funny, his strange obsessions and neuroses are not only hilarious but also quite sweet and infinitely endearing. His unique take on American life is what really drives the book since there's no continuous narrative of any kind due to the episodic structure.
I can't really describe the book in any particular detail except to say that this is something very funny that more than once an article is guaranteed to cripple you with laughter. You should really give this a try, you won't regret it.
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on 4 March 2002
This may not be one of the best Bill Bryson books about , but if you enjoyed any of the others and lets face it, most if us have, then you'll find this an interesting addition the Bryson family.
The book is a compliation of news paper articles, written for the Mail on Sunday, which may not be the best format for a book, but lends itself to a good travel companion,which you can dip in and out off, without loosing the plot and and without loosing any of the humourous threads.
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on 8 March 2016
I like Bryson, the travel writer; I really like Bryson, the history enthusiast; but Bryson, the column writer - not so much. All the usual subjects are in there, taxes, driving, consumerism, crazy laws, blah blah. Bryson doesn't add anything unique to these old tropes and at times I felt like I was reading Dave Barry which I've not done since I was about 15. It's also strange that Notes from a Small Island is a very good travel book, you'd think the 'Notes from a' strand would be consistent.
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on 22 April 2009
If I'm honest, I was surprised to even find as many negative reviews for this book as I did - so be warned in advance that the adjective "glowing" could have been created for this review!

Where to start? This book is a joy. Bryson, as a native of the US who spent a large chunk of his formative years in the UK, is able to view both cultures from a position that's neither a real outsider nor quite an insider in each

There is no real narrative thread in this book as regular Bryson fans will have been accustomed to finding elsewhere: the format is very specific: a series of articles, written from America, for British readers. I can see how some people view this as a weakness, but in many ways it's a huge plus - it's possible to race through half a dozen "chapters" with ease, but similarly if time is pressing it is very enjoyable just to dip in. It's not really a book so much as a collection of essays/letters, but none the worse for that.

I didn't find the book especially negative about either country: Bryson does confess to having a good complain (sometimes with good reason, having read the trials of his wife and his friends becoming legal citizens, for instance). Generally, however, he is quite willing to poke fun at both the country of his birth and the country he has adopted as a second home with a certain amount of glee, a great deal of affection, and the relative objectivity of a man who belongs exclusively to neither place.

Overall... it made me laugh, time and again. In amongst the giggles, I got a little insight into the differences between the two countries, a few wonderful descriptions of the US (including glowing accounts of New Hampshire's severe-but-beautiful winters), and a vast amount of interest and enjoyment. One I know I shall re-read over and again, and that I can whole-heartily recommend to others.
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