Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I'm a Stranger Here Myself

I'm remembering why I didn't recall loving this Bill Bryson book as much as others.  His short essays, while funny, start to wear on me when read in bulk.  I'm sure this is partially because they were originally intended for a weekly newspaper, not to be read in huge chunks at a time.  They start to seem like many repetitions of the theme "Americans stupid, British a bit better."  Taxes, shopping, driving, cupholders in cars...

His books usually have one topic (Australia, for example, or the Appalachian Trail), and he delves into detailed stories about people and places.  Here, he's limited by space and by the lack of continuity - every article must stand on its own.  When he wrote these he had just moved back to the States, so maybe his articles having a negative slant is somewhat understandable.  But, as an American, after a bit I can only think "hey, that's not true about me!"

One example: in "The Great Indoors" he talks about how nowadays one never sees children playing outside, running around, throwing balls and such.  Now they're all inside in the air conditioning.  I've heard other people say this.  It just doesn't seem true to me.  This book was written in 1998, when my sister was 10.  I definitely remember her and her neighborhood friends running around the backyard, or putting on plays in the driveway, or playing on the swingset.  I was a teenager in the nineties.  Today's beautiful weather made me recall how I spent pretty much the entire summer of 1995 on my friend Katie's trampoline, sometimes putting the sprinkler underneath it for relief from the humidity, her stereo always blasting The Offspring or Aerosmith.  We occasionally walked to the gas station to buy candy, or to the creek to swim (which in retrospect, looking at that creek, is gross), but we didn't spend much time inside.  At night when there were thunderstorms, we'd run outside in our bathing suits.

I know my sister and I, and our respective friends, were not the exceptions.  I think adults who came of age before video games and a million TV channels jump to negative conclusions about children and the outdoors.  Maybe it's not the same as it was in earlier decades, and maybe it's gotten worse since the mid-nineties, but it's still not as dismal as people make it sound.

I do like this book, though.  It's quite frequently hilarious, and some of his stories (like his love for garbage disposals and basements) are not complain-y at all.  To balance out my previous complaint, I'll excerpt a funny paragraph from his article on ER injury statistics:

"Paper money and coins (30, 274) claimed almost as many victims as did scissors (34,062).  I can just about conceive of how you might swallow a dime and wish you hadn't ("You guys want to see a neat trick?"), but I cannot for the life of me construct hypothetical circumstances involving folding money and a subsequent trip to the ER.  It would be interesting to meet some of these people."

About the dress I've decided to make: I've cut out all the pieces, I just need to sew them together now.  Easy-peasy, right? (haha.)

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