Similarly to David Sedaris, Bill Bryson’s book I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away finds humor in discussing the ordinary and mundane of everyday life. But Bryson takes things a step further than Sedaris to discuss larger culture issues rather than just everyday family life. Through his observations of America after he returns he is able to both tell things as they are as well as make the things he says humorous: because the “things as they are” are so ridiculous they’re funny.
Bryson states early on in the book that “For twenty years, [while being in England] being an American was my defining quality. It was how I was identified, differentiated.” But he soon realizes that the America he left is not the one he is coming back to “…the problem was intensified by the fact that I had left as a youth and was returning in middle age.” Even though Bryson’s critique is about 20 years old it is astounding to see how many of his comical, albeit horrifying, observations are still not only in affect in America but are worse off than he describes.
For example his discussion in Junk-Food Heaven about the necessity of eating junk food in America that his wife doesn’t buy when she goes to the grocery store because she doesn’t understand “the rich…possibilities of greasiness and goo that the American diet offers…[from]the country that gave the world cheese in a spray can.” This idea, while comical, is a serious issue in today’s society: junk food and obesity in America are very grave problems that our society cannot seem to correctly address or fix as of now.
He exposes other problems time and time again throughout such as computer help lines, advertising, drugs, restaurants, consumer culture, conservation, etc. We laugh at Bryson because everything he’s saying is true, even more so in today’s world. The society that we live in needs help and perhaps since no help is being provided and no one is taking the initiative to solve some of these problems the only thing left to do is laugh along with Bryson, acknowledging that despite ridiculousness these things exist and they are problems.