Bill Bryson generates feel-good non-fiction

Natalie Schermer

Generally, I’m strictly a reader of fiction. If I go to the bookstore, I’m heading to the fiction and literature section — and trust me, I can spend a lot of time there.

It’s not that I have anything against non-fiction, but more that I don’t know where to start. There are so many options and so many bookstore sections that can be classified as non-fiction, and, of course, I’m not going to like everything within a certain genre, either. How do you find those diamonds in the rough?

So I’m very, very glad I stumbled upon Bill Bryson. I can’t even remember how I originally came across him — I think a friend recommended him to me in high school. However it happened, I’m pretty grateful. Bill Bryson has become my go-to author when I get that rare craving for something non-fiction.

In bookstores, he’s usually shelved in the travel section, but he’s much, much more than just a travel writer. Every one of his books is a marvelous combination of memoir, humor, reflection, essays and anecdotes. It literally does not matter what he writes about — it’s bound to be good, and I will read it.

I am very distinctly a humanities person. Science sort of scares me. Yet, I spent a lot of last winter break reading Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything,” his massive treatise on all things science-y. And I enjoyed it. I’m not sure how much of the information he presented I retained, but I definitely liked it at the time.

My latest foray into Bryson is his collection “I’m a Stranger Here Myself.” Although born and raised in the United States, Bryson moved to England around the age of 20. While there, he worked, found material for several books and started a family. However, 20 years later, he started missing the country of his youth and decided to transport his family to New England.

“I’m a Stranger Here Myself” chronicles Bryson’s return to the States, but not in a traditional narrative manner. Before returning to the U.S., Bryson had made a reputation for himself in England as a writer, and, upon his return, he was offered a position as a columnist for a newspaper by a friend.

Unwittingly, he accepted. “I’m a Stranger Here Myself” is a collection of those columns reflecting on how his country has changed since his departure 20 years ago.

Bryson brings his trademark dry, witty humor to everything he writes and this is no exception. Whether he’s addressing the puzzling customer service hotlines on dental floss boxes or the absurd complexities of the restaurant industry, Bryson has a wonderful knack for starting with reflections on the most inconsequential subjects and somehow managing to say something profound and meaningful — or at least interesting and thoughtful — about life itself.

And if he doesn’t, well, whatever he’s saying will still be hilarious, no matter the topic. Since it’s broken up into 2-3 page columns, “I’m a Stranger Here Myself” is perfect to read during school — you can easily read one as a study break or to fill that fifteen minutes you have before a meeting. Reading just one will put you in a better mood.