Book Review
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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

Notes from a Big Country

Bill Bryson is one of my favourite humorous authors, with his A Short History of Nearly Everything being absolutely brilliant - if you have not read it, get it and do so. However this review is of one of his older books, which somehow had escaped me. Notes from a Big Country (ISBN 0-552-99786-2, Black Swan edition 1999) is a 400 page paperback and is a collection of his weekly newspaper columns dealing with his life as a returned American to Hanover in New Hampshire.

Having spent around 20 years as an adult in the UK, he spends much of each short chapter in comparing or contrasting the two cultures of America and Britain. As an aside, it was also easy to compare some items of life in America with life for us all in Thailand. I was particularly taken with the questions put to a female, part of a family wishing for a visa to the USA. These included whether she had been a member of the Communist party, and whether she intended to practise polygamy while in the US. This particular female, it turned out, was five years old! Despite the half a forest of paper forms needed to apply for a visa to live in Thailand for the local expats, it makes the application much simpler here! Americana in the guise of the CIA and FBI gets their comeuppance too!

Bryson also assumes the mantle of social responsibility in some of the chapters, stating that GDP is a seriously flawed indicator of the economic health of any country, and giving salient examples of why this should be so.

He champions the cause of the moose, an animal I have no experience of, but if Bryson is correct, it is one of the stupidest of the planet’s creatures; “There is just something wrong about the hunting and killing of an animal as dopily unassuming as a moose,” and one is left wondering why Noah even bothered.

He describes sojourns in cheap motels as “rooms where the beds sagged and the furnishings were battered, and where you could generally count on being awakened in the middle of the night by a piercing shriek, the sounds of splintering furniture and a female voice pleading, “Put the gun down Vinnie. I’ll do anything you say…”

Bryson has scant praise for American TV, as even though the viewer may get 100 channels to watch, it would appear that on 99 of them, the program is a repeat of last week’s, or even yesterday’s. You can apply the same criticism to Thai television, so I get the feeling this is a world malaise, not just the US or UK.

Bryson’s self-deprecating humour comes through in every chapter, and if not outright guffaws his writing results in chuckles at the very least. The copy I took from the Bookazine shelves indicated its price to be B. 395. A literary bargain. Get this one too!

As an aside, I notice that the bookmark the Bookazine people kindly gave me spells Chiang Mai as Chaing Mai. I must draw this to Miss Hillary’s attention.