While reading Bill Bryson’s I’m a Stranger Here Myself I was constantly laughing at loud and putting stars in the margin next to little realizations the author had made about America. Sitting with the book I felt like I was in an inside joke with him, as if he and I were in a foreign country joking about our homeland of America and no one else in the room could truly understand. As much as I want to think I’m the only one who understands his wit, I know I’m not. I think my exaggerated sense of closeness with the author is felt by many and is why his books are so popular. He is able to give the feeling of universality by connecting one on one with the reader.
I love reading things that point out the obvious, or make you realize something about part of your culture you never did. This is one of my favorite types of humor and is probably why I can appreciate comedians like Demitri Martin:
““I like fruit baskets because it gives you the ability to mail someone a piece of fruit without appearing insane. Like, if someone just mailed you an apple you'd be like "Huh?" But if it's in a basket you're like "Nice."”
Little things like this make me feel like I’m included in some sort of culture, since I partake in the sending of the fruit baskets. At the same time I love being able to look at it from a new angle and laugh at how strange it is. In my service learning I work with sixth graders who love to chat about life, and ask me questions. A few weeks ago just Sam and I went on a Thursday (when we normally go on Mondays). We showed up together and talked in the hall before going into our separate classrooms. A little girl, who somehow already knew Sam, came up to me and asked, “Are you and Miss Samantha sisters?” Well apparently this whole Obama thing is working out because this child doesn’t see race. I couldn’t help but laugh and say “No. But we live together at school!” I thought it was so funny that she would ask that, but I immediately regressed back to when I was in sixth grade. I guess if I saw two girls come here every week talking and laughing while wearing matching backpacks in different colors, I too might think they were related.
I was asked to look at college in a different way too, when this past Monday I was talking to my very intelligent scholar Crystal. We were talking about college and specifically novels we read in class when she asked me “Does everyone get their own books?” A little confused I replied, “Yes, we all get our own books to read.” With that her follow up was “And do you get to keep them?” I thought these were such funny questions when I realized that even in high school I didn’t get to keep my books. They were handed out to me at the beginning of the year and I was required to hand them back at the end. She later asked me about my dorm. “Can you have a T.V.? Can you have a computer? Can you have parties?” I laughed at the last question and just replied, “Yes, you can have your friends over.”
I had been so invested in the college life and known about it for so long that I forgotten what it was like to not know anything about it. Furthermore, I forgot how truly weird college is. Why do I have the right to fly miles away from home, live in an apartment, and read books all at the expense of my parents? It took an outsider looking in to realize the strangeness of my own culture. Instead of laughing at her, I was now laughing at myself.
I think this greatly relates to Bryson as he is an outsider looking in after missing all the changes over the years he was gone. However, what is most impressive about him is that instead of reading or hearing these realizations like I always have, he is able to come up with them himself. He can leave the country, comeback and notice differences, but comment on them from the perspective of an American. Instead of noticing the amount of junk food we have and criticizing the unhealthy nature of our country. He gets giddy and acts an American, totally giving in to the sugary and fatty advertisements only to realize that it’s kind of disgusting. I think this overall is what makes Bryson so funny, so relatable, and his writing very impressive.