Saturday, May 28, 2011
Coming to America
How do we look to visitors from abroad? Some collected views from the nineteenth century, two from the twentieth century including one from an American expat who returned after 20 years away.
1. I'm A Stranger Here Myself, Bill Bryson (1999). An American, Bryson lived the expat life in England for 20 years and returned to this country with the sensibility of an outsider. Some of of it dated, most all of it funny. The good natured criticism is easier to take coming from a "member of the family" so to speak (my name for criticism that can be made only by a family member but by someone outside the family). Bought in a bookstore of unknown origin.
2. Ciao America! An Italian Discovers America, Beppe Severgnini (1995). Lived for one year in a townhouse in Georgetown and develops a happy but perplexed interest in American culture. (As an Italian, even he admits he is impressed by Americans coffee intake). No idea where I bought this.
3. American Notes: A Journey, Charles Dickens (first published in 1842). Dickens didn't like America much but then again he comes across as a bit of a curmudgeon and stick in the mud. He writes, And I am quite serious when I say that I do not believe there are on the whole earth beside, so many intensified bores as in these United States. His first book after returning from America is Martin Chuzzlewit set partly in a swamp in the U.S. called Eden. Bought used and no idea where.
4. Democracy in America, Alexis De Tocqueville (first published in 1845; 2 vols). A Frenchman in America in the 1830s, De Tocqueville made a serious study of American political, governmental and legal traditions as well as the American culture and spirit. A classic. Bought used from State Department bookstore with the inscription, Loreine and JT Kendrick, American Embassy, Warsaw, Poland, Christmas 1946.