The Lost Continent
'I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to'And, as soon as Bill Bryson was old enough, he left. Des Moines couldn't hold him, but it did lure him back. After ten years in England, he returned to the land of his youth, and drove almost 14,000 miles in search of a mythical small town called Amalgam, the kind of trim and sunny place where the films of his youth were set. Instead, his search led him to Anywhere, USA; a lookalike strip of gas stations, motels and hamburger outlets populated by lookalike people with a penchant for synthetic fibres. Travelling around thirty-eight of the lower states - united only in their mind-numbingly dreary uniformity - he discovered a continent that was doubly lost; lost to itself because blighted by greed, pollution, mobile homes and television; lost to him because he had become a stranger in his own land.The Lost Continent is a classic of travel literature - hilariously, stomach-achingly funny, yet tinged with heartache - and the book that first staked Bill Bryson's claim as the most beloved writer of his generation.

The Lost Continent Details

TitleThe Lost Continent
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseAug 28th, 1990
PublisherWilliam Morrow Paperbacks
ISBN-139780060920081
Rating
GenreTravel, Nonfiction, Humor, Autobiography, Memoir

The Lost Continent Review

  • Leftbanker
    January 1, 1970
    The Lost Continental: A Look at Bill BrysonI must preface this essay by saying that if everyone didn’t like this Bill Bryson book as much as I didn’t (at least the person he is in this book), he would be about the wealthiest author on the planet. At least I bought it. I have several of his books and have read all of them. Bill Bryson can be assured that with detractors like me, he doesn’t need fans. I should also say that I have lived a full one quarter of my life outside of the United States an The Lost Continental: A Look at Bill BrysonI must preface this essay by saying that if everyone didn’t like this Bill Bryson book as much as I didn’t (at least the person he is in this book), he would be about the wealthiest author on the planet. At least I bought it. I have several of his books and have read all of them. Bill Bryson can be assured that with detractors like me, he doesn’t need fans. I should also say that I have lived a full one quarter of my life outside of the United States and I don’t care if someone makes fun of anything and everything American (I’ve done a bit of bashing myself). A dyspeptic man in his middle thirties, whose constant bad mood seems more like someone in their mid seventies, drives around the U.S. and complains about absolutely everything he sees, smells, hears, and eats. If this sounds like your idea of a good time, read Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America (Abacus, 1990).He constantly mocks small towns in America by referring to them by such names as Dog Water, Dunceville, Urinal, Spigot, and Hooterville—and this is in the first five pages. Don’t worry about the intrepid insulter running out of clever names for hick towns; Bryson has a million of them and he uses every single one.The only things about which Bryon has a favorable view are natural wonders and the homes of rich people. He marvels at the obscenely-posh residences of ultra-wealthy, early 20th century industrialists on Mackinac Island which were built before income taxes and most labor laws. He would probably be thrilled with pre-revolutionary France or Czarist Russia. One of his very few favorable reviews of American cities was of the ski town of Stowe, Vermont which caters almost exclusively to the rich.When he is traveling through the southwest he complains about the Mexican music on the radio. He seems more content to resort to bigotry than to come to some sort of understanding about the culture he is visiting. In my opinion, it’s always more interesting to praise something that you understand than to mock something that you don’t. I would have taken the time to translate a few of the songs and tell readers what they are about. In fact, I have done this and Mexican ranchera music is all about stories of love, heartbreak, and often violence which describe the cowboy culture of Mexico’s northern territories. Bryson implies that the people who listen to this music are just too stupid to realize that it is only one tune played over and over.He gripes about a weatherman on TV who seems rather gleeful at the prospect of a coming snow storm yet Bryson seems to relish in the idea of not liking anything that he experiences in his journey. His entire trip is like a storm he passes through. Just once I wanted him to roll into some town that he liked and get into an interesting conversation with one of its residents.Here are examples of the cheeriness with which Bryson opens a few of his chapters:“I drove on and on across South Dakota. God, what a flat and empty state.”“What is the difference between Nevada and a toilet? You can flush a toilet.” (One reviewer called Bryson "witty.")“I was headed for Nebraska. Now there’s a sentence you don’t want to have to say too often if you can possibly help it.”“In 1958, my grandmother got cancer of the colon and came to our house to die.” This last event must have brought untold joy to the young writer.Tell us more, Bill. His narrative is more tiresome than any Kansas wheat field he may have passed on his road trip through hell. Most Americans seem to be either fat, or stupid, or both in the eyes of Bryson. I can only assume that Bryson himself is some sort of genius body builder (although in his photo on the book jacket he's a fat schlub). Just one time I wanted him to talk to a local resident over a beer or a cup of coffee. I wanted him to describe his partner in conversation as other than fat or stupid. Not even one time do we hear about a place from somebody who lives there. We could just as easily have read the guidebooks as Bryson did and he could have stayed home and saved himself thousands of miles of misery.Whenever someone starts to tell me about somewhere they went I ask them to describe their favorite thing about the trip, be it a place, food, the people, or whatever. If they start to complain about the place I either change the subject or walk away if I can. Travel is supposed to broaden the mind, not make it narrower.
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  • Gary
    January 1, 1970
    It's funny how so many Americans begin their reviews of 'The Lost Continent' with statements such as "I loved Bryson's other books but this one is terrible!", all because he treats America the same way as he treats everywhere and everyone else.So while many Americans think it's acceptable - hilarious, even - for Bryson to make disparaging-but-witty comments about non-Americans and the places they call home, it is an utter outrage for him to be anything other than completely worshipful with regar It's funny how so many Americans begin their reviews of 'The Lost Continent' with statements such as "I loved Bryson's other books but this one is terrible!", all because he treats America the same way as he treats everywhere and everyone else.So while many Americans think it's acceptable - hilarious, even - for Bryson to make disparaging-but-witty comments about non-Americans and the places they call home, it is an utter outrage for him to be anything other than completely worshipful with regard to America and Americans.The unavoidable, undeniable fact of the matter is that Bill Bryson's 'The Lost Continent' is not only one of his finest works, but one of the best books ever written by anyone in recent times about the USA and Americans.It is as funny as anything you'll ever read, as well as being touching, poignant and fascinating. It is the first book I've read since 'Neither Here Nor There' (also by Bryson) that has caused me to think of calling my travel agent.America has never been half as interesting as it is in 'The Lost Continent' and Americans ought to be supremely grateful it was written and published.Five stars and highly recommended.
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  • Jeff
    January 1, 1970
    In which a bilious Bryson, returning to the U.S. after living in England, borrows his mom’s car (with her permission) and sets out to find the perfect American small town.Bryson kind of loses focus of his main task along the way, but that doesn’t prevent him from slinging his jibes at 38 of the lower U.S. states.This one’s almost as funny as the other Bryson books I’ve read, but he seems to have a stick up his behind for most of it and the sometimes nasty barbs at middle Americans lose steam fai In which a bilious Bryson, returning to the U.S. after living in England, borrows his mom’s car (with her permission) and sets out to find the perfect American small town.Bryson kind of loses focus of his main task along the way, but that doesn’t prevent him from slinging his jibes at 38 of the lower U.S. states.This one’s almost as funny as the other Bryson books I’ve read, but he seems to have a stick up his behind for most of it and the sometimes nasty barbs at middle Americans lose steam fairly quickly.A nice quota of belly laughs are found herein, but you’ll be shaking your head and saying, “What the Hell, Bill?” more often than not.
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  • Nandakishore Varma
    January 1, 1970
    I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to. Thus begins Bill Bryson his travelogue, setting the tone for what is going to follow: he is a smart-aleck, and he is going to be at his sarcastic best in taking down small-town America through which he is going to travel.Des Moines in Iowa is a typical small town in America where nothing ever happens and nobody ever leaves, because that is the only life they have known and they are happy with it. But not so young Bill – he watched one TV show on Europe w I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to. Thus begins Bill Bryson his travelogue, setting the tone for what is going to follow: he is a smart-aleck, and he is going to be at his sarcastic best in taking down small-town America through which he is going to travel.Des Moines in Iowa is a typical small town in America where nothing ever happens and nobody ever leaves, because that is the only life they have known and they are happy with it. But not so young Bill – he watched one TV show on Europe when he was ten and was consumed with a desire to become European. After a steady diet of National Geographics during his adolescence, Bryson left for England and settled there. However, during his middle age, he was filled with a sense of nostalgia for small-town America, and the journeys he had across them with his family as a child.Bryson’s father was an inveterate traveller who compulsively took his family on vacations every year. These would have been extremely enjoyable except for two issues – Senior Mr. Bryson’s penchant for getting lost as well as his unbearable thrift (as Bill says, “[h]e was a child of the Depression and where capital outlays were involved he always wore the haunted look of a fugitive who has just heard blood hounds in the distance”) which made him avoid good restaurants and forced them to stay almost always in rundown motels.But as happens to most of us, the onset of age made Bryson view these journeys more and more favourably through the rose-tinted glasses of fond memory; until one day he came back to the home of his youth and set across the country of his birth in an ageing Chevrolet Chevette. He made two sweeps in all, one circle to the East in autumn and another to the West in spring. His experiences during these two journeys are set forth in this hilarious and compulsively readable book.---If one is familiar with Bryson, one knows what to expect from his books – sarcastic humour, bordering on the cruel; enthralling snippets about history and geography; and really expressive descriptions of the places he visited. All these trademarks are in evidence here. By the time I finished this book, I found that I possessed a surprisingly large amount of information about America, what landmarks to visit, and what famous personalities lived where. Bryson writes with great feel and the place comes alive for you. His predilection for staying in small towns and seedy motels (the latter actually not by choice – many of the towns he ended up in the night did not have any other type of accommodation) shows up a facet of America the tourist is unlikely to see.But it’s when he writes about people that Bryson gives free rein to his biting wit. The Illinois barmaid with ‘Ready for Sex’ written all over her face; the Mississippi policeman who asks “Hah doo lack Miss Hippy?” (“How do you like Mississippi?”); the Indian gentleman who would not stop questioning a hungover Bryson about the possibility of smoking inside a bus (who ultimately had to be shouted down); the geriatric pump attendant spraying petrol all over the place, with a burning cigarette butt stuck in his mouth... I can go on and on. Even though these people were used as the butts of jokes, I ended up loving them – they were so human.And of course, one can’t forget Bryson’s signature comments about America. The whole of the global economy is based on supplying the cravings of two per cent of the world's population. If Americans suddenly stopped indulging themselves, or ran out of closet space, the world would fall apart.---When you grow up in America you are inculcated from the earliest age with the belief - no, the understanding - that America is the richest and most powerful nation on earth because God likes us best. It has the most perfect form of government, the most exciting sporting events, the tastiest food and amplest portions, the largest cars, the cheapest gasoline, the most abundant natural resources, the most productive farms, the most devastating nuclear arsenal and the friendliest, most decent and most patriotic folks on earth. Countries just don't come any better. So why anyone would want to live anywhere else is practically incomprehensible. In a foreigner it is puzzling; in a native it is seditious. And this hilarious quip about ONE PARTICULAR AMERICAN... On Fifth Avenue I went into the Trump Tower, a new skyscraper. A guy named Donald Trump, a developer, is slowly taking over New York, building skyscrapers all over town with his name on them, so I went in and had a look around. The building had the most tasteless lobby I had ever seen - all brass and chrome and blotchy red and white marble that looked like the sort of thing that you would walk around if you saw it on the sidewalk. Here it was everywhere - on the floors, up the walls, on the ceiling. It was like being in somebody's stomach after he'd eaten pizza. One may ask, whether after the journey, was Bryson satisfied? Well, maybe not fully: ...there are three things you just can’t do in life. You can’t beat the phone company, you can’t make a waiter see you until he’s ready to see you, and you can’t go home again. This is something which all of us must have felt one time or the other: the landscapes of our youth can be visited only through memory.
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  • Tommy
    January 1, 1970
    Well, ain't it somethin for dat rascally Mr. Bryson wit all o dat funny Northern talk to make his way down here to Dixie and spend some time wid us! We sure do 'ppreciate you takin us into your rich and well-knowed book, Mr. Bryson. And yer gosh-darn-right, God save all those poor folk who done shopped at K-Mart! They should've spent their nickels at Crate & Barrel had they knowed what to do wid demselves.....
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  • Ciara
    January 1, 1970
    This is the worst book ever. Bryson is a fat, cynical white guy traveling around the country, proclaiming in the subtitle: "Travels in Small Town America." But like most fat white guys, Bryson is scared of small town America. He hates every small town he comes to- whether they're on Indian reservations, small farming communities in Nebraska, southern towns full of African Americans where the author is too scared to even stop the car, or small mining communities in West Virginia, also where the a This is the worst book ever. Bryson is a fat, cynical white guy traveling around the country, proclaiming in the subtitle: "Travels in Small Town America." But like most fat white guys, Bryson is scared of small town America. He hates every small town he comes to- whether they're on Indian reservations, small farming communities in Nebraska, southern towns full of African Americans where the author is too scared to even stop the car, or small mining communities in West Virginia, also where the author is too scared to stop. How can you write a book about small town America when you're too scared to stop in any small towns??? His favorite towns? Pittsburg and Charlotte. (Definitely "small" in my world.)Driving through the north woods, crossing the border from Maine to New Hampshire: "The skies were still flat and low, the weather cold, but at least I was out of the montony of the Maine woods."In Littleton, on the Vermont border: "People on the sidewalk smiled at me as I passed. This was beginning to worry me. Nobody, even in America, is that friendly. What did they want from me?"At a cemetery in Vermont: "I stood there in the mile October sunshine, feeling so sorry for all these lukles speople and their lost lives, reflecting bleakly on mortality and my own dear, cherished family so far away in England, and I thought, 'Well, fuck this,' and walked back down the hill to the car."At least he freely refers to himself as a "flinty-hearted jerk-off."Maybe Mr. Bryson should get off his lazy ass, stop whining about England, and actually stop the car once in a while. This book spouts so much hateful white guy racism that I can't even bring myself to give it away. While I am 100% against burning or destroying any kind of book, I simply cannot let this one leave my hands. It will probably just find someone who agrees with it's horrible twisted and pessimistic point of view! I haven't decided if I'm going to just bury it in my storage space (which may mean when I leave my apartment someone else might pick it up), or "accidentally" drop it in a snowbank outside. At least in spring the pages would all be glued together, and no one would be able to read it ever again.
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  • Vanessa
    January 1, 1970
    I do like my arm chair travelling with a hint of cynicism and much like Australians who are expert at taking the Mickey out of ourselves it was refreshing to see an American being able to take the piss.He may not be politically correct but who hasn’t had a variation of the same thoughts going through their head about other tourists when travelling through touristy hot spots. I can’t express how much I enjoyed hearing about boring god awful places as much as I did during the reading of this book. I do like my arm chair travelling with a hint of cynicism and much like Australians who are expert at taking the Mickey out of ourselves it was refreshing to see an American being able to take the piss.He may not be politically correct but who hasn’t had a variation of the same thoughts going through their head about other tourists when travelling through touristy hot spots. I can’t express how much I enjoyed hearing about boring god awful places as much as I did during the reading of this book. When people regale me with their travel stories I usually glaze over but I was strangely riveted and the more dismal a place he visited the more fun I seemed to have! I’m officially a Bill Bryson fan I really don’t know why it took me so long to read him but now I just want more more more! On to the next adventure!
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  • Claire
    January 1, 1970
    Sometimes I feel like I'm the only person who's noticed the fact that Bill Bryson is a smug bastard who casts a pall of depressing sarcasm over everything he writes about. I mean, I'm all for sarcasm in most cases, but it's as though all of his subjects are cheapened and made despicable by his prose. In The Lost Continent, he turns every small-town inhabitant into an ignorant, obnoxious caricature. The book has virtually nothing to offer, unless you, too, are hell-bent on whining about the const Sometimes I feel like I'm the only person who's noticed the fact that Bill Bryson is a smug bastard who casts a pall of depressing sarcasm over everything he writes about. I mean, I'm all for sarcasm in most cases, but it's as though all of his subjects are cheapened and made despicable by his prose. In The Lost Continent, he turns every small-town inhabitant into an ignorant, obnoxious caricature. The book has virtually nothing to offer, unless you, too, are hell-bent on whining about the constant ennui of middle-American travel. If you'd like a travelogue with value and interest, try Blue Highways, by William Least Heat Moon, who actually has some respect for his fellow human beings.
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  • ~☆~Autumn♥♥
    January 1, 1970
    I have been to many of the places in the west that he traveled to in this book and it was interesting to me to read about his experiences which were so different to what I experienced. We had a great breakfast in Sundance, WY and the waitress was so super nice and cheerful that I actually purchased a t-shirt to remember her. Bill Bryson did not get to eat there as The Shriners had taken over and the waitress would not help him. I don't find the west to be like his experience at all but overall I I have been to many of the places in the west that he traveled to in this book and it was interesting to me to read about his experiences which were so different to what I experienced. We had a great breakfast in Sundance, WY and the waitress was so super nice and cheerful that I actually purchased a t-shirt to remember her. Bill Bryson did not get to eat there as The Shriners had taken over and the waitress would not help him. I don't find the west to be like his experience at all but overall I don't care for Wyoming especially if you travel it east to west. South to north is fine and Yellowstone in the early spring is wonderful before it gets too crowded. I thought Yosemite was beautiful but I did have to agree with him about how disorganized it is and would never go back there again for this reason. He uses too much bad language as usual and it annoyed me more in this book. His constant nasty comments about women also made me angry. (like he has room to talk!) One review mentioned him being like W.C. Fields and I thought that was accurate. I have been over Phantom Canyon road several times into Victor and his comments were so funny to me! I guess I am used to wild places.
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  • Zuberino
    January 1, 1970
    Bryson does two things very well in this book, besides his trademark humour which is happily a constant in this and every other book he's ever written. He captures the spirit of the land at a very specific time in its recent history: 1987, the high water mark of the Reaganite project. Time and again, he is left demoralized by the mindless affluenza that was the hallmark of American society during the latter half of the 1980s. More broadly, Bryson leaves a depressingly accurate description of the Bryson does two things very well in this book, besides his trademark humour which is happily a constant in this and every other book he's ever written. He captures the spirit of the land at a very specific time in its recent history: 1987, the high water mark of the Reaganite project. Time and again, he is left demoralized by the mindless affluenza that was the hallmark of American society during the latter half of the 1980s. More broadly, Bryson leaves a depressingly accurate description of the tawdriness and vulgarity of America's built environment - a cement desert of motels, burger joints, gas stations, strip malls, freeways and parking lots repeated ad nauseam throughout the Lower 48 - that is painfully recognizable even 25 years later. If you have ever wondered at the wanton debasement that has been visited on the land by its greedy natives, if you have ever been saddened by the pitiless ugliness that surrounds you in America's cities, towns and suburbs, then surely this book is for you. Afterwards, read Edward Abbey and Philip Connors to cleanse your soul and to give thanks for the national parks and wildernesses that still do a stalwart job of protecting nature's beauty and grandeur against a hostile population. PS This was Bryson's first book. The opening lines - "I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to." - must constitute one of the great introductions by any writer in contemporary literature.
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  • Karen
    January 1, 1970
    When reading this book, American readers may very well feel like they are eavesdropping on a conversation not intended for their ears. This is because Bill Bryson obviously intended this book to be read by a British audience. There are lots of laughs in this book. His depictions of Iowa made me laugh until I had tears in my eyes. For example, his explanation for why so many farmers are missing fingers:"Yet, there is scarcely a farmer in the Midwest over the age of twenty who has not at some time When reading this book, American readers may very well feel like they are eavesdropping on a conversation not intended for their ears. This is because Bill Bryson obviously intended this book to be read by a British audience. There are lots of laughs in this book. His depictions of Iowa made me laugh until I had tears in my eyes. For example, his explanation for why so many farmers are missing fingers:"Yet, there is scarcely a farmer in the Midwest over the age of twenty who has not at some time or other had a limb or digit yanked off and thrown into the next field by some noisy farmyard implement. To tell you the absolute truth, I think farmers do it on purpose. I think working day after day beside these massive threshers and balers with their grinding gears and flapping fan belts and complex mechanisms they get a little hypnotized by all the noise and motion. They stand there staring at the whirring machinery and they think, 'I wonder what would happen if I just stuck my finger in there a little bit.' I know that sounds crazy. But you have to realize that farmers don't have whole lot of sense in these matters because they feel no pain. It's true. Every day in the Des Moines Register you can find a story about a farmer who has inadvertently torn off an arm and then calmly walked six miles into the nearest town to have it sewn back on. The stories always say, 'Jones, clutching his severed limb, told his physician, 'I seem to have cut my durn arm off, Doc.' It's never: 'Jones, spurting blood, jumped around hysterically for twenty minutes, fell into a swoon and then tried to run in four directions at once,' which is how it would be with you or me."This stuff cracks me up. Maybe it's because I grew up in Iowa too. From an American's point of view, I was at times amazed by the important landmarks Bryson missed seeing or failed to appreciate. He drove by Monticello, for heaven's sake! In Springfield, Illinois, he "drove around a little bit, but finding nothing worth stopping for" he left -- Springfield, Illinois -- the home of Abraham Lincoln and his burial place! He passed up touring the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, because it cost too much! He called Gettysburg a flat field -- a battlefield of such varied topography as to make one wonder whether Bryson actually visited it! He missed Lake Tahoe! He also missed seeing Acadia National Park near Bar Harbor, Maine. Nor did he have any lobster along the Maine coast. Yet he felt informed enough to conclude that there was nothing special about Maine. Hurrumph! These failings may be forgiven though, because he has lived away from the United States for a long time. And, to be fair, he traveled far and wide and saw many wonderful places. From his well-written depictions, I've regained a desire to see places in the United States I haven't visited yet, including Savannah, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; and Mackinaw Island, Michigan. Overall, I enjoyed the book and enjoyed many laughs in reading it, which is why I like reading Bryson's books so much. But he seemed to tire out toward the end of the book and toward the end of his travels. His outlook became more and more jaundiced -- which is not good, when his outlook is generally jaundiced to begin with. Part I is the best part of the book, which focuses on the Midwest and East Coast. Part II, about Bryson's travels in the West, seems tacked on and unnecessary for the book (except for his description of his drive through the Colorado mountains to Cripple Creek and his depiction of his first view of the Grand Canyon ("The fog parted. It just silently drew back, like a set of theater curtains being opened, and suddenly we saw that we were on the edge of a sheer, giddying drop of at least a thousand feet. 'Jesus!' we said and jumped back, and all along the canyon edge you could hear people saying, 'Jesus!' like a message being passed down a long line. And then for many moments all was silence, except for the tiny fretful shiftings of the snow, because out there in front of us was the most awesome, most silencing sight that exists on earth.")). *There is some swearing in the book.
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  • Greg
    January 1, 1970
    I was excited to read this book. I've owned it for a few years now, and it's one of those books that I would see on my shelf and I'd think, this is going to be good, I better save it for another day when I guess I deserve to read something good rather than now when I should read something I'm not looking forward to. Or whatever it is that my thought process is about delaying gratification of books that I actually want to read versus a good deal of the books that I end up reading.This should have I was excited to read this book. I've owned it for a few years now, and it's one of those books that I would see on my shelf and I'd think, this is going to be good, I better save it for another day when I guess I deserve to read something good rather than now when I should read something I'm not looking forward to. Or whatever it is that my thought process is about delaying gratification of books that I actually want to read versus a good deal of the books that I end up reading.This should have been in the, why don't you just read this because then you can get it out of your apartment; or hey you have lots of really good unread books, Greg, so why don't you pick one of the mediocre ones that have been collecting dust and read that instead of something you might really like. Or maybe one of the, you are a worthless piece of shit, Greg, and you don't deserve to read anything good, so read this instead. It was one of those books.But I meant to like it.I've only read one other Bill Bryson book, and I loved it. His history of American English, was wonderful. It was informative and witty and sprinkled with all kinds of nerd-tastic little facts and tidbits. That's what I was expecting here. A witty and fun look filled with lots of interesting little facts about various small towns in America. Instead it was a book about a guy a little younger than me, driving across country, spending most of his time in his car by himself and making some sort of funny and more not-funny at all remarks about America, and stopping at various tourist traps and historical sites where he inevitably grumbles about merchandising, any cost involved, and how bored he is by historical sites (so, um, don't go to them, it's a big fucking country) Parts of the book are enjoyable, but too much of it is just snarky little comments that haven't aged too well in the twenty five years since the book was published. I have no idea, but it came to me while I was making dinner and thinking about finally writing something about this book, is that the book must have originally been commissioned by an English publisher. Let's send the ex-pat, mid-western chubby guy back to his country with his affected English accent and let him give us some droll commentary on the big lumbering oaf of a country that was once one of our colonies. I didn't think of that while reading the book, but it is the only explanation I can come up with for his Balkie-esque Perfect Strangers reaction to things like Friday the 13th and Mr. Ed. In the contemporary equivalent it would be like me summing up my evening by letting you know that Survivor was on TV, which is about doofuses on an island, but not something I would ever watch, but this country just loves doofuses on an island (does anyone watch this show still? I tried to watch an episode a couple of months ago and it confused me. Yet another sign that I'm getting dumber, like bordering on being mentally retarded dumb lately). Too much social commentary about the 'current state of America' as seen from the eyes of someone who hasn't lived in the country for quite awhile, but most of it wasn't really that interesting, like it was sort of things that I was very well aware of at the time this book was written and I was about 14 at the time. Cineplexs were painfully small venues to see a movie in, the homogeneity of suburban sprawl was everywhere, historical battle sites weren't really that interesting (especially Gettysburg, which if you want to really have an unfun time go visit in the tail end of winter and walk twenty miles through bleak fields with a fairly unchanging landscape, while having strep throat, that makes the experience that much better, really), the people in horror movies are universally stupid and get killed because of their stupidity, radio sucks and plays the same songs over and over again. These are just a few of the things I'm remembering from the book.As the book moves on it gets a little better. Maybe Bryson had some insights. He stops saying stupid shit like, I was driving from Butt Crack, Virginia, though Yokle-ville heading to I'm Gonna Bang my Sister Tonight, West Virginia when I ate a terrible meal at some dinner where good ol' boys were all hanging out. His quest to find the perfect small town seems to disappear, and he stops gripping about the deficiencies of so many places he stops in at not meeting up with his Mayberry ideal (or maybe it's just that the last part of the book is in the West, and you just don't expect that sort of thing there?). He starts to realize that it's outsiders like himself who want this idealized town, with it's quaint pragmatic shops, when the people who live in towns like having conveniences like supermarkets and fast food restaurants, and don't necessarily want to live in a petrified pretty past. Maybe they all just want that quaint little town to be somewhere else, a few towns over where they can go visit on a Sunday, but for the rest of the time they like being able to get stuff easily. Not that I'm saying all that stuff is good or that the convenience of a Wal-Mart, or a road covered in big box stores is good, but I can see how you would like to have those things near by (I come from a town that attempts to be picturesque, and there were (still are?) uproars when the real sprawl of Wal-Mart et al, started, back in the early 90's. I liked voicing my annoyance at these 'awful' stores, too. I liked bashing Barnes and Noble for destroying small bookstores, but you know what the small bookstore in my town was terrible. The small stores in the picturesque downtown were filled with shitty things that catered to an idealized idea of what you would find in a small downtown of a city/town trying to artificially hold on to the past while also kissing up to tourists and parents of college students up for a weekend. I can go and buy a pewter horse with no problem, but if I needed to buy something I actually could use the whole downtown was pretty much worthless, and it's not like that was a big change that came about after the big box stores came in (I originally typed big fox stores, what an awesome idea, giant stores that either sell foxes or are run by foxes, either way I'm totally on board with that idea)). I didn't mean to start rambling on, but you know how it is. I guess what I mean to say is that I have mixed feelings about some of the homogeneity of suburban sprawl. I don't even remember what I still meant to write. I guess I'll wrap it up. Not very informative. The humor is kind of corny, immature and aged poorly. The idea of the trip is sort of weird. Drive for weeks at a time by yourself in a Chevette, while your wife and children are across the pond. I think if he had brought someone along with him the book would have been better. Or at least he'd have interactions with people who weren't mainly waitresses, motel clerks and gas station attendants. One reviewer, a friend of mine I think, said something like, it would have been nice if he actually talked to people in these small towns, instead of just talking to a waitress that might not be the sharpest tool in the shed and then declaring everyone dumb based on that one person. Ok, maybe I'm making up some of what this other person said, and exaggerating a little bit, but that is sort of the tone that much of this book takes. I was expecting more.
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  • Andrew Smith
    January 1, 1970
    I do like Bryson. I enjoy his wry views on life, people and places. He informs and he makes me laugh, and that's enough to ensure I keep coming back to spend more time in his company. Here he promises to follow the path of old holidays with his parents, when as a child he was hauled around the country visiting towns of dubious merit and passing time at ‘freebie’ attractions that failed to delight or even stay long in the memory. His father was a cheapskate who preferred to keep his dollar in his I do like Bryson. I enjoy his wry views on life, people and places. He informs and he makes me laugh, and that's enough to ensure I keep coming back to spend more time in his company. Here he promises to follow the path of old holidays with his parents, when as a child he was hauled around the country visiting towns of dubious merit and passing time at ‘freebie’ attractions that failed to delight or even stay long in the memory. His father was a cheapskate who preferred to keep his dollar in his pocket. For all this, I sensed within the author a longing for times and places past. In fact, he states early on his desire to track down the perfect American town, devising a tick list drawn from memories of these early adventures and his own upbringing in Des Moines, Iowa.In total, Bryson covers nearly 14000 miles and visits numerous states throughout the Union. On the whole he's pretty critical about what he sees and experiences, but I'm inclined to think that this is his style - I've seen it before when he's commentated on visits to different countries. For instance, he's lived in the U.K. for years and yet he is pretty unsparing in his reflections on his adopted nation too. And his cynical view on life in general does allow him free license to let rip an anything and everything he sees, often hilariously. It’s a little disturbing that some of his vitriol is vent on parts of America I’ll be visiting in just a few weeks. My only hope is that as this book was penned some years ago things have improved significantly since. No matter, this is a deliciously funny account of his journey and I defy anyone to to read it or listen to it without a smile on their face. Well done Mr Bryson, I’ll be back for more of your thoughts and a adventures sometime soon.
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  • Andrea
    January 1, 1970
    I was really excited to read this book, as I love observational memoir-style writing - especially when it deals with travel and cultural habits people keep with food. And at first I thought his observations were snarky, spot-on, and funny. But as the book wore on (like, about 25 pages or so in), I started to become appalled at how really shallow and mean he started to sound: everyone he encountered was disgusting, stupid, or fat - or all three - and the places he visited never measured up to the I was really excited to read this book, as I love observational memoir-style writing - especially when it deals with travel and cultural habits people keep with food. And at first I thought his observations were snarky, spot-on, and funny. But as the book wore on (like, about 25 pages or so in), I started to become appalled at how really shallow and mean he started to sound: everyone he encountered was disgusting, stupid, or fat - or all three - and the places he visited never measured up to the ideal he had envisioned. Perhaps his observations would ring true to someone who had just come here - if anything, he captures his disillusionment well. That said, however, his scopes of both exploration and expectation are ridiculously narrow. It all just got so tiresome; and while I performed a forced march to the end of the book, I can't say I felt enamoured with his writing or his perspective.
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  • Erica
    January 1, 1970
    Hey, I just remembered - I don't like Bill Bryson.I made it all the way to the end of the first CD, just to be certain I wasn't mistaken about my opinion, and nope, I wasn't.I still don't like Bill Bryson.This is especially repugnant coming straight off Something Rich and Strange: Selected StoriesNote to self: Please stop trying with this guy. You do not like him. You never have, you never will.
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  • Petra X
    January 1, 1970
    Nothing to write home about, not even if you are from small-town America. The author, in this book, is caught up in himself and his wit rather than the subject, the small towns of America.
  • Heather
    January 1, 1970
    I started this book while I was sitting in the jury pool waiting room. The first chapter made me laugh out loud. I was sitting in the most uncomfortable, boring, and annoying place in the universe and it still made me laugh out loud. People looked at me. However, after the first few chapters I noticed a steady decline. I stopped reading about halfway through the book because I had read the word fat about 3,000 times. I get it. You don't like fat people. Noted. (But, by the look of the jacket pho I started this book while I was sitting in the jury pool waiting room. The first chapter made me laugh out loud. I was sitting in the most uncomfortable, boring, and annoying place in the universe and it still made me laugh out loud. People looked at me. However, after the first few chapters I noticed a steady decline. I stopped reading about halfway through the book because I had read the word fat about 3,000 times. I get it. You don't like fat people. Noted. (But, by the look of the jacket photo, you are no where near slim, Billy.) I picked it up again a few months later to finish it because frankly, I want to give it away and thought I might as well finish it first. That being said, Bryson's writing throughout the book was clean and concise, regardless if I liked what he was saying. Unfortunately, the point of the book strayed from revisiting some of the places his father took him as a kid to visiting every boring sad town he could find, where he stayed at a boring sad hotel, and ate at the greasiest and saddest restaurants. He made no effort. Literally he rolled out of bed off of his empty cans of beer to the closest restaurant. I get it. Parts of Amercia aren't beautiful, wealthy, or exciting. But he made zero effort to even talk to anyone from these towns. Maybe he could have listened to a few stories about why they loved or loathed their town. The closest he ever came to talking to someone was over hearing a conversation, and those accounts ususally rang untrue. However, without talking to anyone besides a waitress and a hotel resptionists he makes this sweeping judgement, "I drove on, thinking what an ironic thing it was that the really beautiful places in America-the Smoky Mountains, Appalachia, and now Vermont-were always inhabited by the poorest, most uneducated people."I know he went out of his way to pick the worst and most boring towns in America because in California he visited LA, Fresno, and Jackson. Are you kidding me? There are 3,000,000 quaint sweet little towns up and down the coast and he chose to go to Fresno? I usually like people who have a negative sense of humor. Mainly, I like them because I have a negative sense of humor. However, Bryson refused to look for anything positive about a town unless the residents were wealthy. If he was touring a museum or area with big houses and a Ralph Lauren shop on the Main Street the guy lit up like a big FAT Christmas tree. Her are a few examples of his overwhelming negativity:"Poor guy! And on top of that here he was married to a woman who was slovenly and indiscreet, and had a butt like a barn door. I hoped old Harvey had sense enough to appreciate all the incredible natural beauty with which God had blessed his native state because it didn't sound as if He has blesses Harvey very much. Even his kids were ugly as sin. I was half tempted to give one of them a clout myself as I went out the door. There was just something about his nasty little face that made you itch to smack him.""It was a shock to realize that never again in the whole of eternity would he laugh over "I Love Lucy" or repair his car or talk with his mouth full (something for which he was widely noted in the family). It was awesome." (This was him reflecting on his Grandfather's funeral, by the way.)"...all the cigarette girl and ladies who gave change were dressed in skimpy togas, even if they were old and overweight, which most of them were, so their thighs wobbled as they walked. it was like watching moving JELL-O.""Not surprisingly, none of these dreams came true. (Which is perhaps just as well. Sally Ann Summerfield is a blimp now. She turned up at my high-school reunion two years ago and looked like a shipping hazard.)As you can tell, one of the themes of the book was sexist, misogynistic, and condescending remarks about women. I imagine his wife and kids at home celebrating every day he was gone wasting his time driving around boring, stupid, fat America. There is no way this judgmental sexist prick was missed by his family. I bet the whole trip was their idea.
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  • Michael
    January 1, 1970
    While in the Frankfurt airport killing time, I decided I needed something to read while waiting in the airport and on the long flight back. During my vacation, I had already read Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of Freedom, Judith Butler's Excitable Speech, and Yves Simon's Freedom and Community, as well as most of two issues of CCC and an issue of Hypatia. I was a bit tired of academic voices and theory (though I had enjoyed everything I read, except perhaps Simon, whose Thomistic perspective irked me a While in the Frankfurt airport killing time, I decided I needed something to read while waiting in the airport and on the long flight back. During my vacation, I had already read Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of Freedom, Judith Butler's Excitable Speech, and Yves Simon's Freedom and Community, as well as most of two issues of CCC and an issue of Hypatia. I was a bit tired of academic voices and theory (though I had enjoyed everything I read, except perhaps Simon, whose Thomistic perspective irked me and whose writing seemed dry), so I went to the bookstore and perused. The English section was limited, so I was left trying to decide between a collection of short stories by Margaret Atwood and The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson.Bryson, a native Iowan who had moved to Britain, had been haunting me for years. If someone was knowledgeable of travel writing, they asked me about him. I have some acquaintances who have been shocked that I hadn't read any of him. I was holding Atwood's book and Bryson's book, weighing the pros and cons of each. So I read Bryson first paragraph:I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to. When you come from Des Moines you either accept the fact without question and settle down with a local girl named Bobbie and get a job at the Firestone factory and live there forever and ever, or you spend your adolescence moaning at length about what a dump it is and how you can't wait to get out, and then you settle down with a local girl named Bobbi and get a job at the Firestone factory and live there forever and ever.and decided I had to read this. Iowa-deprecating humour? I was excited. Maybe this book would be worth the astronomical 14 Euros (which, with the exchange rate, is about 1 million dollars).I admit I was chuckling a lot during his first few pages, and even occasionally throughout the rest of his book. However, it wasn't before too long that his book just began to annoy me. Every attempt at humor in his book, besides some self-deprecation or making fun of his family, is targeted shots at those who are different from him. Bryson's book seems like a good example of how to enact the construction of "normal." Overweight? Here's a few jokes thrown at you. An accent that isn't accepted as standard? He'll mock you incessantly. Differently abled and in the same room as Bryson? You're there for one purpose alone: to stare at because you're a freak.I haven't quite finished the book, and I probably will (I only have about 50 pages left), but I have to say I'm greatly disappointed. The sour icing smothered the cake when he announced that, feeling incredibly visible and alone in a nearly all black Southern town, that he now knew what it was like to be black in South Dakota. I beg your pardon, Mr. Bryson, but you have no idea what it's like to be black anywhere. If anything, Bryson's book is a chronicling of his extreme naiveté at his own unearned privilege.It seems like the only group not worth mocking in his book are queer folk, and that's probably because they are so invisible to him that they're not even on the radar to mock. Jokes about other people can be amazingly funny, but a book constructed completely on mocking others, a book that seems to function mostly as a reinforcement of normalcy, fails to continue to be funny. It's just tiring.I should have picked up Atwood's book instead.
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  • Adam
    January 1, 1970
    Ha, oh America!As much as I hesitated to read a travelogue about America while living abroad (I mean, shouldn't I be reading about my host country), my diminishing pile of books from home lead me to this humorous Bryson tale.I've now had a couple of encounters with Bryson's writing and each time, seem to grow more and more fond of his haphazard style of not only traveling but writing as well. How many other authors dare pay tribute to their deceased housmaid in the middle of a book or drop in ra Ha, oh America!As much as I hesitated to read a travelogue about America while living abroad (I mean, shouldn't I be reading about my host country), my diminishing pile of books from home lead me to this humorous Bryson tale.I've now had a couple of encounters with Bryson's writing and each time, seem to grow more and more fond of his haphazard style of not only traveling but writing as well. How many other authors dare pay tribute to their deceased housmaid in the middle of a book or drop in random facts about world happenings in irrelevant places? Now that's the type of stuff that keeps you on your toes!As for the undying cynicism, well, what do you expect? The man left America to live in Britain of all places! I mean, come on, obviously he's going to find Friday night football and town hall meetings a bit trite!Personally I find his accounts of each state absolutely hilarious! Bryson's omnipresent cynicism and nack for pointing out the obvious (with out regards to political correctness) bring a bit of truth to 'small town America' that is probably often lost or overlooked in any other true 'guidebook.' To say that that the author is honest about what he feels would be, well, an extreme understatement! Each trip through each state is as steroetypically perfect as is the idea of a fat white man calling a long circular drive across an entire continent with no particular destination a 'vacation.' To find this book any less than humurous one would have to maintain a cynicism much more deeply rooted than Bryson portrays his own to be, or, perhaps, you might just have to come from one of the dozens of small towns that he makes fun of along the way!
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  • Tara
    January 1, 1970
    How can a man think he's seen America if he refuses to get out of his car? Bill Bryson perfectly embodies what Wendell Berry would describe as a "failure to encounter": Bryson doesn't encounter America. He doesn't find it. He treats it like a disposable tissue, with as little interest in where it came from and in where it's going. Our nation does have a problem in rampant, mindless consumption, but along with our (possibly fatal) flaws are millions of fascinating people, good hearts, heartbreaki How can a man think he's seen America if he refuses to get out of his car? Bill Bryson perfectly embodies what Wendell Berry would describe as a "failure to encounter": Bryson doesn't encounter America. He doesn't find it. He treats it like a disposable tissue, with as little interest in where it came from and in where it's going. Our nation does have a problem in rampant, mindless consumption, but along with our (possibly fatal) flaws are millions of fascinating people, good hearts, heartbreaking tales, catastrophic disasters, systematic abuses of horror and hatred, and sublime skies and lands which claim our devotion even when our nation's history seems like one long, miserable tragedy. How did Bryson have the audacity to write a book about America and not visit an inner-city slum? How could he fail to get out and talk to the Native Americans in South Dakota, rather than just dismissing the state as 'empty'? How could he treat the Sequoias so thoughtlessly, be so little moved by the sadness and beauty of the Old South, the haunting eeriness of West Texas, how could he miss the pretty, solid, dependable beauty of Maine, or the sorrow of loss that arises as each new suburban development imposes the same mask over the gorgeous landscape that is our home? How did Bryson get paid for this? How did he miss his own country? I cannot understand.
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  • Negin
    January 1, 1970
    I read parts of this during an extremely long wait in the doctor’s office with my teenage daughter. There were lots of giggle-out-loud moments, and, of course, I’d interrupt her reading to hand her a short paragraph or two to read. It was fun to have her chuckle also. It also made the wait go by so much quicker. This isn’t my favorite Bryson book by any means, but as always, I thoroughly enjoyed his humor and wit. Many don’t seem to like this book, claiming that Bryson comes off as grumpy and ov I read parts of this during an extremely long wait in the doctor’s office with my teenage daughter. There were lots of giggle-out-loud moments, and, of course, I’d interrupt her reading to hand her a short paragraph or two to read. It was fun to have her chuckle also. It also made the wait go by so much quicker. This isn’t my favorite Bryson book by any means, but as always, I thoroughly enjoyed his humor and wit. Many don’t seem to like this book, claiming that Bryson comes off as grumpy and overly critical. I wouldn’t recommend this book if one is sensitive to that sort of tone or feels offended by criticism of certain aspects of America (its consumerism, for example). If you’re the type to take such things personally, do not read this! His humor may be offensive and crass to some, but I didn’t mind it at all. This book was like experiencing a road trip across small-town America with a very witty and observant travel guide. One of my favorite quotes:“The most splendid thing about the Amish is the names they give their towns. Everywhere else in America towns are named either after the first white person to get there or the last Indian to leave. But the Amish obviously gave the matter of town names some thought and graced their communities with intriguing, not to say provocative, appellations: Blue Ball, Bird in Hand, and Intercourse, to name but three. Intercourse makes a good living by attracting passers-by such as me who think it the height of hilarity to send their friends and colleagues postcards with an Intercourse postal mark and some droll sentiment scribbled on the back.”
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  • Miranda Reads
    January 1, 1970
    As my father always used to tell me, 'You see, son, there's always someone in the world worse off than you.' And I always used to think, 'So?' Bryson returns to England after ten years and decides to take a road trip full of nostalgic stops. He reflects on many a good adventure with his family and, in particular, his father. Wholly entertaining and engaging!Audiobook CommentsRead by William Roberts - and he did a fab job. But, it's a pet peeve when an author tells such a personal story but doe As my father always used to tell me, 'You see, son, there's always someone in the world worse off than you.' And I always used to think, 'So?' Bryson returns to England after ten years and decides to take a road trip full of nostalgic stops. He reflects on many a good adventure with his family and, in particular, his father. Wholly entertaining and engaging!Audiobook CommentsRead by William Roberts - and he did a fab job. But, it's a pet peeve when an author tells such a personal story but doesn't narrate his own house.
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  • Lorenzo Pilla
    January 1, 1970
    Bad. Bad. Bad. While Bryson can be funny at times, I quickly grew tired of him and eventually he just annoyed me with this one. I would have stopped in the middle, but for my book club's sake, I plodded through, skimming some sections toward the end. This isn't real travel writing. Bryson was a longtime expat in England who returned to the US apparently so he could cynically criticize just about everyone and everything he saw here. I got the feeling that he had pitched the book idea to his publi Bad. Bad. Bad. While Bryson can be funny at times, I quickly grew tired of him and eventually he just annoyed me with this one. I would have stopped in the middle, but for my book club's sake, I plodded through, skimming some sections toward the end. This isn't real travel writing. Bryson was a longtime expat in England who returned to the US apparently so he could cynically criticize just about everyone and everything he saw here. I got the feeling that he had pitched the book idea to his publisher and gotten his advance money before thinking better of the idea when it was already too late. It sounds like this "journey" was a labor of hate.I also lived in England for a couple of years before returning to the US. But when I returned, I saw this country with fresh eyes and now feel better able to appreciate both its strengths and its faults. Bryson sounds like he just came back to show us how much better HE is than us. His wit just doesn't sound like it comes from someone who ultimately cares about his subjects. It just sounds like a schoolboy ripping on anyone who's different from him. His other books may be better but definitely give this one a pass.
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  • J.K. Grice
    January 1, 1970
    This was the book that made me fall in love with Bill Bryson's writing many years ago. It helps a little bit that we both grew up in Iowa, but this man is so funny, I cannot imagine any reader not having a great time with his books. Enjoy a fun road trip across America in this rollicking tale.
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  • D.A. Cairns
    January 1, 1970
    This is the first Bill Bryson book I have read and it's not hard to see why he has become so popular. Written in a mostly conversational style, as though he were relating the highs and lows of his travel experiences to his friends over dinner just after he returned, it is filled with very poignant, evocative language. Bryson's descriptions make you feel as though you can see what he can sees. I really enjoyed The Lost Continent for this reason alone.However, The Lost Continent is almost more of This is the first Bill Bryson book I have read and it's not hard to see why he has become so popular. Written in a mostly conversational style, as though he were relating the highs and lows of his travel experiences to his friends over dinner just after he returned, it is filled with very poignant, evocative language. Bryson's descriptions make you feel as though you can see what he can sees. I really enjoyed The Lost Continent for this reason alone.However, The Lost Continent is almost more of an anti travel guide. I reckon that for more than half the book he is mercilessly bagging the places he visited during his drive around the United Sates, and the people who live there. It's really very mean at times, although I'm sure it is intended to be funny. Crass generalizations and hyperbolic stereotyping are the order of the day. Clearly this is meant to be a humourous read, but I have to say, I barely cracked a smile.I'm not saying it's a bad book. On the contrary, it's very good. It's just that Bryson comes across badly. He doesn't sound like a nice person, although he, and his critics may argue that he is simply being honest, and that the nasty and predominantly negative commentary he provides is not indicative of his character.Ironically, I feel as though I must visit the places he visited. I feel compelled to walk in his footsteps and see how my perception and experience marry with his. Could some of these small American towns be as bad, or as good, as he described? It's a question I hope to be able to answer one day. For now, I will consider reading what he has to say about my homeland, Australia, in his book, Down Under. Do I dare? Am I brave enough?
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  • Troy Blackford
    January 1, 1970
    What a great look at what America is like on a micro-level. Having grown up in small towns in the Midwest, I really identified with the places (unfortunately, for the most part) that Bryson visited in his journey. I loved how Bryson, a Des Moines native, moved away to the UK for 20 years and thus explores the country as a knowing outsider. The tone of the book is almost explaining the US to the British, so it was great to get a fresh perspective on things. Bryson's curmudgeonly displeasure at th What a great look at what America is like on a micro-level. Having grown up in small towns in the Midwest, I really identified with the places (unfortunately, for the most part) that Bryson visited in his journey. I loved how Bryson, a Des Moines native, moved away to the UK for 20 years and thus explores the country as a knowing outsider. The tone of the book is almost explaining the US to the British, so it was great to get a fresh perspective on things. Bryson's curmudgeonly displeasure at the many inconveniences he encounters along the way is a constant source of humor. I can't recommend this book enough. A quick but fascinating and engaging read.
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  • Hayes
    January 1, 1970
    Sometimes he's so funny, and spot on. And then he goes off the deep end. The snark and the southern bashing and the racist comments just got to me. Can't finish this.page 44: [somewhere in downstate Illinois]Afterwards I retired with a six-pack to my motel, where I discovered that the bed, judging by its fragrance and shape, had only recently been vacated by a horse. It had a sag in it so severe that I could only see the TV at its foot by splaying my legs to their widest extremity. It was like l Sometimes he's so funny, and spot on. And then he goes off the deep end. The snark and the southern bashing and the racist comments just got to me. Can't finish this.page 44: [somewhere in downstate Illinois]Afterwards I retired with a six-pack to my motel, where I discovered that the bed, judging by its fragrance and shape, had only recently been vacated by a horse. It had a sag in it so severe that I could only see the TV at its foot by splaying my legs to their widest extremity. It was like lying in a wheel-barrow.I think I've been in this very motel...
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  • David Highton
    January 1, 1970
    Bill's first travel book, published in 1989, is very irreverent and very funny - some of the cultural references may be dated for younger readers, but as I am nearly same age as be is, not a problem for me. I still have some catching up to do on some of his other books!
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  • Benjamin Duffy
    January 1, 1970
    As an experiment, if you ever decide you might like to read this book, first pick it up and simply read the opening sentence of each chapter. If I had done so, I probably wouldn't have bothered with the rest, and I would have been just as well off.The Lost Continent and I got off on the wrong foot. I knew something was amiss when the first chapter consisted of nothing more than Bill Bryson taking an enormous steaming dump on his home state of Iowa. Not a cutesy, ironic dump; nor even a sardonic- As an experiment, if you ever decide you might like to read this book, first pick it up and simply read the opening sentence of each chapter. If I had done so, I probably wouldn't have bothered with the rest, and I would have been just as well off.The Lost Continent and I got off on the wrong foot. I knew something was amiss when the first chapter consisted of nothing more than Bill Bryson taking an enormous steaming dump on his home state of Iowa. Not a cutesy, ironic dump; nor even a sardonic-yet-affectionate dump; but a real, live, mean-spirited, rhetorical bowel movement. Here, I'll sum up the entire first chapter for you, in my own words: Iowa is boring and all the people there are fat and slow-witted. Plopbbt. (And that's Iowa, the state where his parents lived. Wait until you see what he does to Mississippi and New Mexico. Or, better yet, don't.)This was all very unpleasantly surprising, partly because of the way I've approached Bryson's written catalog in reverse chronological order. Having read A Short History of Nearly Everything, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, Made in America, and At Home: A Short History of Private Life, I had formed a mental picture of Bryson as a fifty-something professorial type: rambling, erudite, a bit geeky, smart-assed but in a wry, self-effacing manner, with a fierce populist streak.With that expectation in mind, The Lost Continent was a shock, as it is the work of a thirty-something Bryson, snarky and evidently angry. And I generally like snark and anger: Anthony Bourdain is one of my favorite writers. But where Bourdain leavens his writing with humor and occasional tenderness, The Lost Continent is just relentlessly negative, never passing up the opportunity to take a cheap shot.Ironically for a book titled "travels in small-town America," Bryson appears to hate 90% of the small towns he visits on his road trip, speaking disapprovingly of their poverty, their inhabitants' provincial ways and funny-sounding accents, yet he waxes ecstatic over such non-small places as Savannah, Charleston, and Times Square (!). I actually agreed with quite a few of his sentiments; e.g., how tacky, inauthentic, and Disneyland-like some of our national historic sites have become, but his voice makes even those shared sentiments hard to swallow.The last quarter of the book is the best part, as it slowly becomes apparent that this book is an elegy to his recently-deceased father, and perhaps a regret for having spent his adulthood in England rather than America, but it was honestly too little, too late for me. Maybe I would have enjoyed this book more if I'd read it when it was new, or at least before I read so much of his later, better work, but as it is, I couldn't really recommend this book to anyone, either as a first Bryson or a tenth.
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  • Courtney Lindwall
    January 1, 1970
    Bill Bryson will always be really, really, really fucking hilarious. When he's writing about boring suburbs and boring monuments, he's still super funny. When he's writing about walking through the woods for a good 1000-something miles, he's still super funny. That's pretty much why this book got 3 stars; I was laughing out loud almost continuously. But why it was 3 stars and not 4? Because I think Bryson did a shitty job representing small-town America. He notices how ugly the suburbs are, how Bill Bryson will always be really, really, really fucking hilarious. When he's writing about boring suburbs and boring monuments, he's still super funny. When he's writing about walking through the woods for a good 1000-something miles, he's still super funny. That's pretty much why this book got 3 stars; I was laughing out loud almost continuously. But why it was 3 stars and not 4? Because I think Bryson did a shitty job representing small-town America. He notices how ugly the suburbs are, how stupid the people are, how boring and over-priced the monuments are. But he doesn't actually talk to anyone from these places. Not in any meaningful way, at least. If your entire perception of why southern America is annoying and dumb is that a waitress talked to you with a drawl, then I think that's C-grade travel writing. He's hilarious, yes. Accurate? No. There's SO much culture in these areas. Louisiana? You don't think there's more to the people than a funny way of talking? The West? Colorado? Nevada? There aren't any gun-slinging cowboys out there with a good story to tell? It's not enough to just tell me that the towns didn't have many restaurants to choose from -- because that's not really what these places are about. It's about the people. I think Bryson seriously missed out on what could've been an awesome and insightful book about the incredibly varied, inspiring, fascinating cultures that this country has to offer. Yes, making fun of how ignorant, untraveled, and ugly America is will always be easier/possibly way funnier. But it's a cop out.
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