The Lost Continent

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Lost Continent
by Bill Bryson

Shortly after the death of his father, Bryson embarks on a cross-country road trip, visiting small towns throughout America. He’s an Iowa native, but after living in England for decades he wanted to reacquaint himself with the USA.

I’ve enjoyed most of Bryson’s other books more than this one. It still retains his acidic sense of humor and conversational writing style, but it’s much more cynical. With some of his other work he is simply observing a place, whether it’s the Appalachian Trail or a foreign country, for the first time. In this one, he’s re-visiting places he vacationed as a child. I think it’s unlikely any place could live up to his sepia-toned memories and he’s incredibly disappointed by how boring or dirty the cities have become.

Barring a few exceptions (like the universally revered Grand Canyon); he is completely disenchanted with America. It didn’t take long to tire of his routine in each new town: see touristy museum or park, check into cheap hotel, get dinner at cheap local diner, drink beers in hotel room while watching Mr. Ed, and repeat the following day. I wanted him to talk to people or at least make an effort to see more than one cheesy tourist trap. Don’t get me wrong, there are some funny bits, but it’s no where near his normal level of hilarity.

I will definitely keep reading Bryson’s books in the future, because he normally cracks me up. I’ll chalk this one up to an off-day for the writer and instead I’d recommend you read Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley for a similar premise with a much better result.

“That is the great, seductive thing about America – the people always get what they want, right now, whether it is good for them or not. There is something deeply worrying, and awesomely irresponsible, about this endless self-gratification.”

“America has never quite grasped that you can live in a place without making it ugly, that beauty doesn’t have to be confined behind fences, as if a national park were a sort of zoo for nature.”


Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

Maybe he was especially sour/cynical because of his father's death?

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Alexandra - I definitely think that had something to do with it.

Jenners said...

This was one of the first Bryson books I read. I don't remember much about it other than it made me keep on reading him

Mumsy said...

That is a mean quote, there, that last one. I go fairly often to my childhood haunts and they are still beautiful. So there, Bill Bryson.

Gerbera Daisy Diaries said...

I haven't read a single Bill Bryson -- if I should read ONE, what would it be??

BookQuoter said...

I will probably pass on this one. Thanks. I have his Thunderbolt Kid book to read this year for one of my challenge. Hope that's funnier.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenners - Maybe I would have liked this one more if I hadn't loved some of his other work first. I mean, it's still Bryson, so it's funny, just not as good as his others.

Mumsy - I know! That's what I'm talking about. He just sounded very bitter.

Melissa - I'd start with A Walk in the Woods. It's a great example of his work.

BookQuoter - I really liked Thunderbolt Kid. It's sweet and nostalgic, but hilarious too.

Bybee said...

I had the same feeling about I'm A Stranger Here Myself. The one that I really want to read is Neither Here Nor There.

Aarti said...

I think as Americans, we may be pretty sensitive to Bryson's pretty cutting words on the country. I agree his comments in this book weren't very nice, though I think he was slightly more positive in I'm a Stranger Here Myself, where he talked to more people and generally presented Americans as really friendly people. But I think he's too American (regardless of all his time spent in England) to view the country objectively and see the good with the bad.

Still love him, though ;-)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Bybee - I think I'll pass on Stranger, at least for now, but I do want to read Neither Here Nor There.

Aarti - I agree, it's hard to take criticism about your own country, but it's easy to dish it out. I still love him too.

Will Errickson said...

I loved "Lost Continent" when I first read it, loved his snarky cynicism about small-town America and its strip malls and terrible food, but rereading it recently I wasn't as taken with it. His approach struck me as cranky-old-man style rather than someone who really had insight. And actually this is the only Bryson I've read.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Will - I hope you'll try one of his others. He really is hilarious, this just wasn't him at his best.