The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America – Bill Bryson

Summary from Goodreads:

‘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. 

I think I have definitely gone on about how much I love Bill Bryson on this blog (see my review of A Walk in the Woods). I will always find him hilarious and this book definitely had me laughing out loud almost continuously. That said though, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed by it.

Why, you might be wondering? Because I think Bryson did a really crappy job at representing small-town America. He’s funny, yes. Accurate? Definitely not. He focuses on the ugliness of the suburbs, the stupidity of the people, and he goes on and on about how boring and over-priced the monuments are. But he doesn’t actually talk to anyone from any of these places. I mean, not in any way that isn’t arrogant and condescending. In my opinion, judging a town by the number of restaurants in it rather than by actually listening to and talking to the people who live in it is not fair. It’s C-grade travel writing at best.

I think Bryson seriously missed out on what could have been an awesome and insightful book about the incredibly varied, inspiring, fascinating cultures and landscapes that the US has to offer. Yes, making fun of how ignorant, untraveled, and ugly Americans can be will always be easier/possibly way funnier. But it’s a cop out.

Have you read The Lost Continent? What did you think of it? Have you read any of Bill Bryson’s other books? Please feel free to share your thoughts. I always love hearing from you. 🙂 

~Anna

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