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The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town…

The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America (original 1989; edition 1990)

by Bill Bryson

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4,663771,017 (3.68)73
Title:The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America
Authors:Bill Bryson
Info:William Morrow Paperbacks (1990), Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Your library, Non-Fiction, Read
Tags:Memoir, Humor, Travel, America

Work details

The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America by Bill Bryson (1989)

  1. 10
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Bryson, a native Iowan, abandoned the American midwest of his youth at the earliest opportunity to seek out a more refined and exciting life in England. In the mid-80s, he returned to the United States, deciding to embark on a road trip to revel in an odd sort of nostalgia for the wretched vacations of his youth, and also to discover the ideal American small town of movies. As Bryson embarks on his tour of his native nation, I'll admit I was a little nervous. I'm all for cynicism and sarcasm if it comes from a place of humor, but off the starting block Bryson comes off as a little too mean-spirited, shamelessly generalizing midwesterners into a group of well-meaning dimwits and deriding small towns a little too harshly for not being the idealized Hollywood small town.

However, as Bryson continues on his adventure, I found him a little less grating and a good deal more laugh out loud funny. As he tours the unlikely tourist hotspots of the east side of the nation, I found myself giggling aloud more than once. He revisits a few places from his childhood vacations discovering them to be both more and less attractive than they were the first time around. He muses on his father's cheapness, peppers the narrative with random anecdotes that pass his time on the road, and makes critically funny observations about what he finds in each of his destinations.

I wandered through the crowds, and hesitated at the entrance to the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum. I could sense my father, a thousand miles away, beginning to rotate slowly in his grave as I looked at the posters... The admission fee was five dollars. The pace of my father's rotating quickened as I looked into my wallet and then sped to a whirring blur as I fished out a five-dollar bill and guiltily handed it to the unsmiling woman in the ticket booth. "What the hell," I thought as I went inside, "at least it will give the old man some exercise.

The best parts, for me, were when Bryson stumbles across places I recognized, mostly because most of the places I recognized were either so astutely, if cynically, observed by him or, uh, he actually liked them. His trip to Lancaster, PA - the tourist capital of Pennsylvania Amish country - is accurately and hilariously rendered, though it's kind of depressing on the whole. For example, this is, in all reality, what one does in Lancaster, when one has tired of dodging buggies on the traffic choked roadways...

I kept eating. It was too delicious to pass up. Buttons popped off my shirt; my trousers burst open. I barely had the strength to lift my spoon, but I kept shoveling the stuff in. It was grotesque. Food began to leak from my ears. And still I ate. I ate more food that night than some African villagers eat in a lifetime. Eventually, mercifully, the waitress prised the spoons out of our hands and took the dessert stuff away, and we were able to stumble zombielike out into the night.

Also, imagine my surprise that Bryson passed through my very own small hometown, and for once, actually seemed to like it. He does, however, comment on the shopping mall that was built nearby in my youth, and speculates that the shopping mall will cause the dereliction of another good small town. I'm happy to report, the town is fine. The shopping mall, on the other hand? Pretty derelict. I feel as if Bryson would be pleased by this fact.

I enjoyed Bryson's tour of the east with funny commentary and investigation of various and sundry small towns, and, honestly wish he would have stopped there. Instead, a little over halfway through the book, Bryson heads west in the springtime, and the book loses its focus. Small towns disappear as Bryson grumpily traverses the National Parks of the west pursued by one miserable weather system after another. Readers are disappointed along with him as he finds many of the stunning landmarks of the west obscured by fog and is dispirited by having to drive absurd distances to get to towns where the one restaurant is closed for the evening. The ending simply wasn't as humorous and kind of dragged along devoid of purpose until he nears home and discovers that maybe he's loved this great nation without fully realizing it all along.

This book is definitely more suited to the sort of person who likes to play Cards Against Humanity than to the red-state American patriot who will doubtless be offended by Bryson's codgery handling of his trip around their beloved nation. However, if you're the sort of reader who can take his observations with a grain of salt and even see the occasional, sometimes unfortunate, truth in some of his harsher appraisals, there's a good chance you'll get a kick out of this book. At least the first half. All in all, even if this isn't Bryson's best, which I doubt it is, I'm still glad to have much of the rest of his catalog on hand for the next time I'm in the mood for a laugh out loud funny travelogue. ( )
  yourotherleft | Sep 2, 2015 |
Read by William Roberts, this was a much more enjoyable experience than my last attempt to listen to a Bryson book. In this, he heads home and then heads far and away across the USA in his Mum's car. At times it seems to have a purpose, to revisit childhood experiences, or to discover an idyllic American small town, Amalgam, USA. It doesn't exist and the places of his childhood have changed. Some of them are rather expensive, some have run down, a lot seem to be surrounded by car parks. He is not universally complimentary about his home country, but it becomes apparent that it's not one country at all, it's too big, too far ranging and too different in climate and geography to really be a unified entity. Slightly pointless but enjoyable travelogue. ( )
  Helenliz | Jul 21, 2015 |
Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent is a travelogue of Bryson’s attempt to find the perfect small town in America. You know the one. There’s a soda shop on the corner, and a drug store run by a man sweeping the sidewalk in a white apron, and a kid rides by periodically on his bike, delivering papers. As he travels across 38 states looking for Amalgam, America, he explores overlooked (and sometimes overpriced) museums, bad diners, and picturesque tourist traps. With his characteristic humor, Bryson paints a portrait of life in these small towns while on the ultimate road trip.

Though I love Bryson, this one was one of his weaker ones for me. He starts out strong, with recollections of his childhood and family vacations. It is curious that he manages to paint a picture so personal, and yet immediately familiar to anyone. Reading it brought to mind my own family vacations as a kid: dad getting lost and mom gently saying we should stop for directions, picnicking at rest-stops along the road where the wind is always 96% worse than anywhere else, even the beloved billboards promising wondrous attractions in Podunk towns. He also turns his razor sharp wit on the general boringness of many of these towns and the monotony that driving cross-country can be.

And this is where it starts to falter. Though the beginning is strong, tinged as it is with obvious affection for memories of his father, the trip itself starts to grow monotonous as well. I lost count of how many times he mentioned that the road he took was marked “scenic” on his map (while repetition can make a joke funnier, in this case, it just made it more repetitious), or that every place he stopped felt the same. There were very few anecdotes that stood out, because all of them started to meld together – which may be true, in that small towns usually all do feel alike, but unfortunately doesn’t work in book form.

I have not read anything but his books, but I suspect Bryson would be a master of the short story. If it were confined to one or two towns, it would be hilarious; after twenty or thirty, it just starts to wear on you. There are still some witticisms and bon mots thrown in to liven things up, but during the last chapters especially, I felt myself going into highway hypnosis. Bryson is also curiously self-contained. For someone claiming to be on a journey to find small-town America, he barely interacts with anyone; the book seems to take place in the car more than the towns. He intersperses them with trips to museums or landmarks, but most of these offer little more than an honest guidebook - I'd rather hear about the people he meets on the trip, or the weird, quirky things, not a long description of, "I hopped in my car to go to another place, where I would then hop into my car to go to yet another place." I kept thinking, "What's the point of this?" Like the American tourist who goes to France to eat at McDonald's, Bryson travels America to eat at chain restaurants and avoid anything remotely unique to the place.

While not a bad book, per se, The Lost Continent doesn't hold a candle to his other novels. I would recommend starting with some of his other ones, like Notes from a Small Island or A Walk in the Woods, if you’re looking for an introduction to Bryson’s best.
( )
1 vote kittyjay | Apr 23, 2015 |
Reading this was like eating the Tootsie Rolls because all the good chocolate from the Halloween candy is gone. I want to read more like [b:A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail|9791|A Walk in the Woods Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail|Bill Bryson|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1388189974s/9791.jpg|613469], but I'm going to have to try other authors. I have had more than enough of Bryson. I'm just glad I didn't actually go on these trips with that man. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Apr 14, 2015 |
Hilarious in places but a bit 'samey'. Bryson is not your typical travel writer ( )
  Tony2704 | Mar 23, 2015 |
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he drives through the states,
acts miserable,
eating junk and talking shit.

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060920084, Paperback)

A travelogue by Bill Bryson is as close to a sure thing as funny books get. The Lost Continent is no exception. Following an urge to rediscover his youth (he should know better), the author leaves his native Des Moines, Iowa, in a journey that takes him across 38 states. Lucky for us, he brought a notebook.

With a razor wit and a kind heart, Bryson serves up a colorful tale of boredom, kitsch, and beauty when you least expect it. Gentler elements aside, The Lost Continent is an amusing book. Here's Bryson on the women of his native state: "I will say this, however--and it's a strange, strange thing--the teenaged daughters of these fat women are always utterly delectable ... I don't know what it is that happens to them, but it must be awful to marry one of those nubile cuties knowing that there is a time bomb ticking away in her that will at some unknown date make her bloat out into something huge and grotesque, presumably all of a sudden and without much notice, like a self-inflating raft from which the pin has been yanked."

Yes, Bill, but be honest: what do you really think?

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:34 -0400)

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When a native of Iowa returns from England to wander across America's heartland in search of the perfect small town, the result is a string of hilarious anecdotes and biting social commentary

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