The Lost Continent, by Bill Bryson

>> Monday, December 29, 2003

I've been reading The Lost Continent, by Bill Bryson on and off lately. I don't like to read his books in one gulp; I much prefer to savour them.

Bryson, a freelance journalist, succumbed to nostalgia upon returning home to Iowa after living for 20 years in England: he decided to relive the dreary vacation car trips of his American childhood. Starting out at his mother's house in Des Moines, he motors through 38 states over the course of two months, looking for the quintessential American small town--something he never encountered as a boy, and certainly doesn't discover now, as he tours superhighways, motels, shopping malls, fast-food joints and tourist traps. And, like a bored, bemused minor tagging along after adults, he trashes almost everything he sees, including the Smithsonian Museum and the trees in Sequoia National Park. Some of Bryson's comments are hilarious--if you enjoy the nonstop whining wisecracks of a 36-year-old kid.
Loved much of this. Bryson is great, cranky, childish and irreverent, and I just adore his dry, self-deprecating humour. This book isn't about the trip itself, but about his reactions to what he's seeing, and this only works because he's such a delightful narrator.

The only thing that wasn't too good was that I thought he resorted a bit too much to stereotypes, which is why I didn't give this that high a grade.

Oh, BTW, halfway through I realized I might enjoy reading this with a map of the US states for reference, so I spent a couple of days lugging a huge atlas around with me ;-) It gave me some reference as to where exactly Bryson was (I would have been able to enjoy the book anyway, but this was an added bonus), plus I learnt all kinds of things. For instance, my idea of where exactly Ohio is situated was very wrong!

My grade: a B.


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