The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America by Bill Bryson
Transworld Digital (ebook), 2010, first published in 1989
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
‘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. 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.
Bryson’s acclaimed first success, 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.
I COME FROM Des Moines. Somebody had to.
WHAT I THOUGHT
This is my first Billy Bryson book and my December non-fiction choice.
I thought The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America was a lot of fun to read. Bryson visits the sort of places I’d head to first if I ever visited America. Bryson was born in America and lived in Britain for many years. What struck me the most is how British his sense of humour and attitude is. He wryly gives nicknames to some of the less pleasant towns he visits such as Dipshit and Crapville. I really enjoyed his observations and anecdotes about all the places he visits and the absolutely mad people he encounters. He doesn’t paint a particularly good picture of some of the most well-known places in America but his opinion is honest if a little cynical. Bryson is horrified by how commercial so many places have become and all the tourists tramping all over the place. He is particularly furious at people who go to gape at Amish communities and thinks the people should be left in peace. I feel the same way so it was good to read an opinion of tourism that matched my own. The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America is funny, sad, depressing and engaging on every level. I intend to read more of Bryson’s travelogues.
I’d highly recommend The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America.