The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America

The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America

'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. Instea...

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Title:The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America
Author:Bill Bryson
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Edition Language:English

The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America Reviews

  • Gary

    It's funny how so many Americans begin their reviews of 'The Lost Continent' with statements such as "I loved Bryson's other books but this one is terrible!", all because he treats America the same way as he treats everywhere and everyone else.

    So while many Americans think it's acceptable - hilarious, even - for Bryson to make disparaging-but-witty comments about non-Americans and the places they call home, it is an utter outrage for him to be anything other than completely worshipful with regar

    It's funny how so many Americans begin their reviews of 'The Lost Continent' with statements such as "I loved Bryson's other books but this one is terrible!", all because he treats America the same way as he treats everywhere and everyone else.

    So while many Americans think it's acceptable - hilarious, even - for Bryson to make disparaging-but-witty comments about non-Americans and the places they call home, it is an utter outrage for him to be anything other than completely worshipful with regard to America and Americans.

    The unavoidable, undeniable fact of the matter is that Bill Bryson's 'The Lost Continent' is not only one of his finest works, but one of the best books ever written by anyone in recent times about the USA and Americans.

    It is as funny as anything you'll ever read, as well as being touching, poignant and fascinating. It is the first book I've read since 'Neither Here Nor There' (also by Bryson) that has caused me to think of calling my travel agent.

    America has never been half as interesting as it is in 'The Lost Continent' and Americans ought to be supremely grateful it was written and published.

    Five stars and highly recommended.

  • Nandakishore Varma

    Thus begins Bill Bryson his travelogue, setting the tone for what is going to follow: he is a smart-aleck, and he is going to be at his sarcastic best in taking down small-town America through which he is going to travel.

    Des Moines in Iowa is a typical small town in America where nothing ever happens and nobody ever leaves, because that is the only life they have known and they are happy with it. But not so young Bill – he watched one TV show on Europe w

    Thus begins Bill Bryson his travelogue, setting the tone for what is going to follow: he is a smart-aleck, and he is going to be at his sarcastic best in taking down small-town America through which he is going to travel.

    Des Moines in Iowa is a typical small town in America where nothing ever happens and nobody ever leaves, because that is the only life they have known and they are happy with it. But not so young Bill – he watched one TV show on Europe when he was ten and was consumed with a desire to become European. After a steady diet of

    s during his adolescence, Bryson left for England and settled there. However, during his middle age, he was filled with a sense of nostalgia for small-town America, and the journeys he had across them with his family as a child.

    Bryson’s father was an inveterate traveller who compulsively took his family on vacations every year. These would have been extremely enjoyable except for two issues – Senior Mr. Bryson’s penchant for getting lost as well as his unbearable thrift (as Bill says, “[h]e was a child of the Depression and where capital outlays were involved he always wore the haunted look of a fugitive who has just heard blood hounds in the distance”) which made him avoid good restaurants and forced them to stay almost always in rundown motels.

    But as happens to most of us, the onset of age made Bryson view these journeys more and more favourably through the rose-tinted glasses of fond memory; until one day he came back to the home of his youth and set across the country of his birth in an ageing Chevrolet Chevette. He made two sweeps in all, one circle to the East in autumn and another to the West in spring. His experiences during these two journeys are set forth in this hilarious and compulsively readable book.

    ---

    If one is familiar with Bryson, one knows what to expect from his books – sarcastic humour, bordering on the cruel; enthralling snippets about history and geography; and really expressive descriptions of the places he visited. All these trademarks are in evidence here. By the time I finished this book, I found that I possessed a surprisingly large amount of information about America, what landmarks to visit, and what famous personalities lived where. Bryson writes with great feel and the place comes alive for you. His predilection for staying in small towns and seedy motels (the latter actually not by choice – many of the towns he ended up in the night did not have any other type of accommodation) shows up a facet of America the tourist is unlikely to see.

    But it’s when he writes about people that Bryson gives free rein to his biting wit. The Illinois barmaid with ‘Ready for Sex’ written all over her face; the Mississippi policeman who asks “Hah doo lack Miss Hippy?” (“How do you like Mississippi?”); the Indian gentleman who would not stop questioning a hungover Bryson about the possibility of smoking inside a bus (who ultimately had to be shouted down); the geriatric pump attendant spraying petrol all over the place, with a burning cigarette butt stuck in his mouth... I can go on and on. Even though these people were used as the butts of jokes, I ended up loving them – they were so human.

    And of course, one can’t forget Bryson’s signature comments about America.

    And this hilarious quip about ONE PARTICULAR AMERICAN...

    One may ask, whether after the journey, was Bryson satisfied? Well, maybe not fully:

    This is something which all of us must have felt one time or the other: the landscapes of our youth can be visited only through memory.

  • Jeff

    In which a bilious Bryson, returning to the U.S. after living in England, borrows his mom’s car (with her permission) and sets out to find the perfect American small town.

    Bryson kind of loses focus of his main task along the way, but that doesn’t prevent him from slinging his jibes at 38 of the lower U.S. states.

    This one’s almost as funny as the other Bryson books I’ve read, but he seems to have a stick up his behind for most of it and the sometimes nasty barbs at middle Americans lose steam fai

    In which a bilious Bryson, returning to the U.S. after living in England, borrows his mom’s car (with her permission) and sets out to find the perfect American small town.

    Bryson kind of loses focus of his main task along the way, but that doesn’t prevent him from slinging his jibes at 38 of the lower U.S. states.

    This one’s almost as funny as the other Bryson books I’ve read, but he seems to have a stick up his behind for most of it and the sometimes nasty barbs at middle Americans lose steam fairly quickly.

    A nice quota of belly laughs are found herein, but you’ll be shaking your head and saying, “What the Hell, Bill?” more often than not.

  • Tommy

    Well, ain't it somethin for dat rascally Mr. Bryson wit all o dat funny Northern talk to make his way down here to Dixie and spend some time wid us! We sure do 'ppreciate you takin us into your rich and well-knowed book, Mr. Bryson. And yer gosh-darn-right, God save all those poor folk who done shopped at K-Mart! They should've spent their nickels at Crate & Barrel had they knowed what to do wid demselves.....

  • Leftbanker

    A dyspeptic man in his middle thirties, whose constant bad mood seems more like someone in their mid seventies, drives around the U.S. and complains about absolutely everything he sees, smells, hears, and eats. If this sounds like your idea of a good time, read Bill Bryson’s

    (Abacus, 1990).

    He constantly mocks small towns in America by referring to them by such names as Dog Water, Dunceville, Urinal, Spigot, and Hooterville—and this is in the first five pages. Don’t worry about the intrepid insulter running out of clever names for hick towns; Bryson has a million of them and he uses every single one.

    The only things about which Bryon has a favorable view are natural wonders and the homes of rich people. He marvels at the obscenely-posh residences of ultra-wealthy, early 20th century industrialists on Mackinac Island which were built before income taxes and most labor laws. He would probably be thrilled with pre-revolutionary France or Czarist Russia. One of his very few favorable reviews of American cities was of the ski town of Stowe, Vermont which caters almost exclusively to the rich.

    When he is traveling through the southwest he complains about the Mexican music on the radio. He seems more content to resort to bigotry than to come to some sort of understanding about the culture he is visiting. In my opinion, it’s always more interesting to praise something that you understand than to mock something that you don’t. I would have taken the time to translate a few of the songs and tell readers what they are about. In fact, I have done this and Mexican

    music is all about stories of love, heartbreak, and often violence which describe the cowboy culture of Mexico’s northern territories. Bryson implies that the people who listen to this music are just too stupid to realize that it is only one tune played over and over.

    He gripes about a weatherman on TV who seems rather gleeful at the prospect of a coming snow storm yet Bryson seems to relish in the idea of not liking anything that he experiences in his journey. His entire trip is like a storm he passes through. Just once I wanted him to roll into some town that he liked and get into an interesting conversation with one of its residents.

    Here are examples of the cheeriness with which Bryson opens a few of his chapters:

    (One reviewer called Bryson "witty.")

    This last event must have brought untold joy to the young writer.

    Tell us more, Bill. His narrative is more tiresome than any Kansas wheat field he may have passed on his road trip through hell. Most Americans seem to be either fat, or stupid, or both in the eyes of Bryson. I can only assume that Bryson himself is some sort of genius body builder (although in his photo on the book jacket he's a fat schlub). Just one time I wanted him to talk to a local resident over a beer or a cup of coffee. I wanted him to describe his partner in conversation as other than fat or stupid. Not even one time do we hear about a place from somebody who lives there. We could just as easily have read the guidebooks as Bryson did and he could have stayed home and saved himself thousands of miles of misery.

    Whenever someone starts to tell me about somewhere they went I ask them to describe their favorite thing about the trip, be it a place, food, the people, or whatever. If they start to complain about the place I either change the subject or walk away if I can. Travel is supposed to broaden the mind, not make it narrower.

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