REVIEW: The Lost Continent

Travel books help keep my wanderlust in check and stop me disappearing off on a whim. I love travel books and have loads.

A number of them are by Bill Bryson but I haven’t read any for many years. I remembered, however, that I enjoyed them very much and they made me laugh and so I decided to read one I hadn’t read before and chose this: The Lost Continent, Travels in Small-town America.

First published in 1989, this tells the story of Bryson’s journey across 38 US states, taking the back roads and visiting (as it says in the subtitle) small-town America.

Sometimes I forget how long ago 1989 actually is. I was in my 20s in the late 1980s and don’t think I’m that much older now. It’s only when I do the maths that I realise 1989 was nearly 35 years ago and things have changed since then, I have changed since then.

Bryson always writes with a humorous, slightly sarcastic touch and previously when I’ve read his books I found them hilarious. I have to say, this one not so much.

It started off well with stories about his childhood in Des Moines, Iowa and the holidays his parents would take them on. But as the book went on a couple of things began to irritate me slightly.

Firstly, his descriptions of women. In many cases he would describe the physicality of the female characters who cropped up and there were two types of description, either they were shaggable or they were hugely overweight and ugly. And after a while, this got to be a little jarring, particularly as he reserved commenting on the physical attributes of the people he met to the female of the species. I just found it all a little too much. Would I have been ok with that in 1989? I don’t know. I just know that in 2023, it grated slightly.

Secondly, he didn’t appear to like small town America at all. Now I can understand not liking aspects of it but he travelled nearly 14,000 across 38 states of America. That’s a lot of travelling, a lot of places and a lot of people.

He appeared, however, to dislike (or at least find something wrong with) about 90% of his journey. Is almost the whole of America really that shit? I have never been to the United States, although I have travelled widely, so I suppose I am not in a position to say. I’d just think that the law of averages would mean there is more to be positive about than this book includes.

I think perhaps that Bryson missed those things out in order to make the book funnier but, for me, it just felt a little, well, snide.

That saying, there was enough in here to keep my interest and I did continue reading until the end – although I was glad to come to the end and move on to something more balanced. As I have said previously, life is too short to read books you don’t like and I didn’t not like this, I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would.

Perhaps my attitudes have changed since I last read any Bill Bryson. I will have to read one I know I have enjoyed before to check that theory.

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