For The Someday Book

Book Review: A Lost Continent

Posted on: October 11, 2010

A Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America by Bill Bryson, Harper Perennial, 1989, 314 pp.

I have always heard great things about Bill Bryson. I read A Short History of Nearly Everything awhile ago and really enjoyed it. I love to drive cross country and visit small towns and roadside attractions. Many friends have recommended his travelogues as witty and entertaining. I was sorely disappointed in this book.

I didn’t like Bryson as a narrator. The way he wrote the stories of the towns and people he encountered was unrelentingly arrogant and often downright insulting. The tone of the book just felt disdainful to me. It was as if he drove from town to town, attraction to attraction saying, “Wow, I can’t believe people think this is an exciting site to see or place to visit. I feel sorry for the people who have to live here all the time.”

On top of that general negativity, the book is littered with unnecessary sexist description of women (especially waitresses) that judge them by their weight, the shrillness of their voice and make harsh judgments about their value based on their appearance. It reminded me of reading Kerouac’s On the Road, in which the women were nothing more than sexual objects and inconveniences. I tolerated it in Kerouac because the book was written 50 years ago and contained such rich, compelling male characters in search of life and depth and meaning and adventure. A Lost Continent is only 20 years old, and Bryson should know better. It makes him look juvenile.

While I did enjoy the remembrance of a small town or highway I myself had traveled, I had hoped to discover an appreciation and delight in the quirks and the similarities of American towns and their people. Instead, it was all snide commentary that made me dislike Bryson and pity the people he met along his journey.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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