Friday, August 26, 2011
THE LOST CONTINENT by Bill Bryson
A grumpy but lovable travel writer takes A Great American Road Trip through the small towns, tourist traps and wide open spaces of the USA.
I bought this book at the start of my own Great American Road Trip, which has been extensively documented on this blog. I read about half of it along the road, and visited many of the places Bryson describes just days before reading about them in the book. This was a great way to read, and I found myself comparing my own impressions with his, even though he took his trip the year before I was born, and plenty of things have changed. A book that is simply a series of descriptions of mile after mile of travel could be boring, but fortunately America is so big and varied that there is always something new to read about or see.
Bryson's characteristic witty and slightly grumpy writing style is the other thing that keeps the narrative interesting. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I think he's hilarious. He uses his unique voice to talk about the things that are good about the US, and he also pulls no punches when describing things that have changed for the worse. He strongly objects to the spread of cooker-cutter commercialism, and he mourns the loss of unique shops and restaurants in favor of chains and shopping malls. Bryson does tend to be quite judgmental, and some of his rants about tourists, overweight people and the uneducated were taken too far. Although many of his observations seemed to be accurate, the mean comments were occasionally too much. It can be a bit too easy to make fun of Americans sometimes, but this book is successful because it does contain a lot of truth too (Disclaimer: I'm an American and so is Bill Bryson).
The book is divided into two sections, East and West, for the two big trips that Bryson took, covering 13,978 miles. He visited Springfield, Snowflake, Gettysburg, New York City, Newport, Leadville, Gallup, Carson City, Buffalo, Murdo and more. He ate in diners and visited the birthplaces of famous people. He saw universities, national parks, and cities. He was bored, tired and filled with wonder as he traveled through the country, just like thousands of other road-trippers before and since. This is a good book if you like travel narratives, and it's a great book, if you like exploring that beautiful country called the USA.
Bill Bryson's website
My review of Bryson's NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND
I bought a paperback copy in a small town bookstore for $14.99
Do you prefer to read books about your own country and culture or about far-off lands? Have you ever read a book about your own country where you think the author got it wrong?