Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Book Review--The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson

My daughter gave me Bill Bryson's book, "The Lost Continent: travels in small-town America," for my birthday. She knew I admired his writing and, boy, was I looking forward to reading the book.

Published in 1989, the format is in two parts, East and West. By the end of part 1 and the beginning of part 2, the reader is made to understand that two separate trips were made within several months; one in the East part of the U.S. and the other the West, starting and ending each loop in Iowa.

Bryson begins with his peculiar brand of generalizations, like "Every once in a while you come across a farm or some dead little town where the liveliest thing is the flies," (p. 5) or "Iowa women are almost always sensationally overweight..." (p. 6) and doesn't quit throughout the book. The reader gets a look inside Bryson's head and out his eye sockets. Within the pages is autobiographical information about himself as a child, his interest in living elsewhere (than the U.S.), his mother, family vacations with his father at the helm, and most importantly, how his father's passing prompted a journey around the U.S.

It is a journey of memory and discovery with a limited perspective. Sometimes the content is brilliant and most other times crude

As one would expect, Bryson uses his humorous observations to describe a place and expertly weaves statistics and facts throughout. This way it is not terribly painful to read about geography of the landscape or the mind. However, this time I felt put off by many of his observations and, more so, comparisons/metaphors.

His recollections of his father-directed family vacations and his mother's unflinching support (or purposeful neutrality) are Baby-Boomer relatable!