The Lost Continent

The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America
© 1989 Bill Bryson

When I read The Road to Little Dribbling, full of Bryson complaining and thinking murderously about people who so much as annoyed him, I returned it disappointed. “Bryson’s turned into a real crank,” I thought. The Lost Continent makes me think he’s always been that way, he just hides it better in some books than others.

This book chronicles Bryson’s attempt to apparently re-live his childhood road trips, often following the very routes his father chose to get lost on in those bygone summers. That can only be a beginning, however, because by the end of the book he has visited (or at least zoomed through) all but eight of the 48 states, Hawaii and Alaska being frauds. Although billed as a tour of small-town America, he zooms through several larger cities as well. (One, Los Angeles, is pointedly avoided.) The book consists of Bryson chattering along as he drives, recounting stories of his family’s travel misadventures, complaining about the view (or rarely, admiring it), or venturing into completely irrelevant terrain. When he is not being an utter pill — heaping scorn on any development that is not a 18th century mansion, or raging against locals for being ignorant, too friendly, too suspicious, etc, Bryson can be funny. To an extent he’s funny when attacking people, but it grows obnoxious after a while.

Related:
I’m a Stranger Here, Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years, Bill Bryson

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Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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17 Responses to The Lost Continent

  1. Tim Davis says:

    Thanks, Stephen, for such a helpful review: Bryson and I will avoid each other. However, he has a following of fans/readers, but that must say as much about them as it does about him. Hmmm.

  2. Fred says:

    I'm surprised at this for my impression of him, I've never read anything by him, is much the same as Tim's.

  3. Stephen says:

    In his defense, many of his other books were genuinely amusing, and I don't remember any crankiness at all — the travel book on Australia, for instance, his science survey, his trip on the Appalachian trail…so far, the crankiest books have been his two Brit-travel books, and this American one.

  4. Fred says:

    Stephen,

    I just remembered that in my Netflix queue is a film titled, A Walk in the Woods, which is supposed to be a dramatized version of Bryson's trek along the Appalachian Trail. It stars Robert Redford and Nick Nolte. I put it in my queue because I just had to see Redford and Nolte together in a film. I think I'll move it up now.

  5. Fred says:

    Stephen,

    OK, if I ever get around to him, then I will be sure to avoid those three books.

  6. Stephen says:

    A movie version sounds…interesting. I'd be curious as to what they do with it. Whenever you watch it, would you mind dropping a line here to comment on it?

  7. Fred says:

    Stephen,

    Will do.

  8. CyberKitten says:

    I can understand his crankiness in Britain…. [grin]

  9. Mudpuddle says:

    we watched it several months ago… it was okay; a little swearing and toilet humor(hard to get away from nowadays)… N was pretty fat: difficult to believe he could walk more than a couple of miles… Redford was… Redford… all in all on a ten scale, i'd give it a 6.45, maybe…

  10. Mudpuddle says:

    actually, i thought this was a book by Conan Doyle… with the Great—DR. CHALLENGER!!

  11. CyberKitten says:

    @ Mudpuddle: Now there's a fun book…. [grin]

  12. Fred says:

    I think there was a film version too.

  13. CyberKitten says:

    In 1960 with Claude Rains as Challenger.

  14. Mudpuddle says:

    mea culpa: Professor Challenger…

  15. Fred says:

    Mudpuddle,

    Thanks for the comments. I shall lower my expectations for the film.

  16. Fred says:

    Stephen,

    I watched _A Walk in the Park_ last night. I can't comment on how faithful it was to the book.

    I would say that if one hoped for a travelogue about the Appalachian Trail, this is not the film to watch. There was some shots of scenery, but nothing really extensive.

    The film really was a buddy film. In the film, Bryson and Katz had been buddies long ago but lost track of each other. Katz got in touch with Bryson when he learned Bryson was planning on walking the Trail.

    The focus was on the relationship between Bryson and Katz, two very different people, but somehow they connected, or rather, reconnected.

    As Mudpuddle wrote, some swearing, etc., also, some discussion of sexual exploits, by Katz.

    Redford and Nolte worked well together, probably because of their differences.

    Overall, I found it an enjoyable film.

  17. Fred says:

    Stephen,

    That, of course, should be _A Walk in the Woods_.

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