Author Bill Bryson is one of the funniest writers I’ve ever read, if not the funniest. There have been times when I have been reading one of his books and have laughed so hard that I cried. A Walk in the Woods comes to mind.
I’m pretty sure I read The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America when it was first published in the late 1980s, because I’ve read most of his books. And since I kept the book all these years, I’m pretty sure I liked it. Perhaps my skin was thicker in those days.
Bryson was born and spent his formative years in Des Moines, Iowa. He attended Drake University – a private college in Des Moines – for a couple of years before he dropped out and began traveling abroad. He met his wife in England, and lived there until 2013 or so, when he returned to the United States.
While still living in England, he returned to Iowa for his father’s funeral, and decided to travel around the country visiting mostly small towns and writing about his observations. The idea has so much merit, but the result, unfortunately, is a mean-spirited, smug account about mostly rural America.
I don’t think I know a writer who can turn a cleverer phrase. Some of his thoughts are so ingenious and funny that it makes me sad that I didn’t write them. But mostly, he seemed bored with small towns, tired and complaining about corn and wheat fields, and positively mean about the people who make up the bread basket of this country. He sounded like a snotty European who thinks America consists of nothing but fools.
I seriously thought that if I had to read one more word about fat women and stupid men I would throw the book across the room. I understand that America excels at commercialism, but some of the souvenir shops about which he endlessly complained are the bread and butter of many families.
Despite how funny the book was in places, I had to stop reading because I just felt mean laughing at his jokes.
I have to give this book a thumbs down, I’m afraid.