The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America

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9780060161583: The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America

Hardly anyone ever leaves Des Moines, Iowa. But Bill Bryson did, and after ten years in England he decided to go home - to a foreign country. In an ageing Chevrolet Chevette, he drove nearly 14,000 miles through 38 states to compile this hilarious and perceptive state-of-the-nation report on small-town America. From the Deep South to the Wild West, from Elvis' birthplace through to Custer's Last Stand, Bryson visits places he re-named Dullard, Coma and Doldrum (so the residents don't sue or come after him with baseball bats). But his hopes of finding the American dream end in a nightmare of greed, ignorance and pollution. This is a wickedly witty and savagely funny assessment of a country lost to itself - and to him. Travel through small-town America with Kerry Shale's popular BBC Radio 4 reading of Bill Bryson's comic novel.

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Review:

A travelogue by Bill Bryson is as close to a sure thing as funny books get. The Lost Continent is no exception. Following an urge to rediscover his youth (he should know better), the author leaves his native Des Moines, Iowa, in a journey that takes him across 38 states. Lucky for us, he brought a notebook.

With a razor wit and a kind heart, Bryson serves up a colorful tale of boredom, kitsch, and beauty when you least expect it. Gentler elements aside, The Lost Continent is an amusing book. Here's Bryson on the women of his native state: "I will say this, however--and it's a strange, strange thing--the teenaged daughters of these fat women are always utterly delectable ... I don't know what it is that happens to them, but it must be awful to marry one of those nubile cuties knowing that there is a time bomb ticking away in her that will at some unknown date make her bloat out into something huge and grotesque, presumably all of a sudden and without much notice, like a self-inflating raft from which the pin has been yanked."

Yes, Bill, but be honest: what do you really think?

From the Inside Flap:

" I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to."

And, as soon as Bill Bryson was old enough, he left. Des Moines couldn't hold him, but it did lure him back. After ten years in England he returned to the land of his youth, and drove almost 14,000 miles in search of a mythical small town called Amalgam, the kind of smiling village where the movies from his youth were set. Instead he drove through a series of horrific burgs, which he renamed Smellville, Fartville, Coleslaw, Coma, and Doldrum. At best his search led him to Anywhere, USA, a lookalike strip of gas stations, motels and hamburger outlets populated by obese and slow-witted hicks with a partiality for synthetic fibres. He discovered a continent that was doubly lost: lost to itself because he found it blighted by greed, pollution, mobile homes and television; lost to him because he had become a foreigner in his own country.

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