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Book Reviews

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Jan. 1, 2014

Please Stay Lost

 

The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America

By Bill Bryson

I am going to take the contrary position that starting a book and giving up on it on the first day of a year is a sign, not that the year will be full of bad and disappointing books, possibly followed by the end of the world, but that I will be decisive this year and not waste time on things not worth my time. And, I am going to remember how much I enjoyed One Summer: America, 1927, the Bill Bryson book that came out in October. This will remind me that Bryson can, in fact, be good company; he is not always the whiney dissatisfied person of Travels in Small-Town America, a narrative with as many high points as Iowa has mountains. Iowa is where the story begins. Iowa is where Bryson grew up. Iowa is a dull place full of fat people, by Bryson’s telling. At least, that’s my impression so far. I am on page 30. There are 269 pages to go. Some of them might be good pages. But I lack the patience to find out. In these first 29 pages, when Bryson isn’t talking about how boring Iowa is, he is making fun of people, often cracking jokes about how they look, especially if they’re fat. He likes to write funny fat descriptions. Many of these hilarious descriptions are about women, women who fail to fulfill their duty of appearing attractive to Bill Bryson. In any event, a little of this goes a long way, and I was up to the brim with it several pages ago. When he remarked on page 30 that a 60-year-old woman who waited on him in a bar had ” ‘Ready for Sex’ written all over her face, but ‘Better Bring A Paper Bag’ written all over her body,” I was done. The book came out in 1989, possibly before Bryson took on his current, more rounded proportions. I’m sure he would not write such stuff now, so I will do him the favor of preserving my previous good impression of him by not reading further.  2014 deserves better.

 

  1. I find Bill Bryson, even in his later incarnations, to be pitiless where his fellow Americans are concerned. He lives now in deep comfort in rural England, where I suppose he has adopted the attitudes of the locals about Yanks — Americans are fat, stupid, rich, and easily fleeced by their Superiors. Happy for him, most Americans can laugh at themselves, and rather expect to be treated with condescension by (equally fat) twits from England.
    It is a disgusting attitude rife among the frightfully middle-class in the UK. To see an expat American aping them, and reaping great profits… well. I guess that´s Capitalism for ya.

    • Hi Rebecca, I have to say, I haven’t noticed this flavor of condescension in his later books, but I’ve only read a few. Making fun of fat Americans does seem to be a worldwide sport.

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