It was really rather interesting reading this book by one of my favourite authors. One of his earliest books, ‘The Lost Continent’ is something of a (now) backwards look at 80s America (mostly by car) by a relatively ‘youthful’ Bryson who is, nonetheless, already a grumpy old man. I was curious to see how he’d compare to his maturer works which I adore.
His wit is, as always, acerbic to say the least; and his observations are both intelligent and imaginative too. Young Bryson, in this way, is very much the same as old Bryson. So far so good.
What’s missing is the spark that Bryson managed with the next book after this: his short tome on Shakespeare. That was the point at which he combined his wit with fascinating facts he manages to carve out of nowhere. With ‘The Lost Continent’ he largely wanders around aimlessly, quotes spurious facts from tour guide brochures and entertains with personal drivel. There’s an element of thinking “why am I reading this?” at times.
It feels almost as though once Bryson discovered the internet in the 1990s, his research abilities went stratospheric. I don’t know, of course, if he does all his research via the net or if he is some old-fashioned fanatic who can’t get enough of libraries and FOI requests, but it certainly seems as though back when he wrote this book he lacked the ability to find out a great deal worth knowing and it seems to me to be an awful coincidence. I could be wrong however.
That isn’t to mean that I disliked the book: far from it. It was an enjoyable romp around America with Bryson as good company (when is he not?). He made me giggle on every page and I enjoyed the car journey. I guess I just wasn’t so enamoured with the places – especially as what little that was of interest has probably changed beyond recognition in 30 years – I simply didn’t care where he went.
I am, perhaps, being a little harsh giving just three stars in this review but I do so in the spirit of judging Bryson in the context of Bryson over the whole span of his writing career. This book simply isn’t as ‘good’ as most of the others I’ve read and in that way it is disappointing. Were I comparing it to other writers or, indeed, other travel books, the rating might be very different – at least four stars and maybe even five. But to give it the same level of respect as his superb books on ‘the home’ or indeed ‘nearly everything’ would be to commit a great injustice; and Bill Bryson means far too much to me to allow that to happen.
Social Entrepreneur, writer and journalist D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out soon – don’t miss them!
Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org