Friday, December 02, 2011

Friday Reading Assignment 12/2/11

I don't read many best sellers, but one popular author I love is Bill Bryson.  He never fails to make me laugh and if you haven't read any of his books yet, what are you waiting for?   This week's assignment is one of his earlier, less well-known books, The Lost Continent:  Travels in Small Town America.  Starting in his hometown in Iowa, Bryson makes a road trip through much of the United States, specifically looking for the ideal American small town.  Bryson hadn't quite reached his writing stride when he wrote this, but it is worth reading, nevertheless.

Bryson is mostly disappointed.  He envisions a small friendly place with a green courthouse square, useful shops along Main St., a centrally located post office, movie house, library, and residential neighborhoods within walking distance of downtown.  What he finds are mostly dreary towns whose businesses have succumbed to competition from big box stores on the outskirts of town.  It sounds grim, but Bryson has a talent for becoming embroiled in ridiculous situations, some of which are even to be found in the index.

Bryson City, North Carolina 87-91
            panty shields incident in A&P, 90-91

Before I owned a copy of this book I used to read the library's copy and someone wrote elegant little margin notes refuting some of Bryson's assertions.  I think I may have left my own elegant little margin note on the page where he declares Lake Erie "dead."  Since Bryson's writing is less mature than it is in his later books, he indulges in a few cringeworthy judgements, but mostly I join him in being appalled at the disintegration of the American small town.  And road trip books are awesome.


  1. What's interesting is that John Steinbeck already riffed on the same theme in Travels With Charley 50 years ago.

  2. I guess Bryson finally found his perfect little town when he moved to Britain.

    I really enjoyed reading his book Notes From A Small Island.

  3. I read In a Sunburned Country by Bryson some time ago and always thought he had a great eye for detail.

  4. I mostly enjoy Bryson's books, especially his later ones. The only one that I didn't like was "A walk in the woods" when he walked the Appalachian trail

  5. I too love Bryson's writing because he is smart, insightful,and he makes me laugh. When I worked for a small Maine daily newspaper, I had the pleasure of interviewing him while he was on a book tour. He wasn't funny in person. Rather, he was reserved -- almost proper. I mentioned this and he said he wasn't someone who told great stories at parties, but when he sat down to write, the stories and the humor came out. That interview made me rethink my assumptions about a writers' voices.