After the year that was 2020, I decided that I needed to read some books that might make me laugh. That can sometimes be pretty difficult, just as finding books that scare me (unless they’re nonfiction) can be. Turning to the internet (where else can we turn in these days of rare vaccinations?) Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent came up more than once. I think I may have read some of his other work, but this is one of his earliest books. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, but much of the humor seemed a bit cruel. No doubt in America there are lots of things at which fun would be easy to poke, but we’ve become sensitive to others—perhaps overly so—perhaps to the point that even using the word “others” can leave you open to criticism. But still.
Bryson’s book is a classic travelog. It’s the kind my family kept when we were able to travel. We’ve still got a printed out copy of our journeys to significant places, stuck in an ersatz binder, awaiting notice perhaps. We tried to keep it funny. There’s something about travel that’s great for your sense of humor. Bryson set out on two wings of a country-wide trip while back from England. Starting at his home in Des Moines, Iowa, he drove south and east then up north and back to his starting point. The second half of the trip, obviously, went west, to the south west before angling up through the high plains and back home.
The book is hard to classify. The cover on my copy says he was looking for the perfect small town, but mostly it just seemed to be driving around. And hitting some big cities as well. There were a few laugh-out-loud moments even for this dour reader, but mostly there were some smiles and a bit of sadness. I had to keep reminding myself that this was the late 1980s. In fact, I was living in the United Kingdom when the book came out, which is probably why I never really heard of it before. I do, regardless of how well the humor works, enjoy a travelog. You can learn a lot that way. Many of the places Bryson visited I’d also been, but my impressions were somewhat kindlier. As a kid I didn’t get to travel much (kinda like now) and seeing new places I was always awash in wonder. Not everywhere is pristine, of course, but keeping notes always seems like a good idea. And if you can get them published, you might even be able to make a living out of it. We all remember the freedom of the open road.