The Lost Continent Bill Bryson
The Author • William McGuire “Bill” Bryson
Introduction • The Lost Continent is an account of Bryson’s 13,978 mile journey through 38 states in the autumn of 1987 and the spring of 1988. • Bryson grew up in Des Moines, Iowa • Moved to Great Britain • After his father died, he came back to relive his childhood memories by trekking the countryside in his mother’s car.
Introduction • Supposed to be funny • The book is spilt into two sections • “East” and “West” • “East” • Midwest, Deep South, East Coast, New England • “West” • Great Plains, South West, California, Rockies • Through the journey he is also looking for the “perfect American small town”
What is the Perfect Small Town? • “A place of harmony and industry, a place without shopping malls and oceanic parking lots, without factories and drive-in churches, without Kwik-Kraps and Jiffi-Shits and commercial squalor from one end to the other.” (pg 39) • Names this perfect town that he is searching for “Amalgam” • Based on childhood tv shows and books • “Leave it to Beaver” and the “Hardy Boys”
Growing up in Des Moines, Iowa • City limit sign says “Welcome to Des Moines, This is What Death is Like” • Iowa, Home of the Fat Woman • Must be hell for Iowa Men • “I began to consume National Geographic, with their pictures of glowing Lapps and mist-shrouded castles and ancient cities of infinite charm…. I wanted to be a European Boy”(page, 7) • “As soon as I was old enough I left. I left Des Moines and Iowa and the United States…..” (page, 7)
First Stop • Retrace the route his father always took to his grandparents’ house. • Things have changed! • Some Jerk tore the barn down • House was a shack • Felt a sense of loss because of all his memories there • “You can’t go home again” (pg 22)
What Small Towns have Become • Then and Now • “When you came to the outskirts of a town you would find a gas station and a Dairy Queen, maybe a motel or two..... Now every town has a mile or more of fast-food places, motor inns, discount cities, shopping malls” with big signs and large parking lots. (pg 46) • “The town had no center. It had been eaten by shopping malls” (46).
Billboards • Lady Bird Johnson removed them during the highway beautification program. • “In places like Iowa and Kansas they were about the only stimulation you got” (49). • Remarks that the new ones don’t hold a candle to the old ones. • 3D elements • Cow head coming out or a bowling ball • Announce an attraction coming up
College • Towns • “Only places in America to combine benefits of small-town pace of life with big-city sophistication” (71) • Good Restaurants and Bars • Students • Used to be concerned with “sex, dope, rioting, and learning” now its “sex and keeping their clothes looking nice. I don’t think learning comes into it very much” (pg 72) • Most Stuck up and he would like to pee on their cars • Stupid as pig dribble • Didn’t know when the civil war was, couldn’t identify Stalin or Churchill, thought WWI started before 1900, Columbus sailed to America after 1750, 42% couldn’t name a country in Asia, never heard of Thomas Hardy
Midwest • People • are nice • Need to be orientated, know where the are • Farmers • Lose body parts because the are stupid • Tough • Weather • “For six months, the heat pours over you….for two or three weeks the air is mild….then it’s winter”
Kansas • “Kansas is the most quintessential of American States” • Dorothy and Superman grew up • Place where people still say “by golly” and “gee whillikers” • Geographic Center of the US • Visiting Great Bend was like traveling through a time warp • People go to places “like Dodge City for a little social and sexual intercourse”
Nebraska • “I was headed for Nebraska. Now there's a sentence you don’t want to have to say too often.” (pg 207) • Iowa is a paradise compared to it. • “I couldn’t decide whether the original settlers in Nebraska were insane or just stupid, and then I saw a stadium full of University of Nebraska football fans in action on a Saturday and realized that they must have been both.”
Deep South • People • Slow Speech, • “The average Southerner has the speech patterns of someone slipping in and out of consciousness” (pg 69) • Incestuous, shitty-shoed, rednecks • Poverty everywhere • Nice houses next to shacks • Racial Changes • “That was the most arresting thing about the South--the number of black people everywhere.” (page, 67)
Appalachia • Appalachian Mountains • People • Hillbillies (Poor White Folks) • “I drove through the soft light of dusk, absorbed by the beauty. And the thing was, every house along the roadside was a shack. This was Appalachia, the most notoriously impoverished region of America, and it was just inexpressibly beautiful.”(page, 103) • “This was real hillbilly country. People in these hills still made moonshine, or stump liquor as they called it.” (page, 103)
Rural Northeast • Amish and Mennonites • “Americans are so fascinated by the Amish way of life, by the idea of people living 200 years in the past, that they come quite literally by the millions to gawk.” (page, 136) • “ I wouldn’t be surprised if a decade from now there isn’t a real Amish person left in the country. It is an unspeakable shame. They should be left alone.” (page, 137)
West • “Buffalos are cows with big heads” • Westerns killed all the buffalo and when they ran out of buffalo to shoot they started shooting Indians. • Now that they can’t do either they shoot road signs and each other.
Almost Amalgam • Savannah, Georgia was close • Columbus, Mississippi was almost it • Chestertown, Maryland getting warmer • Started to realize that he would never find it as a whole • “I would have to collect it piecemeal—a courthouse here, a fire station there” (67). • Might have found it in Des Moines when he got back. • “Something about it look friendly and decent and nice, I could live here” (pg 299)