Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Lost Continent

I'm back. Now to business.

I've been reading a lot as I've been driving to and from New Orleans and Isle of Palms, and also spending a lot of downtime either on a beach, porch, or atop a mound of unmade bedclothes in the center of the chaotic den of mess that is my bedroom.

I finally finished Bill Bryson's first book: The Lost Continent. and thank goodness.
At the beginning of the summer, I devoured countless books of his; accounts of treks through the Appalachian wilderness or sunburnt Outback. When I began reading Lost Continent, I became slightly put off at his attitude, writing style and general view of the country he was exploring: small town America. At first I thought I had simply had too much Bill; this was the last book of his I was reading, as I had exhausted all the others in the used book store. Then I decided it was his position in life that made him sound different, annoying even. He was fresh from twenty years in England and back to his homeland to gripe about the changes since the 60s and the excessive number of spray cheese flavors. It was also his first novel. Maybe, I thought, he's just more charming as a self-deprecating, balding, old guy. However, my judgement early on began to affect how I was reading his book. My inner monologue became hostile towards him as he described the south as backwards and stupid (how original!) and frequently made up town names that show his general feelings on the area: "[it was] in some place like Firecracker, Georgia, or Bareassed, Alabama." This was dangerous. Once I make up my mind about something, it's hard to stay objective, and once I notice something, it tends to poke at me (like the frequency and consistency of my R.A. using the word 'um' while delivering the fire safety talk: "...and um, if you could um, just make sure you know um, how long to cook your um, popcorn, we'll um, avoid any um, annoying fire alarms. um. um. um."). So, naturally, I began to dislike this favorite author of mine line by line, comparison by comparison, state by state.

Many things that annoyed me I chucked up to being a sign of the times (published in the U.S. in 1989), like his relative lack of political correctness. Perhaps today we're just too restrictive of certain terms, but it still bothers me in any publication to hear Asians referred to as "orientals" or all of latinamericans summed up as Mexican. In Lost Continent, Bryson refers to a college student in the news as "a black." Not "a black person" but: "[the students] were a twenty two year old black from Mississippi...and two white guys from New York." Just doesn't sound right to me.

Bryson goes looking for the perfect small town to bring his British family to, or as he calls it 'Amalgam;' a mixture of all the perfect elements a small town can have that don't actually seem to exist in the same place. Basically he quests after the perfect pleasantville of Leave it to Beaver, or more currently, Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls. In the end, I know from reading his books he ends up living in New Hampshire near Dartmouth. However, in looking for perfection, all he really finds is hatred. His attitudes seem too polar. Either he LOVES something, or it is despicable trailer trash. I do like that he describes Charleston as "perfect" but ultimately decides he could never live there because it is in the South which means upon moving his entire family would become uneducated and start speaking at the rate of dripping molasses. to which i say >:P

Overall, I did not enjoy the book nearly as much as his others (I highly recommend I'm a Stranger Here Myself). I was so eager to write about it, I began keeping a notepad next to my bed to write ideas, or more often criticisms. Among these are bullets like

  • more cursing

  • less apology for drunkeness??

or "he disses the Smithsonian!"

I can't even rate it. You read it and tell me how you feel.

1 comment:

  1. anyone who hates the south is no friend of Claire!