Have the older, kinder Bill Bryson go back in time and take this journey. While some of his commentary was both hilarious and heartwarming, like many other reviewers, I was startled at how mean-spirited this book could be in comparison to Bryson's later works. He is comparatively positive about Iowa and the Midwest, as he waxes nostalgic about his childhood in Des Moines (and as an Iowan myself, I both confirm his assessment of our state and breathe a sigh of relief that his memories were good ones!) His commentary on other regions, particularly the South and Appalachia, was gratingly negative. Perhaps he was still in the process of finding his comedic voice, but I often found myself sympathizing with the unassuming and often kind people he was lampooning. The reader choice did not help matters any.
Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe.
This is Bryson at his most...curmudgeonly...and William Roberts was perhaps not the best narrator for this task. My first encounter with this book was of the dead trees variety; I noticed the negative tone then, but Roberts seemed to draw it out in the worst way, making the narrator seem even more smug, arrogant and rude, when Bryson's voice tends to be more self-deprecating and light-hearted. The advantage of this version is that it is unabridged; perhaps I was better off with my old beaten-up paperback, read in my head with Bryson's less irritating voice.
If you are a Bryson fan, perhaps try to find a version that he reads himself.
On the whole, I would still recommend the book, but not as an introduction to Bill Bryson if you haven't read any of his stuff before. He's less of a jerk in his later books, so if you've read Neither Here nor There, A Walk in the Woods, or Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, you'll approach The Lost Continent in a more forgiving mood. This is his first major book, and he's still honing his voice.
It's also worth listening to simply because you can see the connections between his travels and topics that he covers in his later works, for instance, his near-visit to the Biltmore Mansion vis-a-vis his lengthy treatment of the Vanderbilt family in At Home: A History of Private Life. Don't expect that level of research in this book--this is primarily a travelogue--but it is interesting to get a glimpse of the context behind some of his more recent nonfiction books.
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