Friday, December 4, 2015

Book Review: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

I have read almost all of Bill Bryson's books. And he's written a lot. I was looking for a funny book to read, preferably a memoir, and it's been silly that I've had this book sitting on my shelf for almost 10 years. (Now, before his newest book comes out in January, I only have one left, his shortest. That will be read very, very soon.) And nicely, Bryson didn't let me down.

Bill Bryson grew up in Des Moines, Iowa in the 1950s. This book is mostly a memoir, but he's also done his research on Iowa and the 1950s. He tells stories about some of the quirky establishments in Des Moines including the restaurant with "atomic restrooms" (the toilet seats moved up into the wall and were supposedly  sanitized by a flash of bright light) and the grocery store with a pickup location some distance away with a long underground conveyor for the bags to arrive on (how did Bill and his friends never ride on that conveyor? Seems like a missed opportunity.) He talks about quintessential 1950s toys from the normal such as Slinkies and Silly Putty to the TV-show based toys and their own homemade "toys" (which I've put in quotation marks as I'm mostly now picturing his friend who wanted to plant a confetti bomb at their school just before graduation but who blew up his own bedroom instead.) He talks about Iowa, about farming and tornadoes and the flat landscape and the lack of prejudice (when he gave a friend the pseudonym Stephen Katz in two previous books, it didn't even occur to him that Katz is a Jewish name.) He talked about social and cultural aspects of the time like all the "atomic" everything everywhere (and he gives details about all the atom bomb tests, about polio scares (although his perpetually unperturbed parents never worried), and about just being a midwestern boy in one of the best times of all (1957 was technically the happiest year in America, according to Gallup.)

I do like the time period of the 1950s as viewed from a child's perspective. Then you get all the fun (comic books! Giant elegant movie theaters!) without the racism and Red scares and other terrifying things (Cuban missile crisis). Obviously Bryson knows of these things and the Cuban missile crisis isn't skipped over, nor the superiority of the Soviet space technology nor what we were doing to our country and the world by blowing up the Bikini Atoll and parts of Nevada. But the utter joy that era meant for a creative child with few limits, is evident on every page.

While I am a few years late to the game, Byson never goes out of style, and this is a perfect pick-me-up book that caused me to laugh out loud more than once, and is filled with fascinating facts that will have you annoying everyone nearby with, "Hey, can I read you something?" I could have done with a little less hyperbole, but overall, a great addition to the Bryson oeuvre.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher, but not for a review, as it was many years before I had a blog.

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