Monday, January 18, 2010

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

This book is more than just a memoir of one person's life, it's an homage to a decade (the 1950's) and a place (Des Moines, IA) where life was simpler for the average kid and fun had to be searched out rather than watched on TV. Bryson focuses on the 1950's, his early childhood, by placing historical context around his personal anecdotes. Although too young at the time to really experience the significant historical moments of the 50's, Bryson reflects, as an adult, on events like the Cuban Missile Crisis as he tells us what Little Bill was up to at the same moment in time.

Throughout a slightly off-kilter childhood (as interpreted by the author,) Bryson assumes the alter ego of The Thunderbolt Kid. Inspired by an hold shirt discovered in his basement, The Thunderbolt Kid is capable of vaporizing his enemies with just a stare. The imaginative nature childhood Bill needed to create such a superhero is also prevalent in adult Bill's storytelling. Yes, his personal anecdotes are embellished - it's obvious that thinks like a boy's face getting smashed completely in by a basketball didn't actually happen - but in such a creative and descriptive way that the anecdotes don't lose their sense of reality.

Like all Bryson narratives, Life and Times is an extremely entertaining book that not only tells a story, but teaches the reader a dew things as well. Bryon's insight into his own childhood, Middle-America, and the history of a Communist-crazed decade all combine to paint a detailed pictures of a long-gone way of life. The simpler times of the 1950's have given way to so much flurried action and over-stimulation; it was refreshing to visit a time period unlike any I've personally known. It also felt good to laugh out loud at a book, which I did plenty. How can you not laugh about the jars young Bill would "toity" into in the kitchen because the bathroom was too far away?

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