Friday, April 20, 2012

Nonfiction Review: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

My husband and I have enjoyed many of Bill Bryson’s books, especially A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, but I think I have a new favorite now: Bryson’s memoir of growing up in the 1950’s, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid.  I bought it for my husband several years ago and have been meaning to read it myself.  I finally tackled my TBR shelf (thanks in part to my 12 in ’12 Challenge), and laughed my way through this amusing and engaging memoir.

Bryson’s memoir is an interesting mix of observations of the time (the 1950’s) and remembrances of his own childhood.  He is well known for his ability to find the humor in any situation, and this book is no exception.  Right from the first pages, I was laughing out loud and reading passages to my husband (even though he’d already read the book himself!). 

Bryson describes the 1950’s as a time of happiness and prosperity, post-war and pre-hippies, in central Iowa where he grew up in a classic Midwest American suburb.  He uses fascinating facts and figures to complement his first-person narrative, like this passage:

(In 1951…) Americans owned 80 percent of the world’s electrical goods, controlled two-thirds of the world’s productive capacity, produced more than 40 percent of its electricity, 60 percent of its oil, and 66 percent of its steel.  The 5 percent of people on Earth who were Americans had more wealth than the other 95 percent combined.

In many cases, he combines these sorts of observations of the time with hilarious tales of his own adventures, often laced with Bryson’s trademark exaggeration, as here where he is talking about what it was like to be a kid in the 50’s:

Life in Kid World, wherever you went, was unsupervised, unregulated, and robustly – at times, insanely – physical, and yet it was a remarkably peaceable place.  Kids’ fights never went too far, which is extraordinary when you consider how ill-controlled children’s tempers are.  Once when I was about six, I saw a kid throw a rock at another kid, from quite a distance, and it bounced off the target’s head (quite beautifully I have to say) and made him bleed.  This was talked about for years.  The kid who did it was sent for about ten thousand hours of therapy.

He reminisces about the freedom and joys of being a kid at that time and in that place, pokes fun at his father’s eccentricities (that passage about his habit of wearing nothing from the waist down at night is hilarious!) and his mother’s cooking, and recounts all sorts of adventures he and his friends had.  The book is just plain fun.  It is also surprisingly informative.  I really enjoyed this delightful trip down memory lane with Bryson, laughing all the way.

268 pages, Broadway Books

P.S. If you enjoyed this book, you might also like another humorous memoir of growing up in the 1950’s, Too Close to the Falls by Catherine Glidner, which my neighborhood book group overwhelmingly enjoyed.


1 comment:

  1. I read this book a few years ago (actually it was my first Bryson book) and LOVED it! Was laughing out loud. Glad that you were finally able to read it!