Thursday, March 22, 2007


There it is, a project far more boring than Laura’s 10-stitch swatches: seven inches of 58 stockinette stitches in basic black yarn. It’s a…wait for it!...pocket lining. I remind myself it’s for a good cause, my MIL’s sweater, but it’s sure nothing to blog about.

So I’m going to talk about a book I’m thoroughly enjoying, Bill Bryson’s memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. Bryson always makes me laugh. In fact, I tried to listen to his book about traveling in Australia while I jogged on my treadmill. I finally had to stop because I’d laugh so hard that I’d fall off the machine.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is equally entertaining but it’s also a brilliantly vivid description of the 50s, the period in which Bryson grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. Now I grew up in the 60s but my hometown in West Virginia was about a decade behind everyone else so much of what he writes about resonates with me. We had a bomb shelter, we had black-and-white television (although the shows were slightly different and we got fewer channels), we had the same candy and comic books and toys. Bryson’s writing is so evocative that it carries me back to a time and place I don’t think about all the much anymore. What a joy it is!

Bryson writes well about a child’s point of view. He doesn’t pretend he is a child but he remembers clearly what it was like and conveys the pleasures and fears of youth with great accuracy and humor, always humor.

The dark side of the 50s is not ignored. Bryson reminds us of the Communist witch hunts, the hydrogen bomb testing (which people took picnics out to watch!), the polio epidemic and other things which as a child I wasn’t entirely aware of (although I don’t think polio was such an issue in the 60s, even in my neck of the woods). I was fascinated to discover why my favorite comic books changed so dramatically; someone decreed that the muscular Supermen and gorgeous Millie the Models were bad for the moral fiber of the youth of the nation and so they turned them all into cartoonish Archies and Caspers, neither of which I liked nearly as much. Who knew?

If you’re looking for a chuckle, a wash of nostalgia, and some gorgeous and sharp descriptive writing, you might want to give The Thunderbolt Kid a look.

Do you have any favorite books that remind you of an especially interesting time in your lives?

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Blogger sharon said...

I enjoyed reading your post today because it resounded with me completely. I grew up in the 50's and remember so much of what he wrote and life at that time. Also, because I enjoy Bill Bryson's writing so much I read every single book of his and this book I gave to my son for his 25th birthday in November. He loved it. thanks.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Dallas Schulze said...

I have Thunderbolt Kid but haven't read it yet. I think I'm going to have to grab it off the teetering stack of books to be read. Bryson has a real gift for capturing a time and place.

1:40 PM  
Blogger Amy Lane said...

No...not really--the 70's were too scary, the 80's too plastic... all of my books were hi-fi (high fantasy) so I didn't have to cope with the realities of the time at hand... I do have a memory of an awful lot of Harlequin romances in high school--which was funny, because (as I told my husband) by the time I started reading romances again in the late 90's, all of the ingenues had divorced all of the older, controlling men they'd married during the 80's and were now marrying the boy next door who turned out to be a super-FBI-agent-turned-free-lance spy.

8:35 PM  
Blogger Nancy Herkness said...

Oh, I'm so glad to meet other Bill Bryson fans! I just love his books. A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING is brilliant.

Harlequins! Oh yes! I read masses in high school--adored them! Also, does anyone remember the Lucy Walker books from Australia? I loved those too.

10:15 AM  
Blogger joelle said...

During the 1950's I walked to the local library and read every single one of L.M. Montgomery's books. At that time they were all in hardcover and I schlepped them home and devoured each and every one. That started me reading and I haven't stopped yet.

3:50 PM  
Blogger Cynthia said...

I'm a fan of Bill Bryson's books and also enjoyed Thunderbolt Kid a great deal. I also recommend his other books, especially Notes From a Small Island, I'm a Stranger Here Myself and A Walk in the Woods.

And Nancy, I'll confess I have a copy of A Short History of Nearly Everything and have never read it!

6:12 PM  
Blogger Cindi Myers said...

I just saw my last post went in under another google account -- one I never use. Anyway, it's just me, not a mysterious Cynthia!

6:13 PM  
Blogger Nancy Herkness said...

Cindi, A SHORT HISTORY, ETC. is not one of those books you read in one sitting, as you clearly know. However, I read it along with several other books, a little at a time, and was just fascinated. You'll really enjoy it.

7:11 PM  

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