If you aren't familiar with Bill Bryson's work, you should really check out one of his books. My all-time favorite of his, A Walk in the Woods, was reviewed in a previous post. Currently I am reading The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid and it is every bit as good as A Walk in the Woods.
Published in 2006, this work describes the author's growing up in Des Moines, Iowa - middle America - during the 1950s. This story, however, is more than just a chronicle of his early life. Bill Bryson shares his memories of a time when America was changing, growing, inventive, ... a time when all things seemed new and possible. As an added bonus, he invites you into his imaginative childhood world, where he donned the persona of the Thunderbolt Kid (later to be called Captain Thunderbolt), often influenced by the super heroes of the time. He shares his remembrances of everything from the heyday of baseball, the unregulated life of a child in the 50s, cigarettes, sex, jobs and living in a new nuclear world ... to fictional characters as Superman, Roy Rogers, Sky King, Davy Crockett and Zorro. He seems to reflect on everything.
And, as expected, Bill Bryson has a way of seeing the world that at times is thought provoking and often funny. This book is no different. Each chapter begins with a quote from a local newspaper - quotes that often reflect the innocence and the culture then. And the quotes are followed by a picture taken in the 50's. One of my favorite pictures shows an ad with a mature man who is obviously a doctor smoking a cigarette. The bold words state: "More Doctors Smoke Camels Than Any Other Cigarette!" It made me smile. I wonder how many of those doctors died from lung cancer. Another picture shows school children kneeling down behind their desks with arms over their heads during an air-raid drill - part of the post World War II reaction to a possible nuclear attack. I remember those drills very clearly. Looking back to my own childhood if we were ever attacked by a nuclear blast, our desks and our arms wouldn't have saved us.
Reading this book is alittle like looking through an old family album of America, but the images are described in words. For those who lived through this time, the images are formed by your own memories of the times - the names and places may be different but the life experiences are pretty universal. And the enjoyment of this book is not limited to just the baby boomer generation - you just need to have been a child.
So while this book includes his trade mark humorous observations on his youth (making the book worthwhile all by itself), it also includes a touching and nostalgic look back at America - a time that is long since gone, but is a part of who we are today.
This is a great read! One of his best works. Be sure to check it out. If any of my family or friends are interested in borrowing my copy, I am glad to share.