Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Simpler (and Funnier) Time

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir
by Bill Bryson

Frankly, am still riding a bit of the Tolstoy high. I re-read large segments of Master and Man last week, because I had decided to use the story as a major piece of the March 30 sermon. The more I read it, the more beautiful it became to me. This book of Bryson's, although utterly hilarious, does not provide the reader with that same spiritual depth. Referring back to the ongoing discussion that E. and I have regarding what makes a classic, maybe that desire to go back and re-read again and again, always finding new nuances, is part of what gives a book real staying power.

That is not to say that I did not enjoy The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. I did. Very much. It is the first book in awhile that has made me laugh out loud. I think parents of boys will particularly like it, as it is a window into the minds of little and adolescent boys - how they think, what is important to them, and the lengths to which they will go to make and perpetuate mischief. "The Thunderbolt Kid" was a superhero persona that Bryson gave to himself as a little kid, complete with costumes, special powers and a mission. ("Superman fought for truth, justice, and the American way. I killed morons. Still do.") Since my older son, S., is totally into superheroes, and has been for a couple of years now, some of the young Bill Bryson's antics really hit home.

The book is also sprinkled with references to the history and culture of the 1950s, and how certain features of that decade (the Cold War, economic prosperity, the ascendancy of television) affected kids at that time. For a more comprehensive history of the 50s, I recommend David Halberstam's less than imaginatively titled book The Fifties. Bryson's book is lighter, but does bring in the child's perspective in a delightful way.

Some of the antics that Bryson wrote about that resonated for me, even though my little kid years were in the late 60s and early 70s, were going to matinee movies and acting like lunatics, playing long, intricate role-playing games like "house" and "school," and tormenting elementary school teachers. Bryson clearly exaggerates a lot, but his memories of childhood in Des Moines, Iowa have a certain timeless quality to them.

Anyone who has ever been a kid will find a laugh or two in this book. What are some of your favorite childhood memories? What is the funniest thing you can remember from that period of your life? Who were the friends with whom you had the most fun, and where are they now? Those things are worth calling back to mind now and then. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid will help you do that, and your day will be brightened for it.

Reverent Reader


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