Today I finished Bill Bryson's The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. I bought it for my dad for Christmas, then my folks handed it off to me once they'd both read it. They promised me some laughs, and laugh I did. Unfortunately I read it on the bus and found it hard to maintain my commuter face during the funny bits. I ended up wheezing like a furtive pervert at certain episodes in the book, so apologies to my seatmates, whoever you were.
Creating laughter using just words on a page is a feat of utter magic to me, so I salute you, Mr. Bryson.
The book is billed as a memoir, but it avoids the simple pattern of "This one time I...and then this other time I..." Bryson makes it more of a memoir of American life in the '50s, with each chapter about some aspect of that era and its relation to his childhood. "The Age of Excitement" details the burgeoning technology of the '50s—convenience foods, television, cars with Strato-Flight Hydra-Matic transmissions, and The Bomb. "The Pursuit of Pleasure" rounds up the newfangled toys, candy, and comic book superheroes (including Bryson's beloved Asbestos Lady, with her "cannonball breasts and powerful loins"). He's put a fair bit of research into the book, discussing the crackdowns on comics and commies that blighted the decade, and examining the arms race, the space race, and race relations at various points.
Bryson ends the book with a lament for lost things, especially the family businesses in his hometown of Des Moines that have been bulldozed for chain stores and parking lots. "Imagine having all of public life—offices, stores, restaurants, entertainments—conveniently clustered in the heart of the city and experiencing fresh air and daylight each time you moved from one to aonther... Imagine having a city full of things that no other city had."
That last line reminds me of this fantastic thing, as can be seen at the Vancouver Art Gallery and in the new issue of subTerrain. I took it in last week and I'll probably go again very soon.