Monday, July 23, 2007

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

While I was tremendously fascinated by the interview with Bill Bryson on NPR when A Short History of Nearly Everything was published, my brain was not quite ready to tackle his view on life, the universe, and everything. So I waited a few years until I found myself trying to find a paperback I could read during the long hours I was spending with my grandpop in the ICU at St. Mary's Hospital. A Walk In the Woods it was. In the few days before I figured out the hospital did have wifi, I had time to let my brain adjust to the funny old white guy who wrote in ginormous hyperbole. I think it had a lot to do wishing my uncles were as funny as my grandfather, who is about as funny as Mr. Bryson.

My grandfather left the ICU and is recovering/living/raising hell at home again. I'm doing my best to free my schedule so I can spend some quality time there, and I just happened to pick up The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid at the Southwark Branch of the Philadelphia Free Library before I went for a visit.

I think the most pleasant thing I can do with friends, and especially family, is spend a few hours reading together. Grandpa with the sports page, Grandma with her prayer book or Danielle Steel, and me, giggling away on the couch with Mr. Bryson.

See, my grandparents still live in Levittown. A set (maternal) and a half (paternal grandma, aka Nana). Of course, my parents wanted to get AWAY from that delightful suburb and decided to raise my sister and me in the country. As a kid I was fascinated by the sidewalks and parks and the general bounty of OTHER KIDS that were always there to play with.

So with that dream it was quite cozy to spend an afternoon at my grandparent's house in Levittown, with everyone engrossed in their own reading (Grandma had picked up Glass Castles because Laura Bush mentioned it on TV). Bill Bryson's memoir of growing up in Des Moines the 1950s was kinda like what I imagined Levittown to be like, but as someone who had not quite grown up there but heard firsthand stories, not someone who was raised on the horrors of suburbia and hadn't gotten over the punk rock anti-suburb mentality I so gleefully (not) tried to navigate during the 1990s. It was dangerous, wonderous, happy, terrifying, friendly, strange, and just wonderful. If we made fun of the 1950s as this horrible time of suburban conformity, Bill Bryson instead gives us real things to laugh about.

I finished the book at my dad's house back in the country. "Did you have electric football? Did you watch Sky King?" I kept asking.

"Yes." He said. Not elaborating, but I can assure you that Bill Bryson is much funnier than anyone in my family. Cept maybe my grandpop.

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