Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

Des Moines, Iowa in the 1950s may not sound like the most intriguing setting for a book. However, this is the hometown and era of Bill Bryson, upon which he reflects in his memoir - The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid.

I'm somewhat of a slow reader, and I always have more than one book going at once. This book took me a little over a month to finish, and the first half was far more intriguing than the second. I blogged about this book in late January here, The concept of photographing a year of food is fascinating. I would love for this moment to be recreated by researchers for the average American family today, but I can only imagine how disheartening it would be for nutritionists everywhere.

Bryson portrays the 1950s as happy and plastic. Cheerful yet almost too good to be true. His recollection is from  the skewed vision of his childhood. The streets of Des Moines, the department stores and historical homes, and sweet neighborhoods and grocery stores made me want to visit Des Moines, for no other reason than to find these places from the book.

However, the last half of the book features less humorous anecdotes and more emphasis on his teenage years, trying to find his dad's stash of men's magazines and cigarettes. He closes with a depressing look at Des Moines today, with most of the nostalgia from the first half of the book now bulldozed for the sake of Wal-Mart and a Travel Lodge.

The funny stories from the first half of his book have motivated me to try reading another of his - A Walk In The Woods, about his trek on the Appalachian Trail. I'll be sure to post about that one too.

Other upcoming book posts include The Lace Reader (recently finished reading for the first time), Super Freakonomics (just started reading that one, but I'll be sure to write a refresher about how much I loved the first book - Freakonomics), My Life as a Guinea Pig (still in the middle of), and another entry combining a few of the Malcom Gladwell books I've read over the past few months. I would have written about those earlier, but I'm still not sure what I think about them just yet.


  1. ooh, I lOVED freakonomics! I will have to consider checking it out of the library!

  2. I just moved to Des Moines about 6 months ago. Now I want to read this book and maybe get some insights into what it used to be like here. On the other hand, I would still encourage you to visit Des Moines the past few years there has been a big push for restoration and revival and there are lots of areas (like Valley Junction and the East Village) that are lovely. And the architecture is to die for. We always take the really really long way home from church on Sundays and wind through town so we can see the amazing houses.

  3. Jill, I'm reading Super Freakonomics right now and it's incredible. Better than the first, even.

    W.G., Definitely read this book if you live in Des Moines. I'll try to make it up there sometime. Several other people have also told me about the restoration projects. Sounds fantastic.
    - Lara