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a boy's life

i just sat at starbucks for two hours, finishing bill bryson's latest work of genius, the life and times of the thunderbolt kid. this guy is a classic. i was first exposed to him when christy and i lived in england seven years ago. he wrote a book called notes from a small island, an account across the british isles that is universally adored by the english. i bought it at a london bookstore and on the train home embarrassed christy to no end, laughing until red in the face, tears running.

bryson has written several books, many of them travel books from europe, australia, the u.s., and, i discovered last night, africa. gotta find that one. he's also written about the literal changing of the american landscape and walking the appalachian trail. he's even written about language and science. the guy's brilliant and funny.

mom gave the book to me for Christmas. she had no idea i knew of bryson, this despite having seven of his works on my bookshelf at home! she bought the thunderbolt kid because it reminded her of her childhood: growing up in the '50s, bryson and mom went through the same experiences. she mentioned how much she laughed just thumbing through the pages. she knew i would like it, even though i grew up in the '70s. gosh, was mom right.

i mentioned reading it on the plane yesterday-- that's right, i read a 300 page book in two days. not a huge undertaking, but i could not put it down. i grew up 20 years after bryson, and my world was much different from his. heck, i've never been to des moines, iowa, but he's probably never been to bay city, texas either! i did grow up a boy, though, and i have no doubt that mom will think of me constantly through the book, remembering (surely untrue) stories about my own not-so-innocent childhood. mom, i promise i never smoked or stole beer. scout's honor.

i laughed and laughed. the guy next to me on the plane yesterday and a woman at starbucks tonight asked what book was sooooooooo funny?? i enjoyed his thoughtful way of remembering des moines, remembered my own youthful days, and, most of all, thought of my own boys, now the age when bryson first tied a towel around his neck and pretended to be a superhero from another planet (mom will tell you bryson's not the only kid ever to play that game). i grew up in that world and now inhabit it again from a very different perspective!

alas, times change, as they always do. according to bryson, all the landmarks that made his childhood so memorable are just that now-- memories. grand movie palaces are now apartment buildings. ballparks are now parking lots. everybody shops at the mall and eats at chain restraunts instead of the local establishments of his youth. does all this sound familiar? the more our world and communities comform to each other the more of what made our existence special and unique gets squeezed out. jeez, there's a super wal-mart opening in bay city soon, to replace the aging (10 years maybe) regular wal-mart across the road, which replaced the even older k-mart across town. bay city is even getting a chili's. woo hoo for progress!

i'm not as bitter about that as i sound; neither, i guess, is bryson. he moved from des moines years ago, now living in england. and i certainly don't long for a return to bay city! what i do hope for though is that my boys will have the kind of adventurous childhood bryson writes about and i remember, in spots, at least. i'm confident they will. unlike many other four year olds, james does not have a tv in his room, nor his own video game system (he has been known to enjoy dad's on boys' nights). i don't mean to criticize other parents who allow such luxuries for their kids, but i do think that those things deny some of the really precious and cool things about being a boy. and in a season of well wishes and gift giving, maybe that's the best gift a dad can give.


Anonymous said…
Whoa, you're on a roll! Keep 'em comin.

Anonymous said…
Whoa, you're on a roll! Keep 'em comin.


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