Bill Bryson is such a funny and evocative writer that he can
transform the least promising material into something memorably
hilarious. He's written a memoir about his 1950s boyhood in Des
Moines, Iowa, that begins by warning us that "what follows isn't
terribly eventful" and apologetically concludes "No one died.
Nothing ever went seriously wrong." In a typical moment, Bryson
describes a school field trip to the museum of the Iowa State
Historical Society "where you discovered that not a great deal had
ever happened in Iowa; nothing at all if you excluded ice ages."
Yet Bryson's sardonic wit and absurdist sense of fun fuel every
"uneventful" page, bringing to life a schizophrenic decade of wild
optimism mixed with rampant fear. Bryson writes glowingly about how
proud his parents were in 1955 to buy a new "Amana Stor-Mor
refrigerator," and how his sportswriter father would hold endless
conversations with houseguests about the various newfangled features
of the appliance. Yet Bryson also describes school civil defense
drills where his classmates would dive under their desks for
protection against possible atomic annihilation and recounts much of
the decade's anticommunist hysteria, infamously embodied by Sen.
Despite the decade's perils, young Bryson felt indestructible. He
contrasts the era's "can-do confidence" with today's climate of
anxiety: "We didn't need seat belts, air bags, smoke detectors,
bottled water.... We didn't require child safety caps on our
medicines. We didn't need helmets when we rode our bikes.... We knew
without reminding that bleach was not a refreshing drink and that
gasoline when exposed to a match had a tendency to combust."
Indeed, Bryson writes almost lovingly about being bitten by a dog
while delivering newspapers and crashing his head into a wall during
a tackle football game.
As the book's title suggests, young Bryson loved comic books.
Some of his favorite times were spent in the Kiddie Corrall of
Dahl's Supermarket where, while his mother shopped, he was left to
explore a collection of comic books so abundant that one might "find
a child buried under a foot or so of comic books fast asleep." At
age 6, while playing in the basement, Bryson discovers an oversized
woolen jersey with a thunderbolt on the front. In his comic-book
powered imagination, it becomes "the Sacred Jersey of Zap, left to
me by King Volton, my late natural father, who had brought me to
Earth in a silver spaceship. …