May 29, 2008

on the edge of a curious happy derangement

A memoir about times so simple that people went out of their ways to complicate things - like by inventing a drive-thru grocery conveyer belt and an atomic toilet. It was the golden age of toasters, fish sticks, and 65-cent colored television. Bill Bryson, who always has me at "the" (or whatever the first word of the book is), re-cemented his status as Love of My Bookshelf with a narrative of the discussion between his parents (and subsequent weirdness involving neighbors) on the pronunciation of "chaise longue."

It is about a time in which people were "indestructible" - carrying echoes of my own aunts and uncles (and future MIL) who cannot abide seat belts in cars and can't believe people pay for bottled water. A time in which new conveniences were fun, if not totally practical or necessary. What blows me away in the first couple of chapters (and is somehow only slightly dampened by air raid drills and a national obsession with atomic bombs) is the feeling of utter and complete safety - an unimaginable luxury in today's world. Not only was a bike helmet probably the stupidest thing you could think of putting on your head (I mean, how are you supposed to feel the wind moving through your hair?), but bombs were being "tested" everywhere - and there was no doubt in America's mind (to the memory of the Thunderbolt Kid) that she would come out on top. We are talking about a short era in which television was the greatest thing about being alive - but unlike today, kids wanted to do other things, too: crawl, climb, taste, quarrel, and explore - in short, fully experience everything around them, mostly unchecked by silly precautions like car seats and warning labels on bleach containers. As Bryson puts it, "What a wonderful world it was. We won't see its like again, I'm afraid."

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