The Guardian's Book Blog ran a piece praising Bill Bryson, which apparently is a risky thing to do in some literary circles.
"How I learned to stop worrying and love Bill Bryson "
"Bryson's crimes against art are to be easy, popular and a thoroughly decent sort. Oh, and he's always cracking jokes.
I realise that what I'm about to say may strike some readers as the literary equivalent of being entranced by Status Quo or nursing a passion for Jacob's Creek wine. Certainly (and shamefully) it's only recently that I have stopped sneering every time I hear this writer's name. But that's all changed now and I'm proud to state it openly: I like Bill Bryson"
Liking Bill Bryson may not be such a problem for average American readers as it is for British book reviewers who have "standards" to uphold. My online book group just finished reading and discussing Bryson's latest book, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, a memoir. Everyone in this group is part of the baby boomer generation, born in the early fifties. His recollections of growing up in the fifties in DesMoines, Iowa rang a bell for all of us. Literally, we had quite a discussion of what kind of bells and whistles our parents used to get us home by dinner after a day of unsupervised outdoor play in the neighborhood.
Here are some of our memories:
" kids [were more] independent and less scheduled. My father had an old US Army gong, probably WWI vintage, God knows where he got it, that he used to clang to get us all home for dinner. It was kind of embarrassing."
"My father (ex-marine) had a bosun's pipe, a form of whistle, that was very distinctive and also very embarassing! By age 10 or 11 my friends and I had a "roaming radius" of about a mile and a half in any direction from our houses, by foot or by bike."
"My mother had a two-tone whistle she did – and she could do it today and we would all come running. Our next door neighbor had a simple whistle which she blew in different codes depending on which kid she wanted. We all knew each others parent calls – and we all knew who needed to go home. "
" in Gladwyne our lunch and dinner call was the firehouse siren at noon and 6 pm. In Ardmore, we had to be home by the time the church bells finished ringing at 6 pm."
"We had an honest to god boater's FOG HORN to bring us home! It looked like a New Year's horn only was made of metal that my mother painted blue and made a much louder noise! One toot - time to come home. Two toots - hurry Three toots all at once - emergency, get home at once. I think my brother has the fog horn but I can't imagine any kid being far enough away to need one now."
That's the problem, no one would need any of these bells, whistles, horns or church bells these days. Kids are scheduled, tracked and on the electronic leash known as a cell phone.