Saturday, May 17, 2008

BOOK: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

What's in a Name Challenge: weather event; in their shoes challenge, Cardathon challenge; nonfiction five 2008

I haven't laughed out loud while reading a book in quite a while, but Bryson certainly tickled my funny bone with this book. It says memoir, but it is just as much a look at the good old days, the 1950s in America. Bryson makes the argument that the 1950s in Des Moines, Iowa were the best time ever! I loved how Bryson used the exaggerated memory of youth to describe events - there were 800 kids outside, everyday. Part of it is how we always exaggerate when remembering our youth - the scab he nurtured that was one and three quarters inches thick-, so maybe that's why the old days were the best times.

Bryson alternates between his childhood and family, amusingly exaggerated, with the detailed research I associate with Bryson to explain America during times - the economy, the world, Communism and the threat of atomic bombs, and the role of farming in Iowa. He sneaked facts and information into his narrative and left me with an understanding of how we came from the good old days, with the slower pace and easier life, to the fast paced hectic life now.

I grew up in the 1970s and life certainly had changed, but I can see the same relative amount of change today from my childhood. I felt many parallels to Bryson's life: I too led a very happy childhood, nothing traumatic ever happened, I spent the summer outdoors with 800 other neighbourhood children, and the Saturday afternoon matinee was still going on in the 1970s. This was a great read and lots of fun, but also an informative look at how America has changed since 1951.


  1. I was put off reading further Bryson by Small Island which I really didn't enjoy but your review has convinced me to give him another try. Thank you.

  2. I keep coming across this title. Maybe I'm supposed to read it! I know what you mean about relating. I grew up in the 60s and 70s and the changes from then to now are astounding. Especially the pace. Maybe it was just because I was a kid that I think the pace was so much slower, but I really do think it was.

  3. I've got to get to this one!! I can relate, also. We had such a pleasant childhood. Everyone was home in the afternoons, playing outside. Now, you couldn't possibly get enough kids together for an afternoon ball game in the backyard. There are so few children playing in the neighborhood that people drive through at top speed. In our day, kids would be flying like bowling pins if people drove so fast. We always had plenty of time to move out of the street and the drivers would wave. I can't imagine that, now.

  4. I have read all of Bill Bryson's books and loved them all. I gave "The Thunderbolt Kid" book CD to my brother for his 60th birthday. Our childhood was very similar except we grew up on a farm. He said he nearly wrecked the car because he was laughing so hard. Hubby and I listened to "A Short History of Nearly Everything" on a long drive and we loved it so much I had to buy it for him.

  5. One of the things that I enjoyed about this one was that, although I grew up in a different era, I DID grow up in the same place as him and the people were very familiar to me. He's a great writer.

  6. notjustlaura - I've read 2 other Brysons and enjoyed both : A Short History of Nearly Everything, and the one where he travels Europe. I find him amusing, but if you don't like him, this wouldn't convince you.

    terri b - He makes the case that it is more than just our memories - life is different now. He's pretty funny, give him a try.

    bookfool - exactly! I still remember having a little jack knife I could cut stuff with. Now? I'd be arrested for letting my son carry around a knife.

    grand life - A Short History was excellent, and this one was very funny. I kept reading passages aloud to my husband, or giggling madly alone.

    kookie - For someone from Des Moines, I imagine the memories would be fabulous. All the stores and landmarks, even people. He is a great writer.

  7. I keep picking this book up and putting it back. I think now, after reading your review, I'll go ahead and get it! Thanks.

  8. I've got this out from the library right now (Maybe for the NF5 challenge). I've heard mixed comments, but you make it sound fun.

    I'll know soon, it's due back to the library on 6/2)


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