The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir

4.2 120
by Bill Bryson
     
 

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Bill Bryson’s hilarious memoir of growing up in middle America in the Fifties – complete, unabridged and read by the author.

Using his old fantasy life as a springboard, Bill Bryson recreates the life of his familyin the 1950s in all its transcendent normality. In a period that saw the inexorable rise of television, the opening of Disneyland, the

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Overview

Bill Bryson’s hilarious memoir of growing up in middle America in the Fifties – complete, unabridged and read by the author.

Using his old fantasy life as a springboard, Bill Bryson recreates the life of his familyin the 1950s in all its transcendent normality. In a period that saw the inexorable rise of television, the opening of Disneyland, the testing of the atomic bomb and the explosion of choice in everything from food to cars, Bill Bryson’s days followed in reassuringly cosy succession, enlivened by modest triumphs and disasters.

Warm and laugh-out-loud funny, The Thunderbolt Kid is full of Bill Bryson’s inimitable, pitch-perfect observations, and this unabridged recording contains every single amusing anecdote and amazing fact. Nothing is left out, so you can enjoy the whole book in its entirety, read by Bill Bryson himself.

Editorial Reviews

Jay Jennings
As a humorist, Bryson falls somewhere between the one-liner genius of Dave Barry and the narrative brilliance of David Sedaris…at his best he spools out operatically funny vignettes of sustained absurdity that nevertheless remain grounded in universal experience. These accounts, like the description of the bumper-car ride at a run-down amusement park or the tale of a friend's father's descent from the high dive at a local lake, defy excerpting; when taken whole, they will leave many readers de-couched.

Occasionally in the course of his reminiscences, Bryson abandons punch lines and demonstrates a lyrical gift for the tactile and noisome nature of childhood…that elevates the work to the level of classics in the genre like Laurie Lee's Cider with Rosie.
—The New York Times

Juliet Wittman
Bill Bryson is erudite, irreverent, funny and exuberant, making the temptation to quote endlessly from The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoirhard to resist. Bryson interweaves childhood reminiscences seamlessly with observations about 1950s America, evoking a zeitgeist that will be familiar to almost everyone past middle age. Though his memories are for the most part pleasurable, he doesn't evade the darker side of the times…
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

For most of his adult life, Bryson has made his home in the U.K, yet he actually entered the world in 1951 as part of America's postwar baby boom and spent his formative years in Des Moines, Iowa. Bryson wistfully recounts a childhood of innocence and optimism, a magical point in time when a distinct sense of regional and community identity briefly—but blissfully—coexisted with fledgling technology and modern convenience. Narrating, Bryson skillfully wields his amorphous accent—somehow neither fully British nor Midwestern—to project a genial and entertaining tour guide of lost Americana. In portraying the boyish exploits of his "Thunderbolt Kid" superhero alter ego, he convincingly evokes both the unadulterated joys and everyday battles of childhood. As an added bonus, the final CD features an interview with Bryson in which he reflects on the process of writing his autobiography and discussing the broader social and cultural insights that he gleaned from the experience. Simultaneous release with the Broadway hardcover (Reviews, July 10). (Nov.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
"I can't imagine there has ever been a more gratifying time or place to be alive than America in the 1950s," writes Bryson (A Walk in the Woods), and his wryly amusing stories of his childhood in Des Moines almost convince the reader this is true. Bryson recounts the world of his younger self, buried in comic books in the Kiddie Corral at the local supermarket, resisting civil defense drills at school, and fruitlessly trying to unravel the mysteries of sex. His alter ego, the Thunderbolt Kid, born of his love for comic-book superheroes and the need to vaporize irritating people, serves as an astute outside observer of life around him. His family's foibles are humorously presented, from his mother's burnt, bland cooking to his father's epic cheapness. The larger world of 1950s America emerges through the lens of "Billy's" world, including the dark underbelly of racism, the fight against communism, and the advent of the nuclear age. Recommended for public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/06.]-Alison M. Lewis, Drexel Univ. Lib., Philadelphia Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-The Thunderbolt Kid was "born" in the 1950s when six-year-old Bryson found a mysterious, scratchy green sweater with a satiny thunderbolt across the chest. The jersey bestowed magic powers on the wearer-X-ray vision and the power to zap teachers and babysitters and deflect unwanted kisses from old people. These are the memoirs of that Kid, whose earthly parents were not really half bad-a loving mother who didn't cook and was pathologically forgetful, but shared her love of movies with her youngest child, and a dad who was the "greatest baseball writer that ever lived" and took his son to dugouts and into clubhouses where he met such famous players as Stan Musial and Willie Mays. Simpler times are conveyed with exaggerated humor; the author recalls the middle of the last century in the middle of the country (Des Moines, IA), when cigarettes were good for you, waxy candies were considered delicious, and kids were taught to read with Dick and Jane. Students of the decade's popular culture will marvel at the insular innocence described, even as the world moved toward nuclear weapons and civil unrest. Bryson describes country fairs and fantastic ploys to maneuver into the tent to see the lady stripper, playing hookey, paper routes, church suppers, and more. His reminiscences will entertain a wide audience.-Jackie Gropman, Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A charming, funny recounting of growing up in Des Moines during the sleepy 1950s. Bryson (A Short History of Nearly Everything, 2003, etc.) combines nostalgia, sharp wit and a dash of hyperbole to recreate his childhood in the rural Midwest. Using a homespun, idiosyncratic voice reminiscent of Jean Shepherd, he tells of a generally happy youth as the son of a loving but often absent sportswriter father and a dizzyingly absentminded mother, a "home furnishings" reporter at the Des Moines Register who once sent him to school wearing her own peddle-pushers. The journey includes visits to stately downtown Des Moines, where Younkers, the preeminent local department store, offered free gifts to patrons of its "elegant" Tea Room; the annual Iowa State Fair, where Bryson tried desperately to gain access to the notorious "strippers' tent"; and the bacchanalia of Saturday matinees at the local movie theater, where candy and popcorn flew through the darkened theater like confetti. We also meet some of Bryson's colorful comrades, like George Willoughby, an adept vending-machine thief who also placed bugs in his soup in order to get free ice-cream sundaes from the stricken restaurant manager; and the troubled Stephen Katz, a prodigious substance-abuser who organized the theft of an entire boxcar of Old Milwaukee beer. Eventually, progress caught up with Des Moines, and even young Bryson's imagined superpowers can't stop it. Holiday Inns and Travelodges replaced the town's stately Victorian homes, and the family-owned downtown stores, movie palaces and restaurants were undone by shopping malls and multiplexes. In that sense, the decline of downtown Des Moines mirrors that of hundreds of small andmidsized towns across the country. But in Bryson's bittersweet memoir, he reminds readers of the joys many people forgot to even miss. A great, fun read, especially for Baby Boomers nostalgic for the good old days.
From the Publisher
“A charming, funny recounting of growing up in Des Moines during the sleepy 1950s. Bryson combines nostalgia, sharp wit and a dash of hyperbole to recreate his childhood in the rural Midwest. A great, fun read, especially for Baby Boomers nostalgic for the good old days.”
Kirkus Reviews *Starred*

“While many memoirs convey a bittersweet nostalgia, Bill Bryson’s loving look at his childhood in The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is genuinely sweet. Framed within young Bryson’s fantasy of being a superhero, it matches the author’s sparkling wit with his vivid, candid memories of 1950s America. Adding a healthy dose of social history, Bryson tells a larger story, with vignettes that reveal the gap between America’s postwar glow and its underlying angst. Bryson also touchingly recalls his father’s career as a sportswriter, his mother’s awkward experiments with cooking and the outrageous adventures of his infamous traveling companion, Stephen Katz.”
Publishers Weekly, Fall Preview

“Bill Bryson’s laugh-out-loud pilgrimage through his Fifties childhood in heartland America is a national treasure. It’s full of insights, wit, and wicked adolescent fantasies.”
Tom Brokaw, NBC News

“Bryson recounts the world of his younger self, buried in comic books in the Kiddie Corral at the local supermarket, resisting civil defense drills at school, and fruitlessly trying to unravel the mysteries of sex. His alter ego, the Thunderbolt Kid, born of his love for comic-book superheroes and the need to vaporize irritating people, serves as an astute outside observer of life around him. His family’s foibles are humorously presented, from his mother’s burnt, bland cooking to his father’s epic cheapness.
The larger world of 1950s America emerges through the lens of ‘Billy’s’ world, including the dark underbelly of racism, the fight against communism, and the advent of the nuclear age.”
Library Journal

“Travel humorist Bryson took a decisive stand regarding his hometown almost 20 years ago when he published the story “Fat Girls in Des Moines” in Granta magazine. Now the author delves more deeply into his midwestern roots in a bittersweet laugh-out-loud recollection of his growing-up years. This affectionate portrait wistfully recalls the bygone days of Burns and Allen and downtown department stores but with a good-natured elbow poke to the ribs.”
Booklist Reviews

"Takes us on yet another amiable ramble through terrain viewed with his characteristic mixture of bemused wit, acerbic astonishment and sweet benevolence…we come closest to the real Bryson in this, his first true memoir…encompasses so much of human experience that you want to smile and sob at once…Bryson’s evocation of an era is near perfect: tender, hilarious and true. "
The Times (UK)

"A wittily incisive book about innocence, and its limits, but in no sense an innocent book…Like Alan Bennett, another ironist posing as a sentimentalist, Bryson can play the teddy-bear and then deliver a sudden, grizzly-style swipe…might tell us as much about the oddities of the American way as a dozen think-tanks. "
Independent

"Always witty and sometimes hilarious…wonderfully funny and touching." 
Literary Review (UK)

"A funny, effortlessly readable, quietly enchanted memoir…Bryson also provides a quirky social history of America…he always manages to slam on the brakes with a good joke just when things might get sentimental. "
Daily Mail (UK)

"He can capture the flavour of the past with the lightest of touches…marvellous set pieces…As a chronicler of the foibles and absurdities of daily life, Bryson has few peers. "
Sunday Telegraph (UK)

"The beautifully realized elegiac tone of his childhood memoir invites readers to go tumbling down the rabbit hole of memory into the best days of their lives…by turns playful affectionate, gently mocking, laugh-out-loud funny and even wistfully sad. His greatest gift is as a humorist, however, so it is the snickers, the guffaws and the undignified belly laughs he delivers on almost every page that make it worth buying…probably the funniest book you’ll read this year. No, dammit. It is the funniest book you’ll find anytime soon. "
Sydney Morning Herald

"Is this the most cheerful book I’ve ever read, or the saddest?...hilarious…a lovely, happy book. "
London Evening Standard

"Bryson [writes] with a whiff of irony and a stronger perfume of affection, but never the stink of sentimentality. Darting between his life and the trajectory of America, he slips in a few key contextualising details, which he deploys with the same deft ease that made his A Short History of Nearly Everything so sneakily edifying…very few [memoirs] contain a well of happiness this deep, or this complexly rendered."
Scotland on Sunday

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781598953909
Publisher:
Findaway World, LLC
Publication date:
10/17/2006
Product dimensions:
5.36(w) x 7.44(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

A Memoir
By Bill Bryson

Broadway

Copyright © 2006 Bill Bryson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-7679-1936-X


Chapter One

Burns Unit

The only downside of my mother's working was that it put a little pressure on her with regard to running the home and particularly with regard to dinner, which frankly was not her strong suit anyway. My mother always ran late and was dangerously forgetful into the bargain. You soon learned to stand aside about ten to six every evening, for it was then that she would fly in the back door, throw something in the oven, and disappear into some other quarter of the house to embark on the thousand other household tasks that greeted her each evening. In consequence she nearly always forgot about dinner until a point slightly beyond way too late. As a rule you knew it was time to eat when you could hear baked potatoes exploding in the oven.

We didn't call it the kitchen in our house. We called it the Burns Unit.

"It's a bit burned," my mother would say apologetically at every meal, presenting you with a piece of meat that looked like something - a much-loved pet perhaps - salvaged from a tragic house fire. "But I think I scraped off most of the burned part," she would add, overlooking that this included every bit of it that had once been flesh.

Happily, all this suited my father. His palate only responded totwo tastes - burnt and ice cream - so everything suited him so long as it was sufficiently dark and not too startlingly flavorful. Theirs truly was a marriage made in heaven for no one could burn food like my mother or eat it like my dad.

As part of her job, my mother bought stacks of housekeeping magazines - House Beautiful, House and Garden, Better Homes and Gardens - and I read these with a curious avidity, partly because they were always lying around and in our house all idle moments were spent reading something, and partly because they depicted lives so absorbingly at variance with our own. The housewives in my mother's magazines were so collected, so organized, so calmly on top of things, and their food was perfect - their lives were perfect. They dressed up to take their food out of the oven! There were no black circles on the ceiling above their stoves, no mutating goo climbing over the sides of their forgotten saucepans. Children didn't have to be ordered to stand back every time they opened their oven doors. And their foods - baked Alaska, lobster Newburg, chicken cacciatore - why, these were dishes we didn't even dream of, much less encounter, in Iowa.

Like most people in Iowa in the 1950s, we were more cautious eaters in our house. On the rare occasions when we were presented with food with which we were not comfortable or familiar - on planes or trains or when invited to a meal cooked by someone who was not herself from Iowa - we tended to tilt it up carefully with a knife and examine it from every angle as if it determining whether it might need to be defused. Once on a trip to San Francisco my father was taken by friends to a Chinese restaurant and he described it to us afterwards in the somber tones of someone recounting a near-death experience.

"And they eat it with sticks, you know," he added knowledgeably.

"Goodness!" said my mother.

"I would rather have gas gangrene than go through that again," my father added grimly.

In our house we didn't eat:

pasta, rice, cream cheese, sour cream, garlic, mayonnaise, onions, corned beef, pastrami, salami, or foreign food of any type, except French toast;

bread that wasn't white and at least 65 percent air;

spices other than salt, pepper and maple syrup;

fish that was any shape other than rectangular and not coated in bright orange breadcrumbs, and then only on Fridays and only when my mother remembered it was Friday, which in fact was not often;

seafood of any type but especially seafood that looked like large insects;

soups not blessed by Campbell's and only a very few of those;

anything with dubious regional names like "pone," or "gumbo" or foods that had at any time been an esteemed staple of slaves or peasants.

All other foods of all types - curries, enchiladas, tofu, bagels, sushi, couscous, yogurt, kale, rocket, Parma ham, any cheese that was not a vivid bright yellow and shiny enough to see your reflection in - had either not yet been invented or was yet unknown to us. We really were radiantly unsophisticated. I remember being surprised to learn at quite an advanced age that a shrimp cocktail was not, as I had always imagined, a pre-dinner alcoholic drink with a shrimp in it.

All our meals consisted of leftovers. My mother had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of foods that had already been to the table, sometimes many times. Apart from a few perishable dairy products, everything in the fridge was older than I was, sometimes by many years. (Her oldest food possession of all, it more or less goes without saying, was a fruitcake that was kept in a metal tin and dated from the colonial period.) I can only assume that my mother did all of her cooking in the 1940s so that she could spend the rest of her life surprising herself with what she could find under cover at the back of the fridge. I never knew her to reject a food. The rule of thumb seemed to be that if you opened the lid and the stuff inside didn't make you actually recoil and take at least one staggered step backwards, it was deemed OK to eat.

Both of my parents had grown up in the Great Depression and neither of them ever threw anything away if they could possibly avoid it. My mother routinely washed and dried paper plates, and smoothed out for reuse spare aluminum foil. If you left a pea on your plate, it became part of future meal. All our sugar came in little packets spirited out of restaurants in deep coat pockets, as did our jams, jellies, crackers (oyster and saltine), tartar sauces, some of our ketchup and butter, all of our napkins, and a very occasional ashtray; anything that came with a restaurant table really. One of the happiest moments in my parents' life was when maple syrup started to be served in small disposable packets and they could add those to the household hoard.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson Copyright © 2006 by Bill Bryson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“Bill Bryson’s laugh-out-loud pilgrimage through his Fifties childhood in heartland America is a national treasure. It’s full of insights, wit, and wicked adolescent fantasies.”
—Tom Brokaw

“Bryson is unparalleled in his ability to cut a culture off at the knees in a way that is so humorous and so affectionate that those being ridiculed are laughing too hard to take offense.”
The Wall Street Journal

“A cross between de Tocqueville and Dave Barry, Bryson writes about…America in a way that’s both trenchantly observant and pound-on-the-floor, snort-root-beer-out-of-your-nose funny.”
San Franciso Examiner

“Bill Bryson could write an essay about dryer lint or fever reducers and still make us laugh out loud.”
Chicago Sun-Times

“Bryson is…great company…a lumbering, droll, neatnik intellectual who comes off as equal parts Garrison Keillor, Michael Kinsley, and…Dave Barry.”
New York Times Book Review

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