The Thunderbolt Kid

Today’s book review is The Thunderbolt Kid, by Bill Bryson. Bill Bryson is one of my absolute favourite authors, mainly driven by two quite different books: Neither Here nor There (a story of backpacking around Europe) and Mother Tongue, which is his history of the English language.

So I had high expectations. But I was a bit disappointed. This was a memoir of Bill Bryson’s childhood, with reflections on what was going on in the US at the time he was growing up. It was all very readable, and there were quite a few funny moments, but it felt a bit like painting by numbers, to me. Reading the reviews on Amazon, I suspect that this is one of those books you will absolutely adore if you’ve had a similar experience (i.e. growing up in the US mid-West in the 1950s), – perhaps why I like Neither Here nor There so much – but if you haven’t it is a fun book, but nothing to write home about.

I also had a bit of an objection to his adoration of a US 50s childhood. Sure, he had a wonderful childhood, but notwithstanding a chapter on the civil rights movement, he seemed to imply that so did everyone else who grew up in the US in the 50s. While I’m sure it was wonderful growing up in a world where there were new and exciting thing every day, and the complexities of today seemed distant, this is really a memoir of a childhood that was priveleged not just for being in the world’s richest country, but also at the rich end of the possibilities in that country.

Bill Bryson is still one of my favourite authors. I will probably continue reread Mother Tongue once every year or two. But this book isn’t going on the reread pile.

  1 comment for “The Thunderbolt Kid

  1. April 10, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    Interesting, I just read this last week. I think I liked it more than you did, probably because I did indeed grow up in the midwestern US. There was a lot of nostalgia in the descriptions of his grade school, the town, etc. that I can see wouldn’t ‘translate’ particularly well.

    I was amazed at the bad teachers he had. My husband tells similar stories. I think I lucked out.

    Anyway, right after Thunderbolt I picked up Will Ferguson’s “Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw” – travel writing about Canada. If you like Bryson, I’ll bet you like Ferguson. The first chapter dragged, but after that it was funny (in a very Brysonesque way), and just really interesting.

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