The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir

Bill Bryson, Author . Broadway $25 (270p) ISBN 978-0-7679-1936-4

Though billed as memoir, Bryson's follow-up to A Short History of Nearly Everything can only be considered one in the broadest sense. Sure, it's filled with Bryson's recollections of his Des Moines, Iowa, childhood. But it's also a clear foray into Jean Shepherd territory, where nostalgia for one's youth is suffused with comic hyperbole: "All sneakers in the 1950s had over seven dozen lace holes," we're told; though all the toys were crummy, it didn't matter because boys had plenty of fun throwing lit matches at each other; and mimeograph paper smelled wonderful. The titular Thunderbolt Kid is little more than a recurring gag, a self-image Bryson invokes to lash out at the "morons" that plague every child's existence. At other times, he offers a glib pop history of the decade, which works fine when discussing teen culture or the Cold War but falls flat when trying to rope in the Civil Rights movement. And sometimes he just wants to reminisce about his favorite TV shows or the Dick and Jane books. The book is held together by sheer force of personality—but when you've got a personality as big as Bryson's, sometimes that's enough. (Oct. 17)

Reviewed on: 07/10/2006
Release date: 10/01/2006
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