Friday, December 15, 2006

[BOOK CLUB] The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Bill Bryson

I won't lie, I *may* be over Bill for the time being.

In true Finny fashion, I binged on the too-good thing and gave myself a stomachache. Like when I was about 10 and decided that a good afternoon snack would be a bowl of Oreos covered with Cool Whip. Eaten with a spoon at hand-in-the-cookie-jar speed, I made myself sick enough so that I didn't go near an Oreo for a good decade. And I've never looked twice at Cool Whip since. Thankfully, my last dose of Bill in the Thunderbold Kid was pretty good and I had some good laughs, but it was no Walk in the Woods or Sunburned Country. So, in the end, I didn't barf, but I'm not going back for more, at least not now. I feel like I'm not yet at the Cool Whip stage with Bill, but I'm definitely approaching the Oreo stage.

Thunderbolt Kid was an amusing look at what it was like for Bill to grow up in Des Moines starting in the 1950's or so. I didn't get a lot of history or drama, but I did get a good idea of what it would have been like to go to school with a perpetual pants pooper or be a paper boy in a nice midwestern neighborhood.

I liked the nostalgia of drive-in movies, his first experience with a billboard, his quest to touch boobs and the way he described how his uncle flocked fellow diners while he ate potatoes, but beyond that, I didn't really find myself gasping for breath from laughing like I had in the past.

I thought it was because I'd gone from reading his new material to reading his old material. I thought for sure I'd pick this newest work up and immediately be thrown to the floor with hysterical laughter. I thought I had just gotten turned in the wrong direction and was about to right myself with a brand new book, hot off the presses and full of hilarity.


I think the thing that I never fully latched onto was the weaving of his childhood fantasy of superheroship at random intervals throughout the story. I'd have rather him just made fun of a few more passersby than waste precious page space trying to tie his childhood experiences together with intermittent references to the zapping of neighborhood dogs or stories of imaginary destruction and devastation while wearing a raggedy old thunderbolt sweater.

But I won't be a total downer. Especially since it was my idea to go straight to another Bryson book after The Lost Continent, and I dragged you all down with me. I did have some good chuckles and I do really like his smiling picture on the inside flap of the book. So it's not a total loss. And I was, at one point, laughing on the couch loud enough for Bubba to call out from the office to see if I'd gotten my hand stuck in the dustbuster or accidently squooshed the cat. Which is more than I can say for the majority of books I've read in my lifetime. So, at the end of the day, Bill has set the bar so high that I'm not sure even he is up to the challenge. But the good news is that he has a quiver full of fabulously entertaining books - some just more than others.

So, I hope you all were able to enjoy the book, smile a bit and then look forward to something a little different, perhaps something with more riveting historical flavor.

Perhaps written by someone who's untimely death in the Nazi concentration camps left her masterpiece unpublished until 60 years later when her daughters uncovered it and released it for printing. Someone who knows what it's like to flee ones homeland for uncertain fates.

I'm imagining humanity, drama, introspection, honesty and a good look into the day to day experiences and struggles of people ousted from their lives in the face of an invading war.

I have high hopes.

Suite Francaise

Join me, won't you? Let's meet back in the New Year - say 2/1/07. I'll bring my big fat mouth and a G&T.

Oh yeah - don't forget to vote (and comment) on The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, (poll at right). Then get to reading and having yourselves nice holidays and all that.



  1. Oh geez, it really is about Nazis--I thought you were just joking. Like that would be too heavy and we needed fluff. But it got over 4 stars on amazon, so maybe I'll give it a go. I couldn't stomach Bryson again, so I had passed on this last round.

  2. Well, I don't really know what else I can add...I think you summed things up pretty well, and it was a great post.

    I've read two Bill books prior to this one, both on your recommendation, and they both kept me going along at a pretty good pace. This one, I have to say, was a bit of a downer. Maybe you're right, he's set the bar so high that people's expectations are almost impossible to live up to now. But personally I got the feeling that he should just "stick to what he knows" -- travel writing. This trip down memory lane felt like a sell-out to me. You know, like when a person gets so famous that no matter what they write, people will buy it just based on past success? I kind of got that feeling here.

    Some parts I enjoyed, like towards the end when he starts talking about the Willoghby (sp?) boys or his friend, what was the name, Jeb?, who got him into the peep show--good stuff. I also liked the bits about his dad the sports writer.

    But, overall, it's like: Ok, I get it, the 50s were perfect. Everything was so damn perfect. Great! Wonderful! Nifty! Groovy!

    Folks, if I were you, I'd save my money on this book (or check it out at the library) and instead spend it on renting a copy of The Sandlot and a buying copy of The Fifties by David Halberstam (which is actually in the bibliography of this book). Since Bill's book felt more to me like a recap of the context surrounding the time of his upbringing, and not so much his life itself (or maybe it's just that like he himself says, his upbringing was pretty average so there wasn't too much that was earth-shattering there), might as well just go whole hog on the context instead. A lot of the stuff in this book has already been covered in bits and pieces in his other writings anyways.

    I also have to say, the whole superhero thing, um, yeah. Didn't really get into that. Kind of corny.

    Oh well, they can't all be perfect. And God knows that a "not so great" book by Bill is certainly better than a heap of other mediocre crap that's out there, so... it wasn't all bad.

    Mmm, next book: Nazi concentration camp. Not sure if I'm up for something like that...don't really want a gut-wrencher...even though I myself suggested one too, so I can't really talk...but I'll look into it and think about it!

  3. Barb - I hope you do join in on this one because I'm going out on a limb suggesting it. Typically I shy away from the topic of WWII because of the heavy subject matter and because I've heard so much about it from my older relatives. However, the book has gotten fantastic reviews, is from a new viewpoint (a Jew living in France) and has the mysterious allure of being a novel written and then stowed away for 60 years before being presented to the public.

    Either way, I'd love to compare notes with you in a month and a half and see what you think.

    Shelley - Yeah, you hit the nose on the head, it seemed like a sell out. I kind of had this "I've been had" feeling while I was reading it since I did say, "Well, it's by Bill, so it's got to be good." But, at the end of the day, that line doesn't work for Smuckers, so why should it work elsewhere. This happened to me with Amy Tans autobiography and I felt gipped. Her other books were so awesome and her AB sucked wind.

    I hope you do decide to join in on Suite Francaise - it sounds like an interesting read and I always want some scholastic feedback from my favorite braniac (that's you.)

    xo Fin

  4. Ok, bombshell, I looked into your choice and I'm going for it. I was afraid it would be her telling the tale of her stay in the concentration camp but a review from the WA Post says it doesn't even really address the Jews and it says maybe that was for the next volume to be entitled Captivity. THAT, I definitely would not have been able to endure. So, count me in. But, did you realize this puppy is over FOUR HUNDRED PAGES? (Note to self: read on plane).

    And of course I'll admit, stroking my ego with cries of brainiac never hurts, either! ;-)

  5. Man, S.F. is on my Amazon Wish List. How fun it would be to join your bookclub and read this one as I've been wanting to for awhile. But, Amazon likes to f**k one up the butt with shipping charges to France and I think I'm a tad late in joining. Maybe next month?!


[2013 update: You can't comment as an anonymous person anymore. Too many douchebags were leaving bullshit SPAM comments and my inbox was getting flooded, but if you're here to comment in a real way like a real person, go to it.]

Look at you commenting, that's fun.

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Sucks, right?

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