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The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
Cover of The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
A Memoir
Borrow Borrow
BONUS FEATURE: Exclusive interview with the author.
From one of the most beloved and bestselling authors in the English language, a vivid, nostalgic and utterly hilarious memoir of growing up in the middle of the United States in the middle of the last century. A book that delivers on the promise that it is "laugh-out-loud funny."
Some say that the first hints that Bill Bryson was not of Planet Earth came from his discovery, at the age of six, of a woollen jersey of rare fineness. Across the moth-holed chest was a golden thunderbolt. It may have looked like an old college football sweater, but young Bryson knew better. It was obviously the Sacred Jersey of Zap, and proved that he had been placed with this innocuous family in the middle of America to fly, become invisible, shoot guns out of people's hands from a distance, and wear his underpants over his jeans in the manner of Superman.
Bill Bryson's first travel book opened with the immortal line, "I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to." In this hilarious new memoir, he travels back to explore the kid he once was and the weird and wonderful world of 1950s America. He modestly claims that this is a book about not very much: about being small and getting much larger slowly. But for the rest of us, it is a laugh-out-loud book that will speak volumes – especially to anyone who has ever been young.
BONUS FEATURE: Exclusive interview with the author.
From one of the most beloved and bestselling authors in the English language, a vivid, nostalgic and utterly hilarious memoir of growing up in the middle of the United States in the middle of the last century. A book that delivers on the promise that it is "laugh-out-loud funny."
Some say that the first hints that Bill Bryson was not of Planet Earth came from his discovery, at the age of six, of a woollen jersey of rare fineness. Across the moth-holed chest was a golden thunderbolt. It may have looked like an old college football sweater, but young Bryson knew better. It was obviously the Sacred Jersey of Zap, and proved that he had been placed with this innocuous family in the middle of America to fly, become invisible, shoot guns out of people's hands from a distance, and wear his underpants over his jeans in the manner of Superman.
Bill Bryson's first travel book opened with the immortal line, "I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to." In this hilarious new memoir, he travels back to explore the kid he once was and the weird and wonderful world of 1950s America. He modestly claims that this is a book about not very much: about being small and getting much larger slowly. But for the rest of us, it is a laugh-out-loud book that will speak volumes – especially to anyone who has ever been young.
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  • From the book

    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 to two 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...
About the Author-
  • Bill Bryson's bestselling books include A Walk in the Woods (a major motion picture starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte released in 2015), Notes from a Small Island, and A Short History of Nearly Everything (which earned him the 2004 Aventis Prize). He lives in England with his wife. To learn more, visit billbrysonbooks.com.
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine If you've had the pleasure of hearing Bryson speak, you know he's a master of understated humor. If you haven't had that pleasure, an enjoyable new experience awaits you in this memoir of growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, in the 1950s.Why, you may ask, does a man raised in Iowa speak with a mostly English accent? It's because he's spent much of his adult life in England. That choice does not diminish his fond appreciation of growing up happily with his journalist parents in a kid-friendly community. Bryson punctuates his account by acknowledging such less happy aspects of the era as the Civil Rights Movement, as well as fear of Communism, the A-bomb, and polio. But, on balance, his story is good-natured and often laugh-out-loud funny. S.K. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award (c) AudioFile 2007, Portland, Maine
  • The Wall Street Journal "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."
  • San Franciso Examiner "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."
  • Chicago Sun-Times "Bill Bryson could write an essay about dryer lint or fever reducers and still make us laugh out loud."
  • New York Times Book Review "Bryson is...great company...a lumbering, droll, neatnik intellectual who comes off as equal parts Garrison Keillor, Michael Kinsley, and...Dave Barry."
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    Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
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    All copies of this title, including those transferred to portable devices and other media, must be deleted/destroyed at the end of the lending period.

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The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
A Memoir
Bill Bryson
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