four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
26-Jan-Feb-2007
By: 
Bill Bryson
user_rating: 
0

A Memoir

A-The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt KidTravel writer Bill Bryson reminisces about his boyhood in 1950s Iowa—a memoir by turns fond and bemused, and always bearing his trademark hyperbolic humor. As he recalls the joys of a simpler, quieter time, in which he complains about the quality of childhood toys and recounts the tribulations of his paper route, he also analyzes the politics and mind-set of the era, a time when the Depression and wartime penny-pinching gave way to consumerism and when the schoolchildren who hid under their desks during air-raid drills were free to run around unsupervised after school. Disguised as the Thunderbolt Kid superhero, Bryson zaps both his schoolteachers and popular conceptions of the midcentury Midwest.
Broadway. 288 pages. $25. ISBN: 076791936X

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"[L]ike so many memoirs, this one may leave readers wondering what is true and what has been distorted by memory and the wistful uncertainties of remembrance. What is abundantly clear, however, is that Bill Bryson is a very funny man who loved his ‘normal’ 1950s Iowa boyhood." Chuck Leddy

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"As a humorist, Bryson falls somewhere between the one-liner genius of Dave Barry and the narrative brilliance of David Sedaris. He’s not above sublime lowbrow fat and feces jokes, but at his best he spools out operatically funny vignettes of sustained absurdity that nevertheless remain grounded in universal experience." Jay Jennings

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Bryson on traveling around the world ranges from entertaining to hilarious, and Bryson on Bryson proves to be just as good. … Bryson pokes fun at the place and the era, but he also makes fun of himself—and conveys his nostalgia and compassion for his hometown and childhood." Ingrid Ahlgren

Kansas City Star 3.5 of 5 Stars
"While it is a stretch to call this a memoir, Bryson endearingly reminisces about a simpler time. … Although this [child as superhero] subplot at times comes across as a mere device, coming and going throughout the book at what seems to be whim, Bryson does capture an America we have all but forgotten." Kathryn DeVito

Fort Worth Star-Telegram 3.5 of 5 Stars
"At times, the trip ventures into familiar territory. … But considering how many recent memoirs involve their authors’ substance abuse problems, crazy parents or other woes, it’s a relief to read one that fondly recalls both parents … and looks back with humor and a tinge of mist in the eyes." Robert Philpot

Critical Summary

Bill Bryson (A Short History of Nearly Everything, 4 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2003) clearly has a great deal of fun recalling and judiciously exaggerating stories from his youth. Reviewers particularly enjoy his focus on the good times, his fondness for his parents, and his ability to find the humor in such dry topics as defense spending. Those who have experienced the 1950s or the Midwest will find a great deal to appreciate about Bryson’s reminiscences; those who haven’t will still get most of the jokes, many of which rely on such universal (if not universally appreciated) sources of humor as cheap candy, the elderly, and flatulence.