That’s where the tall corn grows

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

OK, so audiobooks have many fine attributes: someone’s reading you a story just like when you were little; you can listen while driving/gardening/cleaning the house/exercising; and when it’s done right, the reader’s intonations add a whole new layer to the reading experience.

My quarrel with audiobooks has everything to do with blogging. When I’m reading a book-book (as I like to refer to those archaic things with hard or soft covers and actual pages), I jot down on the bookmark (a measly scrap of paper) the page numbers where there’s something I really liked. With an audiobook, this just ain’t feasible, people.

So if I want to capture a perfect quote, I’m reduced to checking out the book-book of the audiobook and flipping pages in a rather agitated and annoyed fashion, searching for the something I heard that completely cracked me up or pleased me beyond measure.

So, to a great extent, I’m here reduced to speaking vaguely about why this audiobook is truly entertaining.

Well, first off: It’s written (and read aloud) by Bill Bryson, so if you’re Brysonite, you’ll be happy.

And the guy grew up in Des Moines, about which he writes with such fondness that I like him even more than I did before—because poor Iowa doesn’t get much respect generally, and certainly not in the printed word.

But here’s Bryson:

“Iowa’s main preoccupations have always been farming and being friendly, both of which we do better than almost anyone else, if I say so myself.”  (p. 172)

Amen, brother.

And this true statement:

“Iowa has always been proudly middling in all its affairs… We were slightly wealthier, a whole lot more law-abiding, and more literate and better educated than the national average, and ate more Jell-O (a lot more—in fact, to be completely honest, we ate all of it), but otherwise have never been too showy at all.” (p. 171)

actual Jell-O recipe from the 1974 church cookbook my very own mom edited; only one of *many* such recipes


Bryson grew up in the weird and wonderful 1950s, and he skewers postwar American society, even as he gazes warmly upon it. He had a paper route, where he was terrorized by neighbors’ dogs; he also was terrorized by neighborhood bullies; he  skipped school with shocking regularity; his dad would eat his midnight snack in the
buff; and his mom once sent him to school in Capri pants.

This is one of those childhood memoirs that’s funny and entertaining and not at all horrid (we’re looking at you, A Child Called “It”). Bryson’s childhood was refreshingly normal, and the only reason it’s book-worthy is that Bryson’s the one writing the book. And this fact alone makes it beyond worthy.

If you like Bryson the way I do, give these a whirl, too…

In a Sunburned Country

At Home: A Short History of Private Life

3 thoughts on “That’s where the tall corn grows

  1. Yes, reviewing audiobooks is so hard! I sometimes pull in to parking lots and take notes! But still, you can't get the great quotes, or often, remember details that you wanted to talk about when you heard them. Still, I love listening in the car, and I think it is worthwhile simply to discuss the worth of an audiobook for listening entertainment, instead of a close review of the content!

    My husband read this book, not listened, and he enjoyed it immensely, especially the bit about the little football game that I never heard of, but he apparently played and loved!

  2. I read a version of this that was published in the UK, and it was funny to see how many times Bryson had to stop and explain "American stuff" to the readers.

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