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The Life And Times Of The Thunderbolt Kid (Anglais) Broché – 4 juin 2007

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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 orange breadcrumbs, and then only on Fridays and only when my mother remembered it was Friday, which in fact was not often;
• seafood of any type but especially seafood that looked like large insects;
• soups not blessed by Campbell’s and only a very few of those;
• anything with dubious regional names like “pone,” or “gumbo” or foods that had at any time been an esteemed staple of slaves or peasants.

All other foods of all types — curries, enchiladas, tofu, bagels, sushi, couscous, yogurt, kale, rocket, Parma ham, any cheese that was not a vivid bright yellow and shiny enough to see your reflection in — had either not yet been invented or was yet unknown to us. We really were radiantly unsophisticated. I remember being surprised to learn at quite an advanced age that a shrimp cocktail was not, as I had always imagined, a pre-dinner alcoholic drink with a shrimp in it.

All our meals consisted of leftovers. My mother had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of foods that had already been to the table, sometimes many times. Apart from a few perishable dairy products, everything in the fridge was older than I was, sometimes by many years. (Her oldest food possession of all, it more or less goes without saying, was a fruitcake that was kept in a metal tin and dated from the colonial period.) I can only assume that my mother did all of her cooking in the 1940s so that she could spend the rest of her life surprising herself with what she could find under cover at the back of the fridge. I never knew her to reject a food. The rule of thumb seemed to be that if you opened the lid and the stuff inside didn’t make you actually recoil and take at least one staggered step backwards, it was deemed OK to eat.

Both of my parents had grown up in the Great Depression and neither of them ever threw anything away if they could possibly avoid it. My mother routinely washed and dried paper plates, and smoothed out for reuse spare aluminum foil. If you left a pea on your plate, it became part of future meal. All our sugar came in little packets spirited out of restaurants in deep coat pockets, as did our jams, jellies, crackers (oyster and saltine), tartar sauces, some of our ketchup and butter, all of our napkins, and a very occasional ashtray; anything that came with a restaurant table really. One of the happiest moments in my parents’ life was when maple syrup started to be served in small disposable packets and they could add those to the household hoard.

*In fact like most other people in America. It is perhaps worth noting that the leading American food writer of the age, Duncan Hines, author of the hugely successful Adventures in Eating, declared with pride that he never ate food with French names if he could possibly help it. Hines’s other boast was that he did not venture out of America until he was seventy years old, when he made a trip to Europe. He disliked nearly everything he found there, especially the food. --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.

Revue de presse

"A wittily incisive book about innocence, and its limits, but in no sense an innocent book... Like Alan Bennett, another ironist posing as a sentimentalist, Bryson can play the teddy-bear and then deliver a sudden, grizzly-style swipe... might tell us as much about the oddities of the American way as a dozen think-tanks" (Boyd Tonkin Independent)

"A funny, effortlessly readable, quietly enchanted memoir... Bryson also provides a quirky social history of America... he always manages to slam on the brakes with a good joke just when things might get sentimental" (Daily Mail)

"Characteristic mixture of bemused wit, acerbic astonishment and sweet benevolence... Evocation of an era is near perfect: tender, hilarious and true" (The Times)

"Outlandishly and improbably entertaining... inevitably [I] would be reduced to body-racking, tear-inducing, de-couching laughter" (The New York Times)

"Seriously funny" (The Sunday Times)

Détails sur le produit

  • Broché: 416 pages
  • Editeur : Black Swan; Édition : New Ed (4 juin 2007)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 0552772542
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552772549
  • Dimensions du produit: 12,7 x 2,5 x 19,8 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 5.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (1 commentaire client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: 59.757 en Livres anglais et étrangers (Voir les 100 premiers en Livres anglais et étrangers)
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Par Odile Contassot le 16 février 2010
Format: Broché
hilarants souvenirs de l'enfance de bill bryson, une façon personnelle de "comprendre" l'Amérique des années 50
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 775 commentaires
214 internautes sur 220 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
I was literally sent downstairs for laughing too loud. 19 octobre 2006
Par David McCune - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Seriously. I was up past bedtime, and I was reading Bryson's description of lame 1950's toys. I won't give it away, but imagine what he can do with the topic of "electric football". After a particularly vigorous episode of chortling, my wife trudged out of bed to decree that, if I insisted on continuing to read, I'd have to take it downstairs.

And that's what this book is, a laugh-out-loud remembrance of a simpler, sillier time. Bryson's travelogues are what made him famous, and he never would have made it without a fantastic memory for detail and an ability to convey a vivid mental picture of the topics he chooses. His descriptions of 1950's Des Moines are consistently evocative. It's like a travelogue unearthed from a 50 year old time capsule. I feel like I have visited there.

Still, readers of Bryson known that what truly sets him apart is his uncanny ability to attract and describe morons, as well as all manner of idiotic situations (generally self-inflicted). For a man who can do this on, say, a simple trip to Australia, imagine how much comedy gold can be mined from a childhood in the Midwest of the 50's. It is, as they say, a target-rich environment. His remembrances include family, friends, school, Des Moines, lame childhood toys, nuclear bombs, and more. Even things like TV dinners, which we have all heard mocked before, are skewered in new and amusing ways.

For all of that, though, the memoir is not mean spirited. I think that the ridicule works so well because it is easy to sense Bryson's real affection for his subjects (well, at least the ones who aren't carbonized by the x-ray vision of the Thunderbolt Kid). He's poking fun, but in a way that family and friends might poke fun at each other over old childhood foibles at a Thanksgiving dinner. It's the humor that you get when your wife knows that you're ridiculous, but loves you just the same. This book belongs with such classic tributes to youth as The Wonder Years, Stand By Me, and A Christmas Story. Buy it, and enjoy it. Just try not to read it next to someone's bedroom.
101 internautes sur 106 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
The FUNNIEST book I have read in years!!! 18 octobre 2006
Par Lesley West - Publié sur
Format: Relié
This is a wonderful, funny, and ultimately very human book, which reminds us all, no matter who we are or where we live (I'm Australian) of the total joys of a happy childhood.

Bill Bryson is the first to confess that his was a normal, uneventful and by the standards of today, relatively bland childhood. But thankfully this has been rendered into a book that will have you laughing aloud, as we hear of his evolution into the fearless Thunderbolt Kid, complete with super hero talents; the list of alien (now commonplace) foods that never graced the family table, and the unique and gruesome ways he managed to hurt himself whilst playing (I was particularly fond of the tale where he hit his head on a rock and his friends bought pieces of his "brain" to his house - kids can be so thoughtful).

This is a ray of sunshine in the literary world. It is truly the most delightful thing that I have read in a very long time, and I am a voracious devourer of books. I enjoy Bill's travel books, as he is a talented and observant writer, but this is a cut above - I think his very best to date.

Do yourselves a favour. Buy yourself a couple of hours of happiness and read this book. Buy it for your friends and relatives, and relive your happy and normal childhood all over again. You will all treasure that moment where you remembered how you were a super-hero/alien/king or queen, and then get back to your normal, uneventful, adult lives.
61 internautes sur 64 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Made in America's Heartland 3 janvier 2008
Par Amazon Customer - Publié sur
Format: Broché
"Getting into the strippers' tent would become the principal preoccupation of my pubescent years." - Bill Bryson in THUNDERBOLT KID

"Essentially matinees were an invitation to four thousand children to riot for four hours in a large darkened space." - Bill Bryson in THUNDERBOLT KID

As I mature gracefully, reading the coming-of-age reminiscences of others that grew up about the same time I did - the 1950s - becomes an absorbing leisure activity. Perhaps I just need to supplement my failing memory with theirs. In any case, several fine volumes of the genre come to mind: Blooming: A Small-Town Girlhood by Susan Allen Toth, Sleeping Arrangements by Laura Shaine Cunningham, When All the World Was Young: A Memoir by Barbara Holland, and Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir by Doris Kearns Goodwin. As you may have noticed, all four of these are by female authors who are recalling their girlhood. On the other hand, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE THUNDERBOLT KID, by Bill Bryson, is all about boyhood. And, as I think you'll agree, boys are an entirely different species from girls. I should know as I used to be one of the former. For example, boys have a propensity for shenanigans that would elicit an "Eeeuw!" from the gentler sex, as the following passage on Lincoln Logs, of which I myself had a set, illustrates:

"What Buddy Doberman and I discovered was that if you peed on Lincoln Logs you bleached them white. As a result we created, over a period of weeks, the world's first albino Lincoln Log cabin, which we took to school as part of a project on Abraham Lincoln's early years."

Or this regarding the elementary school's space heaters:

"The most infamous radiator-based activity was of course to pee on the radiator in one of the boys' bathrooms. This created an enormous sour stink that permeated whole wings of the school for days on end and could not be got rid of through any amount of scrubbing or airing."

I'm virtually certain that Susan, Laura, Barbara and Doris never did either.

Bill's recollections otherwise ran the gamut of those of any kid of either sex from that era: family vacations, the first televisions, favorite TV shows, the nature of contemporary comic books, toys, soda pop and candies, parents' occupations and eccentricities, Mom's cooking, the specter of The Bomb and Godless Communism, drop and cover drills, Saturday afternoons at the movie matinees, the National Pastime (major league baseball), the State Fair, Dick and Jane books, visits to Grandpa's farm, paper routes, strange relatives, and Best Friends. Oddly, there's no mention anywhere of a family pet. Is it that he never had one? How is this possible?

Then, of course, there's the budding fascination with sex that includes the discovery of Ol' Dad's secret stash of girlie mags and the unfulfilled, feverish desire to see play pal Mary O'Leary nekkid.

As in the author's other books, his ability to tell the story with a wry and self-deprecating wit is unmatched by any contemporary writer that I've read with the exception of Barbara Holland. Both are national treasures.

Bryson's young adventures took place in Des Moines, Iowa, a much different environment than the Southern California in which I had mine. But, there's a degree of similarity that transcends region so long as that region lies in the U.S. of A. One of Bill's nostalgias in particular that I wouldn't have recalled in a million years but is oh, so true was:

"Of all the tragic losses since the 1950s, mimeograph paper may be the greatest. With its rapturously fragrant, sweetly aromatic pale blue ink, mimeograph paper was literally intoxicating."

It's in the nature of the aging human to recall previous times as so much better. Nowadays, as we're inundated with rampant political correctness, discredited heroes, and the pathetic likes of Paris, Britney and Lindsay, I can look back and say about many things, as Bill does:

"... I saw the last of something really special. It's something I seem to say a lot these days."
18 internautes sur 19 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Laugh out loud funny! 24 janvier 2008
Par MLRapp - Publié sur
Format: Broché
Even though this is the era in which my parents grew up, and not me, I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir and would recommend it to people of all ages. While I'm sure the baby boomer generation would really find this book resonating with their life experiences, I think its an intersting look at a unique and fascinating time in our country's history and will appeal to a much wider audience, such as myself (I'm in my late 20's).

The author is hysterical and I found myself laughing out loud throughout the book. It was so interesting to learn about growing up in Des Moines in the 50s - everything from what people ate to how they shopped to the trouble kids and teens got into- it is indeed such a stark contrast to growing up in America today, regardless of where you live.

I think this book would make a particularly great book club selection and would also be interesting reading for history classes or classes on American culture, etc. I HIGHLY recommend it!
25 internautes sur 29 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Amazing that this wild child grew up to be Bill Bryson 26 octobre 2006
Par Jesse Kornbluth - Publié sur
Format: Relié
Bill Bryson was born in 1951 in Des Moines, Iowa. Talk about lucky! "I can't imagine there has ever been a more gratifying time or place to be alive than America in the 1950s," he writes. "We became the richest country in the world without needing the rest of the world."

And Billy Bryson --- white, Protestant, son of a brilliant sportswriter and the home furnishings editor of the Des Moines Register --- was in just the right place to take full advantage.

As many of you know, Bryson grew up to live in England and write first class travel books --- A Walk in the Woods, his account of walking the Appalachian Trail with his out-of-shape friend, Steve Katz, is both informative and hilarious --- and serious studies of language, like Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words. But as a kid, he was a pure doofus. He had no interest in school, his city's cultural institutions or its many opportunities for youth athletics.

By the testimony of this memoir, Billy Bryson had only one childhood obsession: trouble. Namely, how much damage to property and civility could one fresh-faced boy --- and, of course, his posse of equally privileged homies --- do each and every day.

And because kids roamed free in those days and time stretched to the horizon, Billy had all of Des Moines as his target.

Exhibit A: He liked to hide on the top floor of an office building with a central atrium. Seven stories below was a restaurant: "A peanut M&M that falls seventy feet into a bowl of tomato soup makes one heck of a splash, I can tell you."

Exhibit B: He delighted in using a magnifying glass to focus a beam of sunlight on the bald head of his napping Uncle Dick to see what would happen: "What happened was that you burned an amazingly swift, deep hole that would leave Dick and a team of specialists at Iowa Lutheran Hospital puzzled for weeks."

Exhibit C: He once peed on brown Lincoln Logs to turn them white --- and then watched, deadpan, as a teacher licked the toy logs to prove they'd been bleached with lemon juice.

Weird characters abound. Like Bill's mother, who wrote about the home, but was derelict in the domestic arts: "As a rule you knew it was time to eat when you could hear potatoes exploding in the oven." Like Bill's father, who was so cheap that when the Brysons finally drove out to Disneyland, Bill asked his mother, "Have I got leukemia?" Like another kid's dad, doing a swan dive from the high board, changing his mind in mid-air and landing flat: "At such a speed water effectively becomes a solid." And like Uncle Dee, who had a surgically-made hole in his neck: "Whatever he ate turned into a light spray from his throat hole."

Are you laughing yet? Methinks you should be. There is funny, and then there is Bill Bryson, who makes you howl with laughter and fight for breath. "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid" is not a book for the seriously ill, the commuter who uses public transportation or even the easily grossed-out. But for everyone over 50 who grew up in a house and had parents who owned a car, health and circumstances matter not --- this is the story of at least part of your youth.

It was a time of flattop haircuts ("landing spots for some very small experimental aircraft"). Cigarettes. Cocktails. Cars with no seat belts, drinks thick with sugar, medicine with no child-proofing. Televisions everywhere. Electric football games. Misbehave, and you get sent to "the cloakroom." Paper routes.

Every once in a while, Bryson sprinkles the pages with seriousness that is all the more powerful for its scarcity. Did you know that Lewis Strauss, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, started his career as a shoe salesman? Did you know that, at the peak of the Red Scare, "thirty-two of the forty-eight states had loyalty oaths"? Did you know about Lamar Smith, an African American, who successfully voted in Mississippi --- only to be shot dead on the courthouse steps?

Books that are nostalgic and funny and have seriousness just under the surface tend to have sad, "those were the days" endings. The first mall is built, and right there we know the central business district is doomed. Graduation is like a break shot in pool --- the old gang scatters and never reunites. And so on.

Bryson avoids the gooey emotions by saving his best crimes and his zaniest characters --- Steve Katz, co-star of "A Walk in the Woods" --- for last. Fake drivers' licenses. Beer robberies. And nobility, for in Des Moines, at least, there was, for one gang of kids, honor among thieves.

"I was," Bryson says, "enormously stupid." Yes. He was, and this book is the proof.

But he also says that his book is "about not very much, about being small and getting larger slowly." Wrong. "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid" is about being wide-awake and seeing everything and getting every last weird detail down exactly right.

And that makes his memoir almost surely the most enjoyable book you'll read this year.
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