Wednesday, 30 January 2008

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid


When I’m coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) I need a few things:
A study to work in (see yesterday)
Lots of light (this can be lightbox or, better still, nice bright days in which I can sit next to a window or go for a walk)
Chocolate (I try to ignore this need for the benefit of my arteries)
Not to be bothered with lots of people. I’m not exactly Ms Party Person at the best of times but I become positively (should that be negatively?) anti-social during the long, dark days of winter.
Approximately half as much sleep again as I need in the summer.
Funny books.

There aren’t a million funny books out there and I often find I’m re-reading old favourities – any of PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster stories, the Provincial Lady books of EM Dellafield and, more recently Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones.
And then there’s Bill Bryson.
BB needs a league all of his own when it comes to funnyness and I need to read his works with some care; tucking into a Bryson over breakfast and the lightbox can be a life-threatening endeavour as laugh coming up meets mouthful of tea going down resulting in tea where tea didn’t outghta be.

Currently, I’m reading The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid which is providing much anti-SAD therapy. On the back is a question quoted from The Evening Standard: ‘Is this the most cheerful book I’ve ever read?’ Well, if I’ve ever read a more cheerful, positive and self-deprecating account of growing up anywhere, ever, then I’m clearly losing my marbles because I have no recollection of it. The highest praise I can give TLATOTTK is that it is even funnier than Notes from a Small Island from which I swear I nearly died laughing at one point.

It’s not that the events Bill Bryson writes about are particularly funny – most are extremely mundane – as he points out growing up in 1950s Iowa meant a lot of time waiting for something – anything – to happen. No, it’s BB’s language which provides the amusement factor. Taking the page I’ve just put my bookmark in where he’s talking about toys of the 50s; Mr Potato Head is described as ‘majestically unamusing’, Slinky as ‘notable for its negative ecstasy’. Hyperbole is BB's literary device of choice and it is his love of overexaggeration which, for some reason, I find amusing in a way which everybody else in the family finds pitiably incomprehensible. It’s not that they don’t find the bits I read out (or attempt to read out, through face-crippling, breath-stealing mirth) amusing they just don’t find them that amusing. ‘Heh heh’ they snigger worriedly as I collapse in hysterics at the lastest sentence full of bons mots ‘Mmm, yes, quite funny.’
There is, clearly, no hope for them and I should just stop trying to turn them into heaps of Bryson-appreciating laugh-jelly. When I tell you that, for the Ultimate Frisbee Freak and The Bassist, there is nothing funnier than The Mighty Boosh, you may begin to understand. It’s not that I don’t think the lads who are TMB are clever and amusing, I just ‘heh heh’ to their surreality in much the same way as the UFF and the B react to Monsieur Bryson. Our senses of humour are generationally incompatible.

I’m only about a third of the way through TLATOTTK but already it’s provided me with more laughs than pretty much all the books I’ve read in the previous twelve months put together. Including one of Christmas 2007’s hits – 1001 ‘A Man Walked Into a Bar’ Jokes.

If you’re struggling with the season and the weather and are generally of the disposition to have your ribs tickled by verbal humour, I can’t recommend a dose of the underpants-over-trousers stuff from young Billy Bryson too highly.

5 comments:

Faye L. said...

I've learned from many past experiences that Bill Bryson's books are not to be read in public, no matter how ordinary or academic the subject matter may appear to be at first glance. I've had far too many people looking rather worried at the nutter cackling to themselves. Even his book about the English language (Mother Tongue) had me in physical pain from laughing so much.

Simon Key said...

I still haven't read Thunderbolt Kid, although i've loved all his others. I don't know why, I guess i'm just strange that way. Thanks for encouraging me, I'll add it to the list.

Alis said...

Faye - glad to know i'm not the only one who has to read BB in the privacy of their own home!

Simon - yes, I left this one on the shelves for a bit as I couldn't imagine anything even vaguely autobiographical being as funny as his travel or 'academic' writing. Wrong again...

KAREN CLARKE said...

Do you know, for all the blummin' reading I do (a LOT) I've never read a Bill Bryson. Shocking. I think it's because I've passed them off as 'travel' - not my favourite subject. I'm definitely going to remedy that over the next week or two though, especially as I love humourous books - you definitely need a laugh during the long dark nights that's for sure :)

Alis said...

Karen - if you've never read any Bill Bryson, you are in for a treat! I'd start with Notes from a Small Island, personally...