Thunderbolt Kid

With this book, Chronicles’ capable executive editor contributes to a series for teenagers—seventh grade and older, says the publisher’s website—on successful contemporary writers who have some literary cachet.  Since his style in the book is as limpid and straightforward as that of his monthly column, The Rockford Files, it seems that at least one children’s publisher still believes there are American adolescents capable of reading and absorbing expository prose that is not dumbed down for them.  At any rate, this little book emits not a whiff of condescension.

Bill Bryson is the odd man in the series: Whereas the other four subjects of the initial batch of titles are novelists, he has made his mark with nonfiction—travel accounts, books on the English language, nontechnical popular science, an autobiography concerned more with his place and time than with his life, a biography of Shakespeare that is more about the writing of Shakespeare biographies than about Shakespeare’s life, and a very recent book about domestic life.  Bryson’s most salient quality is his humor, which ranges from sarcasm to wordplay but doesn’t seem to traffic much in zippy one-liners, else Richert might cite a few of them.  Despite plenty of quotation from Bryson’s writings, Richert tells rather than shows us that Bryson’s funny.  That is no fault in a book intended to interest...

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