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More fine Library finds

Sometimes I go to the library, and every book I pick up is a total home-run! My most recent library expedition was such a winner.

First things first, I snagged a couple of Jean Shepherd‘s collections of short stories, In God We Trust (all others pay cash) and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories (and other disasters.” If you’re not familiar with Jean Shepherd, here’s a tip that will probably tell you that you actually are familiar with him…he’s the guy who came up with the famous 1980s holiday movie A Christmas Story and contained with in In God We Trust are several short stories that were rolled into that movie script. Nostalgia, humor, hyperbole, and semi-fictional autobiography are all descriptors that might equally be applied to Shepherd’s tales. He writes about things the way a kid really thinks about them, but of course run through the filter of an adult’s understanding. Another 1980s classic kids’ movie, Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven Of Bliss was also mined from the Wanda Hickey collection. I think that style of nostalgic narrative resonated deeply right about then – it doesn’t seem much time elapsed between the Depression-Era Shepherd stories hitting the silver screen and the Vietnam-Era The Wonder Years hitting the small screen. While “The Wonder Years” wasn’t as overtly humorous as Shepherd’s reminiscences, a similar nostalgic tone and kid’s-eye-view links those stories and that TV show stylistically in my mind.

My next find was Too Much, Too Late by Mark Spitz, who is apparently a fairly hip music journalist. Since I don’t particularly read music reviews or magazines, I had no preconceptions about Spitz’s style or perspective. What it is, is a compelling story about a bunch of small-town guys who accidentally hit the bigtime. Four highschool buddies who’d been in an up-and-coming garage band in their just-post-highschool days reunite in their late 30s to jam on the weekends as a diversion from their less-than-inspiring daily lives. Harry, the lead singer, brings his troubled son and his son’s girlfriend to one of the jam sessions, hoping to forge a connection with his kid through music. The boy is unimpressed by his old man’s musical stylings, but the girlfriend, Natalie, who prefers to answer to “Motorrrju,” is smitten. She gushes about the band (The Jane Ashers) in her popular blog, and before long, The Jane Ashers are yanked from obscurity. The central characters are compelling, from the alcoholic slacker Sandy to the committed, slightly nebbishy small-town dad Harry, to Rudy, whose aging nerdiness comes off as surprisingly charming. Like Joe Meno, about whom I raved a while back, Spitz is an American answer to Nick Hornby, minus the overwhelming douchiness. I’m putting a request on Spitz’s “How Soon Is Never” for the next time I go to the library.

I’m right now re-reading Old Glory & The Real Time Freaks, because I was inspired by a discussion about Catcher In The Rye. Within the discussion of Catcher was the notion that Catcher no longer resonates with kids because of so many changes within youth culture, but it could remain relevant as a snapshot of the mores of a specific socioeconomic milieu within a specific era. Old Glory features a protagonist from a similar social class at a similar age – he’s the 17-year-old son of an old, upper-class Connecticut family, but it is set in quite a different era – late 1960s rather than early 1950s and a lot has changed. While the characters are fundamentally different, with Catcher‘s Holden being introverted and gloomy and Glory‘s Quintus being confident and laid back, the stories follow completely different trajectories due to their historical moment. In Old Glory Quintus Ells has committed to writing a letter to the future (he presumes he will have a grandson in 100 years who will read Quintus’s circa 1969 musings). He has given himself 38 days in which to write up everything that he thinks is relevant about who he is and what his grandson should know about his life and times. At the end of that 38 days, Quintus will turn 18 and will become eligible for the draft, a despised duty which he does not contemplate dodging although it is firmly at odds with his freewheeling, grass-smoking lifestyle. As the narrative reveals Quintus’s feelings about his girlfriend, his friends, his family, and his prospects in the world, his love of marijuana, and his ethically dubious pursuit of a horny, pregnant, wrong-side-of-the-tracks typist, this book paints a colorful portrait of the lifestyle and expectations of a certain sort of guy at a very specific period in American history. With youth culture in full swing, kids were allowed to be seen in a more complex light, with real troubles, strengths, and opinions. Where Holden was stifled by expectations that he should be a happy-go-lucky kid, Quintus had the freedom to be elated about his last grasp at responsibility-free youth before that fateful 18th birthday. I think that on the whole Quintus is simply a more sympathetic character; while he, like Holden, is outside of the mainstream, he is comfortable there and fairly contentedly takes his pleasures as he finds them. He has plenty to be conflicted over, but instead chooses his last fling with hedonism before he has to truly commit to adult concerns.

Given the vast influence of the Baby Boomers, it surprises me that this book has not only gone out of print, but never made much of an impact on the teen fiction market. As a coming-of-age novel, Old Glory is incredibly pertinent: it sends a highly believable character through a set of rites-of-passage that are notably historically specific. The writing is free-flowing, natural, and enjoyable; Quintus’s “voice” sounds natural, friendly, and convincing. Read sandwiched between Catcher In The Rye and Hairstyles Of The Damned you could take in quite a survey of (male) Coming-Of-Age in America in the last half of the 20th Century.

2 Responses to “More fine Library finds”

  1. Ellee says:

    Hey! What a great review/summary of Old Glory! I am an acquaintance of the author and have been updating some of his books on Goodreads.com. I was wondering if you minded if I used your summary (probably not the whole thing, though). Let me know! 😀

  2. Meetzorp says:

    Thank you for the kind words. I am glad that my impressions on the book, especially after two widely spaced readings aren’t considered offensive.

    I’m pleased you’d like to excerpt this blog entry, and am happy to consent, just so long as you provide a link back as a reference. I reckon that’s pretty standard procedure in this sort of thing.

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