Review of Crazy for God, by Frank Schaeffer

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Crazy for God

How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back

by Frank Schaeffer

Carroll & Graf Publishers, New York, 2007.  417 pages.

Starred review.

Frank Schaeffer is the son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, founders of L’Abri and famous Christian writers.  In college, I read Edith Schaeffer’s L’Abri, What Is a Family?, The Tapestry, Affliction, and Common Sense Christian Living.  I bought a set of The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, but still haven’t read any of it!

My father was a fan of Francis Schaeffer’s writings, and my mother a huge fan of Edith Schaeffer’s.  After reading Edith’s books, I dreamed of living that sort of life myself — living as a family in Europe, reaching searching souls for God!  It sounded like a dream existence.

Frank Schaeffer (known as Franky then) did come and speak at my college, Biola University, when I was a student.  I think he was promoting A Time for Anger, and he came across as very angry indeed.  I pretty much dismissed what he had to say, and figured he must be a typical rebellious preacher’s kid, though I was still enthralled by his parents’ works.  His mother spoke at a Ladies’ Tea at Biola, promoting her book Common Sense Christian Living, and I was further enraptured.

I should add that I still think of her way of looking at suffering, as presented in Affliction, as a wonderful paradigm for dealing with why God allows suffering.

In Crazy for God, Frank Schaeffer outlines his life growing up in Switzerland, his later involvement in the founding of the religious right political movement in America, and his search for some kind of peace.

In a lot of ways, I found his quest mirroring my own.  I too grew up in a rather unusual Christian community — a family of thirteen children.  I too ended up with liberal political views.  Although I still attend an evangelical church, it is a church about community and much less hung up on exact statements of faith.  It sounds very similar in attitude to the Greek Orthodox church where Frank Schaeffer has found a home.  Like him, I find myself thinking of Christianity as a “journey to God, wherein no one is altogether instantly ‘saved’ or ‘lost’ and nothing is completely resolved in this life (and perhaps not in the next).”  My belief that all will be saved eventually puts me at odds with the standard evangelical community he was once so much a part of and that I was once so much a part of.  So I found his journey fascinating.

That perfect family life at L’Abri was not so perfect after all.  Those family reunions that Edith Schaeffer wrote about as so idyllic were filled with angry fighting.  Francis was an abusive husband, and Edith was not a tremendously respectful wife.  Both were rather neglectful parents, sacrificing family life for “the work” and letting their son run wild.  (Not that he didn’t enjoy that!)

He also points out that Francis and Edith were very open and accepting — at least for most of their lives.  But they closed down that openness when they were catering to the American evangelical political movement.  He has some scathing words about many American evangelical leaders, and points out some things about them that were downright strange.

He grew up in Europe, and when he got involved in American politics, he didn’t even really know America.  His parents enjoyed European culture, and thought themselves a bit above your run-of-the-mill Americans.  Francis Schaeffer’s book, How Shall We Then Live? was based on his wide knowledge of Western art and history.  Having lived for ten years in Europe myself, I have some sneaking sympathies with him on these points. 

I’m sure many hero-worshipers will be bitterly angry that Frank Schaeffer would say anything negative about his parents.  He also says many positive things, but is trying to write about his own strange childhood.  He makes the point that we are all human, that the perfect “common sense Christian living” may have its own flaws, under the surface, if you look more closely. 

This book was fascinating and eye-opening.  I appreciate the look at someone else’s thoughts about what it really means to live for God, and making sense of his own life’s path and life’s work.  In many ways, with the collapse of my marriage, I am looking at some of the same issues.  So I appreciated this chance to get someone else’s perspective, as well as to learn that what I thought of as idealistic perfection in my youth didn’t actually match that in reality.

I’m coming to think that a lot of what God wants from us is to live life as the person he made us to be:  Enjoying his blessings and doing the work He made us best suited for, whether it has anything to do with “leading others to Christ” or not.  I doubt that Frank Schaeffer would word it exactly that way, but I felt that much of his spiritual journeying mirrors my own, and I appreciate the insights from a fellow traveler.

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Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/crazy_for_god.html

Review of Knucklehead, by Jon Scieszka

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Knucklehead

Tall Tales & Mostly True Stories About Growing Up Scieszka

by Jon Scieszka

Viking, 2008.  106 pages.

Starred Review

www.penguin.com/youngreaders

Now we know how Jon Scieszka got so funny!  He grew up with five brothers.

I got to hear the author read from this book at the National Book Festival in September, so I knew I simply had to read the book myself.  It turned out that the parts he read were by no means the only hilarious parts.

The cover is like a comic book.  The chapters are short.  And funny.  The whole thing is beautifully designed to draw kids in and not let them go.

Now, I have seven brothers myself (but six sisters — which makes a big difference!), so he couldn’t really surprise me with his stories.  His take on the mayhem and the bright ideas six boys can come up with are invariably hilarious.  Several chapters end with a “Knucklehead Warning:  Do not try this at home . . . or anywhere else.”  (But he makes them sound so much fun!)

I love the babysitting chapter.  Why didn’t we think of this?

“We didn’t get paid for babysitting.  Until one day Jim and I figured out a great way to make a little money on the job.

“We were watching Jeff.  He had rolled under a chair and got stuck.  We dragged him out and stood him up holding on to the coffee table.  And that’s when Jeff spotted the ashtray.

“We watched Jeff grab a cigarette butt.

“We watched Jeff put it in his mouth.

“We watched Jeff chew the butt, make a crazy face, then spit it out.

“Jim and I cracked up laughing.

“Then we gave Jeff another butt and watched him do it all over again.

“It was such a great trick that we charged all of our friends ten cents to watch.”

I also love his chapter about learning to read.  He talks about the very strange family he read about in school.

“The alien kids were named Dick and Jane.  Strangest kids I ever heard of. . . .

“When I read the Dick and Jane stories, I thought they were afraid they might forget each other’s names.  Because they always said each other’s names.  A lot.

“So if Jane didn’t see the dog, Dick would say, ‘Look Jane.  Look.  There is the dog next to Sally, Jane.  The dog is also next to Mother, Jane.  The dog is next to Father, Jane.  Ha, ha, ha.  That is funny, Jane.’

“Did I mention that Dick and Jane also had a terrible sense of humor?

“At home my mom read me real stories.  These were stories that sounded like my life.  These were stories that made sense.  She read me a story about a guy named Sam.  Sam-I-am.  He was a fan of green eggs and ham.

“And then there was the story about the dogs.  Blue dogs.  Yellow dogs.  Dogs that were up.  Dogs that were down.  Dogs that drove around in cars and met each other at the end of the book for a giant party in a tree.  I cheered them on.  Go, dogs.  Go!  I read about them all by myself because I wanted to.  Go, dogs.  Go!

“So I guess I didn’t really learn to read by reading about those weirdos Dick and Jane.  I learned to read because I wanted to find out more about real things like dogs in cars and cats in hats.”

This book is tremendous fun.  Jon Scieszka is the first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, with a special mission to Reach the Reluctant Reader.  This book will do that beautifully.  What kid (or adult) could resist?

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/knucklehead.html

Review of Free for All, by Don Borchert

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Free for All

Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library

by Don Borchert

Virgin Books, 2007.  223 pages.

Starred Review

I loved this book.  Why should I need to read a book about working in a library?  Haven’t I seen it all myself?  Reading these pages filled me with the delighted recognition that our customers at Herndon Fortnightly Library are not the only eccentrics out there.  Besides, Don Borchert showed me the funny side of the quirky situations that face library employees every day.  He gave me permission to laugh about them.

For example, one afternoon I read this passage:

“Legally, they aren’t required to give us a great deal of information:  a home address, a phone number, a driver’s license if they’d like to show it to us.  But some people are screwed up.  They will make up addresses; they will say they have no phone, no driver’s license.  The less information you have on them, the less able you are to get a hold of them when the books drift overdue and cruise into lost territory.

“Some patrons put down post office boxes as their home address.  This is not a happy thing, because when the patron has $750 worth of missing books it is impossible to knock on their post office box and ask them politely where the books are.  At this point, they are gone.  But if the DMV puts the post office box on their driver’s license, it’s good enough for us.  If it is not on their driver’s license we are dubious.

” ‘I can’t get mail where I live.’

“This statement, too, makes us suspect, because as far as we know the mail goes everywhere.  When we are lied to in the first tentative moments of the relationship, we know it will end in tears, accusations, and large fines.”

In the very next week, we had a potential new customer come in who gave a post office box as his address and wanted a card given to him on the spot.  (Our policy is that we will mail it.)  Two people discussed our policy with him for a half hour before the employees decided to walk away!

I thought it was funny — I just read about that in Free for All!  Of course, I might not have found it so amusing if I had been one of the ones trying to explain our policy.  The customer seemed to think that repeating his excuses for not having a street address over and over again would make us change our policy.

Perhaps I found this book so much fun because working in the generic American public library is still fairly new to me.  I got my start with eight years working in a library on an American military base in Germany, which has very different clientele.  Now for a year and a half, I’ve worked at two public libraries in Virginia, and the situations I have encountered seem to precisely match those described by Don Borchert in a small branch library in Southern California.

In fact, that may be half the fun.  The library where the author works could almost be the exact library that my parents took me to when I was a young child, in the South Bay area of Los Angeles.  Almost forty years later, it’s amusing to realize that library was so much like the one where I work now (though of course without the Internet, or even computerized checkout back in those dark ages).

He did give me a new appreciation for why so many kids hang out at the library after school:

“Four hours a day is too much for a child, too much for most adults.  Even if doing a thing is fun, do you want to keep at it for four hours a day, twenty hours a week?  We are adults.  We are paid to be here.  It is a job — one of those real jobs I had successfully avoided for years.  Four hours a day for a child in the library is close to four hours of minimally supervised hell.

“When a child is dropped off for that many hours, it’s free day care, pure and simple.  The library is heated in the winter, air-conditioned in the summer, there are adults in charge, and there are clean restrooms.  By not thinking about it too closely, or too clearly, parents think they are doing a good turn for their children.  The kids get to catch up with their friends, get a leg up on their homework, and relax after a hard day of schoolwork.  And that is the flawed yet attractive theory they are going with. . . .

“But plenty does happen at the library, especially when you’re given four hours a day to think about it.  You’d think a kid doing homework from 3:30 to 6:30 every day would be cutting a dazzling, high-profile swath through school, but there’s a wrinkle.  We don’t make them do homework.  We are not their parents.  We don’t have a vested interest in their success.  Not surprisingly, a lot of the kids dumped off at the library for three and four hours a day are the same kids who wind up taking summer school because they failed their subjects the first time around.

“Maybe, their disgruntled parents think, if you have to do four hours of homework a day and still don’t understand it, it’s too hard.”

If you work in a library, you need to read this book for the laughs of recognition.  If you don’t work in a library, your eyes will be opened to see that it’s much more than the ultimate quiet job.  Libraries do provide an interesting perspective on human nature.

I love the description of libraries Don Borchert gives to open his book:

“A library is an idea more than anything else, and it is an idea that is impossible to swallow in one or two big bites.  The library is patrician, elitist, and democratic, stocking biographies of NASCAR drivers, pornography, antidemocratic literature, comic books, and the works of the great thinkers from the past two thousand years.  Once a book hits the shelf, the library is loath to get rid of it no matter what outrage it causes.  The only way a library will discard a book is if it is ignored.  The scandalous ones do not get ignored until they are passe. 

“The library offers books on every subject imaginable, in a variety of languages, and offers state-of-the-art computers with free word processing and Internet services.  A mecca for scholars and students of all ages, the library is the dullest place in the world — 91 percent of the time.  It also attracts the homeless, the mentally ill, occasional pedophiles, Internet junkies, unattended children down to the age of two, con artists, thieves, beggars, cultish homeschoolers, and people who are in general angry with every level of state and federal government.  Most of these people decide to fill out an application and get a library card.

“This makes librarians inordinately happy.  We love seeing new patrons wandering around, browsing, looking at what’s on the shelves.

“Why?

“Because there is a belief that once you begin to open books, you will become a better person.  It is Pandora’s box, but in a good way.  You are inching toward the promised land, page by page.  And it doesn’t matter if you subscribe to this theory or not.  The subscription has already been bought and paid for.

“We are all misfits, poseurs, and clowns.  We are heartbroken and lonely, failures in life, criminals and frauds.  Most of our successes are pleasant illusions.  Through the books on the shelves, the library becomes a support group and lets us know that we are not alone.  Once we realize we are not alone, we can relax, set our burdens down, and move on.”

Truly, this book shows us that as library workers, we are not alone.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/free_for_all.html

Review of The Audacity of Hope, by Barack Obama

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The Audacity of Hope

Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream,

by Barack Obama

read by the author

Books on Tape (Random House Audio Publishing Group), 2006.  Abridged.  6 hours, 8 minutes, 5 compact discs.

I’ve been meaning to getting around to reading Obama’s second book ever since I read Dreams from my Father.  Finally, I decided to listen to it, even though our library only has the abridged version in audiobook form.  Read by the author, it occurred to me that he is the first presidential candidate in a long time whose voice I can actually enjoy listening to for several hours!

This book is still autobiographical, about Obama’s life when entering politics.  Along the way, he talks about all kinds of issues that face politicians in America today.

My reaction?  Wow!  I am abundantly impressed with this man.  I am impressed with his thinking about what politics should be and how politicians should serve the people of America.

When Obama was running for state legislature, he talked to people from all over the state, in all walks of life.  I feel like he gets it, he understands what people want, what people are concerned about, what they want government to do for them.

I like the way he talks about the values that Americans share.  Here’s someone who can actually see the good in people who disagree with him.

I liked the discussion of the Constitution.  He has actually taught constitutional law.  As President, he would not usurp the powers of the executive branch.  He has respect for the Constitution that is refreshing to hear.

But don’t take my word for it.  I highly recommend this book.  If you want to know who is the real Barack Obama, I think you can learn much about him from hearing his thoughts on beginning a life in politics.  Here is someone who truly seems to have entered politics in order to serve.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/audacity_of_hope.html

Review of Dreams from My Father, by Barack Obama

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Dreams from My Father:  A Story of Race and Inheritance,

by Barack Obama

Crown Publishers, New York, 2004.  First published in 1995.  442 pages.

http://www.crownpublishing.com/

My Auntie Sue wanted me to read this book so much, she sent me a copy.  Thank you, Auntie Sue!

And I admit, it was down low in my pile of books to read for quite awhile.  Once I did finally open it up and look inside, I was quickly hooked.  Whatever else you might say about Barack Obama, he does have a way with words.

This book was written before Senator Obama started his political career, so it’s not a story about politics.  Instead, it’s a story of growing up as someone who felt like an outsider.  He was naturally forced to think deeply about questions of race and questions of belonging.

Barack Obama was brought up by his white mother and her parents, in Hawaii.  His father was an international student from Kenya.  The father went to study at Harvard, but didn’t have the money to bring his family with him, and ended up going back to Kenya on his own.

Later, Barack’s mother married an Indonesian, so he grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia, and went to college in California.

This book covers those growing up years, his years working as a community organizer in Chicago, and then a trip to Kenya where he met family members on his father’s side and learned about the father he only met when he was ten years old.

As a child growing up in a white family with brothers and sisters from Africa, as an American who spent several formative years living in Indonesia, Barack Obama is in a unique position to reflect on race in America, on community and belonging, as well as on attitudes about poverty that have similarities worldwide.

This is fascinating and thought-provoking reading.  Now I will try to get my hands on his later book, The Audacity of Hope.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/dreams_from_my_father.html

Review of The Secret of Priest’s Grotto, by Peter Lane Taylor

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The Secret of Priest’s Grotto:  A Holocaust Survival Story, by Peter Lane Taylor with Christos Nicola

Kar-Ben Publishing, Minneapolis, 2007.  64 pages.

http://www.karben.com/

http://www.lernerbooks.com/

http://www.changeagentventures.com/

The official world record for the length of time spent underground is held by Michel Siffre, at 205 days.  But during the Holocaust a community of thirty-eight Jews spent 344 days hiding in huge network of caves.

The Secret of Priest’s Grotto tells about cavers Peter Lane Taylor and Christos Nicola learning about the story, meeting survivors, and going back to the cave and discovering proof of their tale.

The families that went into the caves included young children as well as grandparents.  Some of the men went out to gather supplies, and they lived in fear of discovery.  Those in the caves determined to survive and to live for their families.

This book includes pictures of the caves now as well as the families in happier times before the war.  An amazing story unfolds of what people will do for their families.

Buy from Amazon.com

This review is on the main site at www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/priests_grotto.html

Review of Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi

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Persepolis:  The Story of a Childhood, by Marjane Satrapi

Pantheon, New York, 2003.  Orginally published in France in 2000.  153 pages.

Here is a biography told in comic book form.  The story is absorbing, and the black and white illustrations convey much emotion.

Marjane Satrapi was ten years old in 1980 in Iran, when girls at her school were required to wear the veil.  I love the picture of all the little girls horsing around with the veils they did not want to wear.

The book outlines a difficult period of upheaval, from her perspective as a girl just wanting to enjoy life.  We see the rise and fall of political heroes as well as the rise and fall of the family’s hopes.

At the Fairfax County Library, the book is shelved as an adult biography, but it’s also recommended for older teens.  There are some heavy themes of war and death and even bargaining with God.

This book holds a powerful story that will stick with you.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/persepolis.html

Review of This Is Not the Life I Ordered

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This Is Not the Life I Ordered  

50 Ways to Keep Your Head Above Water when Life Keeps Dragging You Down

by Deborah Collins Stephens, Jackie Speier, Michealene Cristini Risley, and Jan Yanehiro

Reviewed February 2, 2008.
Conari Press, San Francisco, 2007. 220 pages.

Here are 50 practical tips for handling life’s transitions from a group of friends who has been through more than their share of transitions.

Collectively, we have experienced the extreme joys and deep sorrows that life offers up. From mundane moments to the dramatic and surreal, we have a history of six marriages, ten children, four stepchildren, six dogs, two miscarriages, two cats, twelve koi fish, a failed adoption, widowhood, and foster parenthood. We have built companies, lost companies, and sold companies. One of us was shot and left for dead on a tarmac in South America, and two of us have lived through the deaths of spouses.

These ladies learned life’s lessons the hard way—and now they offer up their own wisdom, and the wisdom of others, for the rest of us to learn from. They do so with bucketfuls of grace and humor.

Their tips are practical and helpful. For example:

When left on the tarmac, begin to walk.
Be willing to make great mistakes.
Give up thinking you can do it all.
Create “to-don’t” lists.
Trust in God, but row away from the rocks.
Know it’s the obstacles in the stream that make it sing.
Let yourself cry when Tinkerbell dies.
Recognize that chocolate melts in order to take a new form.
Don’t complain, create.
When dreams turn to dust, vacuum.

The tips are even more charming when combined with the stories and wisdom and humor offered along with them.

This is a lovely and empowering book. I especially recommend it for women going through a time of transition. (Most of us?) We will make it through, and we can be all the better for the experience. This book will help you survive and thrive.

From kitchen conversations to the thousands of conversations we’ve had with women from all over the world, we learned that the problem-free life we sought was more than an illusion. It had become a myth to which many women had fallen victim. A woman’s life is much more than success, having it all, or the elusive balance we all seek. It is more than seeking perfection or conquering the world (although you might). It is more than gritting your teeth and making it through. It is about surviving and thriving.  

For us, surviving and thriving meant reinventing, rebuilding, and realizing that success was never final and failure was never fatal. It meant putting our best foot forward (Nike for some, Nine West for others) no matter what, and walking. Walking forward looking like a pillar of success on the outside while that tiny voice inside reminded us that our teenagers were out of control, our job could end tomorrow, and our spouses, colleagues, and bosses had been untruthful, selfish, unfaithful, or just plain stupid.

Surviving and thriving meant taking what life offered up and looking for the opportunities, the joy, and the compassion in less-than-pleasant or less-than-perfect circumstances. It meant cultivating the collective willpower to move up and move on, or move out, even when the process broke our hearts. It meant recruiting support and building the confidence to trust when life’s legendary curveballs were thrown, we would have the willpower, support, and courage to move forward. The phrase “survive and thrive” became a perfect descriptor of our journeys as friends. Together we would navigate through some tricky times.

This review is on the main site at:

http://www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/not_life_i_ordered.html

Review of I’m Proud of You, by Tim Madigan

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I’m Proud of You 

My Friendship with Fred Rogers

by Tim Madigan

Reviewed June 18, 2007.
Gotham Books, New York, 2006. 196 pages.
Starred Review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2007: #1, True Stories

What an amazing man Mr. Rogers was! This book tells how a newspaper interview led Tim Madigan to one of the deepest friendships of his life.

Mr. Rogers, famous to children for generations, is every bit as kind and loving a person as he appears on TV.  Tim Madigan says of him:

In my opinion, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood revealed only a fraction of his human greatness. Knowing him from television alone, it was tempting to see him as a man who might actually live in Neighborhood of Make-Believe. . . a person of epic goodness, no doubt, but also a man of innocence and naïveté, who, as a result, might be little acquainted with the grittier realities of life (though his program dealt unflinchingly with issues like divorce, death, and violence). . . . 

There was innocence about Fred in person, to be sure.  He could be quaint, such as when he referred to me as “my dear.” He was a vegetarian who would never eat “anything that had a mother.”  He wore a goofy-looking swimming cap and goggles for his daily morning swims.  He forever carried a camera, pulling it out with great delight to photograph people he had met for the first time.

But he was also a man fully of this world, deeply aware of and engaged in its difficulties, speaking often of death, disease, divorce, addiction, and cruelty and the agonies those things wrought on people he loved.  He worked very hard, a lifelong student of children and child development. . . .  An ordained Presbyterian minister, he devoured books by the great spiritual writers and was constantly preoccupied with spiritual questions himself.  He rose before six each morning to pray for dozens of people by name.  He was perhaps the most intelligent person I’ve ever known.

But in my mind, something else was at the heart of his greatness.  It was his unique capacity for relationship, what Esquire magazine writer Tom Junod once called “a fearlessness, an unashamed insistence on intimacy.”  That was true with almost every person he met, be it television’s Katie Couric or a New York City cabdriver; the Dalai Lama or the fellow handing out towels at the health club where Fred went to swim.  Fred wanted to know the truth of your life, the nature of your insides, and had room enough in his own spirit to embrace without judgment whatever that truth might be.

By the end of the book, the reader is also convinced.  Tim Madigan tells about some of the hardest years of his life, and how his friendship with Fred Rogers sustained him and his family through them.  His life was changed by being so freely and unconditionally loved, and reading this book has touched my life as well.

If you want to learn about a human example of unconditional love in action, I strongly recommend this book.

You can find this review on the main site at:

http://www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/im_proud_of_you.html

Review of Raising Demons, by Shirley Jackson

Raising Demons

by Shirley Jackson


Reviewed July 16, 2007.
Academy Chicago Publishers, Chicago, 1985. Originally written in 1956. 310 pages.
Starred Review.

Few true stories are as hilarious as those told by Shirley Jackson about bringing up her four children. This book continues the fun begun in Life Among the Savages. I guarantee that any parent or anyone who knows some kids will get some good laughs and hearty chuckles out of this book.

Part of her brilliance is how she reproduces the voices of her children, each one distinct. Sally is probably the most entertaining, with her habit of repeating words and the outrageous stories she tells, like telling the milkman, “Mommy has gone away to Fornicalia. Where my grandma lives, grandma. Would you please like some breakfast?”

I love the following scene, which beautifully conveys a mother’s feelings of irritation and desperation when a neighbor girl, Amy, comes over:

If Sally’s refrain conversation is difficult to bear, Amy’s repetitive conversation is worse; where Sally repeats the vital word, Amy repeats the whole sentence; Sally is the only one in our family who can talk to Amy at all. “May I please play with Sally?” Amy was saying through the back door screen, “is Sally here so she can play with me?” 

Sally slid off her chair and made for the cookie jar. “Amy,” she shouted, “Daddy is going to take us swimming, swimming, and ask your mommy if you can come, your mommy.”

“My mommy,” said Amy solemnly, opening the screen door and joining Sally at the cookie jar, “doesn’t let me go swimming right now, because I have a cold. I have a cold, so my mommy doesn’t want me to go swimming, because I have a cold. I have a cold,” she told me, “so my mommy won’t let me go swimming.”

“Because she has a cold,” Laurie said helpfully. “See, she has a cold and so—”

“Laurie,” I said feverishly. “Sally and Amy, please take those cookies outdoors.

Their little “Beekman” is another great character. Here’s how he got his name:

Nothing is stable in this world. As soon as Barry was old enough to be regarded as a recognizable human being, with ideas and opinions, it became necessary for the other children to change him around. Since he was now too big to fit into a doll carriage, Jannie amused herself by dressing him in costume jewelry and ribbons. Sally sat on the floor next to the playpen and sang to him because, she said, it made him dance. Barry was clearly too formal a name, and we took to calling him B. B was too short, however, and he became Mr. B, then Mr. Beetle, and finally Mr. Beekman. he stayed Mr. Beekman until he was almost ready for nursery school, and then came around full circle, moving back to Mr. B, then B, and, at last, to Barry again. At one point he developed a disconcerting habit of answering no matter who was being called. Thus, dancing, and decked in ribbons, Beekman walked instead of creeping, and learned to drink from a cup.

Shirley Jackson has a beautiful ability to find the ludicrous in everyday family life. When they got a new car,

I went out and bought a new car-chair for Beekman, one that had a small steering wheel and gear-shift lever attached; when I put Beekman into his new car-chair he turned the steering wheel and said “Beep beep?” experimentally, and we all laughedd and told him he was a brave smart boy. by the end of a week I was no longer fumbling wildly for the brake pedal on the new car, and Beekman was manipulating his steering wheel and gearshift with such wild abandon and skillful maneuvering as to earn himself the title of Mad-Dog Beekman; I could not, at any time of the day or night, attempt to sneak the car out of the driveway without attracting Beekman’s attention, and he would hurl himself wildly at the doors and windows, calling out to wait a minute, he would be right there, and subsiding at last into hysterical terrors at my trying to drive without him.  

For my part, I found it extremely difficult to drive with dual controls, trying to ease around a tight corner with Beekman beside me shifting rapidly from high to reverse to second, swinging his wheel around sharply and yelling “Beep beep.” I used to try letting the car roll backward out of the driveway without starting the motor, but Beekman’s room was in the front and as soon as I got as far as the gateposts he would apparently catch some reflection of light and I would see his small infuriated face pressed against the window and hear the crash as Dikidiki hit the wall, and after a minute my husband or Laurie or Jannie or Sally would open the front door and call that I was to wait, they were just putting on Beekman’s jacket.

Usually, whenever Beekman drove, Sally wanted to come too. And whenever Sally came, Jannie thought she had better come along. And when Beekman and Sally and Jannie came, Laurie figured that we might just stop in at a movie or some such, and if we did he wanted to be along. As a result, whenever I went shopping in the new car, everyone came except my husband, who could not, for a long time, look at the new car without telling me how we were going bankrupt in style. One Saturday morning I almost got off without Beekman, who was learning from Sally how to cut out paper dolls, but before I was out of the driveway they were calling to me to wait a minute, and by the time I finally turned the car and headed off toward the big supermarkets I had all four of them with me, Sally accompanied by her dolls Susan and David and Patpuss, all dressed entirely in cleansing tissue, and carrying—although I did not know it when she got into the car—a pocketbook containing four pennies and a shilling stolen from her father’s coin collection.

I suppose I should have known that all was not going to go well when I found a parking space on main Street on Saturday at noon, with seventeen minutes paid for on the parking meter. Finding a parking space at all was so exceptional an occurrence that I wisely determined to disregard the fact that the car on my left—an out-of-state car, by the way, from some state where land is not so jealously parceled out as here in Vermont—was straddling the line. I eased my car in with only the faintest grazing sound, although it was immediately plain that if we were going to get out of the car at all, we were going to have to do it by sliding out the doors on the right-hand side.

“Jeepers,” Laurie remarked, gazing from his window at the car next to us, “cut it a little close, didn’t you?”

“It was Beekman,” I said nervously. “He kept pulling to the left.”

“Jeepers,” Laurie said to Beekman, “you want to watch where you’re going, kid.”

“Dewey, dewey,” said Beekman, this being a combination word he used for a series of connected ideas, roughly translatable as: Observe my latest achievement, far surpassing all my previous works in this line, a great and personal triumph representing perhaps the most intelligent progress ever accomplished by a child of my years. “Dewey,” said Beekman pleasurably.

Later, when Barry was a bit older and Sally had learned to read,

With three reading children in the house, competition over Barry, who could be read to, was very heavy. I still retained my post as bedtime reader—I began again with The Wizard of Oz—but Laurie and Jannie and Sally found themselves sometimes all reading aloud from different enticing works, each hoping to lure Barry who moved, basking, from one to another. For a little while, Jannie forged ahead through a brilliant imaginative stroke; she refused to read aloud, and offered, instead, to tell stories made up out of her own head. This began the Jefry stories, which were about a little boy named Jefry who had an elephant who was called Peanuts becaue he ate so many . . . “What?” said Barry. “Cabbages,” said Jannie firmly. Jefry had a bear named Dikidiki, just like Barry, and Jefry irked Sally so considerably that she brought out her boy doll Patpuss, renamed him Jefry, announced that he was her little brother, and commenced telling him stories about a little imaginary boy named Barry, who had a bear named Dikidiki just like Jefry. This became the competing Barry series. One evening Laurie came staggering in from the Story Hour in the kitchen, and announced to his father that he had just made up a story about a little boy named Dikidiki who had two imaginary bears, Barry and Jefry, and we had to make a rule that stories must be told one at a time, and last no more than two minutes by the kitchen clock.

I like to read this book when I need to lighten up and laugh. Even though it was written when you could put a penny in a parking meter, life with kids is still pretty much the same. But Shirley Jackson makes you laugh about it, which is a lot more fun than screaming in frustration.