Thursday, June 17, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 134 (6/17) -- The Ferrari in the Bedroom by Jean Shepherd

Jean Shepherd is most famous now for fictionalizing his childhood -- first in the books In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories: And Other Disasters, and A Fistful of Fig Newtons, then, using many of the same stories, in the movie A Christmas Story -- but he was a working writer/performer/public figure for several decades, responsible for plenty of other entertainment products along the way. One of those is The Ferrari in the Bedroom, a book collecting his early '70s writings (some looking back to his earlier days, but more often about cars and women and fishing) that came out the year after Wanda Hickey.

Ferrari got a nice new trade paperback edition from Broadway Books back in 2004 -- I know this because I read a bound galley promoting that then-new edition, which I picked up from a giveaway shelf [1] at work at the time and which sat on my groaning to-be-read shelves since then. I presume that it's still selling due to a Christmas Story halo effect: this book is very much of its time. Oh, it's a pleasant enough collection of magazine pieces from that time -- the kind of agreeable time-waster that book publishing pumps out in a steady stream every year -- but it's musty and old-fashioned at this point, without much self-knowledge of that time-bound nature to save it.

Shepherd was in one of his intermittent peaks of fame at that point, appearing on TV fishing shows and writing regularly for slick magazines (the only one credited here is Car & Driver, but I'm morally certain that all of these pieces originally appeared places like Field & Stream and Playboy and who knows what else), so Ferrari is a snapshot of what he was doing and thinking about in the early '70s. Many of them are of that classic style of bigshot magazine essay, the "I just read it in the paper" piece, in which the writer describes something he's just seen/read/heard about, and then explains What It All Means. You only get to write lazy pieces like that once you're already famous, of course -- though they can certainly be entertaining, particularly if you're reading them close to their initial publication and/or your prejudices align closely with the author's.

Shepherd was an old-fashioned Midwest guy at that point, beginning to be left further and further behind by the upheavals of the previous decade -- he wasn't a reactionary, by any means, but he wasn't the wild figure he'd been earlier in his career, either. He had settled into a comfortable middle age, and his big shtick was always looking backwards -- it's just that looking backwards ages better when it looks all the way back instead of casting around to describe the Problems With Nowadays. Ferrari is one of the least of Shepherd's books, and is best left for his aficionados.

[1] As time goes on, what I think I miss most about the book clubs are the giveaway shelves; there used to be all kinds of odd and unlikely books to be found there, free for the taking.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: Barzin - Look What Love Has Turned Us Into
via FoxyTunes

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