Book Report: Smarter by the Dozen by Jane & Bill Dahlin/Doloris & Ted Pepple (1989)

Book coverWhen I bought this book, I expected a book in the line of Tom Braden’s Eight is Enough: a collection of anecdotes and incidents about raising a large family, set in a familiar location and with a historical relevance.

Instead, this book is really just a brain dump of parental advice on topics from buying insurance to handling kids’ drug problems. Not what I was looking for at all, really, but it made the book–dare I say it?–very skimmable.

One bit of historical trivia: The book has a whole chapter on 16 in Webster Groves, a documentary about growing up in suburban America that CBS shot in Webster Groves. In true reality television style, the network apparently cut the film to portray its story that suburban American children were being brainwashed into the bourgeoisie. Webster residents at the time were upset with it. So much so that the authors include it and spend a chapter railing against it 23 years later.

I’d tell you where the book is for sale, but you don’t find it anywhere on the Internet. Its existence is proven electronically only that it appears in a photo in this Flickrstream. Given that this book was printed as a limited edition, the photographer is either a Dahlin, a Pepple, or a nearby resident of Webster Groves.

Book Report: The River of Used To Be by Jim Hamilton (1994)

Book coverThis is a collection of columns written by the editor of the Buffalo Reflex, a paper up in Dallas County. As such, it’s not a true memoir; instead, it’s a bit bland, driven by deadlines and the easy columns at some points.

There are some gems in it, such as his tale about cold weather camping or a couple of his imaginative tall tales regarding Christmas. Unfortunately, the really good things stand out so much from the common seasonal musings or the progress-is-destroying-what-I-remember templates.

The most poignant thing about the book is outside the text: it’s dedicated to his daughter who died her freshman year of college. The same as my freshman year of college. There’s a column about his daughters, there’s a column about her going to school, and then a column about moving out of his house where they all lived. I think it’s more striking because the book alludes to it and because she was born just two months before I was.

If you’re deeply into Ozarkania, it might be worth a browse.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Growing Up in the Ozarks by John E. Hult (2001)

Book coverI loved this book. It’s a collection of stories about growing up just southeast of Springfield, Missouri, in the 1930s. The author moves with his family to a small homestead called Bethany Homestead with his family of 7. His father’s a Lutheran minister and a frequent missionary to Africa who really wants to return, but he serves as pastor to a number of churches in the United States. This leaves the wife and her children (10 by the time the book ends) on the little farm, which has some crops and a large orchard not to mention some cattle to tend to. The second oldest boy, John takes an active role in the household.

It’s a strange other country, the past. While some of the landmarks are familiar, the culture is different. For example, the author took a year off between finishing school and deciding whether to pursue further education. Not between high school and college, not between his undergrad years and going onto medical school. Between 8th grade and high school. During this year, his father is preaching in Nebraska and his brother is in high school already, so the 13 year old boy is effectively the man of the house, working outside the home for some extra income and taking care of chores and helping his mother tend the 8 siblings at home. 13! He also recounts travelling to the upper peninsula of Michigan to visit his father (who’s preaching afar again) and, instead of riding in a single Packard laden with his 9 siblings and mother, stays over an extra couple of days in Michigan and hitchhikes home.

I wondered if this sort of collection of stories would fly were I or a peer try to write it about our youths in the 1970s and 1980s, whether they would be interesting enough to draw any attention from seekers of esoterica 50 years from now. You know what? They just might. Some of my stories sound outlandish among my cohort now, only 30 years beyond their occurence. Perhaps in another 30 years they will be exotic enjoyments for readers. If anyone reads in 2040.

At any rate, I liked the book so much I’ll keep my eyes out for the others written by Hult and his immediate family. Also, after reading the book, I returned to the used book store where I bought this book and bought six other memoirs in the same vein from different authors from the Ozarks.

Books mentioned in this review: