Brothers Judd Top 100 of the 20th Century: Novels
When Jean Shepherd died this Fall (10/15/99), we not only lost one of America's greatest humorists and a Christmas icon, we also lost a man who has discretely changed how all of us remember childhood. In fact, his influence is so subtle, that you may not even know who he was; but I guarantee, you do know him. Jean Shepherd is the narrator of, and the stories from this book are the basis for, the instant classic yuletide movie, A Christmas Story.
Most of the episodes from the film are here, including, of course, the Red Ryder BB Gun Saga, the Leg Lamp Incident, The F Word Debacle, etc. and Shepherd's contribution to our collective psyche is that we remember both these events and similar events from our own childhoods in Capital Letters now. In the same way, and at the same time, as Tom Wolfe was getting us to think, not of radical chic and the right stuff, but of Radical Chic! and The Right Stuff!, Shepherd was likewise taking the seemingly common stuff of boyhood memory and elevating it to mythic status. So for most of us, when we look back into the mists of memory, we don't simply recall "the time we broke the window", rather we summon forth "The Broken Window Incident". At least, I know I do.
Read the paragraphs below & see if you haven't subconsciously internalized the cadences, impossibly graphic immediacy and recall, mild exaggerations for comedic effect and epic tone in your own recollections:
First on getting ready to leave the house in Winter:
There was no question of staying home. It never
entered anyone's mind. It was a hardier time, and
My mother would simply throw her shoulder against
the front door, pushing back the advancing
Scattered out over the icy waste around us could
be seen other tiny befurred jots of wind-driven
Then on being given a writing assignment while in the grip of BB-gun
"I want all of you to write a theme. ..."
A theme! A rotten theme before Christmas!
There must be kids somewhere who love writing
"...entitled 'What I want for Christmas,'" she concluded.
The clouds lifted. I saw a faint gleam of light
at the other end of the black cave of gloom which had
What I want for Christmas
is a Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock and this thing that
And, of course, back comes the response from Miss Bodkin:
"You'll shoot your eye out. Merry Christmas."
At any rate, if you've never read Jean Shepherd before, or tragically never got to hear his radio show or see his PBS series, I urge you to give this hilarious book a try.
-ESSAY: Betrayal: Jean Shepherd and “A Christmas Story” (Lee Vinsel, DECEMBER 21, 2020, LA Review of Books)
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Copyright 1998-2015 Orrin Judd