Growing Up

By: Russell Baker
Followed by The Good Times
1982
Nonfiction
Rating: 4.5/5

 

Growing Up book cover

I greatly enjoyed Growing Up, the memoirs of Russell Baker, who grew up in the Depression-WWII era.

Of course, I love me some biography. But autobiographies can be tricky. Sometimes people aren’t the best person to tell their own story (see: The Nazi Connection).

Russell Baker is the best person to tell his story. Baker is a writer in his own right outside of this autobiography. He wrote an article for the New York Times for years. He’s won two Pulitzer Prizes (one for this very novel).

This book is funny, nostalgic, humble, witty, and it rings of the human condition.

Russell’s life isn’t particularly extraordinary. He didn’t invent some great invention. He wasn’t the son of some infamous tycoon. He’s not a world-renowned chef or a certified genius or a war hero or anything like that.

In fact, he portrays himself as quite the sissy.

This book is an homage to family, Russell’s family in particular but family in general, and his mother’s great quest for a “home of our own.”

Russell wonderfully depicts his family line from decades before he was born through to the 1980s. He develops his family members and those he knew with incredible detail. It’s remarkable in that it deals with immigration, the World Wars, racism, the Depression, virginity, the military, death, poverty, and a host of other issues without focusing on any particular one.

I don’t know how anyone writes an autobiography, much less one as detailed as Baker’s. How do you recall the sound of the voice of someone whom you only met when you were seven? How do you relate anything exact from elementary school? I could give you some generalizations, sure, and even a few snapshot moments in perfect clarity. But a whole lifetime’s worth of memories? No shot.

Baker’s autobiography is an easy read. It’s comfortable and comforting. It’s sad but always with a thick layer of happy and oblivion and ignorance to cover it up.

He’s a brilliant writer. I’m very glad I found this one.

 

*****

 

If you like Growing Up, here are some other similar books:

(for other great autobiographies)

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Twenty Years at Hull-House by Jane Addams

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin

Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington

This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff

(for more by Baker)

The Good Times by Russell Baker

Looking Back by Russell Baker

So This Is Depravity by Russell Baker

Russell Baker’s Book of American Humor by Russell Baker

An American in Washington by Russell Baker

 

Coming up:

The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem

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