Salon recommends

The childhood games played by Bill Clinton, Jackie Collins, George Plimpton and others, a kitschy collection of anti-commie paraphernalia and more.


Salon Staff
June 4, 2001 11:00PM (UTC)

What we're reading, what we're liking

The Games We Played edited by Steven A. Cohen
In this charming -- and thankfully, never precious -- little book, Steven Cohen has gathered accounts of childhood games, some recognizable, some invented. The contributors ("stars, public figures and writers," says the flap copy) provide short, to-the-point descriptions that nonetheless convey all the richness and open-endedness of the best childhood days. David Maranniss writes of the scruffy, very loosely organized baseball league that shaped his summers in Madison, Wis., a place where on the way to the baseball field he and his friends "roamed free on our bikes" and "knew every shortcut, every grouchy old lady and loose dog to avoid, every patch of grass that could become a football field." Bill Clinton makes an appearance, telling of a "not so nice" game that involved sitting in a tree and pinging acorns at passing cars' hubcaps ("but we never wanted to hit a windshield or do any damage," the 42rd president assures us). The rest of the contributors are an amusingly mixed lot, from George Plimpton to Jackie Collins, who seems to have slightly misunderstood the assignment -- she writes about sneaking out of the house to a "discoteque" as a just-barely teenager: "Thank goodness I was street smart and knew how to ward off randy strangers who had no idea I was only thirteen." For me, the best games are the invented, site-specific ones, with their random but specific rules that show kids' adaptability and ingenuity. It all sent me into reveries of a made-up manhuntlike game played in the courtyard of the Queens apartment building I grew up in, which we called, for reasons that are probably lost to history now, "geeba-geeba."

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-- Maria Russo

Red Scared! The Commie Menace in Propaganda and Popular Culture by Michael Barson and Steven Heller
On the cover of "Red Scared!" the American flag appears consumed in comic book-style flames, overwhelmed by a vicious and hungry communist menace. It seems like a joke until you comb through the book's equally paranoid and hysterically colorful pages and realize that American anti-communist propaganda was very real and pervasive. One chapter, the "Children's Crusade Against Communism," features 1951 Bubblegum Cards, one of which depicts a grim reaper hovering over "a great American city" after an atom bomb has struck. "Fight the Red Menace" blares across the bottom of the card. Other chapters include "Bomb Shelter Chic," "Kremlin Komics" and my favorite, "The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover." Between these hilarious and frightening odes to anti-Communist kitsch are timelines chronicling the history of the reds from Marx and Engels to the dissolution of the USSR. Flipping through the movie posters and newspaper headlines splashed throughout "Red Scared!" is a blast, and the text of the book is also informative and readable and worth more than a glance.

-- Suzy Hansen

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