My Life with President Kennedy
Essays discuss the conflict between public and private life, tabloid journalism, the past, and the impact of historical forces on individual lives.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
"Clausen remains one of the clearest thinking of our cultural critics. The reflections that he offers here are, once again, set instructively within an informed and engaging perspective, nearly always avoiding the hyperbole that characterizes so much of today's cultural criticism. The result is a most provocative gathering: keen insights, fine writing."--Stanley Lindberg
An intelligent and often witty collection of essays for pre-Baby Boomers and Boomers alike. Clausen (English/Penn State; The Moral Imagination, not reviewed) offers nine essays reflecting on the experiences of the '60s generation. In so doing, he attempts to explode some of the most cherished myths about that turbulent decade and the people it spawned. While members of his generation may have nothing more in common than do those of any other age cluster, Clausen notes that it was nevertheless shaped by political, economic, and historical forces very different from those at work when his father came of age. The title piece is a reflection on what President Kennedy meant to him and his peers. Clausen accurately depicts the ambiguity of JFK's record on issues such as Vietnam, Berlin, and civil rights, but he points out that for those who grew up in the early '60s, the idealistic promises of Camelot still grip the imagination. In "A Decent Impersonality," he ruminates on the increase of informality and the use of first names for even casual acquaintances, arguing that it breeds disrespect for the person and the law. "Reading the Supermarket Tabloids" is a dead-on account of this growing phenomenon. In "Dr. Smiles and Mrs. Beeton," Clausen reflects on manners, Victorian England, and the rise of the middle class. "Jack-in-the-Pulpit" considers changing tastes in vacation spots and activities. All the pieces are broadly autobiographical - some, such as "Survivors," directly, and others only allusively. "Grandfathers" and "Dialogues with the Dead" are among the many dealing with changing, but still important, notions of family. Clausen's glib style may not be for everyone, and he often comes off, probably unintentionally, as a tad reactionary. But there's enough here to appeal to readers from a broad spectrum. (Kirkus Reviews)