Friday, May 19, 2017

Book Review: Thundering Sneakers

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Thundering Sneakers

Author: Prudence Mackintosh

Date: 1981

Publisher: Doubleday

ISBN: 0-385-12879-7

Length: 188 pages

Quote: “It never occurred to me to make anything up—especially my third male child. The real material at hand always came faster and fresher than any I could have created.”

Before the Mommy Blog genre, there was the Mommy Comedy Book genre, open to any parent (daddies as well as mommies) willing to document the emotional-chaos-remembered-in-tranquility of living with children. Betty Macdonald in the 1950s, Jean Kerr in the 1960s, and Erma Bombeck in the 1970s, sold literally millions of books in this genre and thereby created a market for slower-selling, though not necessarily less funny, Mom-Com. Writers like Prudence Mackintosh and Teresa Bloomingdale remained “mid-list” writers, published mainly in special-interest magazines; publishers bought their books, and even promoted them a little bit, but they maintained these writers as a sort of second string, never meant to become national celebrities who might have competed with Erma Bombeck or Delia Ephron.

If you enjoy gentle family-type comedy, it’s worth the trouble to dig up the second-string Mom-Com writers’ books when you find copies. Bombeck softened up, after a series of laugh-out-loud funny books, and started writing things that weren’t funny. Sometimes other families’ emotional chaos was funnier than that of the superstar Mom-Com writers.

Prudence Mackintosh was typical of the second string. Her local-market tags were (1) living in Texas, (2) with an otherwise-all-male family of husband, three sons, and a tomcat. Her family were as funny as any family documented in Mom-Com:

“I polished my fingernails, something I’m sure I haven’t done in at least five years. My older son was irate. ‘Mama,’ he yelled, ‘you’ll have to get that stuff’re...supposed to help us dig those holes this afternoon.’”

“At the counter, I look up from my check writing to see that Jack is climbing on top of the gum machine. ‘You’ll fall,’ I say. ‘But I won’t hurt myself,’ he replies, and he’s right. He falls squarely on his soft brother.”

“I still believe the basketball that landed in the stir-fried squash was deliberately thrown.”

She tried to involve the children in more active self-entertainment instead of watching television. “Legos are extremely absorbing toys...[M]y son determined that he had to have some ‘slopy pieces,’ which are contained only in the set that retails for $25.95. When I explained that we couldn’t afford the desired pieces, he responded thoughtfully, ‘Mom, I guess we just don’t have enough money to do without TV.’”

“[O]n hearing a Raggedy Ann story on the radio, they had asked, ‘Mom, if that doll really has a candy heart, why doesn’t somebody just rip it out and eat it?’”

I chortled.If you like Mom-Com, you’ll chortle too. If Bombeck and Ephron and Judith Viorst hadn’t been famous first, if Jean Kerr’s and Art Linkletter’s books hadn’t remained in print, if bachelor comedy writers hadn’t been occupying a huge share of the funny book market, Thundering Sneakers might have been another bestseller. As things were, it sold mostly to readers of Texas Monthly magazine. If you were not in Texas during the Carter and first Reagan Administrations, you missed a good Mom-Com book and may want to turn back to Thundering Sneakers.

Bad news? Online purchasers may not get the first edition, which is what I physically own and which has become somewhat rare. Good news? The University of Texas has put forth a second edition, so a clean secondhand copy is still available for $5 per book + $5 per package + $1 per online payment, from which we'll send $1 to Mackintosh or a charity of her choice. At least two and probably all four of the author's Texas Monthly collections (Retreads, Sneaking Out, Just as We Were) will fit into one package; four books in one package would cost you $25 by U.S. postal order or $26 online, from which Mackintosh or her charity would receive $4.