Recently, as the result of a number of circumstances, I've been woolgathering about the past, specifically my childhood and teenage years. Maybe I've spent too much time on it, but it's something I've needed to do. It is somewhat ironic then that CURSED BY A HAPPY CHILDHOOD should be published now. After reading it for the last few hours I've felt as if Carl Lennertz, its author, has been tapping into my thoughts. I'm sure I won't be alone in feeling this way.
CURSED BY A HAPPY CHILDHOOD is Lennertz's first published work. It consists of short pieces, most of them no more than 2-3 pages in length, which began as a kind of diary for his preteen daughter. The result is a mix of childhood memoirs from the 1950s and 1960s, observations and advice. One of its many strengths is its simplicity; you don't have to be a rocket scientist to read Lennertz. You do, however, have to pay attention. Lennertz has a conversational style that is closer to listening to a friend discuss a far-off yet familiar land than a lecture from an elder about what's what. Another of Lennertz's strengths is his lack of pretension. He realizes that while things may be different "now" from the way they were "then," there are valuable life lessons that are as applicable in the present as they were in the past.
I had so many favorite pieces in CURSED BY A HAPPY CHILDHOOD that I can't mention them all. Of the ones that hit home the hardest, I probably laughed the most at "The Great Books Versus the Great Comic Books" because of a conversation I had recently with a friend. He asked me who I considered to be the best authors. I listed Thomas Wolfe, William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy and Larry Brown. He laughed and told me he doubted that he would be reading any of them since he no longer read "homework" books. Lennertz doesn't go quite that far, but he does advise his daughter to put the serious stuff aside occasionally and escape. There's nothing wrong with that at all. I also enjoyed the nuggets that Lennertz drops throughout the book, such as "Show up, be on time and do your best" and "If those around you are bringing you down, move on." Words to live by!
Lennertz, as a bit of lagniappe, intersperses the text with photographs of 45 r.p.m. record labels that, if you are of a certain age, will have you both drooling and misty-eyed and that will add to, rather than interrupt, the flow of his narrative. Taken in its entirety, CURSED BY A HAPPY CHILDHOOD is by turns instructional and entertaining, a work that parents and children can buy for each other. I do have a minor quibble, however. The only piece in the book that I took serious issue with was a whimsical list entitled "Ten Things That Would Make Me A Cooler Dad." Carl, you wrote your daughter a book --- you can't get much cooler than that.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 7, 2011