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4.4 out of 5 stars
In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash
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177 of 181 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 1997
Format: Paperback
As I suspect has been the case with other younger adults of my generation, I first became familiar with the works of humorist Jean Shepherd after watching the delightful 1983 motion picture "A Christmas Story" (reviewed elsewhere in this catalog). It would take some time before I finally decided to read "In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash", which the movie was partly based on. Those of us who enjoyed Shepherd's side-splitting narration in "A Christmas Story" will not be disappointed by the book, although the movie is more upbeat and lacking the book's satire. The premise of "In God We Trust" is simple: New York-based writer Ralph Parker is back in his mythical hometown of Hohman, Indiana to write an article on this blue-collar Midwestern town for a magazine. Between drinks at his old friend Flick's tavern, Ralph reminisces on his childhood experiences in Hohman during the Depression and the colorful characters who were so much a part of the town. Throughout the book, Shepherd uses masterful similes and metaphors in describing the most basic aspects of life during Ralph's younger years. The book is funny indeed, and there is enough satire in the nostalgic references to disqualify Hohman from becoming a Norman Rockwell painting. There is also a feeling of pathos in Shepherd's brand of satire, as Ralph describes the drab experience of living in a town surrounded by pollution-spewing steel mills and oil refineries, a town where there is not much of a future unless you own a bar or used-car lot or work in one of the nearby industries. The denizens of Hohman do find moments of respite from the drabness during Christmas, the Fourth of July, the Thanksgiving Day parade, or a trip to the movies, often with hilarious consequences. After reading the highly enjoyable "In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash", I can understand how Jean Shepherd earned his reputation as a master satirist and raconteur.
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88 of 92 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2002
Format: Paperback
I have always been a fan of the movie "A Christmas Story," and I can't even remember where or when I heard that it was based on Jean Shepherd's "In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash," but I do remember that rushed to the bookstore I work at (on my day off) and ordered in 10 copies. I read the book the night it came in and sold the remaining 9 copies the next day. I repeat this ritual every year adding more copies to my order each and every time. This book simply fantastic and I have never heard anyone say they didn't like it. The irony of Sheperd's narrative combined with the memories of childhood make a perfect post-Christmas read. No one can re-tell events as well as Shepherd except for maybe David Sedaris (Naked, Barrel Fever).
I usually cringe when books are made into movies, yet this story is so great that nothing could do it injustice.
I can't praise this book enough. Set in midwest during the depression, Shepherd shows that although times were tough, families were still families. This book is sometimes painfully, yet comically real, and I can't say that any other book has made me want to be as kid again - nor make me want to have a family - as much as Shepherd's.
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59 of 65 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
When Jean Shepherd died this Fall (10/15/99), we not only lost one of America's greatest humorists and a Christmas icon, we also lost a man who has discretely changed how all of us remember childhood. In fact, his influence is so subtle, that you may not even know who he was; but I guarantee, you do know him. Jean Shepherd is the narrator of, and the stories from this book are the basis for, the instant classic yuletide movie, A Christmas Story.
Most of the episodes from the film are here, including, of course, the Red Ryder BB Gun Saga, the Leg Lamp Incident, The F Word Debacle, etc. and Shepherd's contribution to our collective psyche is that we remember both these events and similar events from our own childhoods in Capital Letters now. In the same way, and at the same time, as Tom Wolfe was getting us to think, not of radical chic and the right stuff, but of Radical Chic! and The Right Stuff!, Shepherd was likewise taking the seemingly common stuff of boyhood memory and elevating it to mythic status. So for most of us, when we look back into the mists of memory, we don't simply recall "the time we broke the window", rather we summon forth "The Broken Window Incident". At least, I know I do.
Read the paragraphs below & see if you haven't subconsciously internalized the cadences, impossibly graphic immediacy and recall, mild exaggerations for comedic effect and epic tone in your own recollections:
First on getting ready to leave the house in Winter: Preparing to go to school was like getting ready for extended Deep-Sea Diving. Longjohns, corduroy knickers, checkered flannel Lumberjack shirt, four sweaters, fleece-lined leatherette sheepskin, helmet, goggles, mittens with leatherette gauntlets and a large red star with an Indian Chief's face in the middle, three pairs of sox, high-tops, overshoes, and a sixteen foot scarf wound spirally from left to right until only the faint glint of two eyes peering out of a mound of moving clothing told you that a kid was in the neighborhood.
There was no question of staying home. It never entered anyone's mind. It was a hardier time, and Miss Bodkin was a hardier teacher than the present breed. Cold was something that was accepted, like air, clouds, and parents; a fact of Nature, and as such could not be used in any fraudulent scheme to stay out of school.
My mother would simply throw her shoulder against the front door, pushing back the advancing drifts and stone ice, the wind raking the living-room rug with angry fury for an instant, and we would be launched, one after the other, my brother and I, like astronauts into unfriendly Arctic space. The door clanged shut behind us and that was it. It was make school or die!
Scattered out over the icy waste around us could be seen other tiny befurred jots of wind-driven humanity. All painfully toiling toward the Warren G. Harding School, miles away over the tundra, waddling under the weight of frost-covered clothing like tiny frozen bowling balls with feet. An occasional piteous whimper could be heard faintly, but lost instantly in the sigh of the eternal wind. All of us were bound for geography lessons involving the exports of Peru, reading lessons dealing with fat cats and dogs named Jack. But over it all like a faint, thin, offstage chorus was the building excitement. Christmas was on its way. Each day was more exciting than the last, because Christmas was one day closer. Lovely, beautiful, glorious Christmas, around which the entire year revolved.
Then on being given a writing assignment while in the grip of BB-gun mania: Miss Bodkin, after recess, addressed us:
"I want all of you to write a theme. ..."
A theme! A rotten theme before Christmas! There must be kids somewhere who love writing themes, but to a normal air-breathing human kid, writing themes is a torture that ranks with the dreaded medieval chin-breaker of Inquisitional fame. A theme!
"...entitled 'What I want for Christmas,'" she concluded.
The clouds lifted. I saw a faint gleam of light at the other end of the black cave of gloom which had enveloped me since me visit to Santa. Rarely had the words poured from my penny pencil with such feverish fluidity. Here was a theme on a subject that needed talking about if ever one did! I remember to this day its glorious winged phrases and concise imagery:
What I want for Christmas is a Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time. I think everybody should have a Red Ryder BB gun. They are very good for Christmas. I don't think a football is a very good Christmas present.
And, of course, back comes the response from Miss Bodkin:
"You'll shoot your eye out. Merry Christmas."
At any rate, if you've never read Jean Shepherd before, or tragically never got to hear his radio show or see his PBS series, I urge you to give this hilarious book a try.
Grade: A
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
Ever since I saw the movie "A Christmas Story" for the first time on TNT I fell in love with the eloquent writing of Jean Shepherd. The book "In God We Trust; All Others Pay Cash" is the funniest and most clever of all of the books I have ever read. For all of you twenty-year-olds who think this book is just another 50's boring sock hop cheesy story, think again. This book will have you on the floor in convulsions because of the non-stop laughter. BUY THIS BOOK :)
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2003
Format: Paperback
I see from the posted reviews that most people know Jean Shepherd from his books and movies -- all of which are great -- but that was not his primary medium, the medium in which he excelled far beyond anyone either living or dead: radio. Mr. Shepherd had a half hour radio show just about every night in New York City in the 1960's, and possibly back into the 1950's. It was a hypnotic show, and he had a vast following. I used to scrunch down under the covers in bed with my transistor radio to catch his virtuosos performance every chance I got. He was a wild guy. I think he was thrown off the air at least once for disparaging the quality of his own advertisers! One time he almost started a riot at Coney Island. He was totally irreverent. And the uncontested king of radio patter. I was always amazed at how fresh and funny he was, night after night. It's a shame we don't have any of those shows as recordings. All we've got is the books and movies. Oh well. Time marches on. Just wanted you to know this man's real genius. I can still hear his theme music . . . it sounded like horses lining up at a race track and charging forward madly. The man definitely had a message.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 10, 2006
Format: Paperback
One dreary winter day while holiday shopping, I casually picked up this book and began reading while munching a bagel. Hours later, I hadn't stirred other than to wipe the tears from my eyes. My sides ached from laughing, and I'm sure the people around me thought I was strange. Nonetheless, Jean Shepherd is halarious, especially if you've seen Christmas Story, and in your mind's eye, hear him relating the tales within. This book led me to purchasing his others and they simply lift my spirits whenever I open them. If you can relate in any way to Ralphie, his dad, the Bumpuses, classrooms with ink wells, playgrounds with metal fixtures, penny candy or hot summer days where you hunt for empty pop bottles that earn you a penny... then you can chuckle knowingly to the stories he spins. If you like Garrison Keillor, Jean Shepherd has to have been his mentor. I do so envy those who were able to hear him on radio during his heyday.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 1999
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Many readers remember Shepherd from his radio days and all of these stories have been told in different ways over the air so the best way to read them is to imagine him reading it to you (in his voice) as though you're huddled next to that old radio or snuggled under covers listening to a little transistor. Mr. Shepherd's recent death only highlights the lack of real, thoughtful and off-the-cuff humor in today's media. Some of these stories may seem familiar to anyone who's seen A CHRISTMAS STORY because they're based on Shepherd's tales in this, his first collected fiction. May he rest in peace and be given the proper respect his humor deserves.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 1999
Format: Paperback
Jean Shepherd is dead, but his genius lives on. Shepherd is one of the great writers of our time. Nobody has ever written with more insight into the child's mind. I could rave on about the literary merits of his work, but let's cut to the chase... "In God We Trust, All Other's Pay Cash" is laugh out loud funny! If you were lucky enough to have heard Shepherd on WOR radio it's even better, since Shep's voice will echo in your head. I love Jean Shepherd. I wanted to be Jean Shepherd. Buy this book and pass it on.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 1998
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
In 1967, I was a regular listener of Mr. Shephard's radio show on WOR in New York. My English teacher at the time was also a Shepherd fan. One day he told me that a Jean Shepherd book called "In God We Trust" had been published, and wondered out loud if I would enjoy reading it.Up until this time, I was not a big reader. However, this seemed like a Big Deal to me. After all, this was a book written by the same guy who talked right to me, every night, from the old Philco 5 tube radio next to my bed. A book by Jean Shepherd? I had never known someone who had written a book. (That's the way it was with Shep...if you listened to his show, you felt like you knew him. And he knew you.) So, with all of the resolve a 7th grade kid can muster, I located and read the book, cover to cover. Twice.My sainted english teacher was no dummy. So, when it came time for us to pick a short story to read aloud in class, he let me read Shep. Despite a few questionable worlds (this WAS 1967 after all), I was a hit. Well, Mr. Shepherd was a hit.Here I am, some 30 years later (gulp) buying the same book as a Chirstmas present for a friend.I doubt that kids today would find this book all that funny or interesting, but if you remember when the Peacock was on NBC the first time, I'll bet this book will make you laugh. If you are on the fence about this one, go ahead and find out just what you have been missing.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Jean Shepherd recorded the full text of this book in 1966, for the Library of Congress' Talking Book program for the Blind. That recording was a must-have after I heard a few of his radio shows in the mid-'70s. Even before the movie "A Christmas Story," came out, every story in this book was a classic to me, and to the "Night people," which Shepherd called his fanatics. The short film "Great American Fourth of July," dramatizes some of the stories in this book that weren't in "Christmas Story." With Shepherd 10 years dead, Dave Barry has replaced him as the funniest writer alive, but the intellectual gap between the two is wider than the Grand Canyon. These stories are full of unforgettable scenes, full of lines Shepherd fans repeat to one another with or without provocation. To name just one, when my wife won a shirt in a contest, from the day it arrived I said "It's a major award," as The Old Man said of his lady's leg lamp. Some won't see the humor there, but they are the unfortunate.
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