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In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
New York-based writer Ralph Parker is sent back to his hometown of Hohman, Indiana, to write an article about small-town life. Instead, he winds up in a bar run by a childhood friend, trading stories and reminiscing about what it was like to grow up in Hohman during the Great Depression, warts and all. Most of you are probably already familiar with at least parts of this book, even if you don't realize it. Several of the stories in this book were pieced together to make the script for the classic movie A Christmas Story. Those stories are just as entertaining here in their original form.

But in addition to the stories of the Red Ryder BB Gun, Ralphie's battle with the school bully, and the tale of the Old Man's still legendary Major Award, Jean Shepherd provides us with over a dozen other stories of life in Hohman -- the trip to the top of Magic Mountain, Ralph's attempt to impress his teacher by writing a book report on the biggest book he can find and the climactic tale of a movie theater promotion gone wrong all come together to make this a truly wonderful book. It isn't quite a novel, but more a collection of short stories with a framing sequence. It's clearly autobiographical, wonderfully satirical and at turns even a little heartwarming. This is the sort of book that really makes a writer's reputation, and it certainly elevated Shepherd to the status of one of the greatest satirists in American literature.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 1999
Format: Paperback
Like many other reviewers, my first taste of Jean Sheperd came from seeing the film "A Christmas Story", and anyone who has seen that film will find many of these stories instantly recognizable. Although my childhood was a lot more recent than the situations in this book describe, this book nonetheless brought me back to those far more innocent days of youth. This book is very funny, and Sheperd's ability to describe scenes and situations is excellent. In fact, the set-up of these stories is often far more entertaining than the pay-off, which generally is something blowing up or some riot occuring. The greatest part of this book for me was the general description of the Christmas season, the 4th of July fireworks, the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade, the corny movie promotions, etc. It sounds cliche, but he really does put you right there and make you feel like you are actually experiencing all of these things.
The only flaw in the book were the interludes. This book is made up primarily of a bunch of different stories which are not really interconnected with each other. To make this work as a "novel" Sheperd sets up scenes in the "present" tense that involve the main character (Ralph) reminiscing about old times with his childhood pal, Flick. All of these scenes have a very forced quality about them, and the dialogue sounds unnatural since it exists merely to segue from one story to the next. I probably would have given the book 5 stars if it was just a book of stories without the awkward interludes.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 2006
Format: Paperback
I listened to Jean Shepherd on WOR radio when I lived in NJ. Jean was THE funniest personality I had/have ever heard. Stories about when he was a kid, when he was in the Army, all kinds of neat, funny stories.

When this book came out, I got an autographed copy in Newark, NJ one day, still have it too. Outstanding tales about youth in the "better days" of America! You will LOVE this book if you like "Christmas Story" on TV every year.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Having grown up in a small town in northern Indiana (these stories take place in Hohman, a fictionalized version of Hammond) in the early 60's, many of the stories resonate with me. Having read this book (and its counterpart "Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories: And Other Disasters") several times, I have somewhat of a mixed response. My initial response is that the books are wonderful - In fact, I rated them five stars, and I'm giving copies to my two brothers and sister for Christmas. But my secondary response is that the books give me conflicting emotions. On the one hand, he makes some rather disparaging remarks about Hoosiers in general, and the people in his small town in particular. Several times, as he's looking back, he thinks about how close he came to being "one of the boys" that never escaped. On the other hand, in describing his life as a writer in New York, he sounds less than happy, complaining about the superficiality of his life there.

Yet amidst his disparaging remarks about his childhood, his sentimentality is so thick it could be spread on a slice of bread. Add some strawberry jam and you have a sandwich. I don't mean that in a bad way. On one level he obviously cherishes his memories, and is very glad to see his friend Flick. Most of the book involves the two of them thinking back about the times they had and the people they knew while Flick tends the bar he owns.

To reiterate, the stories operate on several levels. Primarily the book is sweetly reminiscent. Behind that there's some lingering dispirited aversion to the small-mindedness and poverty of his childhood hometown and state. But behind that there's a vein of cynicism about his current life in the big city.

His writing style is such that I laughed out loud on more than one occasion - and I'm not very demonstrative. Shepherd is a great humorist and is able to capture both the innocence and bitter tang of having grown up during the depression, or in the sparse times just after the depression.

It's important to know that most of the stories were originally published in a magazine (Playboy). This is not a novel - it's a collection of stories. If you've seen A Christmas Story, you should know that he wrote the screenplay and is also the narrator. Supposedly, during the filming the cast had a great time EXCEPT when he was on the set, where they found him to be a grumpy old man. There are some differences between the book and the movie - in the book, for example, it's the holiday ham that's stolen by the Bumpus dogs, not a holiday turkey. But for the most part, if you like the movie, you'll love the book (and the counterpart).

I know I'll be reading these books over and over, and I hope that my brothers and sisters enjoy them as gifts. Recommended very highly.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2009
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Humorous reminiscences of a childhood in Northern Indiana during the Depression (the one in the thirties) told from the perspective of the fifties. After the savage bite and originality of "Running with Scissors" this may seem too full of sweetness and light, but maybe you like sweetness and light. Some of it is genuinely funny, and I laughed out loud at times. The stories that made me laugh were "Wilbur Duckworth and His Magic Baton" and "Miss Bryfogel and the Frightening Case of the Speckle-throated Cuckold" (which is as close as the book comes to any mention of sex). Shepherd relies heavily on mock-heroics, an old-fashioned type of humor that uses fancy words to describe humble things, such as saying that a candy store owner "operated a mercantile establishment." He likes long-winded descriptions prefaced with phrases such as "for those who have never seen a fireworks stand a brief description would not be too far amiss." It may have gone over much better on radio, with the author reading it, than it does on the printed page. It could get repetitious at times.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 18, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
there's a joke that all generalizations are wrong. in my experience the single wrongest is the one about how the book is ALWAYS better than the movie. the reasons this is a fallacy are too numerous and complicated to go into here. sufficed to say that i myself tend to either prefer the movie or like it as much. and in this case it's just such a deadlock.
according to director Bob Clark, the gist of Jean Shepherd's humor was "cynical sentimentality." they certainly worked a bit of that into A Christmas Story: little Ralphie may well of indeed shot his eye out if he hadn't worn glasses. but because it was designed to warm the heart, however irreverently, it doesn't quite get to the nub of Shepherd's jadedness. this could be because the film is set entirely in childhood, whereas the book is a series of reminiscences from an adult Ralph who's since dropped the "ie." it focuses on the pre-jading period.
the movie is a true miracle in many ways, not least because it's still the only Christmas-related production ever to get away with eschewing all that peace-on-Earth propaganda in favor of the Christmas present someone pines for. (because let's face it: right or wrong, that's the angle of Christmas that leaps most immediately to mind, in some cases even after we grow up.)
but that's but one thread of the skein weaved by Shepherd in what just might be his most famous and/or popular work even without the movie. the framework finds Ralph, now a Big Apple sophisticate, reluctantly returning home to write a magazine article on his hometown. he stops off at the bar run by his old friend Flick, and they spend an afternoon looking back.
conspicuous by their absence are the tale of Flick sticking his tongue to the flagpole and the infamous "ooooooohhhhhh, fudge!!" debacle, but you'll find most of the episodic exploits from the film herein as well. interestingly, they sometimes have a whimsically darker edge. take the Little Orphan Annie decoder pin, for instance. the movie offers no reason to think that Ralphie did anything but go through the officially sanctioned motions of drinking Ovaltine to procure the proof-of-purchase like inner seal necessary to join Annie's "inner circle" and receive his own decoder pin. in the book, we're told that he grew up in a "non-Ovaltine drinking" neighborhood where no one had ever even seen a bottle of Ovaltine. one day he happens upon a discarded Ovaltine bottle which just happens to still have that inner seal, and his glee at finally qualifying is made even more euphoric by his making it "as a phony."
there are also some interesting philosophical insights that there wasn't room for in the movie. take The Old Man's leg lamp. in the book, the contest from which he attained it was run by a soda-pop manufacturer, and the leg is positioned in what is called a "pop" to reflect this. thus, Shepherd reasons, is it the beginning of "pop art."
a decade later Shepherd and director Bob Clark reteamed for a sequel they called My Summer Story. (the studio made them change the title to It Runs In The Family, but reinstated the original title when Kirk and Michael Douglas made a film using the latter title.) that delightful if not quite as masterful film - one of far too many worthy films to get lost in the shuffle - also borrows significantly from this book. My Summer Story features, for instance, Ralphie's first rite of passage into adulthood via fishing with The Old Man, the auction of the Kissel family's effects, Ralphie's foolhardy book report on Boccoccio's Decameron (sort of a medieval Lady Chatterly), and the book's epic climax: Leopold Doppler, manager of the local movie theater, offers a dinner set as a premium, giving different pieces per week. somewhere down the line there's a clerical error, which results in gravy boats four weeks in a row, and the neighborhood housewives finally revolt.
but alas, even when you do two movies not everything can make the transition. it seems to be the most bittersweet stories that got left out. such as the "for kids only" fair attraction called the Magic Mountain, which turns out to be an anticlimax. or the ego-shattering teenage dalliance where poor Ralph, who's been told he's doing a favor for a wallflower, inevitably realizes "i am the blind date." and then there's the time he relayed a bawdy story to a neighbor kid and dodged the bullet by not really understanding it. (he assumed the story was about hockey because a certain word sounded like "puck.")
the bottom line is that books and movies are different art forms with different strengths and weaknesses. book can do things movies can't do, and movies can do things books can't do. the movie has to be led by the book certainly, but as a rule the movie would inevitably be a pointless dead-end if it simply tried to clone the book rather than experimenting with it's own techniques. the book and the movie need to be companion pieces, and we have here a textbook example of a book-and-movie set that manages to be so.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 20, 2009
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This copy of "In God we Trust, All Others Pay Cash" In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, is about the fouth or fifth copy of this book that I have purchased. I keep giving them as gifts. You may recall the movie, popular at Christmas time, entitled "A Christmas Story". The plot of this movie was essentially taken from this book. Shepherd writes about growing up as a child on Cleveland Street in Hammond Indianna during the depression, and the book, a compilation of some of his stories, include the famous one about the Red Rider BB gun, as well stories about his family and his buddies Flick, Schwartz and Brunner and all the trouble they got into. This books is a gem of priceless Americana. Shepherd has written other books focused on other parts of his life, including one baout living in New York city, reflecting back to his roots of course and "Wanda Hickey Night of Golden Memories" which focues on his teranage years. Shepherd, dead now, was a TV story teller on WOR in New York and a short story writer for Playboy Magazine for many years. He was a crazy radio guy that would start to spin a tale drift of into kazoo playing and other diversions, but by the end of the show he had every listener glued to the radio waiting for the story to resolve. If you were driving your car, you would just park in the driveway until the show eded. They always contained some truism about life. Some were like the BB gun story, about his youth and others were tales of life in Fort Dix in the Army. Some of these stories are available in recorded form now. Shepherd also was the first person to publish a book which compuled the short stories of Gerorge Ade. George Ade was an American story teller that was widely syndicated at the turn of the 20th century. When you read the book, "The America of George Ade", you can see where Shepherd gets a lot of his style. This book is out of print and difficult to find. I highly recomend all the Shepherd books. He was a unique individual and shared a lot of truth witn us and presented that in an enjoyable format.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2007
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This book took me back, an interesting assortment of characters who shaped the time(s) and town(s) we all grew up in. From the school yard bully to the nosey neighbor to the town oddities, they are all there. You'll remember things from that time that you thought you forgot.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 27, 1998
Format: Paperback
Brenda/Jasmine/Jarenda Foster September 27,1998 BJF411@aol.com++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ During the holiday season Turner Network did movie marathon on the movie A christmas Story,it was the first time we were introduced to the wonderful works of Jean Shepherd, watching the movie reminded me of my life as a child in a small town in Eckman West Vurginia, population less tha 300. What a treat for the spirit, Christmas glorious christmas, ahh what a wonderful time of the year. The anual trip to the company store to see the new display, to the conversations about what we were going to receive as well give for presents. Chirstmas time like in the movie was a delight for all, to enjoy. Having the opportunity to read the book and see the movies,it just a pleasure and a delight for my entire family. We have also read Wanda Hickeys Night Of Golden Dreams And other Disasters, and are in the process of buying A Ferrari In The Bedroom, with much delght we hope have the complete writings of Jean Shepherd, this man is a wonderful treasuse indeed. The most wonderful actor Darren McGavin who plays the father in the movie is truely a delight as well as Melinda Dillion and Peter Bellingsley all were just the best. My favorite actor is of course Darren McGavin and would love to know just where are both Mr.Shepherd and Mr.McGavin are and are there any new projects for the two of them together or seperately.Thank you from our family to both the writer and to my favorite actor.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 1999
Format: Paperback
Like the others, I grew up within range of WOR, and so became infatuated with this author. Since his show was followed by Long John Nebel, it was difficult to get to sleep on any weeknight before 2 AM in 1963. If you could get tickets on Saturday night to the Village's "Limelight", you could hear Shepherd's tales in person. The stories are no less funny and whimsical in this book as they were on radio or during those live performances. Shepherd has admitted to being heavily influenced by George Ade, whose books also contain a similar drole humor born from simple, common, folksy experiences that 99% of us had. A good read for anyone who has grown up anywhere in America, or wants to know what America is like.
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