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5.0 out of 5 stars The Comic, Satiric Genius of Jean Shepherd..., October 2, 2012
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This review is from: The Ferrari in the Bedroom (Kindle Edition)
For fans of the late Jean Shepherd, his 1972 collection of short stories, The Ferrari in the Bedroom, may not be regarded as his best work, but we all have our favorites. My well-worn copy, with its tattered original dust jacket, has a lot of nostalgia for this reader, as many of the stories between the covers were those that I had first read years before in Car & Driver magazine, National Lampoon and other publications.

Jean Shepherd has frequently been described as a radio and TV personality, actor, humorist, satirist and raconteur. But to many of us, "Shep" as he was known is probably remembered foremost as a writer with an extraordinary sense of humor, and we find that evidenced right from the introduction of this title.

Shepherd collected news clippings to be read on his popular radio show, which was broadcast from WOR in New York City for years. He sets the pace for this collection of short stories by explaining that he has amassed an "enormous, flowing collection of published Straws In The Wind," which he also referred to as his "Vast File Of Dynamic Trivia." He offers items such as a small incident that occurred at the United Nations, which he refers to as "that great beehive of fantasy, dream, intrigue and connivery."

He shares with us an advertisement clipped from the classified ads of The New York Times, where someone was looking for a professional flagpole sitter with experience. He comments on a cultural bulletin released by the Associated Press from Zrenjanin, Yugoslavia, where "Radivoje Mominski won an important International prize in 1938 for writing the world's shortest book." The four-word title is longer than the contents of the book, and it's noted that the book "was printed in English, German, French, and Serbo-Croat, and recently in Urdu."

Shepherd's book is sprinkled randomly with his own black and white illustrations, line drawings from his own pen. And before the first chapter, we find this as some form of disclaimer:

"Large parts of the following are fiction; other parts based on fact. Still others are pure mythology. Some characters are real, others are figments of a harassed imagination. To the real, I apologize. To the others, the back of my hand."
~ Jean Shepherd

This excellent collection was first published in 1972, and it's an assemblage that includes many stories that first appeared in Car and Driver magazine, National Lampoon and a number of other publications. Published here as chapters, this what you'll find...

1. "I Hear America Singing; or "Leaves of Grass Revisited"
2. "Straight Shooters Always Win" ... Dick Tracy
3. An Independent Survey Today Announced...
4. The Man of the Future May Be a Woman
5. Confessions of a TV Fisherman
6. Harold's Super Service
7. The Rosetta Stone of American Culture
8. One Day the Fog Lifted
9. Fun City
10. S.P.L.A.T.!
11. 43 Miles on the Gauge
12. The Great Chicken-Clawed Chooser
13. The Drive-In Confessional
14. The Indy 500
15. Lifetime Guarantee
16. Moose Area Next 18 Miles
17. Great Expectations; or the War of the Worlds
18. Little America, I Love You
19. Abercrombie's Bitch
20. Lillian
21. The Ferrari in the Bedroom

The last chapter, "The Ferrari in the Bedroom," first appeared in Car and Driver in the January 1972 issue. It's the perfect tale with which to title this book, as it's one of those that truly demonstrate Jean Shepard's true sense of humor. Some of the publications where these chapters first appeared have disappeared over the years, to be remembered in name only, so this book is an excellent archive of some of author Shepherd's best writing.

There's not a bad chapter here, and it would be so easy to drop a spoiler or three, maybe even twelve, but I'll refrain. Other than the title chapter noted above, there's one chapter worth noting, "The Rosetta Stone of American Culture," where the Shepherd comments on the 1929 mail order catalog from Johnson Smith & Company, with its "Joke Teeth", "Whoopee Cushions", "Anarchist (Stink) Bombs", classic "Itching Powder" and other such things that in those pre-Internet days could only be found in catalogs such as this. Yet unlike some of the magazines that published Shepherd's stories, Johnson Smith is still in business, and doing a lively trade on the `Net.

Shep had a radio show that was broadcast on NYC's WOR AM radio, where he had an overnight slot beginning in 1956, delighting his radio fans by telling stories, reading poetry, and organizing comedic listener stunts. Listeners would hear his show begin with the kitschy, galloping piece by Austrian composer Eduard Strauss piece called the Bahn Frei Polka as performed by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra. This was frequently by readings of the fillers that he called "straws in the wind," as noted in the beginning of this book. Shepherd was on WOR radio until he left 1977.

It's worth mentioning that during these years with WOR that he wrote this book along with In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash (1966), and from some of those short stories came his collaboration with director Bob Clark on the 1983 movie, A Christmas Story. He had a cameo role in that film, and was the nostalgic narrator.

A note on the editions here: in an attempt to keep the dust jacket and cover of my original hardbound edition in better shape (see the photos), I downloaded The Ferrari in the Bedroom as a Kindle edition, and it's identical to my original 1972 hardbound edition, right down to Shep's original drawings.

Jean Shepherd is no longer with us. He passed away on October 16th, 1999 at a hospital near his home at Florida's Sanibel Island, Florida. He was 78 years old and was mourned by friends and fans everywhere. He may have died, but his genius and sense of humor will live on in films, books and writings.

10/2/2012
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John Williamson
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   

Location: NYC & Bucks County, PA

Top Reviewer Ranking: 174