Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Trying to Be Cool-Leo Braudy

Trying to Be Cool-Leo Braudy

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 272
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 2013
non-fiction memoir

Philadelphia in the '50s: Barson's Soda Shop at 60th and Cedar was the center of the universe, hanging out was the point, and the height of cool was to be kicked out of the Cedar Theatre for public displays of passion. In this engaging memoir of teenage life amid the transformations of post-World War II America, Leo Braudy reveals his younger self as a somewhat clueless narrator in the throes of deciphering the innuendo and subterfuge of a confusing world. Was rock 'n' roll really a Communist plot? Was "juvenile delinquency" actually a threat to social order? Was "conformity" truly the era's norm? Weaving a personal narrative through the wider social context of disillusionment and apocalyptic fears, Trying To Be Cool reveals the vibrant eclecticism of a decade too often dismissed as a period of conventionality.

I really enjoyed this memoir about growing up in Philadelphia. Despite the fact that I've spent rather a lot of time in Philadelphia (considering that I don't actually live in the USA), I know so little about the nitty gritty of its history. I know it best through its architectural styles so I really enjoyed this glimpse into teenagehood in 1950s Philadelphia.


Braudy is a cultural historian and it shows-he writes intelligently and passionately about being a teenager in the first generation have teenagers. It's easy, nowadays, to see the 1950s as cheesy, conservative, and naïve and in some ways, yeah, Braudy did not disabuse me of this notion but I grew fascinated by his dissection of what makes 'cool'. Especially since it was still a concept close to what I knew as a teenager in the 2000s. Braudy was a rock n' roll teenager in a Philadelphia that functioned as a town-he hung around on street corners and danced for fun. The dance pervades the book, there's a distinct physicality to his descriptions that almost makes you wish you were there-even if you had to have pimples. His book captures not him as a teenager but rather the scene around him beyond the stereotypes and cultural images pervasive today. You meet all sorts of characters who range from funny to hilarious (Satre as a 'jerk-off' book) to absurd. And below all of this is the pervasive scars of the depression, the politics of war, and life in an age before vaccines which makes the memoir more than a light-hearted exploration of teenage culture.

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