"A classic evocation of childhood . . . a masterly mixture of up-country drawl and Huckleberry Finn."The New Yorker
A hugely popular bestseller when it first appeared in 1957, Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing. is Robert Paul Smith's nostalgic and often wry look back on his 1920s childhood. Smith agitates against what he perceives as the over-scheduled and over-supervised lives of suburban children as he celebrates privacy, boredom, and time to oneself away from adults. Arcane games and pastimes including mumbly-peg, horse-chestnut collecting, and Indian scalp burns pervade the book, alongside tales of young love"I loved the smell of kerosene. Rose smelled of kerosene. I loved Rose."and hard-won observations by Smith the elder. Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing. still conveys the essence of adventure that forms the basis of a fondly recalled childhood.
|Publisher:||Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.40(d)|
About the Author
Robert Paul Smith was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Mount Vernon, New York, and graduated from Columbia College in 1936. He authored four novels as well as Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing. and its companion, How to Do Nothing with Nobody All Alone by Yourself.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I got this book in the mail the other day from a childhood friend who'd found it in the book corner of an antique store. I researched it a bit and found out it was actually a bestseller when it was new, over fifty years ago, and went through several printings and paperback editions too before disappearing into that limbo of former bestsellsers. But sometimes what comes around goes around (or is it the other way around?), because I see this book was just reissued as a paperback last year. And it richly deserves it, no kidding.Robert Paul Smith grew up in the 1920s and that's the period of his childhood he's mostly writing about, although he intersperses his memories with comments of his present life (or the mid-1950s when he wrote the book). I grew up in the 1950s, but many of the childhood activities Smith writes about were still happening then: playing Red Rover or Statues; finding a length of clothesline to tie each other up with or make bolos or lassos or jump ropes (girls only, of course); the endless variety of things to do with horse chestnuts; running through hoses or sprinklers on a hot summer day; building a tree house or clubhouse with found or filched scraps of lumber and other stuff. In fact Smith's stories of that homemade hut are utterly hilarious. He tells of what a magnificent structure it seemed at the time, but in hindsight he realizes it was really not much bigger that "a big doghouse," and "when there were more than two of us in it, no one of us could move." And of course there were the rules, passwords and oaths involved in club memberships. I remembered doing all this stuff; and it also brought to mind those long-ago Little Lulu comics, with Tubby, Willy, and Iggy and the "no girls allowed" sign on their clubhouse. He talks about wanting fireworks, knives and, of course, that BB-gun that was made so famous again in the 80s by little Ralphie in Jean Shepherd's Christmas Story.My friend's note said he was sending me this book because it reminded him so much of my own memoir, ReedCityBoy (2004), and I had to admit he was right. I had written of many similar memories, despite the fact that I was a child of the 50s and wrote down my stories nearly fifty years after Smith did. Maybe childhood hasn't changed all that much when you come right down to it. Every kid has to learn things at his own rate and in his own time.My copy of "WHERE DID YOU GO?" "OUT" "WHAT DID YOU DO?" "NOTHING" is an old faded 1957 hardcover edition, and in the flyleaf is laboriously written in a schoolboy's hand, the awkward cursive script from a fountain pen blurred and blotted, "To Mrs. Cissel, from George Earle Pierpont Mountcastle. January 30, 1958"In January 1958 I'd just turned 14. I like to think that this book - brand new then - was a gift to a favorite teacher from a bookish, bespectacled kid like I was. If this is true, then I will say to young Master Mountcastle: "Good choice, George. I hope Mrs. Cissel appreciated it." This is a very enjoyable read, or as kids today are wont to say, "It's a really fun book."
"The thing is, I don't understand what kids do with themselves any more," begins Smith. In 1950s suburbia, children, Smith thought, were overscheduled, with "play groups and athletic supervisors and Little Leagues and classes in advanced fingerpainting." He was alarmed to discover that his own children and their friends had no idea how to play mumbly-peg. "Why don't the kids teach the other kids to play mumbly-peg?" he asked. Children were spending too much time playing games organized by adults in which "the rules were written down in a book." "In my block," he said, "the rules were written down in kids." From there he proceeds to reminiscences of his childhood, the interior life of the child, and the value of unsupervised exploration. Warm, humorous, ingratiating, and perfect for reading aloud. A 1957 bestseller, its title became a catchphrase, inspiring a Charles M. Schulz cartoon, A New York Times think piece about book titles, and an assertion that the title was the first American Zen koan. A 1974 research study on the benefits of briefly dropping out of college used the title "Where did you go? Out." A 1987 scholarly book on seventeenth-century English poetry commented on the ending of Paradise Regained; the scholar used the words: "Mother: 'Where did you go?' Son: 'Out.' Mother: 'What did you do?' Son: "Nothing.'" Smith's book inspired Brown University professor Howard P. Chudacoff to write his 2007 book "Children at Play: An American History." But this genial, affectionate, and well-written book is more than a warm and nostalgic reminiscence of childhood. It has something to say, and it seems as important in 2010 as it was in 1957. In due course, the book reaches its conclusion: "[The father] was, I believe, asking for privacy. He was, I believe, entitled to it. I think kids are, too. Let them moon, let them babble, let them be scared. I guess what I am saying is that people who don't have nightmares don't have dreams."