March 15, 2003

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less, by Terry Ryan

Oh, this was good.

The subtitle concisely summarizes the entire book. It's the true story of how the author's mother, during the contest craze of the 1950s and 1960s, entered every contest in sight, winning often enough to keep the family afloat.

I liked this for several reasons. For one thing, I confess I give bonus points to any book chronicling a family whose size is in the ballpark of mine. (Ten is close enough to be in the ballpark, I figure.) This is one reason why I've long been a fan of Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on their Toes. (Of course, small families can be nice, too: that's one reason why I've liked watching The Brady Bunch over the years.)

Anyway. Aside from that, the story is engaging, and it's pretty well written. I particularly liked the fact that the author didn't fall into the trap of foreshadowing contest entries that were going to win. As the narrative progresses, some contests disappear into the mists after the entries are sent out, never to be heard of again, while others pay off. You have to read on to discover which is which, though.

Finally, the book includes many of the actual contest entries, and while some of them are almost incomprehensible (but right up the alley of the contest judges), others are a delight to read. In one case, I'd actually read it before, in a collection of Burma-Shave signs, just without attribution to the author. (It's a real beaut, having relevance both to the actual product, and to the fact that it's being read from a car speeding along a highway: "Hairpin turn, / Hotrod ditched. / Lost control, / His whiskers / Itched. / Burma-Shave.")

Posted by Shmuel at 10:53 PM