Thursday, February 12, 2009

Balsamic Dreams: A Short but Self-Important History of the Baby Boomer Generation by Joe Queenan

There used to be soap opera summaries in the newspaper with the tag "We watch so you don't have to." I am sure there were, though I can not find them now. In recent Chicago Tribunes, there are reviews of magazines, such as Marie Claire and Glamour, that are under the banner"Save Time, Let Us Do the Reading." In the same spirit, I am reviewing Balsamic Dreams: A Short but Self-Important History of the Baby Boomer Generation by Joe Queenan, a somewhat humorous-somewhat serious look at Americans born between the mid-1940s and the early 1960s.

You probably were not intending to read Balsamic Dreams, even if you were aware of it. This biography of a generation focusing mostly on its consumer habits, music, and television viewing is already over seven years old. Our library received its copy in September 2001. I suspect that it seemed rather pointless to read in the months following the September 11 terrorist attacks. Post-9/11 realities, however, have not made Balsamic Dreams dated. The same generation still holds much of the power in the U.S., and they still have many of the same problems.

I noticed the book because I read an advance notice that Closing Time, Queenan's memoir about growing up in Philadelphia, is coming out in April 2009. Not remembering Queenan, I decided to look at the older book and quickly became interested, being a Boomer. To his credit, he is an intelligent writer who appears to have a great memory for details. He also seems to have given many issues much thought. I began very sympathetic to his premise - that the Baby Boomer Generation has been a great disappointment. At the end, I was still in a general agreement, but his arguments were far too cynical and over-blown. He seemed just as unfair as he claims many Baby Boomers are. He might actually agree.

I do not regret finishing the book. Near the end, he uses the example of the baseball career of Cesar Cedeno as a typical Boomer story. I was so pleased to find that someone remembered Cedeno, who had three or four great years before settling in to an broken career with many disappointments. Just like a Boomer, I let myself invest too much time and emotion in following the life of an athlete.

What is particulary annoying is that Queenan portrays almost every figure from the mid-1960s to 2000 as a light-weight money-grubbing opportunist or a liberal ninny sympathetic to nutty causes. It gets rather tiring. I found much to disagree with. I still like folk music.

If you are looking for someone to deflate your ego and point out your errors, Queenan is your writer. There are still plenty of copies of his book languishing on library shelves.

Queenan, Joe. Balsamic Dreams: A Short but Self-Important History of the Baby Boomer Generation. Henry Holt and Co., 2001. ISBN 0805067205

1 comment:

Savvy Working Gal said...

Joe Queenan used to be a regular guest on a radio program I listened to here in Milwaukee. On the show he had a sarcastic sense of humor I could really relate to. He mentioned his book, Balsamic Dreams a couple of times. Being a baby boomer myself, I too thought this would be a book I’d enjoy, so I picked up a copy from the library. It was terrible. I don’t think I even finished it. It’s been awhile, but I also felt his arguments were overblown, almost to the point of being ridiculous.