Russell Baker Joe Mysak - Essay

Joe Mysak

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In Growing Up] Russell Baker, the New York Times "Observer" columnist, turns his talent to autobiography. The results are as happy as his fellow Baltimorean H. L. Mencken's were when he ventured into the form in his Days books. Baker has shown his readers some of this material before—notably in 1979, the year he won the Pulitzer Prize—but the story is especially well told here…. This is as much the story of Lucy Baker's struggling against the Depression as it is of her son's growing up, and it is often quite moving. The Bakers' circumstances were somewhat unusual, but the story and the characters are familiar ones. Here are the usual assortment of jobs and ne'er-do-well relatives. There is no character or tale here so fabulous as to be unbelievable, which puts the author in the same realist-humorist category as George Ade, Mencken, and Jean Shepherd, who have all shown American life as it is really lived: routine contentment continually interrupted by high drama and crucial turning points, shot through with desperate comedy. Growing Up is a satisfying read, and it will also tell future biographers something about the origins of Baker's humor, his skepticism, and even his ear for quirky dialogue.

Joe Mysak, in a review of "Growing Up," in National Review, Vol. XXXIV, No. 22, November 12, 1982, p. 1430.