Correction to This Article
Previous editions of this article in print and on the Web incorrectly referred to former Pittsburgh Steeler Franco Harris as a quarterback. He was a running back. This version has been corrected.

American Ways of Growing Up

Sunday, August 5, 2007

By Stephen J. Dubner
HarperPerennial. 261 pp. $13.95

When Stephen Dubner, the coauthor of Freakonomics, was 9, he watched Franco Harris, the Pittsburgh Steelers' running back, catch what came to be known as the "Immaculate Reception," snatching the ball after it ricocheted off two players and running for a touchdown to win a close game in its final seconds. "If Franco Harris had quit football the next day and announced that he was starting a circus," writes Dubner, "I would have run away to join it." Instead, when Dubner's father died a year later, he dreamed of Harris every night. "Every night I looked forward to bedtime -- which may say less about the Dream than about the unmoored, keening state of my childhood. It wasn't a miserable childhood," Dubner explains, "only one with a chunk blown out of its center, that chunk being my father." Years later, Dubner tracks down Harris, now a Pittsburgh businessman, "because I had come to believe that it was my hero who had kept me from crumbling into that hollow center."

Growing Up Wild In the Middle of Nowhere
By Debra Marquart
Counterpoint. 272 pp. $15

Debra Marquart grew up outside of Napoleon, N.D., population 1,107. She was one of the farm girls. "We had strong white teeth. We shone them on the world," she writes. "We were best in show, the pick of the litter, the cream of the crop, too good for this place, everyone agreed. We were programmed for flight." From an early age, Marquart knew she'd leave the farm her immigrant great-grandfather had built and the hill on his land where all her dead relatives were buried. "The only jobs I saw around me were farmer, banker, and priest. The prospects for women were worse -- teacher, housewife, nun. Not one of them an occupation I imagined for myself." When she headed to college, she assumed she'd shaken off the farm dirt for good. But she discovers that it's not so easy to shake off a childhood: "If it's true that you can't go home again then it must be equally true that you can't not go home again. Your home ground has left an indelible imprint on you."

By Lee Montgomery
Free Press. 239 pp. $14

"You have to meet my mother," writes Lee Montgomery. "You have to meet the Mumzy in the morning." That's when, at 8:45, she holds up three fingers to tell Montgomery's father how many ounces of gin she wants in her wake-up drink. Montgomery, an editor of the literary magazine Tin House, comes from a well-established Yankee family in Massachusetts. "We aren't the real rich," she explains. "We are the once sort of rich a long time ago, which, according to Mother, is better." Montgomery's mother devotes her life to saving horses and to drink. She is sober for exactly one year that Montgomery can remember and misses every significant family event. Her father, Big Dad, is the one who holds the family together. When he is diagnosed with cancer, Montgomery and her siblings return home, together for the first time in years, to care for their incapacitated parents.


· Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete, by William C. Rhoden (Three Rivers, $13.95), "offers a wonderful balance between the often forgotten histories of great black athletes . . . and nuanced social commentaries on the commercial exploitation of blackness," wrote David J. Leonard.

· The Last Town on Earth (Random House, $13.95), Thomas Mullen's novel about the influenza epidemic of 1918 has "psychological suspense, villains, victims, a conflicted hero or two, secrets and a mystery," marveled Zofia Smardz. "In short, it's a grabber."

· Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (Penguin, $16) "pulls no punches," according to Daniel Byman. Author Thomas E. Ricks "painfully but clearly reveals an important truth about the Iraq debacle: It has a thousand fathers."

Rachel Hartigan Shea is a senior editor of Book World.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company