The boom GENERATION
Peterborough: Sharon humorist to talk at Toadstool
Writer P.J. O’Rourke, born in 1947, is a senior member of the Baby Boom generation.
“We are the generation that changed everything,” O’Rourke writes in the preface of his latest book, “The Baby Boom.” “Of all the eras and epochs of Americans, ours is the one that made the biggest impression — on ourselves.... Here we are in the Baby Boom cosmos, formed in our image, personally tailored to our individual needs, and predetermined to be eternally fresh and novel. And we saw that it was good. Or pretty good.”
O’Rourke, who has lived in Sharon for about 25 years, is a prolific political satirist, the author of the best selling books “Parliament of Whores,” a comic study of the Washington political scene, and “Give War a Chance,” based on his reporting for Rolling Stone magazine on the fall of Communism and the Gulf War in Iraq. But “The Baby Boom” takes a different approach.
“It’s the least political book I’ve ever written,” O’Rourke said in a phone interview last week. “All I wanted to do was observe. I started out with a low opinion but by the time I got to the end, I’d fallen back in love with my age cohort. I let it go where it would go.”
O’Rourke chronicles the early lives of baby boomers, from their memories of growing up, as he describes it, “in an average family in an average sort of neighborhood in an average part of America — this was a pleasant life, on average.” He tells a lot of stories, many from his own experience, but the book is not a true memoir.
“A memoir is always about how different [the writer] was,” he said. “You can list on one hand the happy memoirs that have been written. I was trying to evoke happy memories from my age group. We grew up in a huge, culturally coherent society. There were three television channels max, two radio stations.”
O’Rourke said his tales — about childhood games of war, cruising in cars, discovering first beer and then drugs and sex — are just loosely based on his own experiences.
“Yeah, I was a hippie, but I wasn’t a very good one,” he said. “I felt free to use myself because I felt many of my experiences were typical. I was trying to go for universal memories. The idea is to get the response, ‘Yeah, that’s exactly how it was.’”
All the names in the book have been changed.
“I was looking not so much for particular descriptions as for types,” he said. “In some cases, I didn’t have to deviate much.”
O’Rourke, who grew up and went to college in Ohio, first came to New Hampshire in the 1970s, while he was working as editor-in-chief at the National Lampoon magazine in New York City.
“I had an old friend from college who had ended up working in Jaffrey and loved the area,” O’Rourke said. “At the time, New Hampshire was terribly economically depressed and land was cheap. I just fell in love with the whole area. I bought a weekend place. I couldn’t have bought a parking space in New York for the same money.”
In those days, he said, direct flights were available from the city to Keene, so he could leave work at the end of the day on Friday and be in New Hampshire for dinner. He had a beat-up truck that he parked for free at the Keene airport during the week.
“Of course, as soon as I moved, the jet service went under,” he said.
O’Rourke said that when he became a freelance writer, he also became a full-time Granite Stater.
“My tax guy said I’d be crazy not to change my permanent residence,” he said.
O’Rourke is known as a libertarian, but he said he’s not comfortable with the more extreme aspects of that movement.
“There’s a tendency by some to want to start everything over, to reinvent the wheel. I don’t believe that’s possible. I do hold with the focus on individual liberty and individual responsibility, but I’m not one of these legalize heroin guys..”
He said he dislikes the social conservative agenda.
“I think opposition to gay marriage is just wrong. It violates people’s rights to make contracts with each other.”
“The Baby Boom” has a long subtitle: “How It Got That Way, And Why It Wasn’t My Fault, And I’ll Never Do It Again.” That implies that O’Rourke may have regrets about his generation, but that’s not really the case.
“In a peculiar way, we are a success,” he said. “Once the boomers took the reins of society, I think the world improved in a considerable way. It’s been messy, but we haven’t seen anything like World War I or II, or the Holocaust, or Vietnam.”
He said people treat each other with far more respect now.
“We’ve made huge steps,” he said. “Racism, sexism and homophobia are still valid problems, but the difference in intensity is night and day. People are being seen as people. It’s an amazing social advance.”
O’Rourke will be discussing “The Baby Boom” at 11 a.m. on April 12 at the Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough.
“I’ll do a little abstract, more of a talk about the Baby Boom, rather than reading from the book,” he said. “That’s always fun, and I love the Toadstool. It’s my reason to go to Peterborough, along with maybe getting my dry cleaning.”