Growing Up St. Louis author Jim Merkel ponders what kids today will tell their grandkids about coronavrus.
Copies of Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades came into the Reedy Press warehouse on March 26, 2020,. That’s 1,159 days (three years, two months and four days after I turned in a proposal to Reedy Press Publisher Josh Stevens.
It wast worth waiting for.
It’s not going to take you that long to get a copy, is it? For goodness sakes, go to jimmerkelthewriter.com and order the book.
The waiting soon will be over. On Friday, I’m told, we’ll get real copies of Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. We’ll have a chance to look at what I got from interviews of more than 100 people about their experiences growing up here. When you add the transcribing, writing, rewriting, changes editing, proofreading and so much more, the whole process took more than three years.
The work often was frustrating. Change that. It always was exasperating. But I knew we had a great concept: have grown ups tell, in their own words, what it was like to be a kid in St. Louis.
I’m looking forward to that new book smell. I’m disappointed that we had to postpone or cancel signings and presentations for now, including the big Laugh Event on April 11 at the Central Library downtown. But the book was worth the wait. You can order a signed copy here. The $26 cost includes the $20.95 cost of the book, sales tax and shipping. I’m biased, but I think this is my best book yet.
I wonder what kids today will remember about COVID-19 half a century from now.
From what I discovered in writing Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades, their memories should be vivid and fairly accurate. I interviewed a couple of experts about remembering things, and they talked about something called “flashbulb memory.” People remember sudden, world-changing events like Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy Assassination and 9/11. They may not remember the stuff at the edges, but the core is is pretty true. COVID-19 wasn’t sudden, but it did come on pretty fast and was devastating. It’s easy to remember today’s kids telling their grandchildren in 2085 details about how McDonalds was closed and they did their schoolwork at home.
People I interviewed about Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy Assassination and 9/11 all spoke about their effect on the inside. You’ll be able to read their stories of growing up in our town when my book of interviews with about 100 St. Louisans comes out soon.
James Conway, who was mayor from 1977 to 1981, was selling papers when news came of the Pearl Harbor attack. “You have to appreciate I was nine years old, so I cannot exactly remember when I heard about the war or the instant I heard about it, but it was one of those things that was just overwhelming and people wanted to comprehend as much as they could,” he said, in his account in Growing Up St. Louis.
Joseph Winkler was a sophomore at McBride High School when he learned John F. Kennedy was shot. Sent home on a bus, he saw people standing in a daze. “Most of what I remember is people standing there just stunned at what had happened,” he said. What affected Kiarra Lynn about 9/11 was that no matter what she watched on TV that day, all she saw was planes crashing into the Twin Towers.
Such events in our childhood helped make us what we are as adults. That’s one reason we should ponder their meaning.
For months, I and many others were looking forward to the big April 11 Launch Event for my new book, Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. We hoped to pack the 250 seats of the auditorium at the Central Library downtown. But then came the COVID-19 health emergency, and the library canceled the event. Other venues followed, hurting our hopes for a successful release of the book during April.
To be sure, this is nothing compared to what’s happening throughout the world. I’m still reading and watching the news about the deaths elsewhere. I’m still healthy and only moderately inconvenienced by social distancing. And I still know what a solid book this is, in any circumstance.
Remember this, all of you who think about how nice it would be to write a book. Personal contact, whether in a presentation or a signing, is a major part of the success of any book. If you don’t do it, all of your books will stay in boxes. In other words, writing is just half of a successful book project. Selling is the other half. And when you can’t use personal contact, you have to do something else.
I’m working on a plan to sell the book other ways. I’ll let people know in another way about how I interviewed more than 100 St. Louisans about their growing-up experiences and then crafted it into a book of stories about being a kid in St. Louis.
Check back soon. In a day to a week, we should have a link posted to buy the book. Then, on a day of more bad news, pick it up, read it, and imagine what it is to be a kid again.
After more than three years’ work, Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades will be out in a month. Officially, the release date is April 1. Unofficially, I’ve been told, it may show up at bookstores a week or two early. I think you’ll like how the snippets of my interviews of more than 100 St. Louisans about their childhood turned out.
I’m partial to the kid at the wheel above. He’s my Uncle Sidney Duerr, who died not long ago at the age of 91. I was glad I interviewed him before that about life in the 1930s. He was one of a few relatives and friends I interviewed. The rest were people I hadn’t met. They’re rich, poor, black, white, with all kinds of backgrounds. One is Tabitha Stowers, who was Kirkwood High School’s 2017 Homecoming Queen. Her picture is below.
I’ll sign copies for you and tell some of those stories at the book’s Launch Event at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 11 (the day before Easter) at the St. Louis Public Library’s Central Library, 1301 Olive St. In addition to my talk, there will be a panel discussion with five people I interviewed. The youngest person on the panel will be 11 and the oldest will be 103. Afterwards, we’ll celebrate with drink and food nearby at the Lucas Park Grille, 1234 Washington Avenue.
If you can’t make it, you can find the times and dates for other presentations and signings by clicking the menu above and the “Upcoming Events.” I look forward to seeing you. You’ll find this book was worth waiting for.
All but seven of the stories in Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades came from interviews. The seven that didn’t were from written accounts of the first two decades of the 20th Century. We did that because we wanted to include kids right after 1900, and nobody’s around anymore who remembers that period. They fit perfectly in Growing Up.
One of those stories came from Emily Hahn, an author and journalist who was born in St. Louis in 1905. It’s a great description of summer in St. Louis. It’s not the heat. Well, maybe it is the heat.
Late in May, it would begin to heat up. Then we were permitted to go barefoot, outside of school hours—a privilege I did not appreciate, for the sidewalks burned my feet and the asphalt in the streets melted to a mushy consistency, streaking my legs with tar.
Wherever potholes in a street were being mended, there was a little heap of soft tar nearby, and I remember— though I hate to think about it—that we filched little pieces of the tar and chewed it. The parched grass of Fountain Park was easier than asphalt on the feet, but if one simply had to stay outside, the backyard was best. There we could turn on the garden hose and wallow. When the classroom thermometer at our school rose to about ninety, we were sent home.
Want to read more? You’ll have to wait until April, When Growing Up St. Louis comes out. You can buy it in a bookstore or online. To get a signed copy and have a great time, mark your calendar for the launch event, at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 11 at the Central Library, 1301 Olive St. Or else, go to this website’s menu and then to the “Upcoming Events” section. When April comes closer, you’ll be able to buy a signed copy through this website. Any author will tell you that’s the best way, because he or she gets the most money that way.
As Emily Hahn would say, get it while it’s hot.
Some exciting stuff is ahead, as we move toward the launch event for Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades.
Steve Potter, a veteran of the local broadcasting scene, will host the launch event at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 11 in the auditorium of the St. Louis Public Library’s Central Library at 1301 Olive St. An Alton resident, he’s a former announcer for St. Louis Public Radio and a host and producer for STLTV.
The program will consist of a presentation by me and a panel discussion with several people I interviewed for my book. I’ll be available before and afterward to sign Growing Up St. Louis and my other titles. We’ll celebrate the day with food, drink and conversation about growing up in St. Louis starting at 2:30 p.m. the Lucas Park Grille 1234 Washington Ave.
It’s an amazing way to launch a book in which more than 100 St. Louisans tell about their experiences growing up in the Gateway City. Set your calendar for April 11 and keep checking back jimmerkelthewriter.com for updates.
This is exciting stuff. We finally have a cover for our book, and what a cover it is. At the top is a colorized version of a splendid late 1940s-era black and white picture given to us by Cora Katzen (center). Cora’s a charming and funny woman who shared her stories for Growing Up St. Louis of trying to join a circus and of being thrown off a horse. At the bottom are two girls on a roller coaster looking like they’re ready to propel out of the cover and into our laps. Then there’s the addition to the cover. No longer is it just Growing Up St. Louis, but Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades.
It’s enough to make any book lover grab a copy, run to the checkout counter and buy a copy. With stories from more than 100 St. Louisans he interviewed, plus seven written accounts of life at the start of the 20th Century, plus ten essays about the lives of kids to 1900 until now, it’s guaranteed to make all of us realize how much our childhood experiences shape our lives.
It makes for great reading, starting with the book’s release in April but it also also makes for great programs, especially at the Launch Event, at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 11 at the St. Louis Public Library’s Central Library, 1301 Olive Street, downtown. There’ll be a panel discussion with some of my favorite “interviewees” and a presentation by me. I’ll be around to sign the book before and after. You can find a complete list of programs in the “Upcoming Events” section of this website. In April, you also can buy a book through this website. What a book this will be.