Philadelphia Freedom


Ben Franklin moved to Philadelphia to escape a brutal childhood. Joe Queenan's memoir, Closing Time, describes an equally compelling flight away from Philly. Queenan is best known for scathingly funny attacks on idiot movie stars and America's delusional ruling class. Here he directs the same wit at a youth spent shuttling from rented apartments to housing projects in the 1950s and '60s under the misguidance of a drunken, violent father who wouldn't just leave already and a passive-aggressive mother short on love.

Closing Time is a correction to glib paeans about "the Greatest Generation" and a fascinating depiction of white ethnic poverty. Just like Franklin's, it's a tough book but a generous one, with great respect for the fruits of hard effort. As Queenan writes of his daughter's acceptance to Harvard, her "triumph was something everyone could share in, even the long dead, for their childlike theories about the paving materials used in American roadwork had now been proven correct." —Nick Gillespie