Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing.

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Overview

"A classic evocation of childhood . . . a masterly mixture of up-country drawl and Huckleberry Finn."—The New Yorker

A hugely popular bestseller when it first appeared in 1957, Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing. is Robert Paul Smith's nostalgic and often wry look back on his 1920s childhood. Smith agitates against what he perceives as the over-scheduled and over-supervised lives of suburban children as he celebrates privacy, boredom, and time to oneself away from ...

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Overview

"A classic evocation of childhood . . . a masterly mixture of up-country drawl and Huckleberry Finn."—The New Yorker

A hugely popular bestseller when it first appeared in 1957, Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing. is Robert Paul Smith's nostalgic and often wry look back on his 1920s childhood. Smith agitates against what he perceives as the over-scheduled and over-supervised lives of suburban children as he celebrates privacy, boredom, and time to oneself away from adults. Arcane games and pastimes including mumbly-peg, horse-chestnut collecting, and Indian scalp burns pervade the book, alongside tales of young love—"I loved the smell of kerosene. Rose smelled of kerosene. I loved Rose."—and hard-won observations by Smith the elder. Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing. still conveys the essence of adventure that forms the basis of a fondly recalled childhood.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
Mr. Smith is sympathetic. Mr. Smith is also very funny . . . heartwarming.
Library Journal - Booksmack!
Smith waxed nostalgic in this 1957 memoir about his 1920s childhood in Mount Vernon, NY, when all kids needed to have fun was a bag of marbles, a baseball glove, and their imaginations. Illustrated with a handful of simple drawings, Smith talks about kid things ranging from playing mumbly-peg with a scout knife to his first crush. His remembrances, of course, are filtered through the experienced eye of an adult. Still a fun read if you didn't grow up with personal computers and home-entertainment systems—and, maybe, even if you did. Mike Rogers, "Classic Returns", Booksmack!, 12/2/10
Nora Krug
Smith's message may sound crotchety, but he delivers it with charm. He evokes a time when kids were left to their own devices and made aware—sometimes painfully—when they had gone too far. Some of this may be sugar-coated nostalgia, but it's hard to quibble with his no-nonsense approach to child-rearing: "Let them moon, let them babble, let them be scared," he suggests. "I guess what I am saying is that people who don't have nightmares don't have dreams."
—The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393339413
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/6/2010
  • Pages: 131
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Paul Smith was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Mount Vernon, New York, and graduated from Columbia College in 1936. He authored four novels as well as Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing. and its companion, How to Do Nothing with Nobody All Alone by Yourself.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 20, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A warm, nostalgic humorous classic with something important to say

    "The thing is, I don't understand what kids do with themselves any more," begins Smith. In 1950s suburbia, children, Smith thought, were overscheduled, with "play groups and athletic supervisors and Little Leagues and classes in advanced fingerpainting."

    He was alarmed to discover that his own children and their friends had no idea how to play mumbly-peg. "Why don't the kids teach the other kids to play mumbly-peg?" he asked. Children were spending too much time playing games organized by adults in which "the rules were written down in a book." "In my block," he said, "the rules were written down in kids."

    From there he proceeds to reminiscences of his childhood, the interior life of the child, and the value of unsupervised exploration. Warm, humorous, ingratiating, and perfect for reading aloud.

    A 1957 bestseller, its title became a catchphrase, inspiring a Charles M. Schulz cartoon, A New York Times think piece about book titles, and an assertion that the title was the first American Zen koan. A 1974 research study on the benefits of briefly dropping out of college used the title "Where did you go? Out." A 1987 scholarly book on seventeenth-century English poetry commented on the ending of Paradise Regained; the scholar used the words: "Mother: 'Where did you go?' Son: 'Out.' Mother: 'What did you do?' Son: "Nothing.'"

    Smith's book inspired Brown University professor Howard P. Chudacoff to write his 2007 book "Children at Play: An American History."

    But this genial, affectionate, and well-written book is more than a warm and nostalgic reminiscence of childhood. It has something to say, and it seems as important in 2010 as it was in 1957. In due course, the book reaches its conclusion:

    "[The father] was, I believe, asking for privacy. He was, I believe, entitled to it.

    I think kids are, too.

    Let them moon, let them babble, let them be scared.

    I guess what I am saying is that people who don't have nightmares don't have dreams."

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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