Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Cheaper By the Dozen

Cheaper by the Dozen (Perennial Classics)

Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth

Date: 1948   —   $8.96   —   Book

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Memoir, Children's

Why, why, why does Hollywood always screw this one up? Cheaper By the Dozen is a collection of memories by two children of the creator of "motion study," tales of what it was like to grow up with a strangely regimental father as one of a dozen children. It's got thousands of little period references and signs of the times that make for a delightful and engaging read. And when they adapt it to a movie, the very first thing they do is "modernize" it and jettison all the elements that make it so charming. (I will admit that I haven't seen the older adaptation and that it might be good. I've only seen clips of the recent one and refuse to see it on that basis.)

The stories range from learning foreign languages through records played while in the bath, to Morse code lessons painted on the walls of the summer house, to the chorus line of tonsils removed, to the piling into the cranky car and driving around like an orphanage... story after story of life as one of many. Through it all, their boisterous father looks for ways to save time, to revolutionize work. The kids don't understand his obsession, particularly, but as he is always willing to teach them new things and tell them stories they forgive his foibles. Alas, their father had a bad heart and died at the age of fifty-five, with children from college-age all the way down. The sequel to this book, Belles on Their Toes, details the life of the Gilbreths in the wake of their father's death, but they all felt that their energetic father had known to pack as much living as he could into the time he had.

Someone once asked Dad: "But what do you want to save time for? What are you going to do with it?"

"For work, if you love that best," said Dad. "For education, for beauty, for art, for pleasure." He looked over the top of his pince-nez. "For mumblety-peg, if that's where your heart lies."

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