Toward a safe and Sane Halloween and Other Tales of Suburbia.
Toward a Safe and Sane Halloween and Other Tales of Suburbia. William Geist. Times Books, $16.95. The rise of suburbia since the end of World War II has contributed to the decline of daily journalism. Newspapers are easy to distribute inside a city, but difficult to get to far-flung suburban subscribers. This is particularly true for afternoon papers, which must fight commuter traffic jams. To reach the swelling ranks of suburban subscribers, newspapers have had to build satellite printing plants and hire more trucks, driving up costs. The result has been a hastening of the trend toward more and more one-newspaper towns and the proliferation of bland suburban newspapers and inane local TV news shows. Meanwhile, even the best of big-city newspapers that manage to survive find themselves pandering to upscale, largely suburban advertisers. Leading the pack in shamelessness is The New York Times, which has in recent years boosted its flagging revenues with such embarrassments as the "Home' section, the "Living' section, and tony supplements like "The Sophisticated Traveller.'
William Geist is one of the few good things to come out of journalism's new orientation toward the suburbs. In 1981, perhaps in penance for its sins, the Times hired Geist away from the Chicago Tribune, where he'd been writing about the suburbs, yes--but in a lively, humorous, and often illuminating way. Wandering through this mysterious world of shopping malls, Tupperware parties, plastic flamingos, and Weber grills, Geist finds the suburbs to be something more than an advertising base. They're a story.
Those of us who grew up in the suburbs have long suspected that they weren't quite as barren as the press made them out to be. Hadn't novelists like John Updike, John Cheever, and Philip Roth successfully mined them? Even the most satirical novels set in suburbia revealed that important things were happening there; for example, in Goodbye, Columbus Roth dramatized with equal measures of paid and hilarity the agonies of assimilation that plagued ambitious young Jews in New Jersey.
But in 1972, when Geist graduated from journalism school, who wanted to be stuck out in the suburbs? As Geist relates in his introduction, he was "eager to put public officials--each and every one--behind bars.' Instead, he found himself working at the Suburban Trib, a tabloid insert of the Chicago Tribune. Geist found little...