Reading notes: From Front Porch to Back Seat

This is an extremely successful book about American social history. Bailey synthesizes a lot of primary material and discusses it roughly as you'd expect a trained historian to. But the book is extremely readable and sensible, and she has a keen eye for distinctions (e.g., of class as defined by culture as opposed to by money or occupation).

It's striking how dated the book feels, even given how quickly discussions of gender, race, and class go stale. Bailey's introductions to and contextualizations of these issues would have been considered fully considerate and broad-minded when they were published, but contemporary American readers will be struck by, e.g., the lack of focus on race and certain gender issues.

And it's also striking to have written the previous paragraph about a book published only nine years ago.

One of the successes of From Front Porch to Back Seat is its treatment of mass culture: The courtship culture of the '50s and '60s (it is argued) was the first that could have been reflectively understood as such by its participants. Focal experience is an underrated idea, and Bailey's treatment rings true. That said, I would have preferred more nuts-and-bolts exposition of what dating in the '50s and '60s was like (on the model of her wonderful discussions of the '20s and '30s).

I highlighted 78 passages in this book despite trying not to highlight too much. Highly recommended.

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