Unlike many recent celebrated memoirs, this chronicle is notable for the trauma it does not contain: no major player herein is addicted or abused.
Instead, Salzman, whose 1991 book Iron & Silk detailed the two years he spent in China, lived a pretty average 1970s suburban adolescence in Ridgefield, Conn. He smoked a little dope in high school, worried that he'd never have sex and argued with his father and other adults about the length of his hair. A precocious kid, Salzman was preoccupied with finding the path to Enlightenment, which in his case took turns through martial arts, classical music and, eventually, Yale University. He never hated his parents or even skipped school; his biggest flaw, he suggests, was nerdiness.
On the face of it, this might sound too good to be true—or at least too good to be interesting. But Salzman is a charming, self-effacing writer who, at 35, still maintains an acquaintance with the peculiar combination of arrogance and terror that comprises teenage angst. More unusual, he makes no apologies for trying to achieve, whether his goal is success as a kung fu master or a mail-room clerk. He even states baldly that he "loved college...loved the classes, loved the homework...loved the starchy food." Slackers might gag, but Salzman's story is refreshing in depicting the small triumphs of middle-class life and how even a gifted guy had to struggle. (Random House, $22)