A book full of an author's poignant childhood diary entries sounds like a vanity project; blessedly, We Saw Scenery: The Early Diaries of Merrill Markoe is not that. The multiple Emmy Award-winning comedy writer has augmented some of her youthful jottings with drawings and snappy, bewildered and trenchant present-day observations, and the result is a marvelously oddball coming-of-age memoir with laughs and a talking hippo.
The entries begin in 1958, the year Markoe's parents moved the family, which included her brother, Glenn, from New Jersey to Miami. Several wittily vexed entries call to mind a Lynda Barry comic ("MARCH 3, 1961/ GLENN IS AN IDIOT and I can not live a good life without him teasing me every minute of the day..."). Other entries seem at first blush like the usual kid stuff. But as the entries accumulate, a picture emerges of a child negotiating more than typical tweenage insecurity about fitting in: Markoe's parents and teachers seem to delight in cracking down on her clowning. Her diary becomes a refuge where she can write the lines that the grown-ups in her life don't want to hear.
Markoe the child couldn't have known that her diary entries would put in stark relief the way that the unladylike behavior of girls of her generation was all too often discouraged. Readers of We Saw Scenery will probably be nearly as overjoyed as Markoe when, in 1966, her parents drop her off at UC Berkeley, where she finally finds a crowd that wants to hear her jokes. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer