A Room Full of Mirrors: High School Reunions in Middle America Review

A Room Full of Mirrors: High School Reunions in Middle America
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Considering that the high school reunion is a ritual nearly every adult American confronts at one time or another (whether s/he attends or not), it is surprising how taken for granted the phenomenon is. This book offers the perspective of an "outsider" (a Japanese woman) who lived in the U.S. for many years and who obviously "gets" American society and culture, but who can point out aspects that Americans themselves rarely notice. What sets this book apart from typical dry academic treatises is the narratives of reunion participants of various ages, told in their own words. The stories are engrossing and sometimes even moving, and whether you like all the characters or not, you'll probably find a bit of yourself in all of them.
It's too bad the reviewer below didn't tell us by whom this "has been done better before." I've never seen anything like it, and I've looked. (Another book, by an Israeli sociologist, on American high school reunions was published almost simultaneously. I haven't seen it yet, though it would be interesting to compare.)
As for the comment that this book is "is an attempt to get tenure by publishing a dissertation"...um, isn't that one of the things scholars are *supposed* to do? Or has publishing one's dissertation been classified as an underhanded trick, and no one bothered to tell me? Besides, as the author profile in the book states, the author teaches at a Japanese university, and is therefore outside the American tenure fray. I wonder if the reviewer actually read the book. The review reads more like a cheap shot by someone who for some reason or another holds a grudge against the author.

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The high school reunion occurs throughout the United States and cuts across differences in age, locality, and ethnicity. This popular event is commonly thought of as a light-hearted social occasion or an exercise in nostalgia that has little other significance in the lives of its participants. Drawing on candid personal narratives derived from reunions ranging from the fifth to the fiftieth, this pathbreaking study demonstrates, however, that for many Americans the high school reunion is a rich and often poignant experience.Of particular interest is the fact that this ethnographic study was conducted by a Japanese anthropologist trained in the United States, who offers a comparative perspective on high schools in the two countries.High schools serve very different social purposes in Japan and the United States, and the ways people in the two countriesview their high school years differ accordingly. The author examines the American high school reunion as a dramatic scene in the construction of self and meaning in adulthood. During the high school reunion, Americans are thrown into a room full of mirrors in which they are confronted by different visions of themselves. There they see images of their high school selves filtered through the lights and shadows cast by classmates' memories and projected against the backdrop created by the lives of those classmates in the present day. Through an analysis of the multiple reflections of self that emerge during reunions, the author shows how reunions afford people an occasion on which to reevaluate their own memories and arrive at a new understanding of self. The American high school reunion thus provides participants with a series of self-perceptions from which they can construct new narratives of their own lives.

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