Camp Camp: Where Fantasy Island Meets Lord of the Flies
by Roger Bennett
Reviewed by Sarah Miller
When I was a kid, as soon as May rolled around I was making mental checklists of all the necessities for summer camp survival. I couldn't wait for the day I'd pack my flip-flops and short-sleeved shirts, freshly tagged with my name, into my giant army-issue duffel bag and finally hop on that bus to weeks of sunshine and freedom.
Recalling those moments now, I wonder, how could I possibly put into words all the experiences that summer camp offered, all the lessons learned, games played, songs sung? Editors Roger Bennett and Jules Shell successfully accomplish just the thing in Camp Camp, a collection of hilarious and oft embarrassing stories mostly from the '70s and '80s generation of campers. The book, which began as a blog, includes submissions from numerous readers -- their anecdotes, letters, photos... all things camp -- and works especially well because of the variety of contributors and points of view.
Each chapter takes its name from a song title from the era ("Rock Lobster: Camp Gastronomy," "Born to Run: Athletics," etc.) and submissions range from two-sentence blurbs to three-page essays, covering everything from pranks, unrequited crushes, and Color War, to homesickness, poison ivy, and camp food. An entire spread is devoted to camp calligraphy, bubble letters being a standard favorite, the talent for which was seemingly held by only the coolest girls. But, perhaps the funniest items are the letters sent home, like those from "Dave" who addressed all his letters to the family dog, or this simple missive:
Dear Mom, My councler [sic] was fired. Please don't call me up because it will make me homesick. Just send me stuff like in other various letters I have sent you. Love, Jim Cone.
Of course, the quirky mores and profound pain/ecstasy of summer camp can only be fully understood by those who've been. But the priceless photographs, which make up much of the book, are a good window into the experience. Low-resolution, poorly colored, obviously non-digital (gasp, remember 110 cameras?) prints are flecked with knee-high tube socks, sky-high bangs, brace-laced grins, and more tie-dye than you can shake a marshmallow-on-a-stick at. Plus, no camp-photo compendium would be complete without the standard group shot of boys "getting away with" obscene and other creative hand gestures.
Camp Camp is a nostalgic walk down the nature trail. It reminded me of all my camp mates from 1993's Dundee cabin, Edalin, Ginger, Mandy, Lindsey, MCKC, Ali, Natalie, Kimi, and our wonderful counselor, JL, whom I still see from time to time, all these years later. But, even for non-campers, it's a fun and entertaining look into the bizarre summer ritual, those carefree days, filled with games, songs, and friendship, and plenty of embarrassing moments.