‘Bartlett’ – a coming-of-age book – takes readers to Solon, with the space program as a backdrop
SOLON, Ohio — Jim Janson’s ability to look back — and upward — set the tone for his first novel, “Bartlett,” a coming-of-age look at growing up around 1960 in Solon.
Janson’s autobiographical novel keeps much of the setting from his upbringing real, as protagonist Jimmy Dixon becomes enamored with the fledgling space program.
“I call it a 60-year odyssey,” said Janson, 75, who ran at Chanel High School and graduated from Ohio University in art history, taught at Kent State and earned a doctorate. from the Case Western reserve. He spent much of his teaching career in Georgia.
“I love the past; I’m a nostalgic person,” said Janson, who said “Bartlett” took a few years off from writing.
About 80% of the book is autobiographical, said Janson, who was born in Cleveland but moved at a young age to Solon. He lived on Linden Drive and attended St. Rita from first to eighth grade. He skated at Geauga Lake after basketball practice, played in Little League and has fond memories of growing up here.
“In some ways, some of it was pretty easy to write because I had those things in my head and those experiences,” he said. “Jimmy, that’s really me. I loved adventure, we played pirates, we rode bikes everywhere, Little League baseball, I read Hardy Boys novels. When he was a kid, his football player favorite baseball in Cleveland was jimmy piersallwho played here from 1959 to 1961.
Pedaling past blackberry bushes, Jimmy — just like Janson did — cycled to a drugstore, sat in a swivel chair, and bought baseball cards and magazines. And like Jimmy, Janson was very good at baseball but terrible at basketball.
Children from his neighborhood and school, with changed names, are featured in the book. Sister Madeleine of St. Rita was real, he said.
“I had a wonderful upbringing,” he said. “At the time, you were younger. We thought the nuns were 60 years old. They were probably in their thirties.
A bully in his book, Dennis Drabek, is based on a real child, although the real person isn’t as bad as the character, he said.
Friendship is a key theme. In the book, Jimmy befriends two girls – Terri is in his class and likes him, Elaine is a high school student who shares her interest in the space program while fighting the morals of the day to keep women in their place. Both, in their own way, encourage it.
“I’m so lucky to have friends from all of these fields,” he said. “I still have friends from elementary school that I talk to, high school, middle school, and years up to now. And I think a lot of people don’t have that. I love it all. In writing “Bartlett,” I was able to incorporate a lot of those things.
Janson uses his past literally and figuratively throughout the book. Rexall Drugs is no longer Rexall but a CVS now. A pet shop is a creation of his imagination; a toy store is real.
As part of a class project on the space program, Jimmy designs a way to launch a mouse into “space” using a kite.
This interest in space never really waned for Janson. He has read dozens of books on ufology. And several years ago, for Christmas, he asked his children one thing: Pool your money and buy me a ticket to see a launch at Cape Canaveral in Florida. This year he may have been about three miles from the Axiom I launch that carried four civilians.
“It was really exciting,” he said.
“Bartlett” is a cute coming-of-age tale that proves you don’t have to leave your past far behind, no matter how old you are.
Janson, who’s been gone from Solon for decades but comes back every once in a while, is considering the idea of maybe doing another book, maybe a sequel with the same characters. But he said just being able to write this book “has been very satisfying. Even if it doesn’t sell anything, at least I achieved what I wanted to do.
The book was published 60 years after Janson’s stay in Solon.
Finally, he said: “Mission accomplished”.
I am on cleveland.comfrom the Life and Culture team and covers topics related to food, beer, wine and sport. If you want to see my stories, here is a directory on cleveland.com. Bill Wills of WTAM-1100 and I usually talk food and drink at 8:20 a.m. Thursday morning. Twitter: @mbona30.
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