Our interview with Christopher Noxon, author of Rejuvenile: Kickball, Cartoons, Cupcakes, and the Reinvention of the American Grown-Up, is probably our most serious cupcake interview at Cupcakes Take the Cake, thus far, but also one infused with all the enthusiasm for cupcakes one could hope for. I will be honest and say I have not finished the book yet, but not because I didn't find it totally gripping (it even got me to run out and buy a copy of Alice in Wonderland, which I also haven't read, but only for lack of time), but due to many other pressing deadlines. I am going to take it on vacation with me, though, and, despite the fact that cupcakes did not make it into the final book, I'm glad they're in the title because that's how I first heard about it, and I highly recommend it to all of you. It's a serious (but not overly serious) look at a fun topic, and you'll learn about professional skippers and many other wacky, childlike adults. So if you've ever said or thought, "I wish I could be a kid again," read Rejuvenile and learn about adults who, in many ways, are being kids again! Rejuvenile
You can also Read an excerpt from Rejuvenile at Powells.com, click through to the Amazon link below to see Noxon talking about Rejuvenile with Bill Maher, and I also highly recommend his Rejuvenile blog.
Name: Christopher Noxon
Location: Los Angeles
Can you briefly tell us what Rejuvenile is all about?
Rejuvenile celebrates a new breed of adults who compete in spelling bees, professionals who play “all-ages tag,” mothers who learn skateboarding to be closer to their teenage sons, grown-ups who dress and party like they did in high school, and couples who visit a Disney park once a month (without the kids). It's a sympathetic yet probing look at adults who are upending traditional notions that one's age should dictate one's activities and mind-set.
What's been the reaction to the book? Are the people you've profiled proud to be called rejuveniles? Do you meant it as an insult, or as something to embrace?
Response to the book has been tremendous⎯since its publication I've been interviewed on the Today Show and the Colbert Report (where Steven and I shared a box of Magnolia Bakery's finest!), competed in a $50,000 rock paper scissor championship in Las Vegas and thrown out the first pitch at a kickball championship in Miami. Most of the people profiled in the book are proud to fly the rejuvenile banner⎯adults with childlike tastes often feel tremendous stigma from more traditional adults, so it's a relief for many to learn they're part of a larger community. Still, the label is meant to be value-neutral; rejuveniles are geniuses, mavericks, oddballs, and crackpots. They can be lost souls whose tastes for childish things are creepy at best (Exhibit A: Michael Jackson). But they are also people whose refusal to give up cherished qualities of childhood has bettered themselves and the world.
I first came across Rejuvenile on Amazon searching for cupcakes, but cupcakes didn't actually make it into the final book. What were you going to say about cupcakes and rejuveniles?
I wrote a section on gourmet cupcakes and the resurgence of other foods loved by kids, including candy, grilled cheese sandwiches and cereal⎯but this section was cut from the final manuscript. (In the end, there was just so much ground to cover⎯from the "invention" of adulthood to the role of marketing⎯that I had to make some hard choices!) Bit of false advertising considering the subtitle, if I do say so myself. But obviously I see the cupcake phenom as a pure and particularly delicious expression of the rejuvenile impulse⎯the desire to hang on to some treasured prize of childhood, be it staredown contests or Necco wafers or Tin Tin.
One question we get asked a lot is why cupcakes are so popular with adults. Why do you think cupcakes are such big business? Is it all the nostalgia factor, or is there something about cupcakes themselves that lure people in?
What I love about cupcakes is, first of all, how they invite such pure and unadulterated appreciation in adults. Other things I studied⎯from classic toys to comic books to kid games like dodgeball and rock paper scissors⎯have been rediscovered with heavy helpings of irony or kitsch. Not so with cupcakes⎯the very sight of a well-frosted made-with-love cupcake instantly triggers a happy, wondrous childlike response. Gorgeous, tasty and quickly consumed, cupcakes are icons of kidhood. And as an added bonus, many of the masterminds creating cupcakes are bringing whole new levels of sophistication and artistry to a treat that's for too long been thought of as junky supermarket food.
What's the latest on the rejuvenile frontier?
Since completing the book, I've met a number of activists who are devoted to bringing fun back into adulthood⎯from "play professionals" who consult with Fortune 500 companies to parenting experts who help moms and dads bond with their kids in new ways. I've also discovered more kid games that have been reclaimed by adults⎯there's a National Association of Staredown Professionals, a New England-based Four Square league and a group in LA called Party Scammers that hosts nightclub kid parties with piñatas and games of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey.
And now for some personal questions:
How often do you eat cupcakes?
As often as possible, which with three little kids means quite a lot. I'm a big fan of the peanut butter chocolate cupcakes at Joan's on Third and the dairy-free chocolate cupcakes at Schwartz's bakery. Not a big fan of Sprinkles⎯despite Oprah's enthusiasm, they're not worth the half-hour wait and crazy prices.
What's the best thing about eating cupcakes?
The infinitely pleasing circular polka-dot appearance, the moist goodness, the sugar rush.
What's your favorite type of cupcake?
First choice would be a peanut butter chocolate cupcake . . . but I also had a transcendent green tea cupcake.
How do cupcakes compare/contrast to other baked goods for you?
Only baked good to compare is a gooey fresh-out-of-oven chocolate chip and pecan cookie.
Is there any innovation you'd like to see made to the cupcake that would improve it for you?
Must. Be. Moist. Also, I love it when the icing gets that slightly hardened layer on top. And here here for cool plastic toys stabbed into the top⎯when are the new cupcake chefs going to get with the designers of cool new urban vinyl toys (i.e. Uglydolls, Friends With You) for some complementary top-of-cake trinkets?
Do you bake your own cupcakes? Or (even better) have someone who bakes them for you?
Sadly, no. Beyond the occasional gruyere-and-sourdough grilled cheese, I'm useless in the kitchen.
What's your first cupcake-related memory?
Wolfing down an entire box of pink supermarket cupcakes with my older sister. Pure heaven.
What's the most fun you've ever had with a cupcake?
Had a magnificent shared cupcake experience at my daughter's fourth birthday.
Do you have anything else to add?
I have tremendous respect for the enthusiasts taking cupcakes to such stellar new culinary heights⎯like a lot of the people in my book, I look at these grown ups as pioneers of a new, happier version of maturity. It’s true that the ranks of the rejuvenile include lost souls who indulge favorite pastimes of childhood to shirk grown-up responsibilities. But the vast majority of rejuveniles cultivate childlike parts of themselves while simultaneously leading fully fledged adult lives. They’ve discovered that it’s possible to be mature in many ways and immature in many others, that one can lead a happy and healthy life that includes charity and kickball, G-8 summit position papers and midnight cupcakes, long stretches of concentrated seriousness and mad fits of impulsiveness. Rejuveniles can be moral, political, spiritual, and also frivolous and off-the-charts silly.
Rejuveniles are attempting to hang on to the part of ourselves that feels most genuinely human. We align with innovators like Albert Einstein and Richard Feynmann, who credited their greatest discoveries to their childlike impulse to question established wisdom, executives like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, whose playful innovations relied on their mastery of make-believe, and artists like Walt Disney and Hayao Miyazaki, who opened up reserves of imagination to all ages. We take their examples as proof that an adult life can be productive and spontaneous, effective and serendipitous. They pulled off the ultimate rejuvenile trick: they grew up without getting old.