When you tire of books written by superstar athletes with a penchant for complaining for 300 pages about salaries, the public, roommates and travel arrangements, then an afternoon with The Mature Person's Guide to Kites, Yo-Yos, Frisbees and Other Childlike Diversions by Paul Dickson (Plume Books, $5.95) may be just what you need for an hour or so of total relaxation. Dickson's Mature Person's Guide is a trip into the whimsical, daffy world of non-competitive, non-violent and humorous "recreations."
Not only does the author, himself a kite fanatic, treat the activities listed in the title, but he explores the misty realms of marbles and horseshoes, the Freudian significance of jump-rope rhymes and the recent history of board games. On each pastime he writes a lively, funny history; he gives the rules; he relates literary quotations ("My kite rises to celestial regions, my soul enters the abode of bliss." This from a ninth-century monk). And the book contains the oddest collection of photos that one is likely to find anywhere, ranging from an orangutan trying to operate a yo-yo to Missouri Representative Bill Burlison, squinting fiercely as he shoots marbles on Capitol Hill.
Dickson's premise is that these "childlike" diversions are in fact irresistible to adults. "Lawyers attend Star Trek conventions, M.D.s fly kites, professors collect turn-of-the-century postcards with Santas and Easter bunnies on them...Senator Barry Goldwater proudly shows off his collection of over 300 Indian dolls...all without fear of being called childish...."
Aside from being a catalog of unconventional things to do in one's spare time, the book is a treasure house of names of associations, stores, suppliers and publications in its marvelously complete "Action-Packed Appendices." Take the International Kitefliers Association, for example, which is described as "Will Yolen's group, in which membership is free and membership benefits are almost entirely spiritual."
We may laugh at all this today, says the author, but not too heartily, for "if we are to be pecked to death by ducks—absurd laws, rules, insensitive computers...then is it not better to enjoy our small successes...before we go down?" So instead of trying to fathom the latest laws about baseball free agents, one can memorize the first of the Ten Commandments of the Frisbee: The most powerful force in the world is a disc straining to land directly under a car.