Saturday, October 17, 2009

Silverstein & Me: A Memoir

Shel Silverstein is best known for his beloved books for children, including Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, and The Giving Tree. But did you know that he got his start in the professional world by a young Hugh Hefner, penning cartoons for Playboy magazine from almost the inception of the magazine? Or that he spent two years in overseas jail? Or that the original version of Uncle Shelby's Book of ABZ's was originally intended as a dirty book for adults?

Silverstein & Me: A Memoir, by Silverstein's lifelong friend Marv Gold, provides these "shocking" facts, as well as several other nuggets of information about the reclusive poet and cartoonist. The two met in Chicago, while attending grade school together. They stayed in contact or the rest of Shel's life. And, if you believe the opening story that continues throughout the book, they were still in some sort of contact even after Shel's death. This allows Marv to tell Shel's story in a way that no one else could ever do.

He tells how the two young Jewish boys made trouble in elementary school, and about Shel's childhood introduction to becoming a cartoonist via a correspondence course. He won an award for his work in this course, when he was in high school. Further notoriety was scraped together when he was in the Army, leading him to take his work to Playboy magazine in its infancy. Almost as a joke, Shel then took some of his Playboy pieces, considerably cleaned them up, and became a beloved children's storyteller.

Marv also spends time giving more insight into the private life of the man who preferred to be a recluse. He shares about Shel's love life, family, and offspring, providing a timeline of key events at the end. He also includes a full listing of Silverstein's works.

Those who have a wholesome image of Shel Silverstein are going to be very disappointed by this memoir. Everyone else will enjoy learning of his shenanigans. New rumors may be started, but most of them are laid to rest.

I personally enjoyed learning more about the man, as I was already aware of his more adult persona. I also enjoyed his quotes that headline each chapter. The only aspect of the book that I did not care for was the interspersed bits about Marv hearing Shel's voice and visiting his shrink about it. Those parts seemed too fictional to have a place in a truthful memoir. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining read.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Love to the Little Ones

Every generation of parents hems and haws about how difficult parenting is, and how different things were when they were younger. Louisa Lane Fox's book Love to the Little Ones: The Trials and Triumphs of Parents Through the Ages in Letters, Diaries, Memoirs, and Essays seeks to prove them wrong. She has collected samples from letters, memoirs, diaries, and books dating as far back as the 1400s that demonstrate that parents continue to have the same concerns even after centuries of change.

The selections cover the entire gamut of childhood, starting with the writers' thoughts on pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing, through childhood, adolescence, and adult children. There is also a final section that deals with the death of a child. Examples are given by literary greats, such as Daniel Defoe, John Milton, Rudyard Kipling, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and even Oscar Wilde, amongst numerous other famous figures. Other examples tend to represent the middle to upper class society over the centuries, as their written works were more likely to be preserved.

It is fairly interesting to listen to the complaints of the woman almost six hundred years ago who is concerned about getting so fat while pregnant or the woman from two hundred years ago complain of her sister's lack of control over her own children. Similar sentiments are echoed regularly in today's society, though the verbiage may be different.

But readers should know that this is not a book that is designed to sit down and read through in a matter of hours. Instead, it is designed to be perused on occasion, soaking up a couple of stories per sitting. It serves well as a coffee table book, or a read for other special places where one requires a few minutes of entertainment. And being British, it will be drier than contemporary juicy Americana.

Those who will appreciate this book the most are those who are fascinated by family and history. Others who love to study how the English language has evolved over the centuries will be entranced by spelling and phrasing changes. Teachers and professors of history and of the English language will find this book a useful supplement in their curricula.

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Blue Jesus by Tom Edwards

Blue Jesus by Tom Edwards is probably one of the best fiction reads I have had in a long time. I found it so good that I have already read it twice, and I know I will read it yet again.

Blue Jesus is the story of an eleven year-old boy named Buddy, also the narrator, and his best friend, Earl Lee, known locally as Early. Early is unique in that he and his family are called "blue people", as they suffer from a malady that causes their skin to be blue in color. Early also seems to possess a supernatural power that allows him to bring people back from the dead.

Early's powers first come to light when the boys stumble upon a dead baby in the local dump. Early is overcome by a special feeling, takes the baby in his hands, and brings it back to life. As the local Comfort Corners, Georgia population finds out about this, he becomes a local celebrity. Buddy enjoys his newfound popularity as he is Early's best friend.

Despite having done so much good, the two boys are also plagued by personal woes. Buddy recently lost his mother to cancer, his brother never has anything nice to say about him, and his father is rarely around. He's also considered to be a sissy, and is regularly beaten up by the town bully. Early's father regularly beats him for bringing unwanted attention to himself and the other blue people. He also tries to capitalize on Early's talents, touting him as the "Blue Jesus" and taking money from those hopeful to be cured as he lays hands on them.

The story takes place in the South in the 1960s, a time when blacks and whites were still at war with each other. Adding to the mayhem is the prejudice against the blue people, who really did exist back then. The blue people were ridiculed by blacks and whites alike. Present in the novel is also strife between different Christian denominations. It is told from the point of view of 11 year-old Buddy, allowing for some innocent insights into the situations.

Blue Jesus is an easy and entertaining read that inspires all kinds of emotions. It is also quality literature. The storyline and style is reminiscent of Toni Morrison. There are also glimpses of Stephen King, as in The Green Mile. This is author Tom Edwards' first novel.

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