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.

Purchase Silverstein and Me: A Memoir

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