Thursday, November 19, 2009

Review: And the tree was happy


I assume everyone has read The Giving Tree. Or at least read a poem from Where the Sidewalk Ends. Everyone from my generation likely knows Shel Silverstein, but what most of us don’t know is the eccentric life he led before becoming one of the most well known children’s story writers of all time.

Marv Gold’s biography Silverstein and Me follows Shel from his rambunctious childhood, through his years at the Playboy Mansion(!), and his ultimate decision to write children’s books. The piece is subtitled “a memoir,” but Mr. Gold makes few appearances—the title of the entire work should really be “My Understanding of the trials and tribulations of Shel Silverstein,” but why split hairs when the subject is so interesting?

Mr. Gold grew up with Shel (then Sheldon) around Logan Square, Chicago around WWII. Both Gold and Shel spent their days getting into trouble and sneaking in movies; each loved to read comics. Gold remembers Shel being a talented and intelligent youth with absolutely no ambition and many lofty dreams. Shel and school never clicked and by his third stint in a college of some sort, he wanted nothing to do with higher education.

Answering an advertisement in the paper, Shel met with Hugh Hefner and agreed to draw cartoons for Mr. Hefner’s burgeoning gentlemen’s magazine. Being part of Playboy since its inception granted Shel a few rights—he was able to secure for himself a private apartment in the Playboy Mansion while he drew his cartoons. But ever restless, Shel grew tired of Playboy and asked Hugh for the opportunity to travel. Whilst spanning the globe Shel got into some trouble smuggling hash from Marrakech—two years in jail was his punishment.

That’s one of numerous stories Gold tells about Shel. There’s simply too much information about Shel Silverstein to fit into one review or one biography. There isn’t a lot about Marv Gold in his memoir, but it’s still a worthwhile read if you are interested in Shel. Gold’s anecdotes tell various pieces of Shel’s life, but don’t tell the whole story.

Shel was a favorite of mine growing up. My mother frequently read the poems from Where the Sidewalk Ends to me and I loved the bombastic humor (and I assume my mother appreciated the sardonic undertones). At some point later in my teens I learned that not only was Shel a jetsetting world traveler—I assumed all children’s writers stayed home and tended to children—but also that he frequented the Playboy mansion. Looking at all I know about Shel–much of which I learned through this biography–it seems apropos that my childhood hero was there at the inception of the world’s largest pornographic empire. Nothing is what it seems; perhaps that’s the lesson Shel Silverstein had been proffering through all of those zany poems.

And if you didn’t already know Shel Silverstein wrote the lyrics to “Boy Named Sue.” He did everything!

What’s your favorite Shel Silverstein poem?

Review copy provided by Author Marketing Experts, Inc.


Amy Reads Good Books said…

No, I didn't know he wrote the lyrics to "A Boy Named Sue." Great review!

Salvatore said…

Interesting about the Playboy stuff. I had no idea.

Amanda said…

That's so interesting! I didn't know those things about Shel. What a read!