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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Boy Named Shel

Rogak, Lisa. A Boy Named Shel: The Life and Times of Shel Silverstein. First, let me say I enjoyed the book, but the writing wasn't spectacular. I was interested in learning more about the man behind the children's books and the songs and I found out a great deal, but the writing never flowed and was sometimes disjointed. A lot of facts--who, what, where, when-- were revealed and that alone was fascinating. Yet (and we must remember that he was a very private man) somehow the inner Shel never quite appeared.

Shel Silverstein was a fascinating and very odd man who excelled in a number of genres: cartoons, children's books, plays, song writing. He led an interesting life, traveling from place to place at the drop of a hat, keeping several homes across the country, and staying frequently at the Playboy Mansion. He was a womanizer, never married, had a daughter by one woman and a son by another. He wrote poems for children and risque songs for adults.

I'm going to digress a bit and say that I love Dylan Thomas' work. Love it. But I'm quite sure I would not have been able to tolerate the man. I love Shel Silverstein's work, but wonder if I would have the patience the man himself must have required. In many ways, Rogak makes his eccentricities and behavior seem lovable, and yet...

All in all, I enjoyed the book. I like having a peek into the life of talented and creative people, but there were several things that bothered me: there is no mention of his sister other than she was born; his mother supported his desire to be a cartoonist, but she is a vague and infrequent force in the biography; the mother of his daughter died-- just died--no hint of how or why; he bought the mother of his son a house, that's it, no more mention of her.

Part of the problem may be that many of Silverstein's friends refused to talk about him, feeling that since the man refused to give interview (as of 1976) and was intensely private, it would be wrong to reveal further information, but while Rogak did a great deal of research and published an informative biography, in many ways, the man himself slipped through.

Yet, I found the book fascinating. Despite the flaws, I was engrossed and fascinated by the man's accomplishments, his work ethic, his odd behavior, his womanizing, his ability to collaborate with others. A psychologist could probably put labels on several of his behaviors, but I will refrain.

Nonfiction. Biography. 2007. 223 pages.


  1. His books were mainstays in our house when the kids were young and they each still have theirs as adults. I just bought an oversize edition of "A Giraffe and a Half" for my 4 year old nephew for Christmas...I am the aunt who gives books for every birthday or can never have too many books...=-)

    Thanks for the review, Jen...

  2. It is a shame that there were so many obstacles to the author being able to write the kind of book that you wish it was. I certainly respect his privacy, but it is hard to be entirely accepting of that when we love someone's work and want to know more about them. I find Edward Gorey to be the same way. I love his work, but he was an extremely eccentric guy, no doubt about it.

  3. I love Shel's works but like you, I don't think I would actually like the man.

    I still can't wait to read this book. I'd like to know more about his other works, I didn't know he ever did anything besides the poetry.

  4. Carl -- Creative people often have strange habits, don't they? I didn't realize that about Edward Gorey, but looking at his work does make you realize that his way of looking at the world was unique.

    Ladytink -- I think you'll enjoy the book; it is interesting and informative!