Thursday, October 29, 2009

Silverstein & Me by Merv Gold

What do you know about Shel Silverstein? If you are like I was ten years ago, nothing. Yes, you heard that right. Before I became a mother, I’d had no idea that a person name Shel Silverstein existed. I never liked poetry, I still don’t like it but when my daughter asked me to read Mr. Silverstein’s poems from the Runny Babbit I honestly became enchanted by them because of how simple they were yet each and every one carried a meaning important to me and I like to think my daughter as well. Since then I have read every book of poems by Shel written for children and I thought I had a pretty good image of who Mr. Silverstain was. Here’s the thing: I didn’t, it wasn’t anywhere near and Silverstein & Me by Merv Gold is the book that opened my eyes (at least a little, because I have a feeling there is still a lot more unsaid).

Silverstein & Me is a memoir of sorts written by a person who probably knew Shel the longest (well besides his parents) and is someone you can call life-long friend. I write ‘of sorts’ because it really is a little more than just a memoir and covers pretty much a whole life of Mr. Silverstein. Merv Gold doesn’t just concentrate on one event or certain period but instead chooses to tell Shel’s story from the day they became friends to the day Shel died. And what a story it is! I got shocked at certain things, some things I still can’t bring myself to fully believe, others made me laugh and others yet got very deep and made me cry. There are tons of anecdotes and facts from Shel’s life I had no idea about, including his career as a Playboy cartoonist and his drug use. One thing is certain, if you saw Silverstein as a clever and funny poet for children, you will never see him as such after reading Silverstein & Me.

Despite my image of him is forever shattered (no worries, it's in a good way), I really enjoyed the book. Mr. Gold did a wonderful job writing about Shel Silverstein in two most important ways. First, the writing itself flows very smoothly, it’s quite fast-paced for a memoir and really makes you want to read it all in one sitting (that’s what I did, by the way), not because the poet’s life was so intriguing because we all know how the most wonderful lives can be turned into a bore by an unskilled writer. The way Merv Gold combined prose with a little bit of silly songs and funny cartoons (which I think are a great addition) and not very long but nonetheless necessary descriptive passages with quick dialogue really appealed to me and I think also added to the true, if unknown picture, of who Shel Silverstein was. Second most important things is that Mr. Gold managed to add value and color to his friend’s life, managed to show all the respect due Silverstein and his family and the book never felt to me like a ‘washing-the-dirty-laundry’ kind of memoir. Despite all the shocking things and all the character traits I would never have expected from an author of The Giving Tree, I now think much more of Mr. Silverstein, not less. Like a true friend, Merv Gold paid a real tribute to his friend. As the author himself writes in the opening pages:

“For some this is a tell-all book, telling all that one can recall. But not a tattle tale book, though he was far from perfect, and sometimes a downright arrogant pain in the ass. Its point is to uncover the hidden, unknown Shel, to show he was most often friendly, giving, and above all interested in everyone and everything.”
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Special Thanks to Paula K. from AME, Inc for sending me this book for review.