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A BOY NAMED SHEL by Lisa Rogak


The Life and Times of Shel Silverstein

by Lisa Rogak

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-312-35359-9
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Unauthorized biography offers revealing anecdotes, complete with some dirty laundry, about the prolific children’s author and cartoonist.

Rogak (The Man Behind the Da Vinci Code: An Unauthorized Biography of Dan Brown, 2005, etc.) continues to mine for secondhand vignettes about someone in the public forum, dishing up speculation about Silverstein’s childhood (“today, he might be diagnosed as dyslexic”) and gossip regarding his sexual proclivities (“he preferred these young corn-fed shiksas from the Midwest, the younger the better”). Although Silverstein (1930–99) is most famous for poems and illustrations in books like The Giving Tree, The Missing Piece and Where the Sidewalk Ends, he began his drawing career at Playboy in the 1950s and was a mainstay at the mansion for decades. Dozens of reports from old friends and colleagues describe his personality as larger than life, replete with an off-color wit and penchant for inside jokes, on display in the numerous album notes he wrote for musician pals. These stories about Silverstein provide insights into some of his otherwise inexplicable behavior, such as the car accident in 1959 that permanently scared him away from getting behind the wheel again. In addition to sketches, he also wrote folk songs such as “Boy Named Sue,” made famous by Johnny Cash, and avant-garde scripts for film and theater. It’s fascinating to read about his collaborations with the likes of playwright David Mamet and country singer Bobby Bare, though it’s also clear that closeness to Silverstein required giving him plenty of room. By all accounts a loyal friend, he was at his most generous when nothing was expected of him. With women in particular, he apparently had no interest in being pursued.

Rogak successfully captures and relays interesting tales, but Silverstein’s soul and passion are pieces that remain missing.