On the new Shel Silverstein book …

Published 1:05 pm Saturday, September 24, 2011

Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster

It was a banner year for literary nerds like me. First, after 100 years of playing hard to get, volume one of Mark Twain’s autobiography was finally published. I could hardly believe it. Looky here, Huck, I thought, if you’re a fibbin’ the widow’ll tan your hide!

Alexandra Kloster

This fall the last stories of Alexander Solzhenitsyn will, at last, appear in English. I’m on a first-name basis with tons of Russian writers (because pronouncing their full names is a major pain) so let me sum up Al’s final stories for you. They’re not so different from the rest of the Russian canon: Nostrovia! Life is beautiful. Too bad we’re all doomed.

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The Russians wrote the greatest books ever written, even better than those “Twilight” novels. I have to say that or my father will read this, shake his head, wag his finger at me yell, “Dummkopf!” or Byeazoomnee!” I never know whether he’ll express his frustration with modern readers in German or Russian. Either way, it’s always amusing.

If those two gifts weren’t awesome enough, here comes Condé Nast delivering the lost letters of Ernest Hemingway right to my mailbox via Vanity Fair. Ah, Hemingway, the coolest cat to ever pointlessly and horrifically shoot an endangered species, how I love his writing. Now I’d be able to learn even more about the man behind the simple declarative sentence. Roses are red and violets are blue, I’m going to read “one true sentence” about you.

Then came Shel. I was excited about the Twain, Solzhenitsyn and Hemingway discoveries, but the announcement that 145 new Shel Silverstein poems were being published in a new book titled “Every Thing On It” made this nerd cry.

Writer and illustrator Shel Silverstein died at the age of 68 in 1999. If I had to name the author who inspired me to write more than any other, it would be Mr. Silverstein. All of his books manage to be both profound and endlessly entertaining. Even when he’s wicked, he is wise. I remember in Catholic school sometimes our priest would read “The Giving Tree” during Friday mass, but “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “A Light in the Attic” were my secular bibles.

It was from these books that I learned you could be funny in one sentence and rend hearts to breaking in the next. At an age when I was still struggling to sound out the words in “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take The Garbage Out,” I knew I wanted to learn how to use words to put smiles into tears the way those poems did. I wouldn’t “Listen to the SHOULDN’TS the IMPOSSIBLES, the WONT’S,” because Mr. Silverstein said, “Anything can happen, child, ANYTHING can be,” and I believed him.

Shel Silverstein didn’t write for girls who were “sugar and spice and everything nice.” Nor were his boys “made of frogs and snails and puppy dog’s tails.” His kids were real. They were good; they were bad, and they were every wonderful thing in between. He wrote for everyone, old and young alike.

Consider his “Invitation” at the beginning of “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” “If you are a dreamer, come in … come in!” Aren’t we all dreamers? Don’t we all have some “flax-golden tales to spin”?

Most kids sleep with a teddy bear or a blankie under their pillows. When I was little I slept with my hardcover copy of “Where the Sidewalk Ends” under my pillow. It wasn’t very comfortable, but I didn’t care. For the first time I was in love, in love with words, their sound, shape and the way they made me feel.

After reading only a line or two of this new collection, I am in love again. You see, I’ve always dreamed of reading my Shel Silverstein books to my children, but I don’t know if that will ever happen. Thanks to this lion-hearted laughing man, I think of my children, the ones I never had the chance to meet and I’m reminded that, “I cannot see your face …” but “in some far off place … I hear you laughing and I smile.”

I think this new book might just find its way under my pillow, too, and I think it will stay there for a long, long time.

Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at alikloster@yahoo.com, and her blog is Radishes at Dawn at alexandrakloster.com.