The Book of the Week is “A Boy Named Shel: The Life and Times of Shel Silverstein” by Lisa Rogak, published in 2007. This biography describes the life of the cartoonist, children’s poet and songwriter.
Silverstein was an eccentric, creative thinker who collaborated with other like-minded individuals. He started out as a cartoonist. However, his social skills were poor. One such friend of his who was interviewed for this book remarked that he never stayed in one place for long.
As an adult, whenever he got bored with a conversation he might be having with a friend at an eatery where they met to exchange ideas, he would simply get up and leave without warning. He would also switch residences frequently– he kept several inside and outside the United States. Fortunately, he could afford to do whatever he liked, whenever he liked, once royalties started rolling in from sales of various works he wrote, such as the best-selling classic children’s book of poems, “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” the song “A Boy Named Sue” (sung by Johnny Cash) and the rather depressing children’s book “The Giving Tree.”
Although Silverstein had difficulty getting along with his father, he still grieved at his father’s death. He realized “You never get over it.”
The Book of the Week is “Our Little Secret” by Kevin Flynn and Rebecca Lavoie, published in 2010. This is a true murder story that took a long time to unfold, and the secret was not very little. The crime was committed in November 1985 in Hooksett, New Hampshire by a high schooler, Eric Windhurst, acting on behalf of another, Melanie Paquette. Many friends and family members of both the victim, Danny Paquette, and the shooter had reasons for not telling law enforcement all they knew about the incident. Some would argue there were many victims in the case, just a few of whom included Danny’s brother, Victor, Danny’s ex-wife, Denise, his stepdaughter– the aforementioned Melanie, and Eric’s half-sister, Lisa Brown. If the reader skips the back-cover blurb, the very first page, prologue and the pages of photos of this book, he or she ought to enjoy a well-researched, suspenseful saga of abuse, anger, fear, regret and finally, resolution.
The Book of the Week is “The Unlikely Disciple” by Kevin Roose published in 2009. This is a personal account of a student’s going from one extreme to the other. Roose transferred from Brown University (a liberal Ivy-League college) to Liberty University (the Conservative Christian college with the ironic name, founded by the politically far-right winger, Jerry Falwell in 1971) for the 2007 spring semester.
At Liberty, he was obliged to obey a laundry list of rules called “The Liberty Way,” such as no alcohol, no sex and no expletives (not even off-campus), and a dress code, or face reprimands and fines. His intent from the start was to experience the school as an insider, then write about it. However, he had not been “saved” (had not accepted Christ as his savior) and undergone baptism; he had actually been raised as a Quaker. He sang in the church choir, and participated in Bible study and prayer meetings. Although he was living a lie, there was no shortage of spiritual advisers in the form of school administrators on campus to guide him. Roose took advantage of their counseling, struggling with various issues that were part and parcel of the school’s ideology. To name a few– he was required to learn about creationism, refrain from masturbation and oppose homosexuality.
In the very last week of his stay, he became a minor celebrity through a curious occurrence. Read the book to learn about this possible “sign from God.”
The Book of the Week is “Ogilvy on Advertising” by David Ogilvy published in 1985. The author was the co-founder of what has become a world-famous, worldwide advertising agency– a major feat, as he started his advertising career at 38(!) years old. Perhaps his business has endured because he had the right idea. He wrote that he did not care whether the viewer of an ad said “What a great ad!” Ogilvy’s major goal was to get the viewer to say, “I must go out and buy this product!” This way, he would make money for the client. This book recounts his experiences in the field and provides tips on how to advertise.
The Book of the Week is “Casting With A Fragile Thread” by Wendy Kann, published in 2007. This is the engaging memoir of a native white-skinned Rhodesian. She describes the familial and financial hardships she and her two sisters faced growing up with an absent mother and a risk-taking father, in a nation undergoing radical political change. In 1980, Rhodesia came to be ruled by Robert Mugabe, a dark-skinned dictator, who allowed the country to be ravaged by his previously oppressed countrymen. Read the book to learn how the author put her difficulties behind her.
The Book of the Week is “Asking for Trouble” by Donald Woods, published in 1981. This book’s author (miraculously) lived to tell of his experiences publishing an anti-apartheid newspaper in South Africa under apartheid in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
South Africa’s then-leader allowed Woods’ newspaper to remain in existence only to maintain the public relations charade, that the country allowed free speech on the subject of its treatment of certain of its citizens. Nevertheless, Woods lived under threat of death all the time, from his numerous enemies. His family was also in danger. He described one incident in which his children naively tried on T-shirts that had come in the mail from what appeared to be a politically friendly source. The shirts contained the acidic chemical ninhydrin, which burned their skin.
Read the book to learn what dire action Woods eventually had to take to save his own life.
The Book of the Week is “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain, published in 2000. This is the eloquent account of the author’s personal experiences as a worker in the restaurant business. He provides anecdotes on the people, their personalities, problems and the kinds of behind-the-scenes activities and events that restaurant patrons do not see. He describes one of his first kitchen jobs he held when he was a brash youth, and how his older coworkers put him in his place. Other forms of entertainment that culinary workers enjoy include the initiation rite of sending the new kitchen help on a fool’s errand, and playing practical jokes on the restaurant manager. Bourdain tells of his employment woes and others’. He also reveals culinary dangers (dirty little secrets) about which diners may not want to know. This book is educational for anyone wishing to enter the restaurant business as well.
The Book of the Week is “Cavalcade of the 1920s and 1930s” edited by Cleveland Amory and Frederic Bradlee, published in 1960. This compilation of Vanity Fair magazine articles showcases two decades of literary luminaries; some of whom were discovered by Frank Crowninshield, the magazine’s editor. Currently, those names, such as P.G. Wodehouse, Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Parker, Amy Lowell, Robert C. Benchley and many others, are fading in the public’s memory. However, they were witty, humorous and entertaining for their era. A perusal of this book today indicates that certain aspects of American life never change. Wodehouse wrote of monies going to the government in an article on family involvement in completing tax returns (which during WWI, were due in March), “…I can only hope that they will not spend it on foolishness and nut sundaes and the movies– but apparently, they needed a few billion dollars, and you and I had to pay for it.”
The Book of the Week is “The Jack Bank, A Memoir of A South African Childhood” by Glen Retief, published in 2011. This autobiography focuses on the author’s realizing his gay identity in a specific generation– as a white South African male in the last years of apartheid. While coming of age, he struggled with not only apartheid, but with “authoritarianism, patriarchy and cycles of violence.”
The author explains that his family was English, rather than Afrikaner. The latter people were militant in nature. He illustrates this point by recounting his experiences at nine and ten years old, of playing war games with his Afrikaner friend, and looking up to his friend’s father, a police officer, as a role model.
At twelve, he was sent to boarding school. As a freshman, he was subjected to extremely brutal bullying. Later, as an upperclassman, he himself did the bullying. He would have undergone this pattern again– in “military basic training, and then the whites-only conscript force… to control forty million black South Africans;” however, Nelson Mandela’s political activities finally succeeded at the tail end of the 1980’s. Prior to that, Retief witnessed examples of the pattern again and again, at university and later in his black boyfriend’s violent, rundown neighborhood.
Read the book to learn more details of what growing up was like under South African apartheid, and what the author did to find his place in the world.
The Book of the Week is “Irrepressible, the Life and Times of Jessica Mitford” by Leslie Brody, published in 2010. This biography recounts the life of the chain-smoking, hard-drinking, charismatic rebel. Her motley English family included duke and duchess parents, two Nazi-sympathizing sisters, three other sisters, a brother, and she, who, born during WWI, was a Communist.
Jessica, nicknamed “Decca,” led an eventful life. In her late teens, she ran away with her lover to the United States. Later, she underwent an abortion, committed thievery from the wealthy social set with whom she rubbed shoulders, pleaded the Fifth Amendment on the stand at a McCarthy hearing, eventually gave birth to four children, raised money with her second husband for the Civil Rights movement, wrote several books including a very successful one on the American death industry, and grieved over deaths of various of her family members. She enjoyed herself to the fullest, regardless of what others thought of her actions, falling in and out of relationships with her family members through the years.
In a letter to her unconventional daughter, nicknamed “Dinky,” Decca provided her take on life:
“One is only really inwardly comfortable, so to speak, after one’s life has assumed some sort of shape… which would include goals set by onseself and a circle of life-time type friends… Even after one has, all may be knocked out of shape, so one has to start over again…”