Saturday, March 31, 2012

Happy Birthmonth, Dr. Seuss! ... Of Books and Such, 6 March 2004


Earlier this month, March 2012, I started preparing the blog post you're reading now to celebrate Dr. Seuss's birthday, but then current events, shall we say, heated up at my school, the University of Northern Iowassst, more on that later — and I got preoccupied and didn't finish it. So now I'm posting this within Dr. Seuss's birth month rather than day. Close enough.

Theodor Seuss Geisel, most famously known as Dr. Seuss — with whom many of us spent our happiest hours as small children, I'm certain — was born on 2 March 1904. For the sake of this errant and tardy blog post as well as the allure of being on time (at least in a fictional sense, sorta), why don't we call this March Dr. Seuss Month? Especially since the cartoon starring Danny DeVito as Dr. Seuss's mustachioed, cranky yet loveable, environmentalist, tree-hugging (in a good way) Lorax is still in theaters. Somewhere. Surely.

I'm going to take this Dr. Seuss Month opportunity to reprise — resurrect? — my "Of Books and Such" book-review column from the Cedar Falls Times in 2004. After all, books don't go stale, do they? Whenever you and I read a book, no matter when it first saw the light of day, it's new for us, it's born in our minds. Even if we've read it before, we renew it, right?

So . . . here is my Dr. Seuss Month offering of a "Of Books and Such" column from Dr. Seuss's centennial year. Cue gnarly, serpentine Seuss-ish trumpets: tah–tah–DAAH!




OF BOOKS AND SUCH
by Vince Gotera, Cedar Falls Times, 6 March 2004.

Oh, The Places He Went!
The Seuss, The Whole Seuss, and Nothing But the Seuss: A Visual Biography of Theodor Seuss Geisel by Charles D. Cohen, Random House, 2004, 390 pages, cloth $35.00.
I bet, for most of you reading this column, Dr. Seuss has been more present in our lives than Dr. Spock — the baby doctor, not the pointy-eared Vulcan. We grew up "living" on Mulberry Street and wishing we had 500 hats. We were babysat by Yertle the Turtle, the amiable elephant Horton (who heard a Who), the Grinch (who tried to steal Christmas), and of course The Cat in the Hat — in print as well as on TV. We read The Lorax to our kids, teaching them about caring for the environment, and we gave Oh, The Places You'll Go! as graduation gifts. The name Dr. Seuss, for us, brings up weird, gangly animals with long legs and feathers in unlikely places; scraggly trees with tufts of odd-colored foliage; and impossible yet charming architecture and machines.

This week (March 2, to be exact) marks the celebration of Dr. Seuss's 100th birthday: "The Seussentenial"! Check out <www.seussentennial.com> for more info. [No longer an active web address.]

So, who was Dr. Seuss? You may know he was born Theodor Seuss Geisel, but beyond that, what? Besides the myths he put on paper, Dr. Seuss often made myth out of his own life; "He was an unusual man, particularly with respect to his memory and vision," Charles Cohen writes, "and his penchant for storytelling and practical jokes often led people astray from the facts." It turns out that Dr. Seuss, or more properly, Ted Geisel, is as interesting a person as many of his creations.

Did you know, for example, that Geisel — let's call him Ted — was a well-known political cartoonist for years before his first children's book? That he used what we would now recognize as "Seussian" characters in nationally known ad campaigns for Flit insecticide and Standard Oil, again before what he at first called "brat-books"? That Ted published a book for adults called The Seven Lady Godivas featuring drawings of seven undressed sisters? (Though, as Carolyn See noted in Esquire, "In 1939 America was feeling too blue to be cheered up by pictures of silly ladies with no nipples and funny knees"). Did you know that during WWII, Ted served as Captain (and later Major) Theodor Geisel, working for Frank Capra (the famous director of It's a Wonderful Life) in a filmmaking unit in the Army, where he invented the cartoon character Private SNAFU, known to many vets from that war? Did you know that 1953, when I was not yet one year old, saw the release of Ted's big-budget Hollywood movie, The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T? This is the stuff (and more!) of which Cohen's enlightening and entertaining book is made.

The Seuss, The Whole Seuss, and Nothing But the Seuss is lavishly illustrated with thousands of illustrations from Seuss's work (magazine covers, political cartoons, sculptures, marionettes, and of course art from his books), photos from Geisel's personal life, action figures of Seussian characters, representative work from artists that influenced Dr. Seuss, and so on — the majority from Cohen's large collection of Seuss materials. Cohen's research is meticulous and carefully documented; more importantly, he discusses Geisel's life and times, the development of Dr. Seuss's images and ideas as well as his social conscience, in a readable and enjoyable style. Readers of all ages will enjoy this book. My son Gabe, who is just on the verge of becoming a reader, savored the fun pictures. History buffs will appreciate how social and cultural events and trends affected Dr. Seuss's work. This book is indeed the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth on Dr. Seuss.

P.S. There is also a fine biography of Dr. Seuss for younger readers (kindergarten through fourth grade): Dr. Seuss by Mae Woods. Those interested in Dr. Seuss's writing as literature (and Geisel is a fine poet, especially in his use of meter and innovative rhyme) should look at Dr. Seuss: American Icon by Philip Nel.

Vince Gotera, when not at his day job teaching at the University of Northern
Iowa, has read Dr. Seuss books to all of his five daughters and sons. Contact
him at OfBooksAndSuch@yahoo.com.
[No longer an active email address.]




A bit of history about the book-review column title: When I was a youth, my father Martin Avila Gotera had a journalistic commentary and miscellany column called "Of This and Such" in The Philippine News, a newspaper based in San Francisco and published by Alex Esclamado. As a tribute to my dad and his literary aspirations, I titled my own column with similar phrasing.

Okay, watch for future reprises of my "Of Books and Such" column in the blog. As I said above, books don't get stale, and if you go out and buy the books I reviewed back in 2004, you'll enjoy them just as much now as you would have when they were new.

Please, also, won't you comment below? I'd really love to know what you think. Thanks.

So . . . happy Dr. Seuss Month! Go put a stripey hat on your cat. Take good care, friends. Ingat.


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