Nonfiction November: A book pairing for the young at heart


Welcome to Nonfiction November week 2! This week’s host is Leslie of Regular Rumination and our topic is Book Pairings. This week, our mission is to pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title.

So, I had to think about this one for a while, because while I frequently will read everything a single author has written, I don’t usually just run out and buy books that are billed as being similar to others I’ve enjoyed, nor do I usually pay much mind to whether the book I’m reading it fiction or nonfiction – unless it’s for research purposes. Since I don’t tend to read historical fiction, I don’t usually end up reading the history books behind an author’s fictional take, so like I said, this week’s topic was a bit of a challenge!

Ultimately, I’ve come up with a pairing that seems to fit the general tone of my blog: a “Rated E for Everyone” fiction pick that pairs with a racier PG-13 selection more suitable for adults. Or if you prefer, it’s a fictional book you probably remember reading when you were young, paired with a nonfiction book that sheds more light on the adult figure behind those children’s books you loved. One for the kids, and one for the kids at heart!

If you like Shel Silverstein…

Virtually everyone in North America has read Shel Silverstein’s zany poems. Perhaps it was A Light in the Attic or Where the Sidewalk Ends. Maybe you read The Giving Tree. In any case, I recently bought a 40th anniversary copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends in order to re-read the poems I loved reading again and again as a kid, because my husband had said he wasn’t sure he’d ever read any of Silverstein’s work.


The 40th anniversary edition even comes with 12 new poems, so I was excited to get a chance to read a few pieces that even I wasn’t familiar with.

Of course, once I started reading the silly verses to my husband, he said, “Oh yeah, I remember now…”

Now, if you’ve ever read anything by Shel Silverstein, you’ve probably wondered, “Who is this guy, and how did he come up with all these crazy poems?”

Before the Internet was a thing, you probably never would have known much about the man, beyond his dust jacket bio, which reads:

Shel Silverstein is the author of The Giving Tree and many other books of prose and poetry. He also wrote songs, drew cartoons, sang, played the guitar, and loved to have a good time.

So who was this guy with the bald head and the piercing stare, holding a guitar, with the oh-so-mysterious bio?

Read his bio!

That’s what inspired me to purchase a copy of A Boy Named Shel: The Life and Times of Shel Silverstein by Lisa Rogak.

This is a great book for adult fans of Silverstein, who remember his work from their youth. It details his days in the U.S. Army, where he began his cartooning career, and his unconventional lifestyle, inspired by his friendship with Hugh Hefner and his days crashing at the Playboy Mansion.

Yes, you read that right. A dude most famous for his children’s verses was a good friend of life-long swinger Hugh Hefner!

There are plenty of other surprises in the book as well.

Did you know, for instance, that Silverstein was also an accomplished musician? He wrote the awesome song “A Boy Named Sue,” which Johnny Cash made famous, among many other country hits. (Shel’s model for “Sue” was supposedly his pal, Jean Shepherd, who was teased about having a girl’s name as a kid.)

Along with his children’s books, Silverstein also wrote more than 100 one-act stage plays.

He enjoyed traveling the world, indulging in a vagabond life, always visiting old friends and making new ones along the way.

In short, Shel Silverstein was just as wild and free-spirited a character as some of his creations, and Rogak’s book is a warm and intimate portrait of this intensely private man. Highly recommended for authors, artists, lovers of the bohemian lifestyle, and anyone who’s ever felt the need to rebel against the boredom of an average life.