Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #142: Dr. Seuss: The Cat Behind the Hat by Caroline Smith

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When I put in my interlibrary loan request for The Cat Behind the Hat, I had no clue how large and heavy a book it was. Amazon has a shipping weight of over 5 lbs. for it which sounds about right. That’s what you get when you write a book meant to display Dr. Seuss’ never before seen “midnight paintings.” You can’t skimp on the size, paper stock, anything; nothing’s of a high enough quality for the last works of Dr. Seuss we’ll ever get.

But The Cat Behind the Hat isn’t just those “midnight paintings,” stark contrasts to his children’s books made late at night and withheld from public viewing by Dr. Seuss until his death. Also included is a retrospective of Dr. Seuss’ entire life and career. In addition to his “midnight paintings,” there are rough drafts of such classics as The Cat in the Hat, samples of his early work in advertising, etc., along with a detailed look into the events behind it all.

Except my favorite part of the entire book is the included Dr. Seuss diatribe where he’s critical of anyone who tries to lessen the importance and artistic worth of books written for children. I wish I still had the book in my possession and could include an excerpt, but you’re just going to have to read it yourself since I returned it to the library weeks ago.

If you consider yourself a Dr. Seuss fan, you won’t be disappointed. There’s the old, the new, the old with a new spin. Plus, you’ll get a work out if you try to walk and read it at the same time, like I did. Yet, in spite of its weight, it’s a light, enjoyable, and enlightening read.

ElCicco #CBR5 Review #36: Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish: A Novel by David Rakoff

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This final work from David Rakoff, who died from cancer in 2012 at the age of 47, is a beautiful novel written as a poem. You might be inclined to think that this would make it pretentious and dull (well, I did) but after reading a review that compared his style to Dorothy Parker’s or Ogden Nash’s, I gave it a go. The novel is told in rhyming couplets that reminded me a bit of Dr. Seuss. It’s fun, funny, sad, tragic. In just over 100 pages, Rakoff covers 100 years in the US in a series of vignettes that deal with rape, incurable illness, homosexuality, love, betrayal — the name of the novel says it all. And by the end you see how seemingly unrelated stories fit together. You could easily read this in one sitting and if you pick it up, you will probably want to do just that.

The novel starts with the birth of a redheaded girl in Chicago at the turn of the century and a mid-wife’s prediction that nothing good will come from it. Rakoff then takes us on a journey to California in the ’50s-’60s where a young man is discovering his art and his sexuality. We also see what happens to his lovely single cousin Helen, who puts on a brave face and demonstrates grace and strength in the face of judgment. Rakoff describes the AIDS crisis, Alzheimers, and marriages falling apart.

I found myself especially drawn to the cousins Cliff and Helen. Helen becomes involved in an office romance that ends badly and comes to see that:

Her presence, she thinks, is what’s

rendered him gladder

But really it’s just that he aimed for,

and had her.

After an embarrassing drunken display at an office party, Helen is ostracized but refuses to hide herself away. Her final exit from another office party several years after the event is just fabulous.

Cliff becomes a comic book artist in San Francisco, drawing “Captain Cocksure and Throbbin.” [Illustrations throughout the novel are by the very talented illustrator Seth.] When a homophobic critic named Blanche Tilley refers to the comic as “filthy, overt, immature,” Cliff responds:

How I wish you would stop up that

bile-spewing spigot

You use when you speak, you

rebarbative bigot.

After Cliff contracts AIDS and knows he is going to die, he offers this reflection:

It was sadness that gripped him, far

more than fear

That, if facing the truth, he had maybe

a year.

When poetic phrases like “eyes look

your last”

Become true, all you want is to stay, to

hold fast.

A new, fierce attachment to all of this

world

Now pierced him, it stabbed like a

diety-hurled

Lightning bolt lancing him, sent from

above,

Left him giddy and tearful. It felt like

young love.

This is pretty heavy stuff, and yet Rakoff laces his unflinching accounts of these tragedies with humor and spirit. His characters refuse to remain passive in the face of adversity, and I think the fact that Rakoff knew he was dying of cancer when he wrote this demonstrates his own powerful inner drive and his desire to leave having had his say. Rakoff has the last word against death and his message is beautiful and sad.

xoxoxoe’s #CBR5 Review #10: Dr. Seuss: The Cat Behind the Hat, by Caroline H. Smith

Dr. Seuss: The Cat Behind the Hat is a gorgeous coffee-table book featuring the “secret artwork” of Dr. Seuss. Theodor (Ted) Geisel, AKA Dr. Seuss, called a lot of the work featured in this volume his “midnight paintings.”

The book lays out an informative and frequently humorous biography, tracing his college years at Dartmouth, early days in advertising, his work as an animator for the U.S. Army during WW2, as well as his adventures in publishing. The Cat Behind the Hatalso includes lots of quotes from Dr. Seuss’s books, as well as original sketches and artwork from favorites like The Sneetches, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hatches the Egg, Green Eggs and Ham, and many more. But the book’s main attraction are the numerous fabulous illustrations, in both black and white and in exuberant color.

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An original sketch for The Cat in the Hat

“I know it is wet and the sun is not sunny, but we can have lots of good fun that is funny.” — The Cat in the Hat

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Dr. Seuss liked to create 3D versions of his drawings, too – “Flaming Herring”
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“The Manly Art of Self Defense”

“Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches had bellies with stars. The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars.” — The Sneetches

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Detail of “Boy Being Mesmerized by an Ichabod”

The Cat Behind the Hat was originally published in conjunction with the a series of traveling art exhibitions, The Art of Dr. Seuss. These exhibitions are happily ongoing —check the schedule to see when the show will be in a town near you.

You can read more of my pop culture reviews on my blog, xoxoxo e

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