November 22, 2007

Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel: A Biography

by Judith and Neil Morgan

A helluva nice biography about a helluva nice guy. Ted Geisel tried to sell a kid's book. Nobody would buy it. He gave up. A college friend bumped into him as a trudged home after yet another rejection and, having just landed a job as an editor. bought it. Hilarity ensued.

What's striking, though, is how much sheer work went into these books — all of them, not just the vocabulary-constrained and ground-breaking Cat In The Hat. Endless tinkering was required, until every invented syllable and every last block of solid color was exactly right.

The Morgans' biography is generous and sympathetic, a mood that suits the subject. All was not entirely rosy; Geisel was reclusive and anxious and difficult, he made a wretchedly difficult business partner, and after his wonderful first wife killed herself he married his best friend's wife. This made for some unsettling ruckus in La Jolla, but they got along and so, eventually, did their friends. (I remember my mother on the subject of one the second wives in her own circle: "I wanted to hate her. I expected to hate her. We all did. But we didn't.”)