Sunday, September 4, 2011

Giuseppe Verdi in the the rain

Yesterday afternoon was one of those rainy times when it felt just right to settle in with the latest issue of the Horn Book Magazine.

Of course I wanted to take a look at “Project Child’s Play,” by Hamline’s own Betsy Thomas, in which Heidi moderates as Peter Rabbit, Madeline, and Pinocchio judge new “looks” created for some of our favorite children’s book characters by some of our favorite book characters—Cinderella, Eeyore, Puss in Boots. Read it and laugh. It “Could not [be] more fabulous!”

And there’s a nice review of Ron’s Now Playing:Stoner & Spaz II.

And, since it was still raining, I went to Leonard Marcus’s interview with Maurice Sendak about his new book Bumble- Ardy. Sendak is as crusty as ever—and as stimulating.

What really stood out for me in this interview was the varied combination of influence and circumstance that resulted in Bumble-Ardy. Though the book is about a party, it did not come from an excess of happiness in Sendak’s life. Instead, he said, “It was a very difficult time. I was working on it when my partner and friend was dying of cancer…Eugene died, and then I had bypass surgery. I was doing the book to stay sane….”

Also important to Bumble-Ardy was a book Sendak was reading on the Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi. Verdi was partly important to him because the composer produced two of his best operas after he turned eighty. This fact spurred Sendak to try for “something extraordinary” at this time in his life. There was more-- Sendak suggests the palette for this new book is “Verdi-esque.” He goes on, “Verdi was such an enormous help to me as I worked on the book.”

So we have: a miserable, grieving time in the writer’s life and Giuseppe Verdi. Then add in Sendak’s memories of Coney Island, his own childhood (of course), his continuing “deep feeling for children who are in dire trouble,” and maybe even the personality of Ursula Nordstrom.

This interview is a reminder that, though we aren’t, and shouldn’t be, aware of it while we are writing, our books are like our dreams, made up of the crazy variety that’s stored in the mental attic. Nothing is wasted.


  1. I read an NYT profile of Sendak from this very time period, in 2008. It has stuck with me because Sendak actually ponders whether he has accomplished anything worthwhile. It's an amazing example of the crises in confidence that I think plague many writers, and here it was in someone whose body of work dramatically influenced children's literature. Thanks for reminding me of this article, Jackie! And good to see that he wrote his way out of the funk.

    Read the profile here:

  2. Thanks for the post, Jackie. You're right--that article on Sendak was fascinating. I don't think he's alone in being immune to his own accomplishments. Also, Cheryl, thanks for the follow-up NYT profile. Definitely worthwhile.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Another interview ran this a.m. in The Paris Review:

    Sendak says: "This was an experiment in what it’s like to feel ... deeply rejected."