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Maurice Sendak: different sides of a fascinating author

The release of Sendak's new book, 'Bumble-ardy,' lets readers see both the tender and curmudgeonly sides of the children's writer

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Yikes! We won’t even reprint his words on Salmon Rushdie and Stephen King. And yet The Guardian interview has its heartbreaking moments too, as when he tells the interviewer that his parents led desperate lives and his childhood was dysfunctional. "I remember when my brother was dying, he looked at me and his eyes were all teary. And he said, 'Why were we so unkind to Mama?' And I said, 'Don't do that. We were kids, we didn't understand. We didn't know she was crazy.' "

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Sendak showed The Globe and Mail his cranky side as well, (don’t look for iPad versions of his books as long as he’s alive to stop it, he vowed) but did say that what he loves best in the world now is reading: “To hell with [writing] the books, to hell with everything. I just reread The Odyssey, and it’s funny. It’s funny in a way I didn’t realize was funny. And I’m going to read Proust right after this. And then I’ve got to read Henry James somewhere in there. I want to hear his voice again. I want to smell his color. It’s so tantalizing.”

And in The Atlantic, Sendak comes across as frank and blunt rather than sour, telling the reporter, for instance, that children’s letters saying they hate his books are among the most gratifying ones he receives. It shows him that “I have pierced their armor.”

The Atlantic reporter tells Sendak that the aunt in Bumble-ardy reminded him of the Mother Bear in Else Minarik’s “Little Bear” books, which Sendak illustrated long ago. Sendak replied, “When I did those books, I was quite young. And I wished for a mother bear. I wanted somebody like that in my life. My mother was troubled and she was an ordinary human being, but I had high expectations of her. I didn't know about her problems. I didn't care about her problems – I thought she was there for me! And if she wasn't there for me, she was not really a good mother. So, the expectations of children are very charged and difficult.”

The expectations of adults can be charged and difficult as well. But I’ll always be glad to learn more about this complex, talented man. He told the Associated Press that he hates memoirs, so don’t expect to see one from him. But perhaps, someday, a biography?

Seattle writer Rebekah Denn blogs at eatallaboutit.com

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