Oh, the Places I’ll Go!

The fine folks at Dutton books are very kindly sending me on a short book tour the week Becoming Dr. Seuss is published — and they’ve also just as kindly put all the information right here in this colorful card. Are you nearby on any of these dates? If so, swing by, hear me talk a bit about Dr. Seuss, and say hey!

Making of an Audiobook (ah-dee-oh-book)

I can finally answer the question Will Becoming Dr. Seuss be available on audiobook? with an emphatic yes. The team at Random House are hard at work to bring the book to audible life for you by May 7. And no, as the author, I do NOT read the book. Trust me, you don’t want that. Instead, that job goes to the hyper-talented Mike Chamberlain, whose voice I love for this book.

What I do get to do as the author, however, is sort through an enormous spreadsheet filled with the names of people, places, animals, and things, and write out–as best I can–phonetic pronunciations for each that can then be referenced by Mike as he’s recording. For the most part, it’s the names of real people (such as Mike Frith, Roy McKie, or Walter Retan) whose names we want to pronounce correctly (or, at least, make a good faith effort to do so) or places with foreign or just-plain-unusual names like Maastricht, Bastogne, or Agawam, Massachusetts. I send a lot of e-mails verifying the pronunciation of names, and I also rely on the audiobook producer to verify some of the foreign words (while I suffered through one semester of German in college, I wouldn’t presume to try to definitively pronounce Schutzenverein).

However, as you can imagine, when it comes to a subject like Dr. Seuss, the book is also filled with lots of made-up names and distinctly Seussian words that every reader might pronounce differently when reading it aloud. A word like Lorax is one thing; but even something like his dear Truffula Trees might be pronounced differently from reader to reader. I tend to say it as “TRUFF-uh-lah.” Others I know know say “truff-YEW-luh.”

What to do then? In this case, I referred to the 1972 animated special–produced during Dr. Seuss’ lifetime, with his involvement–where the pronunciation is . . . TRUFF-yew-luh. We were both close.

Still, in lots of other cases, it’s not so clear. What do you do, for example, with words like:

  • Dingleblader
  • Heumkia
  • Bvorlyjk
  • Mnpf
  • Grimalkin, Drouberhannus, Knalbner, and Fepp

These haven’t exactly entered the vernacular in the same way that, say, Sneetches or Grinch has. In these instances . . . well, I think any pronunciation you hear in your head when you read it is probably right. But for the audiobook, we had to make our best guess.

So if you’re one of the devoted audiobook readers of Becoming Dr. Seuss and one of the Seussian words doesn’t sound quite right to you . . . take comfort in knowing that our pronunciation is right. And so is yours.

PW Says BDS is A-OK

Reviews for Becoming Dr. Seuss are continuing to roll in; the latest comes from the Old Gray Lady of book reviewers, Publishers Weekly.

I’ve never done particularly well in Publishers Weekly. Not that they’ve torpedoed me necessarily, but the best I usually get is a shruggish “eh.” And that’s why I’m delighted with their review for Becoming Dr. Seuss, which is perhaps the most effusive they’ve ever been about anything I’ve written:

Biographer Jones (George Lucas) delivers a comprehensive and thoughtful look at famed children’s author Theodor Geisel (1904–1991) . . . Jones does not ignore problems in Geisel’s early work, including some racial stereotypes. He also gives full credit to Geisel’s first wife, Helen, as a guiding hand for some of Geisel’s best-loved books. While acknowledging Geisel’s flaws and debts to others, Jones convincingly shows him as a transformative figure in children’s publishing, both as author and cofounder of the Beginner Books imprint. Fans of Dr. Seuss will find much to love in this candid but admiring portrait.

The full review is here. And boy, believe me: I appreciate it.

A Star-Bellied Kirkus

One of the first reviews for Becoming Dr. Seuss is in, and it’s from the always-respected and often-feared Kirkus Reviews, the book reviewer with the Seussian-sounding name. And I’m absolutely thrilled they gave Becoming Dr. Seuss one of their highly-coveted starred reviews.

Here’s a bit of that review, which appears in its entirety in the March 15 issue of Kirkus Reviews:

“A rich, anecdotal biography of one of the bestselling authors in publishing history. Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991), aka Dr. Seuss, created more than 60 books, classified mostly as readers for children. However, as Jones (George Lucas: A Life, 2016, etc.) points out in this engaging, page-turning work of Seuss scholarship, Geisel was writing and illustrating for children and adults simultaneously . . . Used to being perceived as a funny guy, Geisel evolved into a serious thinker about how to develop books that would encourage children to read while also enjoying the learning process. Jones is particularly masterful in this vein, showing how Geisel and other key collaborators collectively revolutionized reading education, with Dr. Seuss always reserving the final say . . . Though the narrative is strictly chronological, it never bogs down because the character sketches and publishing anecdotes are so well-rendered, and Jones is especially skillful with foreshadowing. Although sometimes exasperating to work with because of his exacting standards, Geisel comes across as a mostly kind, well-intentioned person. Whether readers are familiar with Dr. Seuss books or not, they will find this biography absorbing and fascinating.”

Becoming Dr. Seuss comes your way on May 7. If you’re so inclined, you can pre-order from any of your favorite booksellers. And I thank you.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

I was born one merry morn
Under the sign of Capricorn.
(I wasn’t really, but it rhymes.)

— Dr. Seuss, Notes on his abandoned Non-Autobiography

Happy 115th birthday to Dr. Seuss, born Theodor Seuss Geisel on this date in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1904. (That makes him officially a Pisces.) I love photos of writers and artists at their desks, so here are a few of Ted Geisel doing his thing at his desk, and in his office, throughout his lengthy career.

It’s no coincidence that today is also National Read Across America Day. Read something. And when you’re done, create something. Dr. Seuss would want you to.

It’s Nearly a Book

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These arrived on my doorstep yesterday: advance reader copies (ARCs) of Becoming Dr. Seuss.  ARCs are usually sent around to reviewers, but they’re by no means the final version of the book.  (Heck, if you’ve got an ARC of Jim Henson: The Biography, you’ve got a version of the book with a completely different prologue than what appeared in the final.) While I don’t anticipate any changes in the text of Dr. Seuss as significant as that, the ARC still doesn’t have the photo insert, nor does it yet have the index.  But this gives you a good idea of what the final version will look like; it’s reeeeally close to becoming a real book. The next time I see it, it’ll be a real hardcover.

What They’re Saying About Becoming Dr. Seuss

Becoming Dr. Seuss is very nearly ready to be released in ARC format–that’s publishing lingo for Advance Reader Copy, which is a soft-cover version of the book that gets mailed out to reviewers and others in advance of the book’s actual release date. When the ARCs roll off the press, they’ll also feature some of the first blurbs from a few readers who got an early peek at the book. I’ve had these in pocket for a bit, but they’re now up on the Amazon listing, so I think I can share them here:

“Finally! The solution to the mystery of where Dr. Seuss earned his Ph.D.  Brian Jay Jones also reveals the true identity of Chrysanthemum Pearl; the etymology of the word “nerd”; the political leanings of Horton and Yertle; and the relationship of Krazy Kat to the one in the hat. It comes as no surprise that Theodore Geisel was a born story-teller; prying truth from fact, Jones pins our favorite fabulist nimbly, colorfully, and splendidly to the page.”—Stacy Schiff, author of The Witches

“Readers of Becoming Dr. Seuss may be astonished to learn in this rollicking ride of a biography that Theodor Seuss Geisel—progenitor of the most anarchic animals of all time—was himself a radically bizarre creation, every bit as strange and emotionally uncoordinated as a Snoo or a Sneetch.  Childless, chain-smoking, and cocktail-swilling, bawdy and argumentative, Geisel got his unlikely start promoting Standard Oil’s fly-killing insecticide (his ad campaign featured the immortal tag line “Quick, Henry! The Flit!”); drawing coarse political cartoons (sometimes racist or misogynist); and serving as a World War II understudy to Frank Capra, making films teaching grunts to evade death and mosquitoes.  His epic transformation into one of the most beloved and bestselling children’s writers of all time, winner of Oscars and a Pulitzer, is a poignant, affecting tale of a man who mastered the art of concision through imagination and sheer toil yet could never bring such exactitude to his own life, callously replacing his wife and editor of forty years, a suicide, with her rival.  In Jones’s telling, the Seussian legacy emerges triumphant, elevating the power of children’s literature.  “I no longer write for children,” Geisel said proudly, at the end of his life. “I write for people.” Caroline Fraser, author of Prairie Fires:  The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

“Once again, Brian Jay Jones takes us on a beguiling deep dive into the life of one of the leading lights of American popular culture. Written with verve and warmth and a close attention to both the life and the times in which it was lived, Becoming Dr. Seuss brims with charm and humor from beginning to end.”—William Souder, author of On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson.

“Brian Jay Jones, a terrific researcher and writer, has produced a richly textured and riveting book about one of the most fascinating artists America has ever produced. If you want to understand how genius is formed—and how this particular genius performed his magic—this marvelous book is the place to start.” — Jonathan Eig, author of Ali: A Life

My thanks to each of these brilliant writers not only for their kind words, but also for taking the time to read Becoming Dr. Seuss in the first place. I know how busy they all are.

I See You Shiver With Antici…

This week, Publishers Weekly published its list of the Most Anticipated Books of Spring 2019–and I was thrilled to see Becoming Dr. Seuss among the list of eagerly anticipated upcoming biographies, criticism, and literary essays. Here’s its listing on the PW website:

My thanks to PW, and to all of you currently anticipating Becoming Dr. Seuss. I appreciate it. It’s right on schedule to be in your hands in May.

How can I say that? I finished up the final manuscript–meaning I incorporated all of my editor’s comments, as well as copyedits and my own rewrites–on Monday afternoon. At 4:21 p.m., I turned over the very last page of the manuscript.

That’s a wrap.

Now it’s in the hands of the production department at Dutton Books. In a week or so, I’ll receive a nicely-printed version of the final manuscript to make what we call “first pass” (which is actually my final pass), where I can make sure everything looks right.

Nearly There

This weekend, I’m making the final edits on Becoming Dr. Seuss, and then it’s off to production on Tuesday. That means I’m making all the changes suggested by and discussed with my editor, and well as the copyedits, fact checking, and legal read. I also have to go through every endnote to make sure they’re accurate, as well as structured correctly (meaning they’re all in the proper citation format that used to make us all crazy in high school).

I also do quite a bit of spot-checking as I go, ensuring I’ve quoted things correctly–and that involves a lot of back-and-forthing between books and articles. There’s a lot of heavy detail work that goes into biography (and history and other non-fiction) — and it always seems to take much more time I ever think it will.

It also means making a HUGE mess in the office, with piles on the desk, and on the floor.

Mess on the desk….
….and mess on the floor.

The production folks at Dutton are waiting to get their hands on this thing, so they can start doing all the work necessary to have Becoming Dr. Seuss in your hands by May. They’ve already done some really fun work in both their title page design and font selection. Take a peek:

If you’re interested in pre-ordering, there are brand new links to your favorite booksellers right here. And thanks for your interest! I appreciate you.

I’ve also been asked if there will be any appearances and signings. I don’t have any information yet, but as soon as I do, you’ll see it here. And here’s hoping I’ll have the chance to see a lot of you lovely people beginning in May.

The Home Stretch

I’m back on the corner of the couch in my office, going through my editor’s notes and copyedits–all of which need to be completed by January 15.  See ya in a week!

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