Review: Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?

Dr. Seuss’s Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? is a book I knew by title long before I took the time to read it. I should also note that I think the question posed by the title is one that’s is critically important to ask of me and people like me. People who are, for example, able with little effort to do well in relatively-good public schools, go to a university, and graduate with little or no debt.

I suppose I should have known that a great title doesn’t make a great book, but I forgot. I also suppose I should have realized that Dr. Seuss is not exactly one to talk about the privileges I have had, but I forgot. So I found myself an odd mix of disappointed and satisfied when I finally took the chance to read the book.

Did I Ever Tell You… proceeds about the way you’d expect a Dr. Seuss book with that question in the title would. The narrator begins by telling about when he met a man in the Desert of Drize who “sang with a sunny sweet smile on his face:”

When you think things are bad,
when you feel sour and blue,
when you start to get mad…
you should do what I do!
Just tell yourself, Duckie,
you’re really quite lucky!
Some people are much more…
oh, ever so much more…
oh, muchly much-much more
unluckly than you!

From there, we of course proceed through a litany of terribly unfortunate people forced to do terribly scary or unfortunate things. All, of course, accompanied by the dynamic and colorful illustrations for which Dr. Seuss is so well known.

But all of it, as well-executed as it is, as much as I love the idea, left me disappointed. Surely there’s something to be said for my having held too much anticipation for too long to be quite satisfied with a children’s book, even one by Dr. Seuss.

I know it’s silly to criticize a children’s book for being too simplistic and diversionary, but that’s the problem I find myself having with Did I Ever Tell You…. The reality, I suppose, is that I don’t know how lucky I am. That there exists a single children’s book that asks one of the most essential questions that most Americans–and really most in the “first world”–need to grapple with at some time is a marvel. And for that alone, I should be at least a little satisfied. And I’m certain that should I have children, they will be repeatedly subjected the book, however imperfect I find it.

big ideas, poetry

In Praise of Simplicity

I think that one of greatest poems ever written is “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams. You’d be hard pressed to find something that said so much with so little:

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

The image is stark and clear, and though we may not know what the “so much” is that depends upon this beautiful image, it’s better that we’re left to guess.

I like to assume that “so much” is the fate of the known world. That all the things that I and you hold dear are at risk. Not in the absolute way that they may be threatened from an angry neighbor or a nuclear bomb, but something about our existence would be the less if this image didn’t happen. If this instant of reality wasn’t captured in these words.

But this poem isn’t great just because of its length and simplicity of structure. Surely poems have been written with fewer letters, or with a less delineated structure. This is about the density of the images and their meaning.

And don’t think that this is only about poems. I would contend that some of the greatest books, movies, and paintings are also starkly simple. The Little Prince or any Dr. Seuss is simple. But in their simplicity there is also something crucial. Saint Exupery’s story is brimming given its length. Dr. Seuss is fun, but he’s also teaching us something. Always teaching us something we really should know.

Movies. Too many people are too concerned with displaying the weakness of men, their personal struggles and the deeper meaning of those struggles. I’m not saying these aren’t worthy and sometimes interesting quests, but the measure of a films worth should not be the number of meanings that we can only guess at. David Lynch makes interesting movies, but they are not fun nor joyful.

Sometimes what we need is simple easy joy. Sometimes (maybe a lot) we need to put down The Brothers Karamazov and look for a time at a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water and just, for a time, soak in the glow of simplicity.