I’ve never read any of Maurice Sendak’s books. Not even “Where the Wild Things Are, though I’ve seen it everywhere plenty of times, unsurprisingly. However, today I came across a list of the grumpiest writers in history and Sendak was on there; one of his interviews was linked, and I clicked on it, and the man speaks – spoke – so much truth that I just had to post some of his answers here.
BLVR: What do you think of e-books?
MS: I hate them. It’s like making believe there’s another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of book. A book is a book is a book. I know that’s terribly old-fashioned. I’m old, and when I’m gone they’ll probably try to make my books on all these things, but I’m going to fight it like hell. [Pauses] I can’t believe I’ve turned into a typical old man. I can’t believe it. I was young just minutes ago.
BLVR: Is the problem with e-books partly a problem of color?
MS: Yes. Picture books depend on color, largely. And they haven’t perfected the color in those machines. But it’s not that. It’s giving up a form that is so beautiful. A book is really like a lover. It arranges itself in your life in a way that is beautiful. Even as a kid, my sister, who was the eldest, brought books home for me, and I think I spent more time sniffing and touching them than reading. I just remember the joy of the book; the beauty of the binding. The smelling of the interior. Happy.
BLVR: Are you happy now?
MS: [Sighs] My friends are all dying. They have to die. I know that. I have to die. But two friends died last week. I was completely broken by it. One was a publisher in Zurich. I loved him and his wife. It’s the loneliness that’s very bad. They’re doing what is natural. If I was doing what was natural I would be gone, like they are. I just miss them, terribly.
. . .
I’m totally crazy, I know that. I don’t say that to be a smartass, but I know that—whatever that means—it’s the very essence of what makes my work good. And I know my work is good. Not everybody likes it, that’s fine. I don’t do it for everybody. Or anybody. I do it because I can’t not do it.
. . .
But as far as I was concerned, winning the war was such an amazing and happy moment. We thought Hitler might just win. When the war ended—this was simplistic of me—I thought, That’s the end of all evil.
The world is as disheveled as it was then. But I was a child then. The shock of thinking of the people I will never know was terrible. The photographs my father had of his younger brothers, all handsome and interesting looking, and the women with long hair and flowers. And who were they? I tried to give them back to my parents when I illustrated some short stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer. Marvelous stories. And I went through the album and picked some of my mother’s relatives and some of my father’s and drew them very acutely. And they cried. And I cried. So there was that. And there still is that.
BLVR: Do you make any concession to times changing? Do you worry that children now are different from how you were then?
MS: No. There are rich kids, there are poor kids, that’s the only difference. Some kids get more than others. I don’t really like all kids. I’m not sentimental. If I’d had a kid, I would have had a daughter. They’re kinder than boys. Smarter. More intuitive and sensitive. If you have to have a kid, you might has well have a daughter.
BLVR: What kinds of things do children write to you about?
MS: Usually it’s awful, because they don’t feel the urge to write themselves—a few of them do, but usually it’s “Dear Mr. Sendak, Mrs. Markowitz said would you please send a free book and two drawings?” When they write on their own, they’re ferocious. After Outside Over There, which is my favorite book of mine, a little girl wrote to me from Canada: “I like all of your books, why did you write this book, this is the first book I hate. I hate the babies in this book, why are they naked, I hope you die soon. Cordially…” Her mother added a note: “I wondered if I should even mail this to you—I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.” I was so elated. It was so natural and spontaneous. The mother said, “You should know I am pregnant and she has been fiercely opposed to it.” Well, she didn’t want competition, and the whole book was about a girl who’s fighting against having to look after her baby sister.
BLVR: You find the unvarnished truth consoling, even if it’s vicious and painful.
MS: If it’s true, then you can’t care about the vicious and the painful. You can only be astonished. Most kids don’t dare tell the truth. Kids are the politest people in the world. A letter like that is wonderful. “I wish you would die.” I should have written back, “Honey, I will; just hold your horses.”
You can go here for the entire interview. You won’t be disappointed.