Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Mirror for Everyman Robert Fulghum Says His Books Carry the Message of `Me, Too'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Mirror for Everyman Robert Fulghum Says His Books Carry the Message of `Me, Too'

Article excerpt

THE NIGHT before granting this telephone interview, Robert Fulghum tossed the ceremonial first pitch at a Baltimore Orioles-Seattle Mariners baseball game. A ground-level view of the national pastime is just one of the privileges Fulghum's celebrity confers. Although he is a warm, engaging conversationalist, his notoriety doesn't derive from the fact that he is a nice guy. Fulghum's increasing fame results from his participation in what has become a publishing phenomenon.

His first book, "All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten," maintained top ranking on The New York Times best-seller list for 96 weeks. His subsequent titles, "It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It" and "Uh-Oh," have helped Fulghum generate the kind of staggering sales figures most authors can only dream about.

Fulghum's books are quick reads, which may contribute to their awesome popularity. Full of brief, often humorous observations about everyday occurrences, they blend homespun philosophy and old-fashioned sentiment in a way that continues to strike a favorable chord among book buyers.

Immense popularity seldom occurs without attracting the scorn of literary critics, and Fulghum's case has been no exception. His books frequently have been derided as sappy, superficial and corny. Fulghum believes that people who make such comments are missing the point.

"It means they've just sort of skipped through and read the lighter things," Fulghum said. "All of my books have the darker, deeper sides of life in them."

His latest book, "Maybe (Maybe Not)," appears to support Fulghum's contention. Subtitled "Second Thoughts From a Secret Life," it mines familiar sources of Americana such as barbershop tall tales and the proliferation of junk mail, but it also explores far more somber subjects such as suicide and divorce. Fulghum addressed many of the serious topics by recalling his own personal experiences. He said he is now less hesitant to use a confessional approach.

"There's not as much confession in the previous books. It's much more difficult to talk about yourself because my reason for writing is to be useful to other people. Talking about oneself tends to be self-indulgent if you're not successful."

However, Fulghum realizes that literature becomes more memorable to readers when authors weave personal experience into the narrative. He cited as examples Maya Angelou's "I Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey" and the stories in the Bible. "We don't remember the theology, the begats and beguns, but we do remember the story of the good Samaritan. It transcends religion and it transcends time because it speaks to where we live."

In "Maybe (Maybe Not)," Fulghum devotes a passage to his own suicide attempt, which took place 25 years ago. He drove out into the desert to kill himself, but he suddenly saw taking his life as the ultimate meaningless act.

"And I began to think of my ancestors," he writes, "considering that I was alive now because a lot of men and women before me had been able to take whatever life threw at them and go on. …

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