BEASTLY FEASTS! A Mischievous Menagerie in Verse

The Wall Street Journal
A Beastly Pursuit, in Rhyme
By Ralph Gardner Jr.
Updated Sept. 28, 2010 12:01 a.m. ET

I doubted that Robert Forbes—the son of the late Malcolm Forbes, the legendary publisher of Forbes magazine, hot-air-balloon enthusiast, and friend of Elizabeth Taylor—and I had anything in common. He has a 151-foot ocean-going yacht, the Highlander, with a helicopter deck (even though it’s been temporarily mothballed in deference to the dismal economy) and I don’t. He’s got a 1971 Lamborghini Espada, “arguably the most beautiful car ever made,” he said. My ’97 Honda CR-V has been in the shop for a week now. And the Forbes family had Richard Nixon over to dinner. “He loved red wine,” Mr. Forbes recalled. “In particular Châteaux Margaux.” Needless to say, Nixon and I never broke bread.

But it turned out that Bob Forbes and I do have something in common: a terrifying formative experience. We both had to wear short pants long after our grammar-school peers had graduated to trousers. Except in his case it was even worse. He had to wear kilts. “We all wore kilts to church on Sunday,” said the 61-year-old Mr. Forbes over lunch last week at Gotham Bar and Grill, the de facto Forbes empire commissary. “We kids all grew up entertaining on the boat; passing the shrimp; getting someone another cocktail. My three brothers and I all learned how to play the bagpipes.”

Talk about a drag, they had lessons both Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons. “Of course we hated it,” he went on, “but this is how the bread got buttered: a boatload of CEOs and their wives would go up the Hudson to West Point for the Army home games six times a year. After lunch Dad would gather everybody on the foredeck and we’d skirl a couple of tunes and Dad would give a little pitch. And then we’d line up on the dock and play ‘Will Ye No Come Back Again.’ ”

But didn’t he resent his father for making him expose his boney knees? I still hold it against my parents. I’d sneak a pair of long pants in my briefcase and change in the locker room the instant I arrived at school.

“What it did,” said the affable Mr. Forbes, these days the publisher of ForbesLife, the Forbes’ luxury lifestyle magazine, “it gave us all a bond. We all had to do this.”

As happy and well adjusted an adult as Mr. Forbes seems on the surface, I can’t help but believe his latest book, published this week, “Let’s Have A Bite! A Banquet of Beastly Rhymes,” with drawings by the New Yorker cartoonist Ronald Searle, isn’t the result of night terrors.

“The Giant Panda at the zoo just sits and chomps on fresh bamboo,” goes one poem. “His belly is like a cooking pot, Which happens when you eat a lot. He’s content to do not much but chew. Which is all he seems to do (That and poo!)”

People often take a stab at children’s books after reading “Goodnight Moon” to their own kids and becoming convinced they can do better. But Mr. Forbes hasn’t read to his son Miguel in decades. Miguel is in his thirties. Miguel is Forbes’s president of television and licensing.

It seems Mr. Forbes simply has crazy rhymes going through his head. He’ll wake up in the middle of the night, don his special Edward Beiner reading glasses with built-in reading lights, write for a couple of hours, roll over and go back to sleep.

“I write to amuse me,” he said. “I write stuff I’d like to read.” Such as, apparently, “A chicken-stewing cat named Shauna slipped on her sweat in the sauna. She moaned on the floor, ‘I must reach the door, Or I’ll be a fricasseed goner.’ ”

Mr. Forbes said he contacted Mr. Searle, who lives in the south of France, and whose work he collects, out of the blue, fully prepared to be rejected, but figuring it couldn’t hurt to ask. But Mr. Searle said yes. “I’ll write a couple of lines about the poem,” Mr. Forbes said of their collaborative process, “and a month or two later back this package comes with all these illustrations. It’s like a little boy opening a Christmas present.”

This is actually Mr. Forbes’ second book of poems and critters. The first, “Beastly Feasts,” also illustrated by Mr. Searle, was published in 2007. And Mr. Forbes shot the photography for “A Year of Dancing Dangerously,” about his wife Lydia Raurell’s successful quest to be crowned newcomer of the year on the pro-am ballroom dance circuit, though partnered with Brian Nelson, her professional dance partner.

Mr. Forbes divides his time between Manhattan, where he lives in Forbes Magazine worker housing, Palm Beach where his wife and Lamborghini reside, and the road, having just returned from dance competitions in Irvine, Calif., Las Vegas and Phoenix. “She’s three to four hours a day practicing with a coach,” he said of his wife. “She takes it very seriously.”

However, she’ll still condescend to dance with her husband. “Happily,” he said, “she lets me lead.”

And the poems keep coming. The drawings too. Last month the 90-year-old Mr. Searle delivered five more. “I’ve got at least two more books done by him,” Mr. Forbes said. “I have no idea whether my publisher will do it—but I don’t care.”

Two Heads Together

Young Adult Author Mega-Signing
March 28, 2013 by Ed

Some days are made for wandering and this past Sunday was one: sunny and brisk. We had an itinerary so we weren’t technically wandering. We were walking with a purpose.

Our first stop was Books of Wonder on 18th Street in Manhattan. As you YA readers know, David Levithan is everything YA: an author, an editor and an event planner. Through his efforts, this past Sunday Books of Wonder hosted a YA Author mega-signing, which turned out to be a mega-hit. Susan and I arrived at 1 P.M. for Beth Kephart’s 1:45 PM signing. It is a cute little store and as you enter, there are books staring you in the face…books that we would potentially want to buy. I quickly grabbed Kephart’s Small Damages and bemoaned the fact that they ran out of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park. (Don’t feel bad, when Susan heard a salesclerk say she’d check to see if there were any more copies, she hung around and grabbed the remaining one.) I’m glad she did, because Ms. Rowell was so sweet when I asked her to sign it.

I gave Susan my opinion on what book to buy and then I accosted Beth (who, as you know I’d never met before) as she was about to go out to get something to eat before her signing. Needless to say, that never happened. Beth, I hope you weren’t starving during your signing.

But then we had some time to kill and you know how dangerous that can be for book lovers in a bookstore. I snared a copy of Beastly Feasts by Robert L. Forbes and illustrated by Ronald Searle. Those face out covers really do attract readers. I merely glanced at the poems inside and that was that. I had to have it. And I finally succombed and purchased the Caldecott winning The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinckney. I love his artwork and I’ve been wanting it forever. Susan found a copy of a story book she loved when she was a kid. Her hand was shaking because she never thought she’d find another copy of it, anywhere.

Our day didn’t end there. After buying a ton a books, you need a cup of coffee, right? We went to 71 Irving Place, a coffee bar a few blocks away from Books of Wonder, on 18th Street, and had the best, and I mean the best, chocolate croissant. They had rice krispie treats that you couldn’t fit in your mouth, but we found those after the croissant. I should have bought one to take home. 71 Irving Place has a nice atmosphere and it’s crowded so you know it’s good. I highly recommend it.