O'TOOLE: Local author captivates with new book of essays

Sue William Silverman has a way with titles.
Mar 4, 2014

Her nonfiction books include “Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir,” “Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction” and “Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You.”

The last one doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. But it punched me in the solar plexus, winded me, and made me long to know how a little girl could be terrorized by her father and live to write about it — especially when that very girl was pictured on the cover; her sweet smile incongruous with her dark, wounded eyes.

Her titles caught my attention, but it was Silverman’s writing that kept me reading page after page. It is so good that I highlighted and underlined whole passages, and copied my favorite pithy sentences into my journal.

I became completely enamored of Silverman and her writing. When I found out she lived in Grand Haven, well, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t known it all along. Where were the signs at the bridge proclaiming, “Welcome to Grand Haven, Home of Sue William Silverman, Award-Winning Author”? I’ve seen signs like that for Olympic athletes. Why not an author? City Council members: If you’re reading this, I ask you to consider it.

If you can’t tell, I have an author crush. And when I learned Silverman would publish a new memoir on March 1, I turned back flips. Or, I would have, if I could have backflipped without permanent spinal damage.

The title? “The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew.”

“Pat Boone” is a collection of essays, mini-memoirs that retell myriad events in Silverman’s life. She finds herself swimming against the current, struggling against the tide of American culture, trying to reach herself and trying to reach home.

My favorite memoirs map an author’s journey of self-discovery, making me feel that I am traveling alongside the author, exploring her psyche with her, witnessing her movements and emotions, discovering herself as she does and maybe even discovering myself. “Pat Boone” does exactly that. 

Now, I’m as WASP-y as they come and my faithful readers know I’m an Elvis girl, and Elvis girls can’t be Pat Boone girls. Those differences matter little, however, when I’m reading Silverman’s book.

At times, she addresses the reader directly. Even when she doesn’t, I feel as if I am right there beside her. I’m sitting next to her at Calvary Reformed Church in Holland, watching Pat Boone sing during the Tulip Festival; lying beside her in an apricot orchard in a kibbutz on the night Apollo 11 lands on the moon; drinking Seven and Sevens with her in a Galveston gay bar with strobing neon lights beneath the transparent dance floor. Her sojourn takes her to St. Thomas, Washington, D.C., Texas, Georgia, and Grand Haven. And there I go, as well.

Should I make myself less different so I feel included? Or should I make myself more different so I feel autonomous? Where and when do I feel most comfortable in my own skin? Who am I? Why am I?

These questions are not new, yet Silverman makes them seem fresh. Does she answer these riddles? I don’t want to spoil the book for potential readers, so I won’t say. But I will say that her quest to answer them makes for captivating reading.

When I’m truly smitten with a book, I can’t help reading it multiple times. I’ve read “Pat Boone” from beginning to end three times. I’ve relished finding something new that speaks to me with every reading. What speaks to me loudest and clearest is Silverman’s desire for Pat Boone, a pop culture icon, to save her from her troubled childhood. I, too, have been “misloved” and looked to a pop icon for hope.

But because it’s an essay collection, I don’t have to read it from beginning to end. Sometimes I feel like reading “Prepositioning John Travolta.” Yes, that’s right — prepositioning. There’s an example of Silverman’s humor.

Other times, “The Fireproof Librarian” calls to me or “Fahrvergnugen: A Road Trip Through a Marriage.”

Sue William Silverman will read from the book at the July meeting of The Bookman Book Club. Discussion will follow. The meeting takes place at the Grand Haven book store at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 26. It’s free to attend and open to the public.

“The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew” is available now at The Bookman.

— By Kelly O'Toole, Tribune community columnist



Your review of Silverman's collection of essays is making me drool over finding a copy. That's what's good about essays, they don't have a specific story to follow. They are free-flowing and yet cohesive at the same time. Marj, an Australian essay writer.

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