There really are surprisingly few books about Mister Rogers. Outside of the books by Mr Rogers, I can really only find four. One I read and reviewed last year (The Peaceful Neighbor). One that I just found today, one that is self published (and very poorly reviewed) and this one, The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers.
The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers recounts Amy Hollingsworth’s friendship with Fred Rogers during the last 8 years of his life. She was a young mother and writer. She asked for an interview and unusually, she was given one.
This started what seems to be a real friendship, although one that was mostly via letter and the occasional phone call. It is hard to tell whether Hollingsworth is being modest about her friendship or whether she is making more of the friendship than was warranted (as a few reviewers have suggested.) My assumption is that the friendship was real and her stories are genuine admiration. The stories and quotes from letters seem to suggest a real friendship. But there is also a lack of new insight into Mr Rogers that seems odd. I have not read much about Fred Rogers, but there was little that was new here.
In attempting to make this about ‘spiritual insights’ instead of straight memoir or biography Hollingsworth over-uses uses the metaphor of ‘toast sticks’. When Fred Rogers was a boy, an older woman that lived near him would feed him sticks of toast. Not long before she died, she taught him to make the sticks of toast himself. So the central metaphor is Hollingsworth attempting to teach us the spiritual lessons that she learned from Mister Rogers.
The book has more about Amy Hollingsworth than I am really interested in, but as a spiritual memoir of sorts it certainly isn’t the worst I have read. And there is what feels like authentic reminiscence of Mister Rogers.
One thought that I had while writing is that even though the friendship was relatively recent 1994 until his death in 2002, it feels like a friendship from an earlier generation. Mister Rogers was a generation older and there is a paternal affection that seems to carry through the stories. But their friendship was cross-gender, something that is never remarked upon. I think it the fact that this friendship was almost entirely through hand written letters makes it different from what is currently expected of a friendship. As I have read several biographies of CS Lewis and his massive correspondence and more recently the correspondence between Alexander Hamilton and others of a generation prior to even telephones, it does feel like we have missed something. Hamilton’s biographer frequently notes unsent letters. Today there are few letters that would be saved, let alone keeping letters that were unsent.
I am glad I read The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers. But I am still surprised that there has not been a more comprehensive biography written. This is a book that is interesting because of the subject. But not particularly because of the great writing or insight.
I did watch two full episodes of Mister Rogers and some clips from other episodes with my 2 year old last night. It is interesting to see how it translates to a new generation.