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May 6, 2012

Paul Levine on What His Mom Read Him as a Child

Paul Levine worked as a newspaper reporter, a law professor and a trial lawyer before becoming a full-time novelist. Obviously, he cannot hold a job. Paul claims that writing fiction comes naturally: he told whoppers for many years in his legal briefs. His books have been translated into 23 languages, none of which he can read. In Germany, for reasons he does not understand, he is published under the name "Polly Levine." For more about Paul Levine, author of the Jake Lassiter and Solomon vs. Lord series, visit his website at Here, he talks about the stories his mother read to him as a child. 

Oh, how I yearned to see India.

I blame my mother for this.

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother, Sally Levine, reading Rudyard Kipling’s poetry and stories.  There was, of course, “The Jungle Book.”  There was “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” the brave mongoose and talking bears and panthers. There were stories of the abandoned boy Mowgli, raised by wolves in the Indian jungle, which sounded pretty cool to a child living in dairy farming country of central Pennsylvania in the 1950's. 

In one story --- “Tiger, Tiger” --- Mowgli goes to a village where he is adopted by a family grieving over a lost son.  But all is not well.  Mowgli does not easily adjust to living with people.  And the tiger he once drove from the wolf pack returns to kill him.  Fear not.  The ever-clever Mowgli stampedes a buffalo herd and tramples the tiger to death.  Hey, this ain’t Mother Goose.

I loved the poems that came at the beginning and the end of the stories.  Here’s one from “Tiger Tiger,” and no, I didn’t remember it all these years.  I had to look it up.

“What of the hunting, hunter bold?
Brother, the watch was long and cold.
What of the quarry ye went to kill?
Brother, he crops in the jungle still.
Where is the power that made your pride?
Brother, it ebbs from my flank and side.
Where is the haste that ye hurry by?
Brother, I go to my lair to die!”
I believe my love of a good story stems from these early tales, read to me by my mother.  Many years later, I would earn my living in a jungle of a different kind, courtrooms across the state of Florida.  And later still, I would invent my own courtroom stories.  I didn’t write about wolves or tigers or panthers, but some of the characters in sleek Italian suits bore a strong resemblance to sharks.

As for my storytelling...I blame my mother for that, too.