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Go the F*** to Sleep was funny, sure, but its imitators are merely crass.

October 27, 2011

Adam Mansbach

Some jokes are so good they render themselves instantly obsolete. I’m referring to Go the F*** to Sleep, already spawning knock-offs as the author, Adam Mansbach, prepares for his Miami Book Fair appearance next month.

Where’s that f****** pendulum when you need it?!? You know, the one they used to say would always swing in the other direction? I’m ready, at least when it comes to what was once quaintly called “salty” language.

Visit the Miami Book Fair International website to see the glittering author list (Roseanne Cash! Jeffrey Eugenides! Nicole Kraus! Michael Ondaajte! Hundreds more! Literally!). This year’s fair runs Nov. 13-20. More details to come. Watch this space!

After reading in USAToday about a new book called If You Give a Kid a Cookie, Will He Shut the F*** Up, by Marcy Roznick, I’m starting to itch for a return to buttoned-up, buttoned-down, Victorian-era standards of propriety.

I mean, it’s the exact same joke! 

Using the F word to express parental frustration by way of a children’s book parody was really clever and witty and, in a way that obviously struck a nerve with a lot of young parents, liberating — at least when Mansbach did it back in the halcyon days of, uh, June.

Roznick’s book is nothing but a naked attempt to cash in — what I think of as a “Me too! Me too!” book. Her publisher cheerfully admits it was “inspired” by Mansbach’s book.

“Whether they verbalize it or not, every parent has that moment when they want the kid to shut the f— up,” says St. Martin’s Press executive editor Marc Resnick. “It’s a book for adults who have heard these words. If you don’t like, don’t buy it. Books have a lot to compete with these days.”

The USA Today story is not just about Roznick’s book, however, but the growing acceptance of profanity and vulgarity in all realms of culture. Bad words are especially making fresh inroads in publishing, reports Deirdre Donahue, citing S*** My Dad Says, by Justin Halpern, and A******* Finish First, by Tucker Max.

What’s the big deal? Movies, and even grown-up books have been free with the bad words for decades. I’ll never forget encountering “motherf******” in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five when I first read it as a tot around 1969.

The answer to that question: General books, and I suppose titles, remain a last bastion of decorum, where vulgarity can still shock and amuse — and help sell.

“No matter how much cursing, sex and violence is on TV and in movies and music, people still get a little thrill out of seeing a curse word on a printed and bound book on a bookstore shelf,” says Stefanie Kiper, a bookseller at Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, N.H. “They sell with absolutely no help from us.”

Mansbach gets a pass for originality. Good for you, guy, ha-ha, I thought it was amusing, too. Go count your royalties in peace — and, by the way, we expect you to be highly charming and funny when you’re at the book fair.

Oddly enough, the excessive use of “adult” language is actually an expression of the increasing infantilization of American culture. Maybe books like If You Give a Kid a Cookie, Will He Shut the F*** Up will incite a rising of the collective gorge. Maybe enough of us will begin to reject coarseness and vulgarity in the arts.

As a rabid exponent of free expression I never thought I’d be making this argument, but consider: The value of obscene or profane language and images lies in their shock value. When the use of dirty words becomes so normative that it’s cute to see them in parodies of children’s books, then I think its safe to say the shock value has worn almost completely off.

So join me, everyone! Put your shoulder to that rusty pendulum. All together we can swing it in the other direction! Just think: Eventually it will arc all the way over to repression and then we can start shocking each other again! Oh what fun that will be!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2011 7:46 pm

    I can’t help but laugh at the irony. Having had three babies and now six grandkids, I would have loved to have written that book. BUT, crude is crude and I am not. Where are we, a society of the world’s best people (as a whole) heading? Is there not a thing in life we hold dear? I am going to put lead weights around my ankles when I hang onto the pendulum.
    Hey, Baby didn’t ask to be born in this crazy age. Let’s see, Stone Age, IceAge, F;;;;;;Age. That is it. The age of being foul.

  2. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    October 27, 2011 9:21 pm

    I’m as hip to the poetry of vulgarity as anyone — where would David Mamet or Robert DeNiro be without the F word? — but I’d like to remind the culture that poetry can be found in restraint, too.

  3. December 5, 2011 9:23 am

    I love your blog. Nice job.🙂
    “Fail Harder” – Mark Zuckerberg

  4. orangenavel@yahoo.com permalink
    March 3, 2012 2:35 pm

    Thank you for your blog. With regards the THAT CRASS FU*ING BOOk, I find it utterly disturbing to publicize, encourage, normalize, and make light of such aggressive language and energy directed at our children. They are the most precious, light-filled, innocent and loving beings – no matter how much they make us want to scream and pull our hair out at times. Some parents, with the lowest of IQs are subject to taking this joke seriously. This is not how we should be encouraged to engage with our children. That may not have been the intention behind the book. But some dumbass out there aint gonna get the joke!

    Please, lets all try to be adult-like as parents and try to hold it together for the sake of our children. Lets do our best to preserve their sweetness and innocence, and remember that they learn to respect themselves and others from the “adults” in their lives.

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