|Ricardo Cortés and Adam Mansbach at Brookline Booksmith
Copright ©2011 by Michael A. Burstein. All rights reserved.
I wrote about the book a few weeks ago in my The Brookline Parent column for Brookline Patch, under the title Exasperation Expressed. At the time, I didn't know that the authors were actually home-grown, as it were; both of them grew up in Newton, and attended Newton high schools. (Whereas I grew up in New York City and moved up here. But I digress.) In my column, I discussed the book as a phenomenon, and how it expressed a frustration that a lot of parents have felt when trying to get their kids to go to sleep.
Although Nomi and I tend to be more circumspect in our own use of language, we're both fascinated by the use of taboo words in English. Nomi comes to it naturally, with her linguistics background; I come to it from a writer's perspective, as I sometimes ponder how and when a character would choose to use a word. So we had no problem attending a reading laced with taboo words, as we knew what we were getting into.
Mansbach was an excellent lecturer. One of the things I appreciated was that he really had the right attitude about the minor phenomenon his book has become: a slightly detached bemusement at how much it was struck a chord with people. He and Cortés discussed the book, and Mansbach did his own dramatic reading. I briefly considered recording it, but in the end decided not to. (Even if I had, I wouldn't have the rights to post it.) However, I'd encourage him to do his own audiobook version if he has the chance, because his own reading felt quite authentic.
Given that the text of the book was so short, Mansbach had plenty of time to answer questions. The more I heard, the more I liked.
On the controversy of the book, Mansbach noted that it is made pretty clear that the book is not for children. One parental watchdog group in New Zealand said that in the wrong hands of an abusive parent, the book could be damaging to children, to which Mansbach pointed out that in the wrong hands a spoon could be damaging to children. In my opinion, if a parent really chose to read this book to their young child when trying to get that child to go to sleep, that he or she probably has some other problems.
On the profanity in the book, Nomi and I were delighted when he made a point of noting how the book is mostly filled with vulgarity and not profanity. Like us, he understands and makes the distinction among the different types of taboo language out there. The fact is that the book only has about three or four uses of profanity; most of the book presents vulgarity and obscenity, which is not the same thing.
One audience member asked Mansbach about whether he wishes the fame he had gotten came from one of his serious novels. He pointed out that he's been asked this question in a lot of media interviews, and his answer is that he's delighted that the book has made him more well known, as it does help shine a spotlight on his other work. That's true. I'll admit that I'd not heard of him before, but I'm now planning to take a look at his novels.
I also appreciated his attitude about the leaked PDF of the book. In the early days of the book's publicity, the PDF that had been sent to some authors for blurbs went viral and was pirated all over the Internet. At first, Mansbach tried to stop the PDFs from being posted, and he usually approached the posters in a friendly way, reminding them that the book wasn't even published yet and asking them to "chill." He said that one person who had posted the PDF on Facebook offered to take it down, but pointed out that it had sent his 300 friends to pre-order the book on Amazon. Which made Mansbach pause. In the end, he saw the value of the leaked PDF as spreading the word and not really cutting into the book's sales. But he did note that this did not mean he endorsed piracy of people's work in general. I think that's the right attitude to take. (I told him when we met that I had actually tried to get people I knew to stop linking to the PDF, and I would also remind them that if they liked the book they should buy it to support the author.)
(Another aside: I found it interesting that Amazon played a prominent role in the book's story, because for a while there the Amazon page was the only marketing that the book had. I kind of wonder how the Booksmith staff felt about Mansbach referring to Amazon semi-frequently throughout the presentation, but I guess they're used to it by now.)
After the Q & A had ended, Nomi and I lined up with our copy of the book that we had bought at Booksmith for signing. (We also have a copy we bought elsewhere, which was a second printing; Booksmith only had third printings at this point. I kind of wish we had managed to get a first printing signed, but we'll take what we can get. And I always support the bookstore hosting a signing by buying the book there.)
When we got to the signing table, I delivered a message of greeting from a friend of a friend at the University of Wisconsin who knew Mansbach, and Nomi and I shared a few words with him about how much we appreciated his talk. We were glad we got the chance to meet him and get the book signed.
And I shouldn't neglect Cortés. Although he spoke less than Mansbach did, he talked about his own creative process in choosing the illustrations for the book and how it was a collaborative effort. Personally, I feel that the book wouldn't work nearly as well without the imagination that went into the accompanying illustrations.