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Ode to a Four-Letter Word

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Not that this is always easy to do. Literature also offers us the pleasure of identification, and it is as comforting to feel at home in a book as in a locution or a location. Case in point: Last year, I gave a reading at a bar in the East Village—which is, along with a few select mountain ranges, the closest thing I have to a spiritual home. I took the opportunity to read aloud all the passages in my book that contain profanity. I did this partly as sideways homage to my more squeamish readers: Ever the polite kid, I was swearing out of my mother’s earshot. Come to think of it, I probably also did it in homage to my multilingual father and his unbounded, irreverent eloquence. “You taught me language,” Caliban says to Prospero in The Tempest, “And my profit on ’t / Is I know how to curse.”

Mainly, though, I did it as a kind of love letter to New York. At this point I’d been on the road for months, giving G-rated talks and generally doing whatever I could to make Mom and Miss Manners proud. I missed my home, my friends—even, strangely, my book: the way it felt to me when, like a toddler, it was still keeping me up at night. I was bored by the grown-up version of it, or maybe by the grown-up version of me. The New Yorkers assembled for my reading—bless their dirty, nerdy hearts—did not seem inclined to dock me a star for my use of profanity. There are other ways to say this, but none so exactly right: I was very fucking glad to be home.

Go the Fuck to Sleep
Adam Mansbach.
Akashic Books. $14.95.


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