Sunday, August 4, 2013

intercourse this book

I spent part of my afternoon at a bookstore, a passion I have, and was excited when I discovered that a book I'd heard of, Under the Overpass:  A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America by Mike Yankoski, was there.  I found the copy and settled into one of the overstuffed chairs that seem to have become rare in many of the chains, expecting to read through at least a chapter, maybe two.

But I barely had opened it when I growled "bullshit" and slammed it shut and replaced it on the shelf.  On the third page ran this exchange:
That's when the chaos hit.
"Who you think you are? You piece of...!" Marco, the undisputed leader of the gang at the mouth of the park, was screaming at a guy in front of him.
I frowned.  I don't know anyone who has spent any time on the street who would stop himself from saying "shit," assuming that's the word Marco was about to use.  Then I flipped through the pages:  not a single "shit," "piss," "fuck," "bastard," "asshole," or "damn." Not even a "hell" in the whole intercoursing book. 

That's when I saw this "Note to the Reader" nestled between the forward and the story proper:
Before you take the first step on this journey, I need to tell you something. Common street lingo isn't pretty.  People can pack more explitives and profanities into one sentence than you'd think possible. Vulgarities and crude insults become part of everyday conversation, even between friends.  But out of respect of our readers and the standards of this publisher [!], this element of street life is not present in the pages you're about to read.

Well, fuck that shit.  He presents a solid image on the cover above, looking for all the world like a real traveling kid straight out of LATFO.  But Such neutering goes beyond mere toning down:  for the past century writers fought a hard battle to present the language of the people as they speak it.  Even in the 30s and 40s we had authors using "sh_t" and "d_mn" in order to fulfill their contractual agreement not to sear the eyeballs of virgin readers.  No one in contemporary America is more subject to the whims of authors who are not members of their tribe than the homeless, hustlers, buskers, travelers and assorted street denizens.  To misrepresent their voices in order to save the wilting flowers of Multnomah Books embarrassment is not is not on a par with, say, causing them bodily injury, but it is like spitting in their eyes.

Mike Yankoski, you are not worth my time.
Update:  Would it suprise anyone that Multnomah, publisher of Under the Overpass, also published this book within our lifetimes?

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