One of the greatest things that ever happened to me was finding my own book—Wish You Were Here—on the list of 100 Most Banned Books of 1995. I was leafing through the “Authors’ Guild Bulletin,” and there it was. In very good company, I might add. I could hardly believe it! I wasn’t like the book sold a gazillion copies or anything like that. Later, I figured out that my book probably made the list because it had been nominated for a number of state book prizes and, thus, came to the attention of people who have a problem with—
The funny thing is, I’d toned the book’s language down, removing “fuck” and replacing it with “screw” throughout because of my publishers’ concern, which I almost instantly regretted having done. All too often a kid would point out that this didn’t ring right, and I agreed. So I was really happy when Flux decided to reprint the book in paperback this year, especially because when I told my editor Andrew Karre that I was sorry I'd taken the “fucks” out of the book, he cheerfully replied, “Put them back in!”
So I am celebrating (the very end of) Banned Book Week with this passage from Wish You Were Here, one which I think is so much truer for its “bad” language. It takes place in a cemetery, where the main character, Jax, and his friend, Brady, are visiting the grave of a friend. Brady speaks first:
“I used to tell her, ‘You get too bent out of shape about this shit. You want an instant reaction. If you really want to make them crazy, you have to sustain fucking up. You have to fuck up over the long run.’ You know what I mean, Jax?”
It’s dark. I guess he can’t see me well enough to see I have no clue what he’s talking about.
“I have a theory about this,” he says, pompous as a teacher. “Take Jim Morrison, man. The ultimate fuckup, you think. I know this guy who went to his grave in Paris. It’s a mecca for fuckups, he said. Every fuckup in the world wants to go to Jim’s grave. But I say Morrison was an amateur. He got to twenty-seven. Big deal. My theory is that you haven’t really fucked up until there’s no possible way you can redeem yourself. You catch my drift?”
My face must be blank because Brady goes on as if he’s speaking to a retarded person.
“Morrison was twenty-seven, Jax. A baby. Joplin, Hendrix. Babies. Mama Cass, stoned, choking on a goddamn ham sandwich. Belushi, even. Babies, all of them. But let’s talk about Elvis! Elvis made it to forty-two, a fat, pill-popping slob. A spoiled brat. ‘Bring me girls! Bring me cheeseburgers!’ This guy made fucking up an art form. And the beauty of it is, he didn’t even know he was fucking up. He didn’t even try. It came natural to him. He was the king, all right! Of fucking up. Yeah, King Fuckup.”
I’ll stop there, to avoid giving away what happens next—except to say that it was fun just typing all those "fucks" and I’m really, really glad I put them back in the book.