Rememeber Adam Mansbach? He brought a smile to the faces of millions of current and former exhausted parents of small children by authoring the picture book Go The F**K to Sleep. A surprise New York Times bestseller, it received a number of enthralling audio versions, including by Samuel L Jackson and – bewitchingly – Werner Herzog.
(If you haven’t seen these already, scroll to the bottom, without delay – warning bad language, etc, etc.)
For his latest trick, Mansbach – who also has a new novel, Rage Is Back – has published the syllabus for his new, imaginary university class, “English 401: the Short Novel”.
In the course, he explains at Salon.com, “we will analyse some of World Literature’s greatest short novels in an attempt to interrogate the essence of plot and character while reading as few words as possible”.
His lectures will mostly be rehashed Wikipedia summaries of the works. “But I will sound so authoritative and well-versed that you’d never know this, even if you had the book’s Wikipedia page open on the laptop you’re pretending to take notes on, rather than your Facebook newsfeed.”
As for marking, “My grading policy is to remain above the fray,” Mansbach intones.
Your assignments will be read by Scott, the Teaching Assistant. If you question me about your marks, I will plead ignorance. If pressed, I will strongly imply that Scott holds some kind of mystical or legal sway over me and that I am powerless to alter his decisions. Scott and I have worked all this out ahead of time; he is the Bad Cop and I am the Kindly Aloof Genius. Let me be clear: It would take a major act of God – not the kind of thing they consecrate saints for these days, but a plague of cigar-chomping Labradoodles plummeting from the heavens – for me to read a single word you have written.”
And an important, final note, under the heading “Academic Honesty”:
Please note that Scott is excellent at ferreting out plagiarism, particularly the incompetent, undergraduate variety in which the writing style veers from Late Caveman to Deconstructivist within a single paragraph. Plagiarism is an expellable offence, and I am obligated to report all incidents to the Dean.
Realistically, I doubt they’d expel you if your tuition check cleared, and there’s no way I’m reporting anything to the Dean. I don’t actually know who the Dean is, and the last thing I want to do is draw His attention. What I will be looking for is remorse, as expressed through tears or a certain ashen, petrified quality. I will then give you a zero on the paper, accept your gratitude stoically, and avoid making eye contact with you for the remainder of the semester.