David Javerbaum, the former executive producer for a program I’ve never watched, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, wrote a satirical memoir of God’s life and has run into a bit of trouble selling it. I know. Inconceivable. The Last Testament: a Memoir by God is the title. New York Magazine interviewed Javerbaum back in November and I’ll quote a few responses he had to their questions:
The Last Testament will not be on sale at Walmart, Target, or any of the other “big box” chains. My editor at Simon & Schuster and Jon Karp, the publisher, were surprised, but I suspected that if they wouldn’t stock America: The Book, they wouldn’t stock this one, either. Although these stores seem to have no qualms about selling piles of God’s two previous works.
I’m not sure what the definition of blasphemy is, but I know I’m guilty of it. There’s nothing in there that isn’t a joke or not based on something that’s true. God ran the manuscript by Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, and he worked with them before handing it in to make sure all three felt equally offended.
I did spend a fair amount of prep time reading the Old and New Testaments and the Koran. As someone not of that faith, I found the Koran’s style to be very repetitive. The New Testament is pretty good reading, and the main character is a very likable figure. And as a Jew, having grown up with the Old Testament — that’s just comedy gold.
Toronto’s paper, The Star, ran a piece about this book not long after, which is the article I’d run across first.
The satirical tome, written in God’s voice, is structured as chapter and verse. It presents a God that is by turns ironic, petulant, omniscient, playful, vengeful, boastful, bumbling, omnipotent and, more often than not, recklessly hilarious.
“The biggest joke is just that God would bother to do this,” says Javerbaum. “That God would use his last testament to make really cheap, ad hominem jokes about people like Andy Dick and Kate Gosselin.”
He also remarks on the fact that Simon & Schuster UK flat-out refused to publish it.
“The entire country of England is not carrying the book because Simon & Shuster UK refuses to publish it on the grounds that it is too inflammatory,” says Javerbaum. “I’m trying to make a bigger stink of this. It’s a stink that I think ought to be made.”
Argue on the grounds of age-appropriate content to keep certain books out of the hands of young children (the original bible comes to mind here) but when it comes to grown-ups pitching a hissy: nobody’s going to make you read it. Be offended because it exists if you want but remember that other people who recognize a joke when they see one should be allowed to enjoy it at leisure.
Javerbaum readily admits that he didn’t pick on Islam very much while writing. There was a doctored photo he’d planned to put in but agreed to omit it when his publisher asked. He’d planned to mock some architecture in what sounds like a very funny way – funny to anyone not Muslim, that is.
The section on Islam (the “Koranicles”) points out, more than once, the absence of any “Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad” in the book. God also indemnifies Simon & Schuster from all possible “outrage, fatwa, or all-out jihad.” But compared to what is written elsewhere about Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism, this section seemed relatively safe.
“That’s partly because I don’t want to get killed,” says Javerbaum. “And it’s partly because I have to write about things that my projected audience will know about. My projected audience doesn’t know much about Islam, they really don’t.”
Javerbaum has at least read the Koran. As quoted above, he found it “repetitive.”
It’s a pity it’s a religion that can’t be mocked as vocally as the rest but the believers who take it seriously are willing to dole out serious retribution for any slight or slur, sometimes to the point of attacking those who have little or no connection to the original offender. It does make it difficult for anyone who wants to point out what seems ludicrous or behind the times.
It’s a pity stores would try to keep the book out of the hands of the people, and it’s weird to me that S&S UK would try to avoid publishing it completely fearing some future criticism – lots of which they are getting now anyway. At least the lot of us now live in a culture steeped in the notion of a global community. This ultimately renders such tactics moot. Those who want it can have it. Now that I know the book exists, I want to have it. At least, I want my library to have it, which is why I’ve put in a request. They don’t have to buy everything people ask for, but they don’t tend to turn requests down very often. Not sure when I’ll have it in my eager little hands but hopefully I’ll get the thing read and feel like writing about it. I know I’ve been bad about not reporting on the books getting read over here. I’d promise to do better on this end but I wouldn’t want to set up too many high expectations…