October 18, 2010 - 4:00 am
In honor of Sam Halpern, the man whose candid quips catapulted his son’s book, “Sh*t My Dad Says,” to the top of The New York Times best-seller list, I’ll give it to you straight: This is the funniest book I have ever read. And this from a self-confessed literary snob, who prefers her reading top-shelf — which (the title’s a good indication) this is not.
Truth be told, I felt pretty awkward in the bookstore, when I had to ask for it by name. A number of people had recommended it to me, and if any of them had mentioned the author, Justin Halpern, his name wasn’t nearly as memorable as the title, itself. Anyway, I was quickly relieved of embarrassment when the clerk launched into her own enthusiastic ravings of the book’s hilarity.
Now the caveat: If you are sensitive to profanity, crude humor or brutal honesty, if you like it sugar-coated, Sam Halpern and this book are not for you. Nor, in fact, is this review, and you should stop reading. Right. Now.
“All I ask is that you pick up your shit so you don’t leave your bedroom looking like it was used for a gang bang. Also, sorry that your girlfriend dumped you,” are Sam Halpern’s tender words for his son, when, at the age of 28, he has broken up with his live-in and is forced to return to the nest and life with his dad, “the least passive-aggressive person on the planet.
Discovering an adult’s appreciation for the crude and comical, yet profound, wisdom of his father, it isn’t long before Halpern Jr. begins sharing it with his friends, publishing his dad’s quotes, via instant messenger: “It’s never a right time to have kids, but it’s always a right time for screwing. God’s not a dumb shit. He knows how it works.” Then comes a Twitter page, 300,000 followers, reporters, literary agents and TV producers. Less than a year later: the book, a television show, and now, 1.3 million Twitter fans.
Loosely, the story is a coming-of-age memoir, but it’s not as serious as this implies. Really, it’s a collection of humorous anecdotes. An early one covers potty training: “You are four years old. You have to shit in the toilet. This is not one of those negotiations where we’ll go back and forth and find a middle ground. This ends with you shitting in the toilet.” Others embrace the various trials and tribulations life doles out, like puberty and dating, seasoned, always, with the a frank, often brutal, usually accurate criticisms, comments and guidance of the author’s father, a retired nuclear doctor turned avid gardener.
“Well, I figure this book is about you and me. I mean, I’m the star, but you’re in it, too.” As usual, dad is spot on. What’s best about this book is what sits between quotation marks: Halpern Sr.’s hilarious and uncensored wit, temperament and wisdom. But, while the actual narrative can be very funny and is really what makes the book work as whole, the author has a tendency to step in the way of the story or he tries too hard, like in the conclusion where he forces sentimentality — lest the reader not get that his dad is a good and well-intentioned person. We get it. It’s obvious throughout. Anyway, this sort of makes you want to push him out of the way and borrow some lines from his dad: “No, don’t get creative. Now is not a creative time. Now is a bourbon and sweatpants time.”
That being said, this book snot is taking things way too seriously. What I really mean to say is: Just read it. It’s very funny shit!