Review: Karen Santorum's
Book on Good Manners
(with a story on "the birth of napkins", by Rick Santorum)
Everyday Graces: A Child's Book of Good Manners
Edited, with commentary, by Karen Santorum
Foreword by Joe Paterno
(ISI Books, Wilmington Delaware, 2003)
A review of Karen Santorum's little known "etiquette book" from 2003 reveals a grab-bag of delightful car-wrecks and chuckles
Oh boy, when you have a funny item from the recent past, it can be a lot of fun to post details about it on a website. Here is such an item. Around 2003, while Rick Santorum was still a Senator for Pennsylvania, his wife Karen published a book on manners, entitled "Everyday Graces: A Child's Book of Good Manners". The book (400 pages in length) has not aged well. Or, depending on your perspective, it has aged beautifully, into something wonderfully self-satirizing and bent.
Praise for Santorum's book:
"It's also a book of manners for rock stars"
— Bono from U2
(back cover blurb!)
Karen Santorum says in the introductory "Note to Parents," that she created this collection to teach manners "through literature that illustrates the connection between good manners and good character." A noble goal, but this message is coming from a person who represents the most disapproving segments of our society. And so the first thing I thought of when looking at this book — which is a 400 page anthology of "classic stories, poems, myths, and fables" — I first asked myself, what would the Santorums think of the actual authors' lifestyles?
And of the authors that are dead, what would they think of being connected to one another by Santorum?
The good joke is Santorum's book is packed with drug users, perverts, feminists, dangerous subversives, and even leads off with a story from a novelist who scandalized his friends and family for pursuing "an unconventional marriage". We'll address all these in a moment (and get to the hilarious Bono connection too), but first off, the biggest joke to be found in the book is its cover plate, which luminously indicates in the fanciest of script: "Foreword by Joe Paterno".
Joke Number One:
Foreword by Joe Paterno
Do you think he'll be aborted from future reprintings?
"A Foreword by Joe Paterno" on a book about decent manners with children is the sort of thing that makes an audible clunking sound effect when you read it, it has so much contemporary irony. It's not his fault that Penn State had a sex predator, but Paterno's behavior of not notifying authorities about Jerry Sandusky is Paterno's fault, and a significant act of bad manners. So in an essay directed at children, it's tough not to wince (or giggle) when Paterno barks out the RULES:
Good manners are simple ways to show respect for parents, friends, classmates, fellow workers, or strangers.
In sports and elsewhere in society, it is all too often evident that we've neglected to teach our young people good manners. When we ignore teaching good manners, we invite a decline of civility and a coarsening of society.
Mannerly conduct reinforces respect for others. And when good manners become habits, they deepen our commitment to sharing a common life and pursuing a common purpose.
At the end of the foreword, we are informed that Paterno "measures team success not by the number of games won, but by character and conduct" — I will personally send money to Karen Santorum if she keeps this foreword in a later pressing of this book. Right from page one, as is the case with almost all things Santorum, the book has become self-parody. But, friends, Dan Savage is correct, it gets much better!
Joke Number Two:
Bono's Endorsement of Santorum
Oh, there are no do-overs in life, but I'm sure Bono would like to undo this one. Or maybe it makes those silly Spiderman songs less tacky? Not only is Bono a fan of Karen Santorum, he's also a contributor to the book. Santorum reprints the lyrics of "Grace" from U2 — and Boy, what a title to pick. I've always thought "Grace" was about dirty sex:
She takes the blame / She covers the shame
Removes the stain / It could be her name
(Everyday Graces, pg 235 — "Grace" by Bono)
"It's also a book of manners for rock stars" — Bono
This is the first example of many which displays Karen's absolute tone-deaf ear for picking appropriate material to read to, or be read by, children. Where and in what universe do you want to teach a child the rhyme "She covers the shame and Removes the stain"? But that's a digression.
Joke Number Three:
Rick Santorum on: "The Birth of Napkins"
(From a Birth of a Nation to a Birth of a Napkin.)
It was a tough slog to get through this book, believe me. But the sky opened up and rained down Santorum right on my loving face when I got to page 127, and was greeted with the story "Daniel Place's Gift" by Rick Santorum. Actual Santorum Fiction! You are welcome:
Rick is an extremely sanitary person, so it makes sense he would write about the birth of the napkin. It's a story that will make you wipe ... your eyes ... it's very sentimental.
Veering further and further into self-parody, "Daniel Place's Gift" is Rick Santorum's invented story of a girl named Anne Marie, who is about to "marry a prince from the faraway land of Paterjohn" (Pat her, John? ... Also, a friend informs me "Pater" is Latin for "father" adding even funnier context; a daughter wanting to marry a man who is her dad.)
Even in Santorum fiction, there is harsh moralizing about the "better and worse" in society, based on their lifestyles:
Over the last few months, [Anne Marie's father] worked hard to earn money to rent a nice hall to hold a fine feast. But he was still worried, because his daughter told him that the people in Paterjohn did not eat as crudely as did the people of his village.
So, the story goes. The father, an obvious hippie, has no idea what he is doing, and is saved one night by an angel who helps out with setting the table. The father had hand-carved a bunch of nice wooden cups for the event, but the angel throws those out (I'm not joking) and changes them into glorious glass goblets and a bunch of nice silverware. The story is about setting the table and about rejecting hand-made craftsmanship in favor of pricey glassware.
Then we are told the angel is very upset. "The fork looks so lonely ... What can I do next? I don't have any silverware left to place next to it." And then: "the little angel started to cry."
Behold Rick Santorum, the writer:
...the angel pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket to wipe his tears. Suddenly, he stopped crying. "That's it!" I can put a nicely folded handkerchief on each plate so that people can wipe their faces when they are eating!" And so napkins were invented.
Joke Number Four:
The Lifestyle of the Selected Authors
Part of why I'm writing this review (aside from it being fun) is because the Santorums are, without a doubt, people engaged in a battle with society. And once you develop a militant opinion as aggressively stated as the Santorums have espoused, I expect you to reject the work of those who live outside your value system. Otherwise you are a hypocrite ... or ... it's possible you don't realize that the things you really love (like Karen Santorum's selection of stories) actually come from the very sex-crazed, unwashed, filthy-minded crevices of the world you'd like to eliminate. Karen Santorum's book is a terrific reminder that the world of prude people is often dependent on the culture of others to fill their 400 page anthologies intended for their children. I'll just open the book at page one and give you ten or fifteen examples:
The very first poem of this book of lessons is "To Allison Cunningham from her Boy" - written by Robert Louis Stevenson. To understand how ridiculously funny this is, one must refer to Robert Kiely's 1983 biography on Stevenson, where it is stated:
In 1873 Robert Louis Stevenson disclosed to his parents that he was agnostic and a member of his university's skeptics' club. The motto of the Liberty, Justice, and Reverence club was to "disregard everything our parents have taught us."
He also followed a married, American woman (whom he met at an artist's colony and developed a "close bond") to America and once she divorced her husband, Stevenson married her. His parents and some friends were not so pleased about his "unconventional marriage."
These are some awesome lessons from Robert Louis Stevenson! And he's only a small part of the list. Karen Santorum is absolutely obsessed with Benjamin Franklin, quoting him countless times in the book's gutter. (Don't let your mind go there, I'm referring to the inner margin of the pages) Ben Franklin, of course, is notoriously known as (allegedly) one of the most sex-crazed, debaucherous perverts of American history. It wasn't just french fries his mouth had a craving for (ahem, allegedly). Anyway, Karen Santorum squirts nearly twenty Ben Franklin quotes all over this book. But there's worse! Here's a list of some of the authors included in "Everyday Graces" — along with the lifestyle choices Santorum might hate them for:
Robert Louis Stevenson - Unconventional marriage, Skeptic
Ben Franklin - Pervert!
Jack Prelutsky - Beatnik, Dope smoker
Shel Silverstein!! - Beatnik, Dope smoker, Orgy participant, Contributor to Playboy
Aesop and Homer - Sodomists (I'm kidding, but definitely "curious")
Ralph Waldo Emerson! - Transcendentalist!
Laura Ingalls Wilder - Proto-Feminist
Lewis Carroll - Heavy pervert, Drug user, Collector of "preadult daguerreotypes" (heh)
Mark Twain - Rabble Rouser
Abraham Lincoln - Depressive
Elizabeth Turner!!! - (don't even know where to begin)
Really, the list goes on. I mean this thing is 400 pages. The point is, practically the entire book was written by the society the Santorums reject. But hey, as long as they're dead and gone, it's okay to teach the children with their work, eh! One is filled with the sense of "It's okay if you play in the club, just don't use the toilet" regarding Santorum's selection of entertainment.
Sure, they have a few christian writers in this thing. There's the obligatory C.S. Lewis segment. But I've always joked "C.S." stood for "Cork Soaker."
Final Joke, and this is seriously troubling and funny:
Inexplicable inclusion of "The Please In My Mouth"
Read below of the secret history as "one of the most perverted short stories ever published." A few of you have to know what I'm talking about.
Here it is in Karen Santorum's book:
Okay, a little set-up here. The biggest joke in Karen Santorum's book is that she unintentionally drops the mother of "Pink Bowling Balls" right into this thing. Right on page 49 is "Please" by a very obscure author named Alicia Aspinwall. But "Please" has some really funny history with people who collect filthy literature.
1931 (edit: In 1909), Aspinwall published a collection of work, entitled " Short Stories for Short People" (edit: a collection of work, entitled "Can You Believe Me Stories") - The book was rediscovered by the drug set in the 50s and 60s and "Please" has privately been considered among "the most foul story for a child ever written" ever since. I'm not joking. "Please" or "The Please in My Mouth" is sort of like a Lord Buckley record. I won't spoil why (I'm reprinting much of it below, all Dick and mouth references intact) People keep it to themselves, with the hope they can surprise a friend with it as a dirty relic when someone visits.
Part of what makes "Please" so dirty is it isn't intended to be pornography. But that doesn't mean it hasn't been celebrated as horrible innuendo for over half a century.
I'm going to just reprint the first half of "Please" right now. For my reference I will use Karen Santorum's exact text, as there are variations:
by Alicia Aspinwall
There once was a little word named "Please" that lived in a small boy's mouth. Pleases live in everybody's mouth, though people often forget they are there.
Now, all Pleases, to be kept strong and happy, should be taken out of the mouth very often, so they can get air. They are like little fish in the bowl, you know, that come popping up to the top of the water to breathe.
The Please I am going to tell you about lived in the mouth of a boy named Dick; but only once in a long while did it have a chance to get out. For Dick, I am sorry to say, was a rude little boy; he hardly ever remembered to say "Please."
"Give me some bread! I want some water Give me that book!" — that is the way he would ask for things.
His father and mother felt very bad about this. And, as for the poor Please itself, it would sit on the top of the roof of the boy's mouth day after day, hoping for a chance to get out. It was growing weaker and weaker by the day.
This boy Dick had a brother, John. Now, John was older than Dick — he was almost ten; and he was just as polite as Dick was rude. So his Please had plenty of fresh air, even if he had to run away. So out he ran — out of Dick's mouth — and took a long breath. Then he crept across the table and jumped into John's mouth!
The Please who lived there was very angry.
"Get out!" he cried. "You don't belong here! This is my mouth!"
"I know it," replied Dick's Please. "I live over there in that brother mouth. But alas! I am not happy there. I am never used. I never get a breath of fresh air! I thought you might be willing to let me stay here for a day or so — until I felt stronger."
"Why, certainly," said the other Please, kindly. "I understand. Stay, of course; and when my master uses me, we will both go out together. He is kind, and I am sure he would not mind saying 'Please' twice. Stay, as long as you like."
You can not make this up. How did they find this story??
And please notice the quote of Ben Franklin about the "slip of the tongue"!!!
After identifying "Please in My Mouth", I became extremely curious about other titles in this volume. Suddenly the words lifted right off the page and I was aware of the horrible degrading SECRET MESSAGE hidden within.
Karen Santorum had laid a trap!
These are all titles from the book. Most of these are written in the sequence in which they appear:
"Pansies" by J.F. Willing (this is the second story!)
"The Robin Redbreasts"
"Pinocchio!!!" (lie to me, and do it again)
"Puppy Goops" (not googling that)
"The Blue Bowls" (myth boys say to girls)
"Controlling the Tongue" (real title!)
"Hey Diddle Diddle!"
"Combing and Curling!"
"Washing and Dressing!"
"Always Finish" (good rule)
"The Swallow" by Christina Rosetti!
These are horrible titles. And what is the last item in this anthology ... after this horrible orgy of suggestive words? What is the very last piece of writing after this bacchanal of inappropriate phrases? "The Star-Spangled Banner" by Francis Scott Key.
This makes me want to puke. Someone seriously needs to ban and burn this thing.
— Ethan Persoff
(Additional invaluable research contributed to this article
Jane Nolan, MLS and Dr. Burr Oak, Iowa)
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