Last night my oldest son and I were shooting some video for another project, and he had the idea of shooting video of me reading from one of my novels.
I thought immediately of one of my favorite scenes from a Jackson Speed book – the Baltimore ball in “Jackson Speed and the Blood Tubs” where Speedy is attempting seduce a Baltimore Belle by reading poetry to her. The book at hand is Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. So Speed picks it up and begins to read aloud to a gathering of ladies.
It is outrageously funny to me that Speed, a Pinkerton agent attempting to save president-elect Abraham Lincoln from the vicious gang of assassins, the secessionist Blood Tubs, is using the poetry of abolitionist Walt Whitman to woo these Baltimore belles.
The scene makes me laugh every time I think about it.
But not everyone thinks it’s funny.
When I first started writing the Jackson Speed novels, my sons were young enough that my wife would not let them read my books because of the sexual content. I’ve never thought the books were particularly graphic, but I admit my sensibilities are a little more jaded than some.
The boys, now older, will agree that the content of my novels is no more graphic than the latest Eric Church song, but because the books were written by their father, they are completely freaked out by even the hint of sexual innuendo that came from their dad’s imagination.
So my sons have never read any of my novels.
And when Harrison looked over my shoulder at what I was going to read for the video last night, he completely freaked out. He caught a line that made him more than a little uneasy. He’s 19-years-old, but he went running from the house and dragged his 14-year-old brother with him.
What Harrison doesn’t know is that the offending line was not from his father but instead came from Walt Whitman.
If you are familiar with Leaves of Grass, you’ll know that the thing would make Hugh Hefner blush. When it was first published in 1855, Whitman was working for the Department of the Interior. Interior Secretary James Harlan fired Whitman after reading it. In 1882, Boston’s District Attorney threatened Whitman with local statutes against obscenity. Whitman’s publisher even dropped the book at one point.
I probably will not produce or upload the video. Something about teenagers running from the house shakes my confidence. But if you think you can handle erotic poetry from the 1850s and you see the humor in a Southern Pinkerton agent wooing secessionist women with abolitionist poetry, maybe you should give Jackson Speed a read.
Maybe I’ll try to find a tamer scene from one of the books to read for a video, one that won’t assault my sons’ fragile sensibilities. Maybe the scene where the Blood Tubs torture the army spy.