Whether you love April Fools’ Day (pranks!) or loathe it (ugh-pranks), it’s hard to escape, especially in our age of social media. I’ve decided to celebrate this year by recognizing those literary pranks I most admire. So without further ado, I present the April Fools’ Day Awards in Literary Achievement.
Best trick to obtain free labor
Winner: Tom Sawyer
When tasked with whitewashing a fence, Tom discovers a great secret: “in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.” He refuses to let Ben take his whitewashing task, pretending it’s such fun he doesn’t want to stop painting, until Ben gives him an apple.
Best satire that continues to horrify people
Winner: Jonathan Swift
Published anonymously in 1729, Swift’s essay, A Modest Proposal, answers the problem of too many hungry, indigent Irish: sell their children as food to the wealthy. The work continues to horrify people who read the essay as genuine. Swift intended to call attention to the public’s terrible attitude toward the poor. But even today some folks miss the hyperbole and take Swift at his word, assuming he’s advocating for infanticide and cannibalism.
Best fake journalism
Winner: Stephen Glass
Edgar Allen Poe wrote several false articles and essays, two of which concerned hot air balloons. Henry L. Mencken once wrote a wholly fictive article about the history of the bathtub. Despite it being exposed as a hoax, the article continued to be cited as a genuine source as recently as 2008. But journalist Stephen Glass has both esteemed writers beat in this category. During his short tenure in the late 1990s at The New Republic, Glass made up events, quotations, and sources for his articles. His story was made into a film, Shattered Glass, in 2003. He then turned his own life story into a novel, The Fabulist. His protagonist’s name? Stephen Aaron Glass. He changed only his middle name. I will say that when he adopts a style (mixing truth and fiction) he sticks to it.
That’s this year’s list of literary leaders in pranks achievement. Have you any you’d like to add?