June 04, 2015


Coloring for Grown-Ups: The Adult Activity Book. By Ryan Hunter & Taige Jensen. Plume. $10.

Coloring for Grown-Ups: Holiday Fun Book. By Ryan Hunter & Taige Jensen. Plume. $10.

     The cleverest thing about Ryan Hunter and Taige Jensen’s takeoffs on the time-honored coloring book for children is the title. This is coloring for grown-ups but not for adults – these books are for people who have advanced chronologically without attaining any sort of maturity, self-awareness or worldliness. No worries: these books are there to provide all of them. Well, except maturity.

     Now, it is true that the word “adult” appears in the subtitle of the first of these books. But it does not necessarily mean that this is an activity book for adults. It could just as easily mean it is a book about adult activities – you know, casual sex, overuse of alcohol, becoming mired in debt, “compromising your integrity and goals” (part of the heading of one page). Whether Hunter and Jensen are in fact clever enough to have created that ambiguity of double meaning is left as an exercise for the reader. Or colorer.

     The books are indeed laid out like coloring books. The pages are in black and white and are perforated for easy removal of the masterpieces once they are colored – the format really does duplicate that of kids’ coloring books. But the point here is to subtly undermine readers’ notions of what “grown-up” really means.

     Nah, not subtly. One page in Coloring for Grown-Ups says to remember that “you can be anything you want when you get older!” and includes only the suitable-for-coloring examples of “hospitality staff, mall food court assistant manager, data entry specialist, career barista, stay-at-home dad” and “insurance beneficiary.” The funniest entry in the book is a two-page spread called “adulthood from A to Z” in which big, insincere smiles appear on medication capsules and pills (“A is for Antidepressants,” “X is for Xanax”), documents (“L is for Loan Consolidation,” “M is for Mortgages,” “S is for Second Mortgages”), sample containers (“U is for Urine Samples”), exercise equipment (“T is for Treadmills”), and so on, all the way to “Z is for Zoning Regulations.” Also here is a decidedly unattractive page (no matter how you color it) showing an unpleasant-looking urban neighborhood and giving instructions on “How to Speak Real Estate” through a matching game in which, for example, “lots of character” means “site of several homicides.” Even the “solutions” pages are snarky, with the answer to the word finder titled “Evade Jury Duty!” praising the reader for “successfully [coming] across as the unstable, bigoted misanthrope you secretly are.” There are also a few diploma-like certificates, suitable for framing after they are colored, for such accomplishments as “outstanding achievement in the passive aggressive arts” and “doing the dishes at least one time.” The temptation to color all the pages solid black may be difficult to resist.

     Coloring for Grown-Ups: Holiday Fun Book is more of the same, with all-through-the-year seasonal twists. It starts with two clearly hung-over people in bed and a suggestion to “use your imagination to gracefully escape the home of the stranger you slept with on New Year’s Eve,” and progresses to lots of other notable and not-so-notable holidays. “Valentines for Grown-Ups,” all suitable for coloring, include such messages as “I Tolerate You,” “We’re Getting Fat,” and “We Have the Same STD So You Might as Well Stay with Me for a While.” For Mother’s Day there is a “guilt quiz” inviting readers to color impressions of “forgotten dreams,” “postpartum depression,” “stretch marks” and more. One of the funnier entries is for President’s Day – eight people to color under the heading, “Who Will Never Be President?” The eight are identified as “Latino, Woman, Muslim, Homosexual, Mormon, Atheist, Lizard Person” and “Bald Guy.” The “solutions” page explains, “This page was a trick question. A lizard person is always president.” The book even includes some non-holidays: one page to design a federal holiday of your own and one to “make up your own Jewish holiday so your boss will let you ditch work,” using syllables such as “rosh,” “kem,” “sim,” “el,” “chutz,” “schmear” and so on. There are also “lesser-known holiday mascots” to color, including “Muggsy the lying mug” for Father’s Day (emblazoned “#1 Dad”) and “Ashy Wendy, the preaching pile of cinders” for Ash Wednesday. There is plenty of equal-opportunity insulting to go around here, which may make you wonder if you might want to take seriously the Earth Day suggestion: a page on which Earth smiles broadly while “imagining the various ways the human race might wipe itself off the face of the planet.” It would be exaggerating to describe the Coloring for Grown-Ups books as good clean fun, but they are reasonably good, semi-clean sort-of-fun if you happen to be in the target audience. If you are, they will certainly help pass a little bit of time while you wait for actual adulthood – read “maturity” – to kick in. Which, hopefully, it will.

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