PHILADELPHIA — When Adam Mansbach’s book is made into a movie, it could be the first bedtime-story film adaptation that’s rated R. It’s hard to see how it could be avoided: Mansbach’s book is called “Go the F—- to Sleep.”
“Go the F—- to Sleep” is a plea to Mansbach’s 3-year-old, Vivian, to please, for the love of all that is holy, go to sleep. The book reads and looks like many other less explicitly worded children’s books — “Goodnight Moon,” perhaps, or “Where the Wild Things Are.” It’s written in couplets, such as:
The cats nestle close to their kittens,
The lambs have laid down with the sheep.
You’re cozy and warm in your bed, my dear.
Please go the f—- to sleep.
The book’s rectangular shape and size are perfect for being held in a child’s tiny hands, not that it should be. The package is completed with florid illustrations by Ricardo Cortes.
Every parent has felt this type of agita: a mixture of undying love and utter frustration that they can’t accomplish the seemingly simple task of putting their kid down for the night.
“It wasn’t that there were tears and screaming,” Mansbach said about trying to get Vivian to bed. “It was a steady, joyous refusal to go to sleep.”
Parents are responding in kind.
“Go the F—- to Sleep” has spent 50 days on the Amazon.com best-seller list, largely holding the top spot — it was at No. 2 when we checked Monday — even though its official publication date was the next day.
The book’s success is a huge surprise for Mansbach, a novelist who recently finished up a post as the New Voice Processor of Fiction at Rutgers-Camden, where he taught fiction-writing to graduate students and lectured on screenwriting and the history of hip-hop. He’ll soon be heading home to Berkeley, Calif., after spending two years in Philadelphia.
Mansbach thinks “Go the F—- to Sleep” is a hit not only because of the universality of the frustrations he expresses but also because it has become taboo to talk about those frustrations. “As much as there’s a conversation about parenting in this culture, it’s very much about appearances,” Mansbach said. Many of the emails he’s received from readers thank him for making them feel less alone when it comes to the hand-wringing, hair-pulling ritual of bedtime.
It was that universality that convinced Johnny Temple, publisher and editor-in-chief of Akashic Books, to add the book to his company’s repertoire. At first, Temple, who had known Mansbach for years before working with him professionally, thought that the concept was hilarious but that it wouldn’t fit in with the rest of Akashic’s titles — gritty literary fiction and politically minded nonfiction.
But then Temple, who has two young sons, sent the book around to his wife and their friends with children. “I got such an incredibly emotional and cathartic reaction,” Temple said. He had to publish it.
The seed of the book began as a throwaway Facebook joke. He thought it was funny enough to go beyond a one-liner so he put pen to paper. “Now it’s taken on an oversized kind of role in my life,” Mansbach said.
In April, Mansbach debuted the book at Philly’s Fourth Wall Arts Salon, a monthly gathering where artists can show off their work. The next day, he checked the Amazon rating and saw that it was in the 125th spot, a relatively good number considering the massive Amazon inventory.
By the next week, it was No. 1.
“Every waking moment has been a continuation of a ‘What the hell?’ moment,” Mansbach said about the book’s runaway success.
When “Go the F —- to Sleep” started to blow up on the Amazon charts, bigger publishing houses came knocking at Mansbach’s door, offering to buy the manuscript from Akashic. But Mansbach decided to stick with the indie publisher, which upped the initial run of 10,000 copies to 200,000 and moved the publishing date from October to today.
Then the movie studios came a-calling, with Fox 2000 snapping up rights to the film version. Mansbach didn’t offer to write the screenplay, mainly because he has no idea how it could be done.
“Go the F —- to Sleep” is on par to outsell his previous works, including the California Book Award-winning “The End of the Jews” and “Angry Black White Boy.” Those two novels and others he’s written deal with issues of ethnic identity in the 21st century.
But Mansbach doesn’t see his first humor book as a stark departure from his other published pieces. “The throughline of my work is that I’ve done pretty much whatever the hell I’ve wanted to do, so, in that sense ["Go the F —- to Sleep" is] no different,” he said. Plus, it’s way easier to explain the plot.
But he’s not yet ready to show it to Vivian, his inspiration.
“I know her as a 3-year-old but I don’t know what she’ll be like at 8 or 12,” Mansbach said. “She’s already got a fantastic sense of humor. She’s a lot funnier and smarter than I am.”