A few weeks ago, Adam Mansbach realized he might be on to something. The 34-year-old novelist stood up at a Philadelphia art salon and began reading from his new children’s book. It’s his first attempt to break into the notoriously difficult children’s market.
But his book isn’t really for kids. It’s a bedtime story with a decidedly adult title. We’ll get to that bit of profanity in a moment.
First, the reading:
Mansbach read the first of a series of verses that make up his narrative. The response from the 200-plus audience was howls of laughter. Then another verse, more laughter, then another and more laughter. “It got to the point that I had to stop for twenty minutes between each verse to get the crowd to quiet down,” Mansbach told me. “That’s the night I pinpoint that something started to change.”
The “change” is a phenomenon that has stunned the publishing world and may just redefine the modern “parenting” market.
Mansbach’s book: “Go the ---- to Sleep,” (Akashic Books, June 2011) is satire with words (and illustrations by Ricardo Cortes) that mimic the soaring imagery of many bedtime favorites. Except for the last line of each verse. They mimic what most sleep-deprived parents are truly thinking while they plod through the pages.
Here’s an example:
The windows are dark in the town, child
The whales huddle down in the deep.
I’ll read one very last book if you swear
You’ll go the [expletive] to sleep.
The book was originally scheduled to be published this October with a run of 10,000 copies. So much buzz built in recent days — from word-of-mouth and from an unauthorized pdf that’s been forwarded online repeatedly — that pre-orders began pushing it up the Amazon best-seller list until it reached the very top.
The small independent Brooklyn publishing house producing the book is rushing it into print. It will now be available June 14th. The initial printing has soared to 225,000 copies
“It’s stupefying,” said Mansbach, who just finished a teaching stint at Rutgers University. “It’s already far outsold any of my previous books.”
What’s even more interesting is why “Go the ---- To Sleep” is selling so well. Mansbach, a father of a three-year-old, has a one-word answer: “Honesty.”
“I wrote it as a reflection of my own personal reality. I wanted to write about the way that I felt and be honest about it. … I think our generation talks so much about parenting, you almost can’t get away from it. But there’s a certain lack of honesty in a lot of it.
“A lot of people’s self-image is caught up in their desire to see themselves as good parents, anything that pierces that image is very different,” he said
Yet piercing that image is exactly what’s needed, he said.
“Reading it can be cathartic. I’ve been getting a lot of comments that say, ‘Thank you, thank you for making me feel so much less alone.’ ”
Who would have thought a book with a curse word in the title and on practically every page would be cathartic? When I ask Mansbach about this point, he gets philosophical.
“It’s a dual narrative. It’s profane and affectionate. It’s actually about being a good parent. No child is being mistreated. It’s about being affectionate to a child even when you can’t wait to get out of the ----ing room.”