Freud would have a field day with this one, to say nothing of the Bros. Grimm.
The astonishing success of a new bedtime story book, Go the F— to Sleep, underscores what all parents know in their secret hearts: Children are parasites and we would abandon them in the woods if we weren’t hardwired to find them irresistibly cute.
That’s an old story, though, and a supremely unfair one, because the children are not hardwired to find us endearing in turn once they are grown and we are old and decrepit and smell like stale urine and dried milk, leaving them free to dump us anywhere along the forest trail, or, worse, in the nearest nursing home.
Is that too much subtext for one little humor book that has somehow become a No. 1 Amazon bestseller months before its publication date? I don’t think so, not judging from the fairly vicious hostility hiding in the book’s sing-songy rhymes.
I have no doubt that Adam Mansbach loves his wee little girl Vivien — remember, evolution and God have conspired to leave him no choice — and that he really means Go the F— To Sleep as a tongue-in-chuck expression of a common parental exasperation.
A novelist (The End of the Jews) who teaches at Rutgers University, Mansbach wrote the book “for fun” last year, according to the L.A. Times, after a particularly “grueling” episode of putting his daughter, then 2, to bed. It was only after he gave a 10-minute reading at a bookstore in Philadelphia that Mansbach realized his daughter had handed him a pot of gold.
“The cats nestle close to their kitten,” he read. “The lambs that lay down with the sheep. You’re cozy and warm in your bed my dear. Please go the f— to sleep.”
The crowd was “hugely enthusiastic,” Mansbach says, laughing harder with each subsequent verse. The very next day the book had jumped to No. 1 on Amazon’s list — and this for a title not scheduled for publication until October.
Part of the book’s success, ironically, arises from piracy: Galley copies distributed to bookstores and reviewers have been uploaded to the Internet, where the book has gone viral as if it were a cute kitty video or a clip of Arnold Schwarzenegger dancing with his housekeeper.
At first Akashic, the Brooklyn-based indie press bringing the book out, did what any good content provider would — it tried to suppress unauthorized distribution of the galley PDF. But once sales started to rocket skyward, Akashic climbed on board.
Ibrahim Ahmad, Akashic’s senior editor, says it’s the publisher’s responsibility “to tackle instances of piracy when we become aware of them.” On the other hand, he acknowledges the benefit, in this case at least, that piracy can bring to a book.
How much benefit? In addition to becoming a runaway bestseller, film rights have sold to Fox 2000 and Akashic has moved the publication date up to June.
Oh, and about that undercurrent of hostility? Try this verse on for size:
“The eagles who soar through the sky are at rest / And the creatures who crawl, run and creep. / I know you’re not thirsty. That’s bulls—. Stop lying. / Lie the f– down, my darling, and sleep.”
Doesn’t exactly have the flow of Good Night Moon, does it?
Still Mansbacher has clearly stumbled upon a cultural touchstone, and apparently at just the right moment. His daughter, by the way, is three now, and bedtimes have become much easier.
“I wrote [this book] without any sort of calculation,” Mansbach says. “The wider it circulated, the more we realized that in fact it was a universal issue and problem. Young kids [won’t go to] sleep.”
Besides, I suppose we can all be grateful he did not write about that other ordeal of early childhood development, potty training.