'Go the F— to Sleep' proves a popular lullaby with bleary-eyed adults
The upcoming humorous picture book by Adam Mansbach, illustrated by Ricardo Cortes, is a viral sensation and No. 1 on Amazon.
Cover of the book by Adam Mansbach, illustrated by Ricardo Cortes. (Akashic Books / May 17, 2011)
Galleys of this off-color, not-at-all-for-kids title haven't even been printed, yet tens of thousands of copies have been pre-sold, prompting the publisher to move up the release date four months and increase the print run fifteenfold to 150,000.
After looking at a PDF of the book, musician David Byrne raved about it online, calling it "hilarious." Bestselling author and MacArthur fellowship winner Jonathan Lethem said it's "total genius."
"It's pretty wild," said Adam Mansbach, the 34-year-old author who was inspired to write the book "for fun" last year based on the "grueling" experience of putting his then 2-year-old daughter to sleep.
That experience "took forever," Mansbach said. "She'd be edging toward sleep, getting a little tired. Her eyes would be closed, and I'd try to sneak out of the room too early, and then I'd wake the kid up and spend another hour in there. She'd ask, 'Where are you going?' and then I was back to square one."
It's Mansbach's handling of this inescapable parental reality that has helped propel the book to the No. 1 Amazon spot, but it was after a 10-minute reading the author gave at an art salon in Philadelphia that the book went viral.
The date was April 23, and Mansbach was "eager to get an audience response."
"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 … to sleep."
With his recitation of each subsequent verse, and screening of illustrator Ricardo Cortes' images behind him, "there was a lot of laughter," said Mansbach, a California Book Award winner for his novel "The End of the Jews" and a fiction professor at Rutgers University who lives in Philadelphia. The crowd of 200 was "hugely enthusiastic."
At the time, the book wasn't scheduled to be published until October, but Mansbach directed interested audience members to Amazon for pre-orders. Just one day after the reading, the book had jumped to No. 125 on the site, he said. A few days later, it had escalated to No. 2. It' s been the No. 1 seller on Amazon for the last week.
The book is "sort of a departure for us, but its sensibility does line up with our own aesthetics," said Johnny Temple, publisher of Akashic Books in Brooklyn, which is releasing the book. Temple had no qualms about the title.
Akashic publishes 25 to 30 books each year, most of it "dark literary fiction," Temple said. Its biggest seller is the novel "Hairstyles of the Damned," by Joe Meno, which has sold about 100,000 copies. "Go the F— to Sleep" is its first picture book.
"Nothing like this has ever happened to us before," Temple said. "We haven't actually started promoting the book yet."
But "popular demand erupted," he said, not only on Amazon but with "tens if not hundreds of thousands of people talking about it online." So Temple decided to move up the publication date and dramatically increase the print run.
"I wrote [this book] without any sort of calculation," Mansbach said, admitting he only puts his daughter Vivien to sleep 25% of the time and that, at age 3, putting her to sleep has gotten "much better." "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."