by Len Lear
Adam Mansbach, 38, who lived in Mt. Airy 2009 to 2011 while he was a visiting professor at Rutgers University (“I liked Mt. Airy a lot and Rutgers as well,” he told us), wrote several literary novels over the years with names like “Rage Is Back,” “Angry Black White Boy,” “The Dead Run” and “The End of the Jews,” winner of the California Book Award. He has also written for the New Yorker, New York Times, Esquire, the Believer and National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.
So Mansbach, a Boston native who went to Columbia U. for his undergrad degree and a master’s degree in fiction writing, was a successful and highly regarded writer but certainly not a household name until he decided to write an offbeat (to put it mildly) bedtime book for kids. He had looked around for such a book, but everything he found was sappy, boring and a turnoff, even to children.
“Bedtime literature was just lacking when I was putting my two-and-a-half year old daughter (Vivien) to sleep,” Adam told us in a recent interview.
At that time Vivien would take up to two hours to fall asleep. Exhausted and exasperated, one night Mansbach posted a note on Facebook, “Look out for my forthcoming children’s book, ‘Go the F**k to Sleep.’” Following his post, friends of Mansbach responded enthusiastically, so Adam did begin writing what was then only a hypothetical book. He had the illustrations for the picture book done by a friend, illustrator Ricardo Cortés (a contributor to The New York Times), and approached Akashic Books, a book publisher in New York.
“So I decided to write my own bedtime book that would not be like anything on the market. It was a relief, a catharsis, to get these thoughts out. The book I wrote came out of frustration.”
To say that the book Adam wrote, “Go the F**k to Sleep,” was not like any other children’s book is the understatement of the century. It is as much like other bedtime reading as a mosquito is like an elephant. Obscenities are sprinkled like salt throughout the satirical book, obviously meant for adults as much or more than for kids. The book was published by Akashic in June of 2011. It reached Number 1 on Amazon.com‘s best-seller list a month before its release, thanks to a viral marketing campaign during which booksellers forwarded PDF copies of the book by e-mail. As a result, the publisher increased its first printing from 10,000 to 200,000 copies.
“It got more attention than my previous books,” Mansbach told us, “but I do not think that was just because of the title. My previous books were literary novels, and they just don’t sell very much anymore. I believe the honesty about parenthood was appreciated by many parents. You’re not supposed to say these things publicly about parenthood, and I did.”
According to Mark Rotella, an editor at Publishers Weekly (and father of two), this is one of the books “that are less earnest about raising your child. They help parents step back and laugh at themselves a bit … It’s more like a parenting book for when the parent is inconsolable in the middle of night and frustrated.”
The book received mostly positive reviews from critics. For example, Macy Halford wrote in The New Yorker, “The book is super funny, and the art by Ricardo Cortés is perversely sweet, so sweet and genuine that it made me cringe.”
“Go the F**k to Sleep” was on the New York Times best-seller list for more than a year, and most of that time it was number one. Over 1.5 million copies were sold worldwide. Since the dollar signs associated with the book were practically in neon lights, it will come as no surprise that movie studios began contacting Mansbach. The winner was Fox 2000, which purchased the rights to the film version. Mansbach chose not to write the screenplay, primarily because he had no idea how he could pull it off.
And as with so many successful movies, there was bound to be a sequel, so Mansbach’s follow-up book, “You Have To F**king Eat,” was published last November, and it debuted on the New York Times best-sellers list.
A frequent lecturer on college campuses across the country, Mansbach now lives in Berkeley, California, where he was the 2014 Artist in Residence at Stanford University’s Institute for Diversity in the Arts. “I’m working on a few things now,” he told us, “such as a screenplay for ‘The Pushcart War,’ a thriller, and two young adult novels. I sleep when I can … I miss New York and Philly, but I like the weather and the pace out here, and I have no plans right now to go back east.”
For more information, visit www.adammansbach.com