You don't have to be a parent to know that the most popular children's book in recent years has been Go the F**ck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach, published by Gowanus-based Akashic Books. Inspired by the nighttime travails of putting his little girl Vivien, now four, to bed, the first-ever "children's book for adults" was such a hit, it spent 41 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and spawned 34 international editions. There's even a G-rated spinoff that is safe for toddlers' ears, titled, Seriously, Just Go to Sleep. In it, Samuel L. Jackson, the bad-ass narrator of the original audio book, makes an illustrated cameo.
I reached out to Mansbach over email to ask him about his taste in bedtime stories now that he's a celebrated children's author--though his main forte is fiction. His newest book, Rage is Back, what he calls a "magic realist graffiti revenge novel," was just published, and Mansbach read from it tonight (Jan. 16) at powerHouse Arena in DUMBO.
What's your bedtime story routine? Do you do it every night? How many stories? In your bed or Vivien's?
I do it every other night, which is up considerably from a couple of years ago, when I wrote GTFTS; back then, I'd use any excuse I could to make her mother do it: tennis elbow, too rainy out, suddenly allergic to pillows. She gets one story. I get to blow out the candle. This takes place in her bed, but then there's a nightly migration to our bed. She's extremely good at that. I almost never wake up when she crawls in.
What were your all-time favorite children's books and why?
My memories kick in a little later, around 8 or 9 – that was when books really started to make an impact on me. My all-time favorite was The Pushcart War, by Jean Merrill, a brilliant story about a conflict between the pushcart peddlers and the truckers of New York City. I've actually just been hired to adapt it for the screen. So learning to read paid off after all.
What books do you enjoy reading to Vivien right now?
I'm feeling this one joint called A House In The Woods, about these two pigs, a bear, and a moose who decide to build a house because they're sick of their shitty little stick huts collapsing all the time. So they hire some beavers to come hook it up. Also, we're heavy on the Greek mythology right now, which I never get tired of.
Any books you can't stand, that she insists upon?
Those books tend to mysteriously disappear. Somebody gave her Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site recently, which I thought was hot garbage. They couldn't have made one motherfucking truck a girl? Way to reify gender stereotypes, woman who wrote that book.
What books are you looking forward to reading to her, once she is old enough?
My grandmother, Felicia Lamport, was a poet; she published several books that I think are brilliant, and I look forward to reading Viv those. They've got a lot of very sophisticated wordplay, though, so it'll be a few years before she'll be able to really appreciate them.
Do you ever read your daughter Seriously, Just Go to Sleep? Does she get the hint?
Oh, yeah. She's a fan of any book featuring an illustrated version of her.