The Rutgers University professor and author had conquered the art of the novel, become intimately familiar with the rhyme schemes of rap, withstood the rigor of a master’s program in creative writing and demonstrated the skill required to teach in one. But he had no answer to this problem.
“Look out for my forthcoming book, ‘Go the F--- to Sleep,’ ” he barked on Facebook, instead of speaking this aloud to his innocent babe, which was probably all for the best. The post got “liked” and commented on by friends, spurring Mansbach to actually pursue the idea.
Out today, his book, “Go the F--- to Sleep” (Akashic Books) is an ode to childhood insomnia and ensuing parental frustration. Now Mansbach, 34, who isn’t at Rutgers anymore but is still writing, finds his book at No. 2 on the Amazon sales list, based on preorders. About a month ago it hit No. 1, and has spent 50 days in the Top 100. One especially enthusiastic, early reader (the book’s proofs were leaked) posted a dramatic reading to YouTube. Mansbach’s story has also been optioned for a movie to Fox. All that after he managed to produce the text for the book in what he says was about “two sittings.”
“How is it that you can do all this other great (things)/But you can’t lie the f--- down and sleep?” Mansbach writes.
Despite the obvious taboo involved, there have been few F-word related setbacks, says Mansbach. Target said it would carry the book as long as it was shrink-wrapped. Wal-Mart, however, will not. A G-rated version for kids is in the works, he says.
“I wanted to riff on this whole genre of bedtime books,” says Mansbach, his weariness of the format apparent in his inability to name a favorite, or even a most hated bedtime book: “They all frankly kind of blur together for me.”
Tonight Mansbach will promote the book at the New York Public Library, which has advertised his work as “a bedtime book for parents who live in the real world.” There will be a talk “on children, sleep deprivation and insomnia.”
Lauren Grodstein was director of the MFA program when Mansbach was on staff at Rutgers-Camden last year.
“The giant pangolins of Madagascar are snoozing/As I lie here and openly weep/Sure, fine, whatever, I’ll bring you some milk. Who the f--- cares? You’re not gonna sleep.” The pangolin (a scaly type of anteater), Mansbach explains, is his daughter’s favorite animal.
“It says what everybody thinks, but no one is allowed to say,” says Grodstein of the book, noting a parallel between the subversive bedtime story and Mansbach’s interest in hip-hop. “A lot of successful hip-hop rides on saying the truth, even when the truth isn’t that appealing,” says Grodstein.
No stranger to rhyme schemes — bedtime or not — Mansbach applied his passion for hip-hop culture to the curriculum at Rutgers, teaching the class “Popular Culture: Hip-Hop.”
Grodstein met Mansbach while the two were students at Columbia’s MFA program. Now parents of children who are just months apart, the bedtime blues was a source of commiseration for them at Rutgers. As Grodstein puts it, “I could go downstairs and have a glass of wine or read a Richard Scarry book 3,000 times.”
“Go the F--- to Sleep” illustrator Ricardo Cortés has known Mansbach since the two were high school students — and amateur MCs — in Newton, Mass.
“He nailed the parody,” says Cortés, 37, whose other work includes “It’s Just a Plant,” a children’s book about marijuana that he intended to be a way of “igniting a discussion” about children inevitably encountering the topic of drugs, he says. To illustrate Mansbach’s book with different impish faces, he called on friends with kids to provide lifelike expressions ranging from tickled to quiver-lipped.