Go the Fuck to Sleep

1. Adam Mansbach’s children’s book for adults. 2. Author Adam Mansbach.

The evening at the New York Public Library began with a recording of Werner Herzog reading a dirty book. Well, it isn’t a dirty book per se. What we have is a children’s book for adults that utilizes a double narrative from a frustrated parent. One is the straightforward lullaby that the child is meant to hear. The other is the internal monologue of a parent whose rage crescendos when the unaware child just won’t “go the fuck to sleep.” Said dual nature came across seamlessly when treated with Herzog’s narration last night, and with what one can hope will be multiple audio versions coming out in the future, I can see Go the Fuck to Sleep becoming a conduit for some pretty damn amazing performance art.

1. Paul Holdengräber introduces an absent Werner Herzog. 2. Illustrator Ricardo Cortés, author Adam Mansbach, and publisher Johnny Temple. 3. Illustrator Ricardo Cortés.

After the first reading, we found Paul Holdengräber, Director of Public Programs at NYPL, in conversation with author Adam Mansbach and illustrator Ricardo Cortés. Holdengräber, in a thick accent that sounded almost like Herzog himself, steered the conversation toward the universal parental frustration that many are afraid to own. It’s a conversation that’s been following the book for a while now: on yesterday’s Brian Lehrer Show, Mansbach took calls from thankful parents, one of whom admitted to thinking, “I’m going to bounce her for ten more minutes, and then I’m going to smother her.”

Back on the NYPL stage, Holdengräber brought in Johnny Temple, Publisher at Akashic Books. Temple explained that children’s books are generally not part of Akashic’s repertoire (Akashic focuses on “urban literary fiction,” political nonfiction, poetry, and the pervasive Noir series). However, with positive reactions from friends and a shockingly popular Amazon pre-order page, Temple agreed to publish the book. Publishers from all over the world called him up, offering to buy the book. It was as if they thought he was an agent, a middle-man who sells popular books to international companies.

When Holdengräber asked about the possibility of censorship for the book, Temple brought up a development surrounding the Australia/New Zealand publication. A Christian group called Family First had attempted to ban the book in New Zealand on the grounds that Go the Fuck to Sleep is abusive toward children. However, there has been immediate resistance toward the ban from a mob of aggressive parents who are having an emotional response similar to that felt by American audiences. To round out the conversation, we were treated to a recording of George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” monologue (NSFW).

1. Judah Friedlander reads from Go the Fuck to Sleep. 2. Rachel Chou, Chief Marketing Officer, and Lauren Naefe, Senior Digital Marketing Manager, of Open Road Media.

To bookend the evening, Judah Friedlander (of 30 Rock fame) approached the podium for his version of Go the Fuck to Sleep. It was like hearing his 30 Rock character Frank Rossitano berate the insidious child, and it was a beautiful thing.

I should note that Samuel L. Jackson’s version is now up on audible.com. It’s more along the lines of “Go the fuck to sleep, or he’s going to murder you.” Though I still prefer Herzog’s stoic rage as he proclaims, “I’ll read you one very last book if you swear / You’ll go the fuck to sleep.”

— John Zuarino is a freelance writer and editor living in Brooklyn.

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