It’s been a surreal year for Adam Mansbach, to say the least. He’s an old friend and the last time I saw him, we were driving around Philadelphia, eating hand-pulled noodles and record shopping, and he was telling me about a list of upcoming projects, one of which included a “children’s” book called Go the F— to Sleep. This had begun as a joke – a Facebook status update after a frustrating night with his daughter – but Adam managed to spin it into a real book though one quite different from his novels about race, identity, family and other heady topics: Shackling Water, Angry Black White Boy and The End of the Jews.
In any case, at the time – and mind you, this was at the end of March, barely three months ago – GTFTS was just one project of many and neither of us dwelled upon it for very long except to say that it was pretty cool that this came to fruition and that people would probably find it quite funny. What neither of us expected was that it’d become the second runaway literary hit of 2011 but, unlike That-Goddamn-Tiger-Mom-Book, this one had no marketing push, no incendiary excerpt in the Wall Street Journal. This was a viral phenomenon of the purest kind – propelled by a bootleg of the book, passed around from peer to peer. By May, it was #1 on Amazon with a release date of mid-fall.
It has since hit that peak several times and as of this past weekend, hit #1 on the New York Times best-seller list under “Hardcover Advice and Misc.”1 And just to amp things to an even crazier level, the audio version of the book was read by Samuel L. Jackson, who also went on Letterman and read it there again.2
I had wanted to interview Adam for The Sidebar back in May but as it turned out, he was going to be in Los Angeles anyways so this past weekend, I rolled out to his friend, DJ Frane‘s crib and we did the interview on location. Obviously, I wanted to chat about the book, or better said, the phenomenon caused by the book but wary of the fact that a gazillion folks will be interviewing him too about the same thing,3 I didn’t want to stick on the book the whole way through. Instead, in honor of the season, we talked about summertime and its relationship to both music and the creative process for Adam. We ended with remembering Gil Scott-Heron, a personal hero for Adam, and obviously, an appreciated person around these parts too.
The Sidebar #9: Adam Mansbach, author of Go the F— To Sleep (explicit language!)
Music in this episode:
- Gil Scott-Heron: Lady Day and John Coltrane (from Pieces of a Man, Flying Dutchman 1971)
- Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson (aka Midnight Band): Ain’t No Such Thing as Superman (from The First Minute of a New Day, Arista 1975)
- Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson: A Toast to the People (from From South Africa to South Carolina, Arista 1976)
- Gil-Scott Heron’s novels, The Vulture and The Nigger Factory.
- The official Go the F— To Sleep website.
- Adam’s “summer songs” post from 2008.
- Info on Adam’s grandfather Benjamin Kaplan and grandmother Felicia Lamport.