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Adam Mansbach on his grown-up sleeper hit

When Adam Mansbach's book is made into a movie, it could be the first bedtime-story film adaptation that's rated R. Even the complete title can't be printed in this newspaper.

"Go the ---- to Sleep" (Akashic Books, $14.95) is a plea to Mansbach's 3-year-old, Vivian, to please, for the love of all that is holy, go to sleep. The book reads and looks like many other less explicitly worded children's books -- "Goodnight Moon," perhaps, or "Where the Wild Things Are." It's written in couplets, such as: "The cats nestle close to their kittens, / The lambs have laid down with the sheep. / You're cozy and warm in your bed, my dear. / Please go the ---- to sleep."

The book's rectangular shape and size are perfect for being held in a child's tiny hands, not that it should be. The package is completed with florid illustrations by Ricardo Cortés.

"It wasn't that there were tears and screaming," Mansbach says about trying to get Vivian to bed. "It was a steady, joyous refusal to go to sleep."

Parents are responding in kind.

"Go the -- -- to Sleep" zoomed right to the top of Amazon.com's bestseller list in April, thanks to Internet buzz, even though it didn't go on sale until June. It's currently No. 1 on Publishers Weekly's nonfiction list.

The book's success is a huge surprise for Mansbach, a novelist who recently finished up a post as the New Voice Professor of Fiction at Rutgers-Camden in New Jersey. He thinks "Go the ---- to Sleep" is a hit not only because of the universality of the frustrations he expresses, but also because it's become taboo to talk about those frustrations. "As much as there's a conversation about parenting in this culture, it's very much about appearances," Mansbach says.

The seed of the book began as a throwaway Facebook joke. Mansbach thought it was funny enough to go beyond a one-liner, so he put pen to paper. "Now it's taken on an oversized kind of role in my life," he says. Fox 2000 has already snapped up the rights to the film version.

"Go the ---- to Sleep" is on par to outsell Mansbach's previous books, including "The End of the Jews" and "Angry Black White Boy." Those two novels and others he's written deal with issues of ethnic identity in the 21st century.

But Mansbach doesn't see his first humor book as a stark departure. "The throughline of my work is that I've done pretty much whatever the hell I've wanted to do, so, in that sense, it's no different," he says. Plus, it's way easier to explain the plot.

But he's not yet ready to show it to Vivian, his inspiration. "I know her as a 3-year-old, but I don't know what she'll be like at 8 or 12," Mansbach said. "She's already got a fantastic sense of humor. She's a lot funnier and smarter than I am."

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