You may not be familiar with Akashic Books, a small Brooklyn-based publisher dedicated—according its website’s home page—to the “reverse-gentrification of the literary world.” However, if you follow publishing news even a little, you’ve probably heard of Akashic’s newest release, a little succès de scandale called Go the Fuck to Sleep. The book’s official publication date was June 14.
It is, as you can see, a children’s picture book that includes what the movie industry calls “adult language.”
When Adam Mansbach’s daughter Vivien was two, she would take up to two hours to fall asleep. Exhausted and exasperated, one night Mansbach posted a note on Facebook, “Look out for my forthcoming children’s book, Go the — to Sleep”. Following his post, friends of Mansbach responded enthusiastically, so that Mansbach began writing what was then only a hypothetical book. Mansbach had the illustrations for the picture book done by a friend, illustrator Ricardo Cortés (a contributor to The New York Times), and approached Akashic Books, a book publisher from New York.
That explains the book’s title. What about “Akashic”?
Akashic is an adjectivization of akasha, a Sanskrit word meaning “sky,” “space,” or “ether”—in Hindu philosophy, it’s one of the five elements. Akashic records is used in various metaphysical philosophies to refer to “a compendium of mystical knowledge encoded in a non-physical plane of existence” (Wikipedia). Search online for “akashic records” and you’ll discover references to “Life Lesson,” “the soul’s journey over time,” and “a great Universal Library.”
Interestingly, the Akashic Books catalog does not include any books about metaphysics or mystical knowledge or indeed religion of any description. (Maybe it did at one time, but I couldn’t find any examples now.) Rather, the publisher’s categories include literary fiction, mysteries and crime fiction, a noir series, general nonfiction (a category that includes Born on the Fourth of July and The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq), African-American interest, gay and lesbian interest, and a separate Punk Planet imprint.
So why “Akashic”? I’m stumped. It’s possible that the word is used here ironically—you just never know with those Brooklyn hipsters. I can tell you that Go the Fuck to Sleep is not Akashic’s first foray into F-bomb-iana: indeed, the publisher’s very first release, in 1996, was The Fuck Up, by Arthur Neresian.
For your listening pleasure, two famous film folk have recorded their readings of Go the Fuck to Sleep. Here, in a free download from Audible, is actor Samuel L. Jackson’s rendition. [UPDATE: I’ve been informed that the Audible version has been bowdlerized. WTF?! Listen to the uncensored SLJ narration at Nerve.]
And here, even more unsettlingly (to this listener, anyway), is director Werner Herzog’s narration.
Probably best to listen to those recordings in a private space, far from toddlers and bluenoses.