Go the F*** to Sleep is an expletive-laced cry of adult rage disguised as a child’s book of lullabies that is now a smash bestseller. Go, as they say, figure. The book consists of page after page of more or less conventional two lines of nursery rhyme, and flat-footed ones to boot — "The tiger reclines in the simmering jungle./The sparrow has silenced her cheep." — followed by another two lines, which are crude, angry pleas for the resistant child to immediately make himself unconscious. "F*** your stuffed bear, I’m not getting you s---./Close your eyes. Cut the crap. Sleep."I, on the other hand, am a sucker for the pictures of the drowsing tigers.
The whole thing reads like Celine translated by Philip Larkin and recited by James (Tony Soprano) Gandolfini. It has the vitality of a Bronx cheer at a stuffy formal dinner. It is supposed to be a prank, a great, vulgar cri de coeur revealing a truth hitherto hidden away: parents resent their kids for depriving them of sleep. But the F-word is a powerful imprecation that carries a wish for subjugation and even annihilation. A celebrity among words, it is — like certain tough-guy actors who have made it their trademark — full of rage. The idea of applying it to children, “in fun”, in a world where they are the first victims of adult stupidity, incomprehension and rage simply doesn’t work as an extended joke. "You know where you can go? The f*** to sleep." None of the parents I know, who like my wife and me have young children, could make it past the first few pages without tossing the book down in disgust.
The very fact of the book's commercial success, however, seems to have inspired legitimising kudos. After the book — written by Adam Mansbach and illustrated by Ricardo Cortes — rose to bestseller-list heights, writers rushed to explain just what made it so important to own. In a typical effusion, one writer deployed Proust and Freud on her way to extolling the book as "odd, rageful, beautiful", praising it for exposing "a kind of existential despair that is very particularly ours". And you thought getting the kids to sleep was the least of your problems.
Garry Wills' NY Times review of Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2011) by Janet Reitman and Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church (Crown 2011) by Jason Berry begins -
We do not need these books to tell us that money and religion make for a poisonous combination. But it is of some interest to see that ancient truth confirmed in both a church as relatively new as Scientology and one as ancient as Roman Catholicism. Even religious leaders develop a certain swagger when they know they are backed by bundles of cash. When a French court fined Scientology nearly a million dollars, one of its officials shrugged that off as “chump change.” And when the Vatican ran a deficit of nearly 2.4 million euros in 2007, an Italian journalist familiar with the church’s finances dismissed the debt as “chopped liver.” Chump change or chopped liver, both churches have bigger sums they can get to and use, and few outsiders are given a look at how they do it. These two books trace the cash source of theological confidence.