June 17, 2013
The Christian Conspiracy to Take Over the Military
Posted on Jul 13, 2011
Kasia Anderson: And so this is not “Goodnight Moon.” It seems, you know, it’s very rare that we speak to people with children’s books, or books of any kind where we can’t say the actual title on the air. What’s your impression of the kind of overall tone of the book? It is all rude, is it to shock you? I’ve read some reviews on Amazon; it feels like there’s some sweetness to it too.
Johnny Temple: Yeah, the book is actually very, very tender and very sweet, and that is, I think, recognizable to 99 percent of parents. The book is, on the one hand, it’s an expression of frustration, but the subtext for the frustration is actually love and tenderness, because the book is kind of making light of how parents have to, you know, swallow their words rather than speak them. There is profanity in every page of the book, but it is of course—this is definitely a book that is not meant to be read for children. It’s a book for adults. So basically, the book is a parent’s alternate monologue of what they could be saying to their kids if they were allowed to express their frustration. … I actually think that the book upholds the sort of highest values of parenting, because the context for the book is that we swallow our frustration for the health and safety of our children. And that’s kind of what the book is about.
Kasia Anderson: Right. I guess it kind of flies in the face of this sanctified childhood ideal, or it seems to, in some people’s opinions. But you’re saying that it actually isn’t that subversive, when it comes down to it?
Johnny Temple: Not really. I mean, it’s subversive because it’s laced with profanity. And we’re very proud about the fact that there’s a group in New Zealand trying to get the book banned, and a CNN.com commentator wrote an attack piece on the book. …
Johnny Temple: … Her attack piece drew so much negative reaction that CNN.com had to follow it up with a story about the negative reactions to their original piece.
Kasia Anderson: [Laughs] They got all meta on you there.
Johnny Temple: Exactly. And even online, on Facebook, Twitter, or on Amazon.com book review postings, whenever someone chimes in with a criticism of the book for its crudeness or its immorality, there’s a roving pack of impassioned parents always ready to defend the book. And I’m not saying that the book is beyond criticism, but we have not yet seen any smart criticism of the book. And every criticism that I’ve seen that has been made is really just silly or completely misunderstanding the book. You know, half the criticisms are people who think it’s a book meant to be read for kids. And that’s just kind of stupid, because it’s obviously not meant to be read to kids; it even says it on the back of the book, that you shouldn’t read it to kids.
Kasia Anderson: Right. No help for the humorless there. Can you read for us a little passage from the book as an exclusive for our listeners?
Johnny Temple: Sure. I will read the first two pages. “The cats nestle close to their kittens, the lambs have laid down with their sheep, you’re cozy and warm in your bed, my dear, please go the [f***] to sleep. The windows are dark in the town, child, the whales huddled down in the deep, I’ll read you one very last book if you swear you’ll go the [f***] to sleep.” There you go.
Kasia Anderson: You heard it here. And as I’ve noticed on my trips around the interwebs, there have been a couple dramatic readings from some dramatic people. Can you say a little bit about that, has that been kind of a fun thing to watch happen in popular culture?
Johnny Temple: Yeah. This is one of the few books that we’ve published where the book has really, in a very visible way, taken on a life of its own. And we knew that was happening when we found out that Samuel Jackson, the actor Samuel L. Jackson, was going to appear on the David Letterman show and read the book on the David Letterman show. And we had basically nothing to do with that. And what had happened was, we made an audio licensing deal with a wonderful company called Audible. And they recruited Samuel L. Jackson to do the audio recording of the book, and then they arranged for him to appear on the David Letterman show. And his reading—if we had been able to pick our … you know, if we had been able to say who was our top choice, or who would read the book on the audio book, it would have been Samuel Jackson. So that was just sort of manna from heaven. And then when we launched the book in New York at the New York Public Library, Paul Holdengräber, the director of programs at the New York Public Library, recruited Werner Herzog …
Kasia Anderson: Amazing, yeah.
Johnny Temple: … to do an exclusive reading of the book at that event. He didn’t appear at that event, but he had recorded his voice for the event, and it was incredibly powerful and dramatic and hilarious.
Kasia Anderson: Yeah, I could listen to him read anything. He’s really quite something. So in the lead-up—I mean, how early on, when the book was in its final stages pre-launch—when did you kind of have an inkling that this was going to be something big?
Johnny Temple: Well, the inkling came fast and furious. What had happened was the book was originally supposed to be published in October of 2011, and the author did an impromptu reading from the book at an auditorium in Philadelphia at an event he was a part of. And he was just sort of … just basically doing a practice reading of the book in front of an audience, because it was still six months before publication. And so he did this reading, and there were a couple hundred people in the audience; it was him and four or five other performers, artists and authors. And response from the audience was so solid that he had to stop between verses until the laughter subsided. And he called me up afterwards to tell me that there’s a great sign, that he did a reading and it got a great response. So we were feeling very good about the fact that without anyone knowing about the book, an audience of a couple hundred people loved his presentation. But what we didn’t realize was that people in the audience had started tweeting and making Facebook posts and telling their friends, and basically overnight the book became a worldwide sensation. Amazon.com had a pre-order page up selling the book, and that pre-order page become a sort of peg around which the enthusiasm for the book gathered. And the book shot up to the very top of the Amazon.com best-seller list six months before publication. And we started getting calls from all around the world, from people and book publishers and foreign-language book publishers. And then major American book publishers started trying to buy the book from us.
Kasia Anderson: How would that have worked? It was yours and yours at that point, right? Or could you …
Johnny Temple: We could have stopped our publication plans and just handed it over to them, and they were offering us huge amounts of money to just buy the books off our hands. But basically what happened was, because the book went viral after Adam’s reading in Philadelphia, we suddenly had to move the publication date up from October to the middle of June, just to keep up with all the excitement it had generated. So it was very early on that we had an inkling that the book was going to be successful; the book became a huge success before we were prepared, basically.
Kasia Anderson: Yeah. Well, is there any downside to that sort of instant success and the momentum that it built? I mean, were you worried about leaks to the Internet [Laughs], or sort of any kind of backlash happening?
Johnny Temple: It has been very stressful, but I don’t think there’s really any downside. The downside is that sudden success brings a whole lot of stress, but this is the kind of stress I can live with.
Kasia Anderson: Yeah, exactly. That must have been fun for you as a publisher to watch all this, you know, excitement on Amazon and elsewhere.
Johnny Temple: Oh, yeah. I mean, every day it continues. You know, every day brings new surprises, and it’s … like I said, the book has taken on a life of its own. So these things happen with it that have never happened with other books that we had before. We’ve licensed it into translation; it’s in 30 different languages.
Kasia Anderson: Wow. Any merchandizing spinoffs? Are we going to have sippy cups at McDonald’s with themed …
Johnny Temple: We have been approached from a number of different merchandising companies, but I’m not sure that we’re going to pursue anything.
Kasia Anderson: Right. Now, what about a follow-up? Can we look forward to Mansbach coming up with some more rude poems for parents?
Johnny Temple: [Laughs] Well, actually, quite the contrary. Our follow-up is that Ricardo, the illustrator, and Adam, the author, are working on a G-rated version of the book that is going to be entirely child-friendly. So it will, in fact, be a children’s book, with a slightly different title and with no profanity; it will be 100 percent child-friendly. And we’re excited, because little children know that there’s a dance that they do in the difficulties that they present to their parents in going to bed. And in fact, if you read the book, if you read a censored version of the book to children, they actually very much enjoy it because it outs them for their mischievous nighttime antics.
Kasia Anderson: Right, and it’s a little bit of candor from the parent’s point of view as well, which they also might appreciate.
Johnny Temple: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Kasia Anderson: So just to talk about it from the publishing side again, with this kind of a huge hit, does this mean good things for the other books and authors in your lineup? Does it change the game for you at Akashic?
Johnny Temple: It does perhaps change the game. I mean, it’s certainly going to be a great year in terms of our business; we’re a small company, and we are constantly, chronically struggling to break even, and to just stay in business. There’s never been any security; we don’t have any backers. I mean, it’s a wonderful thing we don’t have any backers—we don’t have anyone we have to answer to. But the flip side of that is that we’re chronically fragile, so this will hopefully stabilize us for at least a couple of years. Now, in terms of it changing the game beyond that, we’ll have to wait and see how big of a success the book is. If the book is a monstrous success, and year after year every pregnant woman gets a copy of the book at her baby shower, you know, and the sales keep going, that could really change things for us beyond just a couple of years of stability. And you know, it has been wonderful, the book has been for five weeks … it has been No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list. So our status as a publishing company is definitely being elevated somewhat. So I do think that it helps our whole list, because it helps Akashic, and it puts us—we were already on the map in literary circles, but now people can see that we can, in fact, produce and handle a national bestseller. You know, the top selling book in the country. So, yeah, I think there’s all sorts of benefits for us and for our authors to gain. But hopefully it won’t be just a comfortable 18 months; hopefully this will help us to find a way to keep this company going in a viable, long-term way, because up until now it’s extremely draining physically and emotionally on me and my staff. And it’s amazing, I think, that we’ve kept the company going this far, but it’s always had this feeling that this can’t go on forever, because it just takes too much out of us.
Kasia Anderson: Well, I predict that this will be a classic for years to come, and it’s a—congratulations—very deserved success. And with that, we’re going to wrap up. I’ve been speaking with Johnny Temple, publisher and editor-in-chief of Akashic Books, which recently put out the hit title “Go the [F***] to Sleep.” Thanks, Johnny, I appreciate your time.
Johnny Temple: Thanks so much for having me.
Peter Scheer: That’s it for this week. Find us next Wednesday at 2 on KPFK or anytime online at Truthdig.com. Thanks to our guests Mike Farrell, Johnny Temple, Moshe Adler, Robert Scheer and Sam Brower. Thanks also to our board op Jee, engineer Stan Misraje and Alan Minsky. For Kasia Anderson and the Scheer brothers, thanks for listening.
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