Readers' trust in Bob Woodward helps drive Berkshire sales of 'Fear'
GREAT BARRINGTON — Julia Hobart, manager and book buyer for The Bookloft, said she ordered 12 copies of Bob Woodward's new book, "Fear: Trump in the White House," well in advance.
Another five were ordered as the release of excerpts from the book generated a buzz in recent days. But on Tuesday, the day of the book's formal release, staff realized early that they still wouldn't have enough copies to meet the demand.
"We should have gotten 30 or more," Hobart said. "Now, it's too late."
All the store's copies already were sold via preorders.
The interest in the book also has exceeded what publisher Simon & Schuster already has printed: 1 million copies. As of late Tuesday afternoon, for instance, the book had reached No. 1 on Amazon's best-seller list. Citing "extraordinary demand," the publisher said new printing rounds will begin.
This is good news for Berkshire County booksellers, who thought they were prepared.
"Fear" is a 448-page deep dive with West Wing staffers, some of whom go unnamed, and some, according to reviews, reveal infighting, misery and dysfunction in that workplace. It also quotes Trump's chief of staff, John Kelly, as saying Trump has "gone off the rails. We're in Crazytown."
Amy Edelman popped in to The Bookloft on Tuesday morning, hoping to snag a copy before she heads home to New York City. Edelman, a freelance copy editor who has a second home in South Egremont, said it is "Woodward's pedigree" dating to the scandal that sank Richard Nixon's presidency that enticed her to spring for a $30 copy. Alas, she would have to wait.
"I read 'All the President's Men' when I was 12, and then 'The Final Days,' " Edelman said, referring to two books by journalists Woodward and Carl Bernstein that detailed the Watergate Hotel break-in that led to Nixon's downfall. "I watched [the] Watergate [hearings] with my mother."
Edelman said Woodward's book, which Trump has tweeted is a "scam" and a "joke," holds the promise of a higher caliber of writing than "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House" by Michael Wolff, which she also read.
"That was a guilty secret," she said. "It's not well-written."
Customers came in to The Bookloft throughout the day looking for "Fear," citing Woodward as its primary selling point, and putting their name on the list to reserve one of about 27 more reprinted copies on order — whenever they arrive.
"The publisher doesn't know when they will have more," bookseller Tim Oberg told Nick Schkrutz, another South Egremont customer.
"We're in a presidential crisis," Schkrutz said while standing at the checkout desk. He said he trusts Woodward's reporting. "I'm old enough to remember Woodward in the Nixon years. I'm also a student of history, and this [White House] is unlike anything."
Hobart said the small order was the store's way of protecting itself from a profusion of political books that appears to dilute customers' interest, and thus remain on shelves.
"We're so swamped with Trump books," said Hobart, who said she prefers reading fiction. "I go for escapism."
But "Fear" is, apparently, different than most "Trump books" — readers are banking on not escaping reality, their hands held by an iconic American journalist. And readers say they trust Woodward and his use of some unnamed sources, a reporting method that, while easy to attack, is sometimes the only way to crack into an otherwise impenetrable government shield.
In an appearance on The New York Times' "Daily" podcast, Woodward said he did this "to get the real truth."
"The sources are not anonymous to me," Woodward said. "I know exactly who they are."
Melinda Diaz, a bookseller at The Williams Bookstore in Williamstown, said the wholesaler had sent it 18 copies, but she couldn't tell how many had been sold yet.
At The Bookstore in Lenox, the requests began early Tuesday.
"I hadn't even turned the lights on when the customer came," said owner Matthew Tannenbaum. She had wanted it for a flight, he said, but couldn't wait for the delivery truck to offload 80 copies he had ordered.
Tannenbaum instead tried to sell her a new biography of poet E.E. Cummings. But she wasn't having it.
"She said, 'I had enough of that in college,' " Tannenbaum said. "These are the kinds of customers who want the Woodward book."
But for Tannenbaum, the unthinkable later happened — the delivery truck didn't arrive. It turned out, his order had been canceled since the wholesaler ran out more quickly than anticipated.
"The publisher was caught flat-footed," Tannenbaum said. "We were caught with our ankles in the mud. I didn't think I had to scramble — I'm going to spend the rest of the afternoon calling people," he said of roughly 30 customers who had preordered. He'll get copies from the next printing.
Back at The Bookloft, there was success: Frances Roth of Sheffield left the desk hugging the book to her chest. She too, trusts Woodward, she said.
"Based on his reputation, I don't think he's making this up," Roth said. "The people he's quoting are denying it, and I would expect them to be denying it."
And what of the unnamed sources? Roth referred to the pseudonym given to Mark Felt, an FBI special agent who delivered the goods to Woodward and Bernstein about Watergate.
"I think we'll find out eventually," she said, "just as we did with Deep Throat."
Heather Bellow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.
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