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Clinton book hype reaches climax
Updated: 2004-06-22 09:41

So many pundits, newspapers and broadcasters have blitzed the public with snippets and views of Bill Clinton's memoirs that readers may feel they hardly need open the book themselves.

"My Life" hits bookstores at midnight on Monday, but the public already has been regaled with the story of how the former president told his wife of his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky and was banished to sleep on the sofa.

A celebrity-studded book party for one thousand guests is being thrown at Manhattan's Metropolitan Museum of Art and at the stroke of midnight, bookstores in New York and Washington will start selling the book.

The memoir spans Clinton's life from his childhood in Arkansas to his tumultuous White House years and he plans a month-long tour of book signings and television appearances to help sell it.

"I think more people will buy the book than read the book, particularly a 900-page one," said Douglas Brinkley, director of the Eisenhower Centre for American Studies and professor of history at the University of New Orleans.

Sales seem assured thanks to the media hype. "It could be anything between the covers," said Brinkley. "It's not about substance, its about souvenirs."

An early review in The New York Times called the memoir "sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull."

But regardless of whether people read it, publisher Alfred A. Knopf has sold more advance orders than the first printing of 1.5 million.

"It's an event, not just a publication," said Paul Boller, author of "Presidential Anecdotes" and "Presidential Campaigns."

"Most presidential memoirs tend to be gigantic bores," he said. "But I have a feeling it's probably going to go over pretty good. I think there's some of this policy wonk stuff, but people will just skip over that and read the lively parts."

Such interest is unprecedented in presidential memoirs, which traditionally do not sell well, said Oren Teicher, chief operating officer of the American Booksellers Association.

He said the public's appetite for political books was whetted by Senator Hillary's Clinton's autobiography published last year as well as recent books by journalist and author Bob Woodward and former anti-terrorism official Richard Clarke.

"The number of books about contemporary politics that have emerged as such important sellers and have become part of the political conversation and discussion, that's certainly unique in my political memory," Teicher said. "In terms of presidential memoirs, not in our lifetime. There's never remotely been this level of interest."

Clinton, who appeared in an hour-long segment on CBS's "60 Minutes" on Sunday, will also give interviews to Oprah Winfrey, CNN's Larry King, NBC's "Today Show" and ABC's "Good Morning America" before setting off for events in California.

"In book terms, it's like a blockbuster movie being released," said Brinkley. "Does he outsell his wife, has any president sold more books? On and on, it becomes a parlour game to eat up some time on the 24-hour news cycle."

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