Dispatches | August 31, 2007

The top publishing story of the past two days has been Barnes and Noble’s reversal of an earlier decision not to stock the Goldman family’s repackaged version of O.J. Simpson’s ghostwritten confessional/hypothetical (take your pick) If I Did It in their stores.  Online preorders for the book were so good–it has made the top 100 list at both barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com–that according to a company spokesperson, Barnes and Noble sees no reason not to put it out on the shelves.  The publication date is set for mid September.

Most of us are familiar with the story, which has been unfolding for some time:  HarperCollins announced the book’s publication in 2006 but dumped it, along with Judith Regan and her imprint, after public protest and objections from Ron Goldman’s family.  Recently, a court decision gave rights to the book to Goldman family, to allow them to recover at least a portion of the millions in damages awarded them in a civil suit against Simpson.  Next the family negotiated with independent publisher Beaufort Books to publish Simpson’s book, with additional commentary and explanation. To mitigate what still seems to be questionable judgment in allowing the story to see print (or be sold in any bookstore) a portion of proceeds from sales will be given to the Ron Goldman Foundation for Justice.   

That the book will sell–is already selling–despite the queasiness most book lovers feel about it-is a good example of what authors and literary readers are constantly bemoaning as “the state of publishing.”  On the one hand, such complaints are justified, and on the other, I tend to think that time takes care of all the literary chaff–and art was never about money anyway, was it?

I’ve been thinking today about another best-selling book by a black writer about how two murders were committed.  A book that, especially for its time, was graphic, shocking, intense, socially conscious–and so popular, with an initial printing of 250,000 copies, that it became a Book-of-the-Month-Club selection.  The year was 1940.  The book was Richard Wright’s novel Native Son, a truly great and haunting story about race, poverty, error and anger.  Right now someone, more than one person, is reading Native Son and being changed by it.  I doubt that anyone will be reading If I Did It in 2074.