Stores split over shelving O.J. book

September 15, 2007|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,Sun reporter

Torn by an obligation to make books available to the public and a disgust with profiteering off two vicious murders, bookstores across the country are split on whether to carry the new O.J. Simpson book, If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer.

At the Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore, the matter was put to a staff vote. By a margin of 7-6, the staff opted to carry the book. But owner Darielle Linehan decided she didn't want to make any money off the sale of the book, which was published yesterday.

"All proceeds from the sale of the book at our store will go to the House of Ruth," Linehan said, referring to the Baltimore domestic violence center that helps battered women and their children. "It's sort of a matter of principle that money from the sale of the book would go to something good."

Simpson was acquitted by a criminal court in the 1994 slayings of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman. A civil court later found him responsible for the murders and ordered him to pay $33 million to the Brown and Goldman families.

His book, which contains a chapter in which he imagines how one would go about killing Brown Simpson and Goldman, has taken a tortured path to publication. First purchased by HarperCollins last year, the publisher dropped the book after a public outcry. Another publisher, Beaufort Books, stepped in. By then, a judge had awarded custody of the book to Fred Goldman, father of Ron Goldman.

Profits from the book, with an initial print run of 150,000 copies, will now go to settling the debt Simpson owes the Browns and Goldmans, though the Brown family opposes publication of the book. Some booksellers also have decided they don't want anything to do with it.

Rainy Day Books near Kansas City, Kan., ordered just one copy of the book for people to thumb through if they're curious. But the store will not sell the book. Instead, customers will be encouraged to make a donation of equal or greater value to a local women's shelter.

"I see it as an opportunity to raise awareness of the issue of domestic violence," said Vivien Jennings, owner of Rainy Day Books. "I don't think anyone should profit from it, and I feel really strongly about that. I feel like it is blood money."

Book Passage in California, which has stores in Corte Madera and San Francisco, won't carry the book at all. Store managers wrote an explanation of their decision to be read to anyone who calls or asks for the book:

"If this book were a serious analysis of the facts surrounding these murders, we might be inclined to carry it despite the family's feelings. But it is not. This book was conceived of as a publicity stunt and remains so to this day. Even O.J. Simpson, the supposed author of the book, has denied that the material is factual.

"We respect [the Goldman family's] rights and their efforts to satisfy the civil judgment that they obtained against O.J. Simpson. We feel it is unfortunate, however, that they have chosen this means to collect on that judgment because this can only make a very bad situation worse for everyone."

If I Did It was the No. 1 best-selling book on Amazon.com yesterday afternoon, possibly boosted by an appearance by the Browns and Goldmans on The Oprah Winfrey Show on Thursday (or by the other Simpson news of the day: Las Vegas police naming him as a suspect in a casino theft). But some independent booksellers said they didn't believe their patrons would be interested.

"I don't feel this is something that would fit our market or our customer base," said Gayle Shanks, co-owner of Changing Hands in Tempe, Ariz. The store will order the book for any customer who asks, but as of yesterday no one had expressed interest, Shanks said.

Several independent bookstore owners said they would carry the book but not promote it. They said they are not in the business of censoring books and are wary of not stocking a book based on their own personal objections.

"We just don't want to be part of a group that would restrict access to a book that is lawfully available," said Derek Holland, manager of the Tattered Cover in Denver. "We don't want to be seen as holding books back. It's for our marketplace and our readers to decide."

The major chain bookstores are carrying the book. Barnes & Noble initially decided to sell the book only through its Web site but late last month said it will also offer the book in stores because of customer demand, though without giving it prominent display or promotion.

The Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore will make the book available at all of its branches. And the Baltimore County Public Library has ordered 25 copies of the book. Both libraries said there was little internal debate over whether to stock the book.

But where to shelve the book is another matter. If I Did It will be found in the fiction section of Baltimore County libraries. But Baltimore City libraries will shelve it under social science and history.

At Book People in Austin, Texas, manager Bryan Sansone said the store has found another section it believes more appropriate for the book: true crime.

stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com

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