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'Satanic Verses' Selling Briskly Since Threat

March 15, 1989|PHILIPP GOLLNER | Times Staff Writer

The best-selling novel "The Satanic Verses," whose author has been the subject of a death threat from Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was a hot commodity Tuesday in the San Fernando Valley.

Of five bookstores surveyed, the book was sold out at three. And at the two others, it was selling briskly.

The bookstores had received second printings of the book last week, after selling all of their copies of the first printing immediately after the death threat was publicized, store managers said.

The novel was sold out at Waldenbooks in Northridge Fashion Center, at B. Dalton Bookseller on Devonshire Street in Granada Hills and at Dutton's Books in North Hollywood. It was in stock at Crown Books outlets in Granada Hills and Sherman Oaks.

Dutton's sold 125 copies of "The Satanic Verses" from a shipment it received last week, said owner Davis Dutton. The store on Laurel Canyon Boulevard still has a waiting list of 100, which should be filled with another shipment expected later this week, Dutton said.

Salman Rushdie reportedly has been under police guard in England since Khomeini announced Feb. 14 that he would pay $6 million to any Muslim who kills the author. Muslims complained that the book is blasphemous because it portrays the prophet Mohammed as corrupt and because it states that Mohammed wrote the Koran rather than receiving it from God.

The controversy surrounding the novel has helped propel it to the top of the New York Times best seller list for the past two weeks.

Spokesmen for B. Dalton Bookseller and Crown Books said the book's best seller status is only marginally responsible for continued brisk sales. Most people are buying the book because it is controversial, the spokesmen said.

Some Copies Held

At Waldenbooks at Northridge Fashion Center, 14 copies of the novel were purchased after a shipment of 55 copies arrived Monday, said assistant manager George Castano. The remaining 41 volumes were being held for people who ordered the book after the store sold out.

"Thus far, there have been no returns," Castano said. "I think that even if people don't read it, they'll end up keeping it because it's such a big event. There were people coming in here buying it who would usually not buy that kind of book."

Castano said that before Khomeini issued his death order, the store could not sell the four copies of the novel it had in stock.

An employee of one Valley Crown Books outlet, who asked not to be identified, said that store had sold out of the novel "several times" since Khomeini made his threat.

But "before Christmas, it sold like a dog," she added.

The employee said she was surprised that so many people are buying the novel. She said that she had read it, and she described it as "terrible."

Other bookstore owners and managers expressed similar views, saying many people probably will put the book down after wading through a few of its dense, sprawling and, for some readers, incomprehensible chapters.

Free Speech

Dutton of Dutton's Books speculated that many of his customers have bought the book to affirm their right to free speech.

"A lot of people are doing it out of a sense of outrage at anyone telling them what they can and cannot read," he said.

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