The first Big Books of spring have arrived and one of them is bigger than the others.
Christopher Darden's "In Contempt" is a runaway success. The prosecuting attorney's memoir of the O.J. Simpson case was the top-selling book last week in the Barnes & Noble chain and the No. 1 title at Waldenbooks stores. It will debut on the New York Times national best-seller list Sunday at No. 1. After an initial volley of 400,000 copies, ReganBooks, a division of HarperCollins, reports that there are now 735,000 in print.
Darden has come across in numerous appearances on radio and television as a thoughtful man who was caught in a maelstrom. "I was confident that Chris was the right one with the right story because he was the man in the middle," publisher Judith Regan said this week. She suggested that the strong sales of Darden's book partly reflect a backlash against what many perceive as the slickness of Simpson's attorneys.
One of those attorneys, Robert Shapiro, introduced his account of the Simpson case late last week. "The Search for Justice" (Warner) appeared Wednesday on the Wall Street Journal's national bestseller list at No. 12. In addition, based on initial demand, the book was the No. 5 nonfiction hardcover being offered by Ingram Book Co. in Nashville, a leading wholesaler. Ingram took orders for more than 7,000 copies--20,000 fewer than the company received for Darden's book. Indeed, in recent signings at Barnes & Noble's Rockefeller Center store, Darden outdrew Shapiro 3 to 1.
A third entrant in the Simpson book sweepstakes, defense attorney Alan Dershowitz's "Reasonable Doubts" (Simon & Schuster) will mark its third week on the New York Times' list at No. 13.
"Few people have gone broke underestimating the appetite of the American public for O.J.-related information," a publishing insider said.
Darden's bookselling surge has knocked James B. Stewart's "Blood Sport" (Simon & Schuster), an investigative chronicle of Bill Clinton and Whitewater, into second position on the New York Times' and Publishers Weekly's bestseller lists. Nevertheless, "Blood Sport" is another strong spring hit. The in-print total has more than doubled, to 500,000 copies, since books reached stores in mid-March.
Meanwhile, "Primary Colors," by Anonymous, the novel about a Clinton-like campaign, continues to top the fiction charts nine weeks after publication.
Writing in the New Republic's "White House Watch" column, senior editor Matthew Cooper argues that "much of what has ailed the Clintons is their failure to court reporters with the same zeal they have trained on, say, California." Cooper added: "In the absence of the White House filling in the blanks, others do it for them--Al D'Amato or Camille Paglia. I suspect the reason why books like Bob Woodward's 'The Agenda' and 'Primary Colors' and 'Blood Sport" sell so well is that they purport to explain the enigmatic Clintons. . . . There's a real hunger to understand who these people are."
McMillan's in the Groove: If you can tell something about a book from its title, then Terry McMillan's new novel, "How Stella Got Her Groove Back," would seem to offer more savvy and snap from the author of the enormously popular "Waiting to Exhale." People magazine is so enthused that its editors plan to break format, running what is believed to be People's first full-length excerpt from a novel when it previews "Stella" before the book goes on sale April 29.
As of Tuesday, Viking was anticipating a first printing of 800,000 copies. "Waiting to Exhale" has sold 700,000 in hardcover alone, but the number for "Stella" may go much higher. "The orders have been coming in real strong," director of publicity Paul Slovak said. "It's very exciting for us."
Stella is a rich, 42-year-old divorcee from Northern California who falls into what the book trade magazine Publishers Weekly calls "explicitly detailed" sex, but not necessarily love, with a much younger man in Jamaica. In a review this week, PW says that "readers who have been yearning for a Judith Krantz of the black bourgeoisie--albeit one with a dirty mouth and a more ebullient spirit--will be pleased with this fantasy of sexual fulfillment."
Another book to watch: Sara Ban Breathnach's "Simple Abundance: Daybook of Comfort and Joy" (Warner), which has taken off, as often happens, since the author's recent appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Identified as someone whom Winfrey would like to have dinner with, Breathnach had the top title last week at Ingram Book Co., a sure sign that viewer interest prompted stores to flood the wholesaler with orders.
Afterwords: Mario Puzo will return with his first Mafia novel since "The Godfather" more than two decades ago when Random House releases "The Last Don" in September. CBS bought miniseries rights for a reported $2.1 million. . . .
Michael Moore, director of "Roger and Me," the unforgettable documentary about the impact of a General Motors plant closing on Flint, Mich., is writing his first book, "Downsize This!" The subtitle is "Random Threats From an Unarmed American." Crown will publish it in September. . . .
The April issue of Runner's World is a keepsake that marks the 100th anniversary of the Boston Marathon and chronicles its colorful history.
* Paul D. Colford's column is published Thursdays.