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THE JAUNDICED EYE

Starr Issues Reading List Subpoena to Every U.S. Citizen

April 12, 1998|Bruce McCall | Bruce McCall is a regular contributor to the New Yorker. He is author of the memoir, "Thin Ice: Coming of Age in Canada."

NEW YORK — Panic is reportedly gripping the great and near great today in the wake of Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr's issuance of broad subpoenas to every bookstore, book club and library in the United States. In a sweeping expansion of his powers, he intends to track down not only Monica S. Lewinsky's fare but what every other American has read or is reading.

"Then," Starr explains, "we can burn up another $50 million, easy, dragging people before grand juries to explain why." Asked what any of this has to do with Whitewater, Starr claimed the connection was obvious. "Book pages are white, and books should never be read underwater," he stated. But it is his office's propensity for leaks that is giving shivers to public figures--and, true to form, the flow of tantalizing tidbits has already begun.

For example, unattributed word out of Little Rock is that ardent Clinton apologist James Carville is reading "The Life of P.T. Barnum" and that an order to Amazon.com for a backlist copy of "How to Pick Up Girls" was recently e-mailed by the law office of Clinton advisor and crony, Vernon E. Jordan Jr., while Atty. Gen. Janet Reno's bedside copy of "Dress for Success" is now an open secret.

"The obvious political taint of these leaks is understandable, if not pardonable," observes one legal scholar, "but going after citizens far outside the Beltway--that's foul play." He referred to a second round of leaks revealing that "Titanic" director James Cameron demanded a refund after purchasing "10 Ways To a More Assertive You," 17-year-old former child star and soon-to-be-bridegroom Macaulay Culkin bought himself "The Kamasutra," former presidential candidate and California Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. owns "Memoirs of a Space Alien" (first edition), ex-statesman Henry A. Kissinger is currently poring over "Teach Yourself to Tango," and that "So You Want to Put On a Broadway Show!" is a recent addition to the library of songwriter Paul Simon. Financial community insiders, meanwhile, are pronouncing themselves "shaken" that Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's latest book order, sent in last week, is "How To Profit From the Coming Recession."

Following on the heels of these revelations is word, just out, that Starr's investigators have "hit pay dirt" in an international computer cross-indexing exercise: Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat ordering "The Joys of Yiddish"; Libyan strongman Moammar Kadafi sending "10 Ways to Control That Temper" to fellow mega-thug Saddam Hussein; a copy of the "The Cocktail Bar in Your Medicine Chest," winging its way to "Thirsty, c/o the Kremlin."

Efforts of Starr's critics to turn the tables and leak his personal reading preferences have, to date, been less than successful. "All we've found," says a counter-investigator, "is Volumes II through IX of 'A History of the Spanish Inquisition,' autobiographies by the Marquis de Sade and Cardinal Richelieu, 'How to Get a Government Job,' a few John Grisham novels and a Superman comic. Not much to build a case on there."

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