George Bush’s autobiography, Decision Points, has officially sold 1.1 million copies in two weeks, joining Bill Clinton’s My Life and Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope in the presidential million-seller list. But how much did New York independent booksellers have to do with achieving this number? McNally Jackson in Soho doesn’t keep Decision Points on the new-nonfiction table in the front of the store, for example, even though it is currently the No. 1 New York Times best seller in the category. It’s not even in the biography section — in fact, it’s housed behind the counter. Like pornography.
“It’s a special class of book,” a cashier explained to Intel over the weekend, with an eye roll. Naturally, we set out to find out where Bush’s book was placed in other trendy independent bookstores of Manhattan — and how it was selling.
On the Upper East Side, demand numbers at 32, which is how many copies Shakespeare & Co. sold to make the book its No. 2 best seller, right behind Diary of a Whimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth. Ironic? The bow-tie-clad manager of Logos told us Bush’s memoir didn’t fit with his holiday-themed window displays, so he shelved his one remaining copy (of three) of the book, spine facing out. Just a skip from the Met’s steps at Crawford Dolye, a clerk directed us to Decision Points “right next to Washington” on a back table littered with political topics. At the Corner Bookstore, we found a copy sandwiched between American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism and Bill Bryson’s Seeing Farther.
One need not wander the eighteen miles of books of the Strand to find Decision Points, which lives on the “80 Best of the Best” table. We found the title three tiers back, right between Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Steven Sondheim’s Finishing the Hat. At Posman Books in Chelsea Market, Bush kept to familiar company just one book away from Tony Blair’s A Journey: My Political Life, but at Three Lives & Company in the West Village, a single copy occupied the top shelf, masked by a mounted green library lamp. And when we returned to McNally Jackson to get the official story of why the book was hidden behind the counter, we got an even more blunt answer: “The owner didn’t want to give Bush a cent in royalities,” a clerk told us, “but decided to keep a few copies in case journalists needed to read it.”
Meanwhile, many shops didn’t have a single copy at all. Used bookstores like Housing Works, Alabaster Bookstore, Left Bank Books, and Mercer Street Books and Records said that, mysteriously, no one had yet brought in a previously read copy for resale. A worker at BookBook in the Village (formerly Biography Bookshop) even said that Bush’s autobiography was just not the “kind of book” they sell.