For some strange reason, the American Publishing Machine this past week was not cranking out overnight books on the life and death of John Kennedy Jr. Was it out of respect for the star-crossed family or a grief-stricken nation?
"With JFK Jr.," says Random House spokesman Stuart Applebaum, "there was no mystery or controversy." The young Kennedy was apparently a good-hearted man living a good life.
The death of Princess Diana and the trial of O.J. Simpson, on the other hand, launched a shelf full of express bios and headline-hugging wonders.
What makes this even more odd is that there appears to be plenty of appetite for JFK Jr. remembrances. One six-year-old book is being rushed back into a 350,000 printing. A picture book that's been hanging around for two years is now No. 9 on the Amazon bestseller list.
So whatever happened to quickie books? Perhaps they are relics of "a simpler, less competitive era," Applebaum says. Maybe they can't compete with newspaper coverage, all-news TV, the Internet, one-shot glossy magazines and rapid-fire newsweeklies, he adds.
Publishers Weekly reported last week that one JFK Jr. proposal was being shopped around by David Heymann, author of biographies of Jackie Onassis and Robert Kennedy. But Applebaum and other publishing sources said they do not know of any plans for rush-job biographies.
Some companies are, however, reissuing books about John Kennedy Jr.
Next week Signet, a mass market division of Penguin Putnam Inc., is printing some 350,000 copies of a slightly revised "memorial edition" of Wendy Leigh's "Prince Charming: The John F. Kennedy Jr. Story," a 1993 biography. The book will be in stores Aug. 4.
"We weren't trying to capitalize," says Signet's Hillary Schupf. "There were many orders waiting for us when we came in Monday morning."
The book will contain a new chapter on Kennedy's death. And some fresh perspective, says author Leigh. Speaking from her home in London, she explains: "We do everything we can to avoid our destiny, but it still gets us."
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis strove to make sure that her son was more of a Bouvier than a Kennedy, Leigh explains, to make sure that John Jr. was cautious and more courteous to women. In the end, Leigh says, such courtesy proved fatal when Kennedy took a flight-path detour for his sister-in-law, Lauren Bessette.
"The J.F.K. Jr. Scrapbook," a glorified photo collection put together by Stephen J. Spignesi in 1997, has been zooming up the bestseller list at Amazon.com all week. Yesterday afternoon it was No. 9.
"John F. Kennedy Jr.: A Life in the Spotlight" by Michael and Montague Druitt is also being featured by the online book-selling behemoth. "Spotlight" was published in 1996 by Andrews McMeel. In early August the publisher is sending out 200,000 copies of a new paperback version containing an extra chapter and a new photograph, says spokeswoman Marty Wellington.
McMeel is so concerned about the book's shelf life, the publisher is offering it to bookstores at a discounted rate on a nonreturnable basis. In other words, booksellers will have to eat the copies they don't sell.
The tragic headlines may help some publishers hawk countless other books about other Kennedys.
Columbia University Press, for instance, has posted a photo of John Hellmann's "The Kennedy Obsession: The American Myth of JFK," recently released in paperback, on its home page.
"Sons & Brothers: The Days of Jack and Bobby Kennedy" by Richard Mahoney is arriving in bookstores this month. In press releases, a publicist for Arcade Publishing noted that "the sad event of this past weekend has served as a poignant reminder of how often tragedy has struck this 'Camelot' family."
St. Martin's Press is updating--and increasing the press run for--"Kennedy Weddings: A Family Album." The photo-filled book, with an introduction by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, will be published in October.
And in November, William Morrow and Co. will publish "Edward M. Kennedy: The Biography" by New York Times reporter Adam Clymer.
The biography, says editor Henry Ferris, "has been in the works for seven or eight years. It's an entire, comprehensive look at the life of the senator. It's not a book about John F. Kennedy Jr."
The book does not tie into recent events, Ferris says. Then he adds, "I believe there will be an excerpt in Time magazine next week."