'My Life': Disaster weighting to happen?
PORTLAND, ORE. — "Please don't mention my name," said the voice on the other end of the phone. "Just say you talked to an anonymous source in the book business."
"Not a problem," I said. "What's up?"
"It's the Clinton memoir," my source continued. "The media are missing the real story. Someone's going to get hurt."
"In what sense?" I asked. "Did Mr. Clinton reveal state secrets?"
"No," said the caller, "The book itself is a threat to personal safety. It's a massive object, and the first print run was one-and-a-half million, which greatly increases the probability of sudden-impact trauma to consumers. There's already been one confirmed incident, and everyone in the publishing field is terrified."
"What sort of incident?" I wondered.
"We're trying to keep this quiet," the tipster cautioned. "It happened in one of those warehouse stores. They had 'My Life' in huge stacks piled on a long table. A shopping cart banged into it, and part of the display collapsed. A young woman was grazed on the head by one of the falling copies. She recovered quickly, but the next victim may not be so fortunate."
"Let's be clear. You're saying book-related accidents involving huge, saga-length memoirs are a new literary hazard?"
"The logic is inescapable," the voice said. "Clinton was the first boomer president. There's never been a more verbose, self-absorbed generation in American history. As more and more of them put their life stories in book form, brevity and editing will be abandoned as everyone tries to outproduce the competition in terms of sheer word count."
"I see your point," I said. "All it takes is one hefty volume toppling from a high shelf and, bingo! The mother of all personal injury lawsuits."
"Exactly!" There was a shrill tone in the voice now. "Authors, publishers, booksellers - we're all potential targets if our product hurts someone. The trial lawyers will come after us like hungry wolves!"
"Tell me how I can help," I offered.
"It's hard to agree on a plan of action when we don't know the full scope of the problem. Can you give me some insight on how long this situation may persist?"
"Brace yourself," I said. "The boomers aren't slowing down, and we live in a culture that's fascinated by mixing and re-combining ideas. A few years ago Stephen King released an expanded version of his early bestseller, 'The Stand.' It was hundreds of pages longer than the original."
"Oh no," moaned the voice, "are you saying ... ?"
"Yes," I cut in. "It's entirely possible that Bill Clinton will produce an updated memoir every five years or so. Other boomer celebrities will follow his lead. Bookstores will be jammed to the rafters with weighty editions. Patrons may have to wear helmets for protection from falling overstock."
Suddenly there was a choking sound in the phone. "Are you all right?" I asked. "Did you say something?"
There was a moment of eerie silence and then, in a hoarse whisper tinged with fear, I heard his final reply: "The horror! The horror!"