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The President As Novelist's Best Friend

Daily News

Online Only, posted 5.05.09

Near the end of a recent interview for the New York Times Magazine, president Barack Obama briefly mentioned that he was reading Joseph O’Neill’s PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novel Netherland (Pantheon, 2008). The interview made no mention of whether the president was enjoying the book, just that he was reading it. But from the mouth of the popular president, that was enough.

Vintage, the Random House imprint that had planned to publish the paperback edition of Netherland on June 2, moved the publication date to this Thursday, May 7, and the novel's Amazon sales ranking jumped dramatically. According to the New York Observer, last Friday the hardcover's ranking was 1,002; the forthcoming paperback edition was at 4,277. Yesterday the hardcover was at 850; the paperback at 950. And as of this morning, the paperback is at 697.

O'Neil is just the latest author to receive an unexpected, and probably unintentional, plug from the president. Before he was elected, Obama was photographed holding a copy of Fareed Zakaria's The Post-American World. Earlier this year he was seen with Fred Kaplan's Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer. Shortly after Obama was elected, publishers scrambled to claim rights to a book about FDR's first one hundred days in office that the president-elect had vaguely mentioned—without citing a title or an author—on an episode of 60 Minutes. Obama later clarified that he was referring to two books: Jonathan Alter's The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope and Jean Edward Smith's FDR.

In a role once dominated by Oprah, President Obama has authors and publishers waiting with bated breath.  

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