Fans Seek First Copies of Clinton Book

June 22, 2004 — Eager for a few seconds of face time with their idol, hundreds of Bill Clinton's fans lined up Tuesday near a Manhattan bookstore where he was scheduled to sign copies of his new memoir, "My Life."

"Bill Clinton is a rock star," said Lynne Roberts, 37, who set up camp Monday night, nearly 15 hours before the signing was to begin. "He is our cultural icon and we miss him now more than ever, given everything that's going on in the world."

The Rockefeller Center Barnes & Noble planned to give out more than 1,000 wristbands that would allow customers to purchase several copies, but only one autographed by the former president, who was to arrive at 12:30 p.m.

Although fans were told there would be no time to talk to Clinton, Dana Scinto of Stamford, Conn., said she would try to convey a message anyway.

"I want to thank him for eight fun years where he didn't insult my intelligence or rule by fear, like our current president," said Scinto, 39.

Those who spent the night on the concrete said an atmosphere of camaraderie helped speed the waiting. Roberts said she played gin rummy with her boyfriend and read a newspaper before swaddling herself in a sleeping bag for a nap.

Evette Clarke, who got in line at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, when the number waiting had grown into the hundreds, was effusive about the former president.

"I love the man. He was a great president. ...," said Clarke, who hoped to buy two copies of the book. "He had a problem with his reputation, but who doesn't? Nobody's perfect."

Clinton was also scheduled to sign books Tuesday night at a bookstore in Harlem, where he has an office.

Bookstores in New York, Washington and Little Rock, Ark., stayed open late Monday night for buyers who wanted to snap up their copies right at midnight.

"It's a historic moment for me," said Margaret Woods, who was at a store near Lincoln Center that began selling the book at midnight. "When he was in office, the country was prosperous, people had jobs, the budget was balanced and we weren't at war. He gave a lot of people hope."

The Books-A-Million store in North Little Rock, Ark., staged a party with trivia contests that drew about 80 people.

Although initial reviews have called the book self-serving and dull, Garry Caldwell, 54, of Sherwood, Ark., said he wanted to read "My Life" to better understand Clinton's legacy.

"I believe in listening to both sides of the argument and making up my own mind," he said. "I think he was a good president I think he could have been one of the best presidents except for the scandals."

Alfred A. Knopf has given the memoirs a first printing of 1.5 million. Mary Ellen Keating, a spokeswoman for Barnes & Noble, said she expected the book to be the best-selling presidential memoir in the company's history.

To promote the book, Clinton has served as keynote speaker at BookExpo America, the publishing industry's annual national convention, and been interviewed by "60 Minutes," Time magazine and the British Broadcasting Corp., among others. Over the next month, he will visit independent booksellers, chain superstores, black-owned stores and price clubs such as Costco.

Abroad, the book also went on sale Tuesday in Britain and Ireland; translated copies were being readied in France for a Wednesday launch.

In other countries where translations remained months away, "My Life" arrived in the form of newspaper serializations that focused largely either on Clinton's relationship with his wife, Hillary, or with Monica Lewinsky.

In Ireland, which the ex-president still visits yearly for golf and lucrative speaking engagements, Dubliners lauded Clinton as a driving force behind both the country's 1990s economic boom and the peace process in neighboring Northern Ireland.

"Clinton was a charmer, whereas Bush is just scary," said Pat Huxtable, a psychotherapist thumbing through a copy of "My Life" in a Dublin bookstore.

But critics and Clinton's political opponents have not been kind to the book. Rush Limbaugh has said the book should be called "My Lie." The New York Times, in a front-page review Sunday, called it "sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull."

On NBC's "Today," Bay Buchanan, chairwoman of the conservative American Cause organization, called its marketing "masterful" and Clinton "a brilliant man." But she said the book was "boring and too long."

But Joe Lockhart, Clinton's former press secretary, said he thought "My Life" will make a major contribution to the national dialogue.

"I think people are going to find the book fascinating," Lockhart said.

With advance orders already topping 2 million, Clinton's book appears guaranteed to justify his advance and outsell the memoirs of his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who received $8 million. According to her publisher, Simon & Schuster, the senator's "Living History" has about 2.3 million hardcover and paperback copies in print.

Pre-orders for "My Life" have tripled over the last week at Barnes & Noble and also increased by double digits for Borders, even though the Borders discount for the $35 book dropped from 40 percent to 30 percent for orders made after June 14.