Bestseller lists reach verdict on "Dutch"

Edmund Morris' biography of Ronald Reagan ruled nonfiction -- barely.


Craig Offman
October 11, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

The verdict may come as no surprise, but the mere fact that there was some deliberation was a little shocking. As it turns out, the leading bestseller lists have allowed Edmund Morris' controversial biography, "Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan," to slip under the gates of truth: It's being treated as nonfiction.

The Random House book, which uses a fictionalized narrator to tell the life story of the Gipper, had an initial print run of more than 300,000 copies, a number that suggests a good deal of confidence on the publisher's part. Apparently it's warranted: "Dutch" will debut at No. 2 on the Oct. 17 New York Times bestseller list -- but with a few words of warning. "We've decided to put it on the nonfiction side with a little line indicating that, as everyone knows, there is indeed fictional stuff in it," says Times Book Review editor in chief Charles "Chip" McGrath.

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"Dutch" has also landed in the No. 2 spot on the nonfiction list at Publishers Weekly. "It still is basically a memoir, but using a literary device," PW executive editor Daisy Maryles notes. "We're following the lead of the title, which uses the word 'memoir.' After that you can tear it up any way you want to." The book will appear on the nonfiction side at the Wall Street Journal as well, according to Bob Hughes, the reporter who compiles the newspaper's bestseller lists.

All the same, opinion varies. At the Lexington Avenue branch of the New York bookstore Shakespeare & Co., a sign in the front window reads, "'Dutch' is available from our fiction section."


Craig Offman

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

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