Local booksellers say they've benefited from the controversy generated by the Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's murder threats against the author of "The Satanic Verses" - and from two national chains' decision to pull British author Salman Rushdie's book from their shelves.
The $18.95 book has proven so phenomenally popular locally that booksellers and the Salt Lake City library can't keep it on their shelves.Robin Poulton, manager at Cosmic Aeroplane, said her store had ordered two advance copies, which were sold even before they were delivered.
Since the death threats were made against the author last week and "The Satanic Verses" has pulled down high-profile headlines, Poulton has received about 100 requests for the book. Earlier this week, she tried to order an additional 50 copies. But Poulton was told both the wholesaler and the publisher are out of stock.
But a clerk at a local Waldenbooks store, who wouldn't give his name, said the store has copies of the book in stock, but they are not for sale. "The only thing we're allowed to say is `no comment' "
An official from corporate headquarters, spokeswoman Susan Arnold, said banning the book had nothing to do with censorship, but everything to do with safety. The chain has 1,200 stores.
"Waldenbooks, after receiving several threats to its store employees, has removed public displays of The Satanic Verses from its shelves solely to protect its 8,500 employees and its many customers across America," said Arnold, who was reading from the company's prepared released.
"Waldenbooks has fought long and hard against censorship, but when it comes to the safety of Waldenbooks employees and our customers, we must act responsibly in their interest. We are still selling the book upon request and where available."
Another chain, B. Dalton, has told its 1,200 branches to pull the book from shelves in order to protect employees.
"We have never before pulled a book from our shelves . . . Nevertheless under these extraordinary circumstances, the safety of our employees and patrons must take precedence," said B. Dalton chief executive officer Leonard Riggio.
Riggio said a foreign government, Iran, was holding hostage the U.S. right to free speech and publication.
Indian-born Rushdie canceled a U.S. promotional tour that was scheduled to begin Friday and went into hiding under police guard. Moslem fundamentalist leaders in Iran said suicide squads were planning to carry out the death sentence imposed on Rushdie and his publishers by the Ayatollah.
The book has sold more than 100,000 copies since it was published in Britain in September. Critics blast it as a blasphemous satire of the rise of the Islamic religion. One character in the novel is Mahound, who supposedly represents Mohammed. Moslems complain the book represents the prophet's wives as prostitutes and suggests he wrote the Koran, instead of it being revealed by God.
James Asay, who is the trade book buyer for the LDS Church-owned Deseret Book, said their stores are not stocking "The Satanic Verses" but would attempt to special order it on customer's request. The decision not to sell the book "wasn't anything controversial, it just didn't fit in our clientele's basket."
BYU Bookstore bought five copies of the novel and has sold several. "We plan to stock it, as far as I know," said buyer Don Fossum. "In the college market with a $20 book, it's not like it's going to be a major one for us."
ZCMI stores ordered copies of "The Satanic Verses" but weren't able to get it, said book buyer Duane Taylor.
Sam Weller, owner of the Zion Book Stores, said customers are interested in reading "The Satanic Verses." He said his stores purchased 25 copies and were planning to display it and push it as they would any "normal novel" before the controversy erupted. All copies were sold by Thursday afternoon.
"I think the right honorable Khomeini is making a best seller out of it," Weller said. "Now the publisher is out of stock. It's going to be interesting to see what happens. I really don't see that this man in Iran has any right to tell people not to read it."
Betsy Burton, who is the co-owner of the King's English bookstore, was critical of booksellers who bowed to Khomeini's brand of terrorism by pulling the books off their shelves. "It makes me very angry that any bookstores would be intimidated by fanatics."
Burton said she has sold out twice, but five more copies are on order and should arrive Friday.
The Salt Lake City library system owns five copies of the book. It was cataloged on Thursday, and a day later, all five books had been checked out, and two people are waiting on a reserve list, said Blair Felton, associate librarian.