When John Steinbeck's East of Eden was first published (summer 1952), the author called its initial printing—110,000 copies—"one hell of a big first edition." By that November, the novel was the country's #1 bestseller. We can't help wondering what Steinbeck would think of the current hoopla surrounding the title—Oprah's recent selection of the book for her club's comeback (News, June 23), and the boffo numbers it's racking up. As a June 23 New York Post article trumpeted, "Oprah Blessing Sets 'Eden' Sales Afire." Afire, indeed: this past week Penguin went back to press (reprint #4) for a whopping 250,000 copies, which brings the in-print total to 1,045,000. In the words of publicity director Maureen Donnelly, "We're over the top. This book has outperformed any other Oprah pick we've had. The velocity has been tremendous and what's happening at the cash register is over and above any previous Oprah selection." The book tops PW's trade paperback chart this week (a position it will also grab on the July 6 New York Times list); Oprah's last pick to accomplish this feat was House of Sand and Fog, back in November 2000. And only eight selections in all (out of 46) hit #1 in their first week on PW's lists. Interestingly, East of Eden has never been Penguin's #1 Steinbeck seller; that position has been held, reports Donnelly, by Of Mice and Men (about 400,000 copies sold annually), followed by Grapes of Wrath (about 150,000). East of Eden, she says, has ranked fourth or fifth. Not any more.
With reporting by Dick Donahue