On Tuesday, February 23, Rizzoli hosted a launch party in Vatican City for Pope John Paul II's fifth book, Memory and Identity: Conversations Spanning Millenniums. The next day, the memoir cum philosophical treatise was published in Italy to a chorus of criticism and a flurry of sales. But then, on Thursday, the pope was admitted to the hospital for emergency surgery, and Rizzoli, with a fresh book, braced itself for the possibility of the pontiff's death. Although the pope's health has improved, other publishers are also hurrying books along or preparing to reissue papal backlist.
Rizzoli raced to move up production of its North American English- and Spanish-language editions, originally slated for an April 26 release. Marco Ausenda, CEO of Rizzoli New York, said, "Our production director, Annette Sirna-Bruder, found a U.S. printer [R.R. Donnelly] who was able to put us at the top of their schedule. We are calling her Sister Annette, our miracle worker." Random House will distribute Memory and Identity as an "instant book," getting it into at least some markets in time for Easter, the last Sunday in March.
Although the book will be promoted to traditional Roman Catholic markets, Jennifer Pierson, v-p of sales and marketing, said it will be of interest outside the Catholic world as well. "I call it the pope's perestroika, his thoughts on good and evil, communism and Nazism, as well as what he sees as some of the current threats to our culture." Still, Rizzoli is planning relatively modest first printings: 75,000 copies of the English-language edition and 25,000 in Spanish.
There are several other new pope-related titles coming this spring. Simon & Schuster releases The Loving Heart, the fourth book in the Private Prayers of Pope John Paul II series, on March 15. Pauline Books, the publishing arm of the Daughters of St. Paul, has John Paul II: A Marian Treasury (Mar.), a collection of photographs of the pope on visits to Marian shrines, along with thoughts on Mary (a special devotional focus of the pope's) gleaned from his writings. The new title joins the Paulines' extensive backlist of books about the pope and collections of his writings, including his encyclicals. The house even publishes a children's book, Karol from Poland, and a comic book about the pope.
In May, Paulist Press will publish John Paul II in the Holy Land: In His Words with Christian and Jewish Perspectives by Yehezkel Landau and Michael McGarry. Another scholarly title is The Moral Theology of Pope John Paul II by Charles E. Curran (Georgetown, Mar.). St. Anthony Messenger Press's Servant imprint has John Paul II: A Life of Grace (Mar.), a biography by Renzo Allegri. Saint Mary's Press offers the more popular and inspirational John Paul II, We Love You: World Youth Day 1984— 2005 (Mar.), a collection of reflections by young people from around the world who have attended these annual gatherings.
Among the multitude of backlist titles that could see a sales spike after the pope's death are John Paul's 1994 bestseller for Knopf, Crossing the Threshold of Hope; Gramercy's 2002 John Paul II: In His Own Words; Harper San Francisco's 1994 The Way of Christ: Spiritual Exercises, which has been popular on Amazon; and George Weigel's 2001 biography from HarperPerennial, Witness to Hope.
With repeated health crises and recoveries for the pope over the past several years, publishers remain poised but cautious. No one wants to trail the pack, but no one wants to jump the gun. Asked about this balancing act, Jeremy Langford, editorial director of Sheed & Ward, which published John Paul II: A Light for the World in 2003, said, "Yes, it's tricky. When the time comes, we'll have to gauge the timing and the focus and level of public interest. We have to be ready, but as this latest experience shows, we can't count him out yet."