Books on Middle East invade bookstores


Publishers and movie producers nationwide are scrambling to satisfy America's new appetite for books and videos about the Persian Gulf war and the Middle East.

A plethora of war-related titles landed in the nation's bookstores shortly after the Aug 2. invasion of Kuwait, with sales soaring since the Jan. 17 start of the war, industry sources say. Next week, the first of the war-video compilations are scheduled to arrive, with expectations they will draw the same response.

Turner Broadcasting System Inc., the parent firm of CNN, said yesterday its home video unit will release "Operation Desert Storm: The War Begins" next month, featuring a historical overview of the Middle East as well as footage from the network's war coverage.

Industry analysts such as Andy Wickstrom, executive editor of Video Business magazine, predict Americans' concern with the war will make winners out of these newest of war souvenirs. "The chance to see all that footage edited down and making sense in a well-edited, intelligent narrative would make people want to buy," Mr. Wickstrom said.

Eight of the 10 titles topping the New York Times' March 3 list are gulf-related, said book editor Rebecca Sinkler.

The books "flying out" of the nation's 800 B. Dalton bookstores cover topics from "the war itself to the economics of oil to combat equipment to religion," said Donna Passannante, spokeswoman for B. Dalton's parent company, Barnes & Noble.

The hit so far of the instant-book list is "The Desert Shield Fact Book," published by GDW, a military-game company. Its distributor reported 400,000 copies have been sold so far at a cover price of $10. It includes a map of the Iraq and Kuwait theater.

One author benefiting from the war-book boom is Betty Mahmoody, whose nonfiction "Not Without My Daughter" describes her escape from Iran with her child. First published in 1987, about 8 million copies have been sold worldwide since, with 1 million of that total since the war began, said Michael Carlisle, Ms. Mahmoody's agent and vice president of the William Morris Agency.

Yet the movie made from the book, which starred Sally Field, did not do well -- in part because it was released Jan. 11, four days before "we all started watching the TV around the clock," Mr. Carlisle said.

Conversely, one film set in the Middle East that flopped in theaters, "Navy SEALS," is hot on video nationwide. Mr. Wickstrom of Video Business magazine said retailers across the country have bought about 270,000 copies.

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