Crisis in China Translates Into New Reader Interest

Times Staff Writer

The crisis in China has piqued the interest of not only Western historians but also Southern California book enthusiasts, bookstores report.

Readers are seeking everything from travelogues to histories to learn more about the Asian giant.

At Dutton's Bookstore in West Los Angeles, sales have been extremely brisk, with two works especially popular, "Discos and Democracy," a satirical look at reforms in China by Orville Schell, and Paul Theroux's "Riding the Iron Rooster: By Train," which has only recently been issued in paperback.

Theroux's travelogue was popular to begin with, said store manager Ed Conklin, "but it definitely picked up with the happenings going on in China."

Enthusiasm for works on China also has run high at the Midnight Special bookstore in Santa Monica, where a second printing of Edgar Snow's "Red Star Over China," the classic eyewitness recounting of Mao Tse-tung's rise to power, has "sold really fast," store manager Margi Ghiz said.

At Chatterton's on North Vermont, "there have been some really interesting discussions" on China but not necessarily increased sales of books about that nation, a clerk said.

That also is true at the Phoenix Book Store in Santa Monica, which does not stock many works on contemporary China, another clerk reported, adding that customers are talking about the crisis and what it means for the United States. "They are really stirred up about the possibilities."

Ghiz, at the Midnight Special store, observed of her customers: "Another interesting thing is that a lot of (them) are asking questions. They don't think they have figured it all out yet."

In Beverly Hills, Dutton's and B. Dalton both report that "Life and Death in Shanghai," Nien Cheng's memoir of her brutal treatment by the Communist regime, has sold well.

"There was a slight to moderate increase" in sales of books about China, "especially in the beginning of the whole media explosion," said Doug Coleman at Dalton's. "People are now looking less for travel and more for books on culture."

The latest events involving China and Iran, however, have caught vendors short, he said: "The problem is that bookstores can't keep up with the news events. By the time we get a book on what was once a particularly hot news item, the story is over. So our success or failure largely depends on someone at the top looking out for future trends."

Besides books, journals and magazines about China also are hot items, stores say.

"People ask, 'Is the Beijing Review in yet?' " Ghiz said. "They really want the color and depth in their reading. And they want what's up to date."

Because the international events occurred so late last weekend, Ghiz and other booksellers predict that this weekend will bring heavier sales.

"Weekends are usually big for us," she explained. "But with last weekend's horrifying events, people are going to want an in-depth understanding of why it happened."

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