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John Bolton fatigue sets in, just as bookstores reopen

The first big release of the Phase 2 era was all about Trump

“Lacerating yet tiresome” is how Publishers Weekly describes the experience of reading John Bolton’s book. The same may go for selling it.

Bookstores in Washington are reopening, just in time for the Tuesday publication of “The Room Where It Happened,” the much-hyped account from President Donald Trump’s onetime national security adviser.

In an ordinary month, such a big title would have warranted a special midnight release at Kramerbooks. The iconic spot in the Dupont Circle neighborhood has attracted its fair share of political shoppers over the years, from Monica Lewinsky to Barack Obama. But the store just reopened to browsers on Monday, so the plan for now is a simple display, positioned near the entrance. 

“The goal is to make the book front and center, but also make sure people who just want to come in and grab it can do that” without getting near anyone else, said manager Jim Jurczak. 

The memoir promises to expose a scattershot president obsessed with reelection. If you flip through a copy but remain unimpressed, don’t put it back where it was. Kramerbooks has set up a designated area for books that need sanitation, one of several new precautions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Over at Busboys and Poets, the beloved local chain that serves food and literature with a side of social justice, the book isn’t exactly a priority. 

“People are anxious to get their hands on it,” acknowledged CEO and founder Andy Shallal, who received his shipment of copies last week. He plans to display Bolton’s memoir prominently, but he doesn’t want it to take “precedence over the other books that we feel are more important to our mission.”

Lately works by authors like Michael Eric Dyson, Robin DiAngelo, Ibram X. Kendi and Nikki Giovanni have been flying off the shelves. His advice to readers? Pick up a book that counters racism, not one that dwells on the president.

Another idea: “Instead of buying John Bolton’s book, go out and protest,” he said.

A few blocks away from the Capitol, demand for Bolton has been pretty slow. “We’ve had almost as many press inquiries as pre-sales so far,” said Emilie Sommer on Monday afternoon.

She’s a buyer for East City, an independent, woman-owned bookshop. “Right now our customers still seem more interested in books about racial justice and books by Black authors,” Sommer said. The shop has a couple dozen copies on hand for Bolton-curious customers, and the situation could change with a single tweet. “Anytime Trump tells people not to buy a book, we are sure to see a flurry of sales.”

Businesses are figuring out the best path as the coronavirus pandemic continues. East City, for one, isn’t quite ready to throw open its doors, opting to continue curbside pickup for now.

The District moved into the second phase of its reopening plan on Monday, allowing nonessential retail establishments to welcome back in-store shoppers with significant caveats.

Right on cue, Bolton’s book dropped the next day. While Tuesday marked the official publication from Simon & Schuster, the run-up was littered with promotion. Bolton gave interviews. News outlets previewed and dissected every shocking revelation. Pundits slammed the onetime adviser for selling out instead of sharing his insights with Congress, and a judge declined the Trump administration’s request to block the book’s release.

Maybe that explains the mood at booksellers in the nation’s capital, even as the first big release of the Phase 2 era came and went. The Bolton buzz already felt old, because it was.

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