Before its September 11 release date, Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear: Trump in the White House, had one million copies in print and had been slammed as “fiction” in a presidential tweet. But with 45 minutes to the book’s midnight release at Kramerbooks, the crowd hasn’t started queuing at the cash register. Instead, the manager tells me to check the bar.
In fact, it takes a few tries to scout down someone who is actually here to buy Woodward’s 448-page examination of the Trump Administration. “We don’t know what we’re filming yet; we’ll figure it out,” Maya Shwayder, a correspondent for the German DW News, tells me over the remnants of a sandwich. She and two colleagues are here to cover the book launch; normally, she said, she’d be “eating cheese and watching Netflix” at this hour. They’re hardly the only journalists—members of the Japanese, German, Finnish, and Czech press have also congregated at Kramerbooks, legal pads and video cameras in tow.
Then there are the customers at Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café for the reason one would normally be at a bar after 11 PM: to grab a beer. “I’m shocked,” Stephen Waller, who just got off a flight from Southern California, says when I tell him a Woodward book will drop in half an hour. Given the “buzz” that’s surrounded it, “I was definitely expecting more than this.”
The line finally coalesces with fewer than twenty minutes until midnight, swelling to around 25 people. Among their numbers are people with federal jobs they won’t fully specify, a journalist, a visual artist, some students. Some live nearby; a scientist who won’t let me use her name because she doesn’t want to violate the Hatch Act traveled here from her home in Brookland. (“I tell my friends it’s not that far,” she says, “but let’s be honest.”) They plan to stay up late reading tonight, or skim it later, and at least two people have it pegged for their Hurricane Florence reading. The soon-to-be-book-owners have been drawn here by the news coverage and presidential ire the book has attracted, a horrified fascination with this White House, and Woodward’s reputation.
“Bob Woodward has a track record,” Stephen Spaulding, who works for the advocacy group Common Cause, explains after his copy of Fear is purchased and wrapped in a red plastic bag. “He’s taken down one president.” Spaulding was at Kramerbooks to snag Fire and Fury at midnight back in January; that event drew, by his reckoning, a similarly sized crowd.
Anne Modest brought her soft-coated Wheaten terrier, Katie, to the bookstore (“That dog shouldn’t be in line. He can’t buy a book,” one woman remarks as she passes by), queuing up to buy Fear in anticipation of Woodward’s upcoming appearance on the Rachel Maddow Show. “Every single night, there’s a new story, and nothing changes,” Modest says; in her opinion, it’s the president, more than Katie the Wheaten terrier, who “belongs in the doghouse.”
At 11:50 PM, a manager, holding a tall stack of books, starts doling them out to the line, which at this point winds its way through the shelves. Pastor José Rojas, who has the coveted front-of-the-line spot, is the first to hold one. The cover is a red-tinged, tightly cropped photograph of President Trump with the all-caps title positioned just below his frown. Rojas has been at Kramerbooks since 9 PM, eating dinner and picking up a biography of Gandhi in the meantime, not to mention giving interviews (this is his fourth of the night). “I felt the need to be here. I had to have this book,” he explains. Rojas has been a part of two previous presidential administrations, and he remembers how “every time a Woodward book came out, there was always frustration in the hallway. Bob is so thorough, so exact.” He wanted to see what the journalist would make of this particular presidency.
It’s not midnight yet, but despite instructions to the contrary, some people have pried open the spines of their books. It’s White House turmoil transcribed by Bob Woodward—of course Washingtonians can’t wait.