Remembering The Satanic Verses
Andy Weiner, who handles national account and western indie sales at Abrams, also remembered the period in 1989 when the industry dealt with the fatwa against Salman Rushdie over The Satanic Verses. (The matter came up recently in connection with the threats by North Korea against Sony Pictures' The Interview and Rachel Maddow's erroneous reporting that indies had stopped selling The Satanic Verses in 1989.) At the time, Weiner worked for Penguin and lived in San Francisco.
One of our regional managers had listed himself in the phone book (what's a phone book?) under Viking Penguin, and he received a death threat. He moved from his home because of it, and moved back a few years later.
My experience was a bit more comic yet frightening as well. I came home from an appointment, listened to my messages, and heard this: "We know you have been selling The Satanic Verses, and we will hunt you down until you are dead. Allahu Akbar!" It seemed pretty legitimate, so I called New York and spoke with my boss, Michael Jacobs (ironically now my boss at Abrams 25 years later). He had me play it a couple of times, and then suggested I call the police. I did, and they suggested I call the FBI. I spoke with an agent who said I shouldn't worry about it, but then again I might walk out on the street and have my head blown off and then I'd be thinking, "Wow, why did he tell me not to worry about it?" So he said to be careful and call if anything further happened. I happened to go to a meeting of the Northern California Children's Booksellers Association that evening and told everyone what happened. When I went to bed that evening, I put my baseball bat next to the bed--my wife thought it was a good idea. The next day I went to an appointment, but checked under my car just in case there was a bomb attached to the undercarriage--as if I would be able to tell. My wife told me later that she'd done the same. When I came back from my appointment, there was a message on my phone from a fellow local sales rep. "Um, Andy, this is --- and I left you a message yesterday that at the time I thought was pretty fun but now realize wasn't. I'm really sorry." He sent us the world's largest flower arrangement. My wife never forgave him. Compared to what happened to Cody's, this is nothing, but it makes for a good story.