The Sarah Palin phenomenon

The American right's darling sold a record-breaking 300,000 copies of her autobiography on day one. What does this say about the US?

There may have been doubts over whether Sarah Palin could read, but boy, can she write. Her memoir, Going Rogue, sold 300,000 copies on its first day, making it one of the most successful non-fiction sellers in history. So taken has her publisher HarperCollins been with the enthusiastic reception for Palin's first venture into literature that they have upped the print run from 1.5 million to 2.5 million copies. And that, lest you need further sobering statistics on the new heroine of the world of books, is four times the population of Alaska.

Palin's extraordinary debut-day sales place her only marginally behind the reception afforded Bill Clinton's My Life, but then that did have the advantage of being written by a former two-term president who had some sexual, as well as political, skeletons in his photocopying closet. But, with the ever-smiling former Alaska governor and Republican vice-presidential candidate now embarked on a nationwide promotional tour, heaven alone knows how many books she will finally shift.

Something of the flavour of this excursion – conducted from a large bus painted to resemble the cover of her book, and from which country music plays – came in Michigan a couple of days ago. The author was greeted outside a bookstore with thousands chanting "Palin! Palin! Palin!", before going inside to sign copies. Lana Smith, a dispatcher at a local bus company who took the day off work and had been waiting in line since 5.30am, said: "She's a person of faith, she has a family, she has gone through a lot of the trials and tribulations we have. I'd vote for her in a heartbeat."

The book, widely judged to have no great confessions about Palin's complex and mysterious family, is obviously not selling on the strength of its scuttlebutt. What does seem to be driving sales is America's continuing fascination with the self-styled breath-of-fresh-Alaskan-air, hockey mum. The only touch of controversy among the homey niceties, are the settling of some trivial scores with both Katie Couric, who famously asked Ms Palin on television what newspapers she read, and with sundry minions on the McCain campaign team.

The responses from Ms Couric have been restrained, and yesterday Senator McCain was equally gallant. He said that he enjoyed reading the book, and downplayed any tension between their campaign aides as "no big deal". He added: "She and I are dear friends. I talked to her on the phone yesterday. We got along fine."

Indeed, the only note of unpleasantness struck by anyone in the wider orbit of Ms Palin came in the courtroom in Palmer, north-east of Anchorage, Alaska. There, Sherry Johnston, the mother of the man Ms Palin's daughter, Bristol, had planned to marry, was sentenced to three years on one count of possession with intent to deliver the painkiller OxyContin.

By the time Palin's finished, we may all need some pretty strong painkillers.

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