A Guide to the Quickie Starr Papebacks

Flytrap aficionados will need to purchase one of the three paperback versions of the Starr report (which hit the stores yesterday and today). The online version doesn’t lend itself to easy bedtime reading and printing out hundreds of pages is a pain. Even Slate’s preparation of the report as a Microsoft Word document leaves much to be desired because it’s not bound: You’re forever misplacing crucial pages. Newspaper versions will inevitably yellow and get torn, and, as previously noted in Chatterbox, the New York Times version lacks footnotes–a crucial omission. So buy one must. But which of the three versions? Here’s how they match up:

Format: Having reached the age of 40, Chatterbox has pretty much given up reading mass-market paperbacks because the print is too small. Also, holding them open makes one’s wrists ache. This is a major problem with the Pocket Books and Prima versions. (Sept. 19 Addendum: Whoops! The Prima version is a trade paperback. See Chatterbox’s mea culpa.) The Public Affairs edition (henceforth I’ll call it the Washington Post edition) wins on this criterion: It’s a trade paperback, with bigger-sized pages and a more pliant spine. Unlike the other two editions, it can be stretched out and laid on a table while you munch a sandwich. But because it’s a trade paperback, the Post edition will probably be harder to find in outlets like supermarkets and airport gift shops.

None of the three editions exploits the campy trash possibilities posed by the cover (e.g., no ‘50s-style illustration of a swoony Monica pressing herself against POTUS’s manly chest). Chatterbox, who is a yuppie, likes the slender typeface and ample white space on the Post version best.

Introductory material: The Prima version has none. The Post version presents as “analysis by the staff of the Washington Post” eight news stories from the last few days. The stories are good–the Post’s Flytrap coverage on most days is better than that in other papers–but thrown together in haphazard fashion. Readers don’t get the quick overview they probably crave.

The Pocket Books version offers that quick overview in its introduction, written by Phil Kuntz of the Wall Street Journal. (Kuntz’s brother, Tom Kuntz of the New York Times, made a killing off Titanic fever by assembling a quickie paperback of the Senate hearings on the Titanic sinking. Propelled by sibling jealousy, Phil Kuntz tried to assemble a quickie Paula Jones paperback. That eventually morphed into this quickie Starr report paperback.) Kuntz’s five-page intro is an economical-but-thorough explanation of how a 1992 New York Times story about Whitewater by Jeff Gerth led to a 1998 report about Monica Lewinsky by Ken Starr. This is precisely what readers will need to be reminded about, especially in a few years, when the details become hazy in everybody’s mind. But the print is too small.

Winner: Pocket Books version.

Value: The Pocket Books version is the cheapest, selling for $5.99. The Post version is the most expensive, selling for $10. The Prima version costs one penny less than the Post version, at $9.99.

Fairness: The Pocket Books and Post versions both reprint the preliminary rebuttal from Clinton’s lawyer. The Prima version does not. None of the three paperback versions contains the rebuttal Clinton’s lawyers produced after they actually had a chance to read the report. For that, we’ll have to wait for the Library of America edition.

Loser: Prima version.

Did Journalists Get Rich Off This?: The Pocket Books version earned Kuntz an undisclosed sum, but he won’t be getting royalties. The Post reporters whose articles are being reprinted in the Post edition won’t get paid at all, because they don’t own their stories (though anything that enriches the Post should presumably enrich them, too). The Prima version contains no material from journalists at all. Chatterbox, who is also a journalist, finds this shocking.

Winner: Pocket Books version.

Is There an Index? Chatterbox thinks all three publishers blew a great added-value opportunity by failing to provide an index (apparently an easy thing to generate by computer these days). Think of the possibilities: “anal-oral contact, page 235,” etc.

Chatterbox Recommends: The Post version, entirely on the grounds that it’s a trade paperback. But the Pocket Books version is the more practical choice for those who don’t need to worry about eye-strain. The Prima version places a distant third.

Timothy Noah

Click to buy:

The Washington Post Version (Public Affairs) ($10.00 plus tax and shipping)

The Pocket Books Version ($5.99 plus tax and shipping)

The Prima Version ($9.99 plus tax and shipping)