If President Trump doesn’t win re-election, he might want to consider a career as a bookseller.

His stinging criticism, along with threatened legal action, have made “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” by Michael Wolff the surprise must-have book of the new year. Evidence of that could be found at libraries and bookstores around southern Maine on Friday, as readers searched, mostly in vain, for copies.

The book had originally been scheduled to go on sale Tuesday, but publisher Henry Holt moved up the date to Friday because of “unprecedented demand.” The rushed release, combined with a massive snowstorm Thursday that delayed deliveries, meant many people looking to put their hands on a copy of the book Friday were out of luck.

“I assumed because of all the news, it was already out,” said Bonnie Spilsbury of Portland, after she was unable to get a copy at the Books-A-Million store in South Portland on Friday afternoon. “It’s been on all the news stations, and I heard about the tweets, and it made me interested in buying it.”

Books-A-Million didn’t have any copies on the shelf Friday but expected to have some soon. Staff members were taking names early Friday of people who wanted a book from the first shipment, but stopped when they realized they probably couldn’t meet demand. By the end of the day, they were recommending that customers order a copy, by phone or online, through Books-A-Million.

The hardcover book sells for $30 and was available in digital versions Friday. But not everyone wants to read the hot new book on a screen.

“I’m on my computer all day long, I place digital advertising for a living, so at night I want to shut everything off and read a book,” said Alicia Barnes of Winthrop, who searched for the book Friday at Target and Barnes & Noble, before reserving a copy to be picked up Monday. “I had decided about a week ago I really want to read this, so when I heard (the release) had been moved to Friday, I went looking for it.”

People were looking for the book all day Friday at Print: A Bookstore in Portland and Nonesuch Books & Cards in South Portland. Print had about two dozen inquiries and about a dozen people on a waiting list for the first shipment, said Josh Christie, the co-owner. At Nonesuch, staff had a list of more than 25 people waiting for the book by Friday afternoon.

The South Portland Public Library, according to the state’s Minerva online library site, was the only library in the state to have a copy Friday. That’s because director Kevin Davis went out and bought one Friday morning at a nearby Bull Moose music and books store. He was told it was the store’s only copy.

By Friday afternoon, more than 50 people had placed “holds” on the copy via Minerva. Davis said as the controversy around “Fire and Fury” intensified this week, he started to realize that there would be great demand for the book.

Other libraries in the state have the book on order, including in Camden, Gray, Scarborough and Portland. The Portland Public Library has four copies on order, and on Friday night there were 35 holds placed on the library’s website.

People who couldn’t find a copy of the book were ordering one online. By Friday, the book was No. 1 on the Amazon best-sellers list. In an action usually reserved for “Harry Potter” books, Kramerbooks in Washington, D.C., started selling the book at midnight Friday and had dozens of people waiting in line.

Christie, at Print, said that before this week they did not expect “Fire and Fury” to be so hot.

“There have been other books that were in great demand upon release, like “Go Set a Watchman” (by Harper Lee), but I’ve never seen something like this, where nobody’s really talking about the book, the release date gets pushed up, and there’s all this demand,” Christie said.

“Fire and Fury” began making headlines Wednesday when Trump, responding to excerpts from the book that included comments from former adviser Steve Bannon, said that Bannon had “lost his mind.” The president also called Wolff’s book “phony.”

Also Wednesday, lawyers for Trump sent a letter to Bannon telling him to refrain from making disparaging remarks about Trump and that his contributions to the book “give rise to numerous legal claims including defamation by libel and slander” and breach of his “non-disparagement” agreement with Trump. Trump’s lawyers also sent cease-and-desist orders to Wolff and his publisher Thursday, the day Henry Holt decided to release the book early.

The book is being touted as an inside look at chaos and incompetence in the White House. Bannon is quoted as calling Trump’s daughter Ivana “dumb as a brick.” He also suggested that Donald Trump Jr., Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign manager Paul Manafort had been “treasonous” for meeting with Russians after being promised incriminating information about Hillary Clinton in June 2016.

Wolff is a journalist who has written for The Guardian, The Hollywood Reporter and GQ. According to a publisher’s note in his book, he spent a year and a half interviewing key Trump administration figures, with “no ground rules placed on his access.” He did another 200 interviews as well.

The White House has called the book “fiction,” and Wolff admitted in the book that he wasn’t sure everything he had written was true. He wrote that some sources were definitely lying to him, and others gave contradicting accounts of events. But he decided to put some of that information in the book nonetheless and allow “the reader to judge.”

Given the interest in the book so far, a lot of people are eager to do that.

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: RayRouthier

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