Amazon categorizes Rodney King's memoir as 'criminal biography'
After Rodney King's unexpected death this weekend at the age of 47, his recent book began climbing the charts. In April, HarperOne published King's memoir, "The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption."
King, who was found dead in his swimming pool Sunday morning, was a central figure in one of the most troubled periods in L.A.'s recent history. In 1991, he was pulled over for speeding and police officers were videotaped beating King. The widely-viewed video caused an uproar; when four Los Angeles police officers were tried and found not guilty in April 1992, the anger over the verdict erupted into six days of violence. On Day 3 of the riots, King appeared at a news conference calling for calm, asking: "Can we all get along?"
Being in the spotlight and becoming a lightning rod for civil rights issues was not an easy role for King, who struggled with substance abuse. In the years after the riots, he had a number of run-ins with the law, which included crashing his car in 2003 while driving under the influence. He appeared on the television series "Celebrity Rehab," and wrote about his addiction and recovery in his book "The Riot Within."
Sunday morning, before the news of his death had spread, the book was not a huge seller. On Amazon, it ranked No. 246,505. By 2:45 p.m. that day, it had leapt up past more than 200,000 other books, to No. 1669.
That didn't make it a bestseller. Amazon's bestseller list includes just 100 books, an echelon that King's memoir did not reach. However, Amazon has many subcategories, each of which feed into the overall list. A book that doesn't make it into the top 100 may appear in one or more subcategories.
Once "The Riot Within" ranked No. 1669, it had surfaced in three subcategories, or you might call them sub-sub-subcategories. It was No. 6 in "Books > Biography and Memoir > Regional US > West"; No. 17 in "Books > Biography and Memoir > Ethnic & National > African-American & Black"; and No. 7 in "Books > Biography and Memoir > Specific Groups > Criminals."
Certainly, King was of the West, and he was African American. But does "The Riot Within" constitute a "criminal biography"?
The other bestselling books on Amazon's top "Criminal biographies" list are two books about serial killers, two mob memoirs, and the memoir of "the world's most-wanted hacker." Does King's book about his addiction and recovery belong there?
Whether it did or not, it continued to climb. It reached No. 5 in the category at 4 p.m., where it stayed until Monday morning, when it bumped up to No. 4. That was when the book peaked, reaching No. 388 overall on Amazon -- after starting at No. 246,505 about 24 hours before. As of Monday afternoon, it was bobbing down below No. 500.
It's true, King committed criminal offenses, but his book was about addiction and redemption. There are other books that cover similar arcs that appear in the dozens of sub-sub-sub-categories that are not categorized as "criminal." Gregg Allman was arrested on federal drug charges and went to rehab 11 times; his memoir "My Cross to Bear" is No. 13 in "Books > Biography and Memoir > Memoir." Laura Hillenbrand's biography "Unbroken," about Louis Zamperini, the Olympic runner and war hero, recounts his years as a teenage delinquent; it's No. 1 in "Books > History > Military > World War II." Luis Rodriguez's "Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A." is also in "Biography and Memoir > Regional US > West" and appears in "Politics & Social Sciences > Crime & Criminals > Gangs," but it is not ranked as a "criminal biography."
Why Rodney King's memoir "The Riot Within" is classified as "criminal biography" is mysterious. And Amazon did not respond to our requests for comment.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: In March 2012, Rodney King looks at a photograph of his news conference on Day 3 of the 1992 L.A. riots. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times