Politics at the BEA

Rachel Donadio reports that political books were all the rage this year at BEA.

“Look around you,” declared Leon Wieseltier, the silver-haired literary editor of The New Republic, as he stood in the Random House area on Friday morning, dressed all in black. He was gesturing toward the vast rows of book-filled booths stretching out in all directions. “The best thing for the book business right now is George W. Bush,” he said. “Even Valerie Solanas—do you know who she is? Right, she shot Andy Warhol—even she has a Bush book out,” he continued. (It’s a re-release of her SCUM Manifesto, with a new introduction.) “I don’t expect it to have much of an impact in the red states, but this is precisely Bush’s problem: The hostility has seeped from politics into culture, which is less easily controlled or called back.”


If nothing else, the political books have finally forced publishing to catch up to the pace at which the rest of the world does business. “Second only to their interesting content, the reason political books are enjoying such an incredible renaissance this year is because publishers are now able, because of technology, to turn them out in five weeks,” said an upbeat Robert Barnett, Mr. Clinton’s lawyer, who has negotiated book deals for politicians for two decades. “The content is current. It used to take a minimum of six months, and the content was much more stale. Now you can go from finish to bookstore in five weeks.”

But Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Random House, was less impressed:

“If you had an off-the-record truth session with the most effective publishers, they’d say they’d much rather have a successful diet book than a political book—a book that transcends all ideologies, genders, all personal backgrounds,” Mr. Applebaum said. “You can be apolitical, but being thin and fit—that’s something that makes a permanent difference,” he continued. “More people want to look fit than sound politically opportune.”