A couple days after President Obama’s re-election last week, I was invited by Rachel Deahl of Publishers Weekly to comment on the current and future climate for political books. She asked “what narratives seem to be emerging, or what narrative(s) you might be looking for.” I heard from a friend today that this week’s print issue of the magazine has Rachel’s story, and though I haven’t seen that version yet, she just sent me a link to the story on line. It’s posted at the PW site, under the headline: “Let’s Get Political”. I invite you to read the published story–there are seven publishing people quoted in it. Due to space I’m sure, the email comment I’d submitted was abridged, so I’m glad I can post my full remarks below, edited lightly for this space. Rachel also asked for a head shot, and since I’m not sure if the magazine used it, I’m pasting in here at the bottom of the post.
I’ve been through many presidential book cycles, and it is true that books published for the benefit of the out-party (anti-Bush books from 2000-08; anti-Obama books 2009-2012) tend to flourish in these times.
However, what I’d like to be seeing now as an author’s representative, a political blogger, an editor, and a reader is a break from the more vituperative titles. I think even rabid partisans are tiring of these titles and are beginning to show less suport for them than in the past. I think what we need, and what the politically engaged reading public craves, are vigorously reported books in which the author, while not reining in his opining or editorial comment, nonetheless allows a pointed narrative to emerge from the facts of their story. An example from years past of what I’m looking for now is typified by Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickled & Dimed.
For the many authors, and publishers, who’ve featured criticism of Pres. Obama in their books, I think they need to look in the mirror and offer work that is as much self-critical as it is bashing of the president. I suggest this not as a partisan from the other side, but as a way for them to establish and enhance their own credibility with a more diverse readership. After all, there must be some critical self-assessment in the wake of an election that did not go the way of their advocacy, lest they lose all credibility with a more general readership, and remain in the bubble that bred their lack of prescience.
For authors on the left or from the more traditional center, I look at Michael Grunwald’s The New New Deal (S&S, August 2012, my Oct. 12 #FridayReads blog entry), as an example of the kind of book I’d be looking for. Extensive reporting of facts (about the 2009 Federal stimulus) that build a case for his thesis that the Recovery Act was the most consequential legislation since the New Deal. The point of view in Grunwald’s book emerges from the reporting, not the other way around.
I will add that one genre I’ve not tired of is the traditional, Theodore White-style “Making of the President” narrative. My longtime author David Pietrusza has done books like this for such years as 1920, 1948, and 1960. I think it’s too late now for me to work on one of those about 2012, but I’d sure like to read one. That is, not a magazine piece, but a deeply reported and full textured portrait of the campaign.
Thanks for asking for my input, Philip