Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Political Book Phenomenon

Political books have always been a part of the publishing culture, from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle to Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin to memoirs by Ted Kennedy and Sarah Palin. No matter what category, books like these enlighten readers (sometimes positively, sometimes NOT positively) to new ideas, old ideas, and unaccepted ideas.

Howard Dean and Elizabeth Wagley over at The Huffington Post's new online Books Section (it's fantastic, by the way) tackle this political book phenomenon:

The re-emergence of Sarah Palin as a successful author should come as no surprise to anyone who recognizes the salience of books in public life. Her decision to write a book and her pre-pub sales demonstrate once more how books confer status in American political culture.Palin's supporters (and those who may be purchasing her book, Going Rogue, in bulk) may or may not realize that by vaulting her to the top of the bestseller lists, they will validate her both personally and ideologically. Like many other books across the political spectrum, her book represents the latest episode in publishing as political and ideological warfare.

These pop bestsellers can serve to legitimize individuals as well as ideas, with consequences stretching beyond the immediate moment. The return of conservatives to the top of the lists this year is being touted as a sure sign of their movement's renewed vitality, despite the battered condition of the Republican minority.
Read more HERE

I am personally a little bit baffled, and often shocked, by the constant prescence of political nonfiction bestsellers these days. If it's not Glenn Beck, it's Mark Levin. If it's not Mark Levin, it's Stephen Colbert, etc. etc. I think I know one person in my personal life who actually reads these kinds of books. But somewhere, they are someone's version of crack cocaine. The biz just keeps pounding them out, and they keep selling like hot cakes.

And despite all of the valid points Dean and Wagley make, I still can't help but think, why do we need SO many?

An editor I know--a liberal editing conversative books, no less--told me once that the majority of these supposed political revelations say exactly the same things in almost exactly the same way. I must admit, though, that after he told me that, I did have the urge to test it out, to pick one of these books up and see what all the fuss was about.

But I didn't. Maybe someday I will. Maybe I'll even review it here, in all my politically ignorant glory, for your amusement. But until then, I'll keep wondering why Americans need to hear the same views preached over and over again before they figure out what they believe for themselves.

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