Inside Move: ’04 vote gets out the tomes

Political nonfiction books on the rise

HOLLYWOOD — The 2004 election promises to be a bruising contest — and not just for the candidates.

Bookstores are bracing for an unprecedented outpouring of campaign season titles.

That’s good news for readers puzzling over the wide selection of presidential candidates and the challenges they face. But it’s bad news for publishers seeking shelf space, review attention and media coverage.

Bookstores, one editor ruefully predicted, “will be parking lots of unsold political books.”

The field is already crowded: Bestseller lists are overrun with political titles by Michael Moore, Al Franken, Molly Ivins, Madeleine Albright, Laura Ingraham and Bill O’Reilly.

Out soon is a spate of books by democratic candidates John Edwards, John Kerry, Wesley Clark, Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich.

Then in January comes nearly a dozen books specifically about the Bush White House.

These include two from Viking — “American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush” by Kevin Phillips and “The Book on Bush: How George W. Misleads America” by Eric Alterman and Mark Green — and two from Simon & Schuster: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind‘s book on the Bush White House and Ann Gerhart’s “The Perfect Wife: The Life and Choices of Laura Bush.”

Carla Cohen, co-owner of Politics and Prose, an indie bookstore in upper Northwest Washington D.C., says the volume of political nonfiction in her store swells every four years, but it’s never reached such levels. The religion and psychology sections are shrinking, she says, to make room for more political titles.

“There will be a commercial and critical winnowing of the pack as these books jostle for attention,” says Steve Wasserman, editor of the L.A. Times Book Review. “The universe of the worthy far exceeds the amount of space available.”

Conservative publishing surged in the Clinton years, as imprints like Washington’s Regnery Press turned out a stream of muckraking books bashing the Clintons. Many were bestsellers.

“I do think the right started it,” says Slate.com editor Jacob Weisberg, who just released his third volume of presidential malapropisms, “Still More George W. Bushisms.”

“There was a lot of money made out of Clinton-hating.”

Bush-bashing books now appear to have the upper hand. And now that politics and entertainment are converging in ways that even Marshall McLuhan couldn’t have predicted three decades ago,there’s more grist than ever for publishers. There are already three books in the pipeline about California governor-elect Arnold Schwarchnegger.

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