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Political books expected to thrive in fall

As Americans get ready to cast their vote in the fall elections, publishers are hoping they'll also want to read about politics.
/ Source: The Associated Press

As 76-year-old Cynthia Ozick prepares for her first ever book tour, she wonders how she’ll respond to a question that seems so far from her own work but so near to the lives of readers: Who will you vote for in November?

“Of course, like everyone else, I’m enormously bound up in politics, more than I have ever been,” says Ozick, an acknowledged homebody from New Rochelle, N.Y., who nonetheless will travel in support of her new novel, “Heir to the Glimmering World.”

“Our whole country is getting more and more exercized, but I want to be a literary person. And if people question me on political things, I would say that I’ve been absorbed in this book for four and a half years.”

Ozick, an award-winning novelist and critic, is among the writers this fall who will encounter a public preoccupied with timely, rather than timeless thoughts. Thanks to one of the most contentious presidential races in recent memory, political books such as “The 9-11 Commission Report” and the anti-Kerry “Unfit for Command” prevailed through the traditionally sleepy summer and will likely continue into November.

Publishers, who anticipate complete immersion by mid-October, have adjusted accordingly, saving non-topical works for well before the election or for well after. Ozick’s publisher, Houghton Mifflin, will release her book in early September. W.W. Norton will do the same for one its most promising titles: Stephen Greenblatt’s biography of Shakespeare, “Will in the World.”

“We have extraordinarily high hopes for it, but we would not put it out in mid- or late October,” says Drake McFeeley, president of W.W. Norton, which paid at least six figures for the book by Greenblatt, a leading Shakespeare scholar. “A lot of publishers are probably thinking the same way.”

Kelley, Moore returnOne of the most controversial fall releases should be Kitty Kelley’s “The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty,” from the best-selling author of gossipy books on Jackie Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor and Nancy Reagan, whom Kelley famously alleged had an affair with Frank Sinatra while she was first lady. “The Family,” billed as “the book the Bushes don’t want you to read,” has a first printing of 600,000 and a virtual guarantee to annoy, if not embarrass, Bush supporters.

Kenneth Pollack, whose “The Threatening Storm” helped persuade even some liberals to support the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, follows with “The Persian Puzzle,” which reviews the recent history of the United States and Iran. Seymour Hersh’s “Chain of Command” expands on his groundbreaking reporting of the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq. The final days of Saddam Hussein’s rule are documented in Jon Lee Anderson’s “The Fall of Baghdad.”

Dissent comes from those out of power so look again to the left for most of the arguments, including Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s “War and the American Presidency,” Art Spiegelman’s “In the Shadow of No Towers” and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s “Crimes Against Nature.”

Michael Moore has two releases: “Will They Ever Trust Us Again?” a collection of letters written to Moore from U.S. soldiers in Iraq, and “The Official ‘Fahrenheit 9-11’ Reader,” a companion book to the DVD of Moore’s hit documentary. Paperback editions of two influential best sellers, Richard Clarke’s “Against All Enemies” and Ron Suskind’s “The Price of Loyalty,” will be released with additional material.

The right will respond with new books from Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter and Bill Gertz. Sen. Trent Lott, the Mississippi Republican brought down as majority leader by his praise of Strom Thurmond’s segregationist run for president, will release his memoirs.

Christine Todd Whitman’s “It’s My Party, Too,” by the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is a Republican’s plea for moderation. “Dime’s Worth of Difference,” essays compiled and edited by radical journalists Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, casts a plague on the houses of both John Kerry and Bush.

“Political redemption won’t be found in the voting machine or at political conventions,” the editors write, “but in people’s movements organizing together in the workplace or on the streets, in communities, at weapons plants or on the front lines of the Pacific rainforests. There’s work to be done. Let’s do it.”

The politics of the Founding Fathers will be featured in Joseph Ellis’ “His Excellency,” an analysis and appreciation of George Washington that has an announced first printing of 500,000. Two books will examine the 1800 presidential election, the first two-party campaign: John Ferling’s “Jefferson vs. Adams” and Susan Dunn’s “Jefferson’s Second Revolution.”

Even fiction affected by politicsSome fiction will also be political. Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America” is set in the 1940s and imagines a Jewish family named Roth torn by the anti-Semitic reign of President Charles Lindbergh. “Sammy’s Hill” is Congressional satire from Kristin Gore, daughter of former Vice President Al Gore. Christopher Buckley’s “Florence of Arabia” imagines a State Department official helping to start a women’s TV network in the Middle East.

Ozick’s book is not uninfluenced by politics, and, like Roth, those politics date back to the 1930s and 1940s. “Heir to the Glimmering World” tells of the heir to a children’s book legacy, based on the real-life model for Christopher Robin of “Winnie the Pooh,” who supports a family of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.

Civil War politics and the Christian conscience shape another major fall release, Marilynne Robinson’s “Gilead,” set in the 1950s and narrated by a dying Iowa minister who remembers his grandfather’s fight against slavery.

“It’s transcendent,” Barnes & Noble fiction buyer Sessalee Hensley says of “Gilead,” Robinson’s first novel since “Housekeeping,” which came out more than 20 years ago. “It’s been well worth waiting for.”

New fiction is also due from Nobel laureates V.S. Naipaul and Jose Saramago; Yann Martel, winner of the Booker Prize for “The Life of Pi”; Tom Wolfe; Russell Banks; Ha Jin; Michael Faber and Neal Stephenson, who has completed his “Baroque Cycle” fantasy trilogy. S.E. Hinton, author of such young adult classics as “The Outsiders,” returns with her first novel in 16 years, “Hawkes Harbor.”

Others with books coming out include Stephen King, Sophie Kinsella, Patricia Cornwell, Tony Hillerman, Robert Parker and Martha Grimes. Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, authors of the million-selling “The Nanny Diaries,” are back with “Citizen Girl.” With the blessings of the estate of the late Mario Puzo, Mark Winegardner’s “The Godfather Returns” continues the saga of the Corleone family. A 782-page fantasy novel, Susanna Clarke’s “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell,” has been receiving strong advance reviews.

“I think it’s going to be really hot,” says Paul Ingram, a buyer for Prairie Lights Books, in Iowa City, Iowa. “I originally ordered just five and now I have put on another 20. People love those really long fantasy novels, like hers and Neal Stephenson’s.”

Jon Stewart and George Carlin have written topical humor books, while Sion Rubi’s “Intelligent Jokes” is meant for “clever readers looking for more than a rudimentary punch line.” Celebrity memoirs are due from Paris Hilton, Tatum O’Neal, Jane Pauley and football star Paul Hornung. “Apprentice” winner Bill Rancic offers business advice in “You’re Hired,” and his “Apprentice” boss, Donald Trump, tells us how to “Think Like a Billionaire.”

“Treat each decision like a lover,” Trump advises in the book’s introduction. “We are all drawn to beauty, whether it’s the allure of a person or the elegance of a home. Whenever I’m making a creative choice, I try to step back and remember my first shallow reaction. The day I realized it’s sometimes smart to be shallow was, for me, a deep experience.”

This fall marks the continued infatuation between the pop music and literary communities, once worlds apart, but now increasingly, if not always gracefully, joined. Over the past few years, musicians such as Ray Davies, Paul McCartney and Graham Parker have published fiction and poetry while Salman Rushdie, David Grossman and Paul Auster are among the novelists who have turned to songwriting.

Bob Dylan, who as much as anybody elevated songwriters to the ranks of poets, has written the season’s most anticipated music-related book, “Chronicles,” the first of a planned multivolume series of memoirs. Meanwhile, Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins and Alicia Keys are coming out with books of poetry, and Jimmy Buffett has a new novel, “A Salty Piece of Land,” which includes a CD with new Buffett songs.

Musicians and writers are featured in “The Rose & The Briar,” a collection of essays and illustrations about American ballads, from the blues to Bruce Springsteen. Edited by Princeton historian Sean Wilentz and cultural critic Greil Marcus, the book includes contributions from Jon Langford of the Mekons, cartoonist R. Crumb and authors Joyce Carol Oates and Paul Muldoon.

“I certainly don’t believe there should be any boundaries between literature and songwriting,” says Muldoon, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who has written songs with rock star Warren Zevon.

“People of my age (53) were raised on rock ’n’ roll. It’s just a fact that it’s part of our lives, part of our experience. I guess cynics would talk about the all-pervasive nature of popular culture and how we failed to prevent it. But even if it’s schlock, so what? Into every life, some schlock must fall.”