Between the holidays and the end of term, I’ve fallen a bit behind on the political books—which is sad, and I’ve missed this a lot, and especially the conversations that happen about what I do here elsewhere. But it’s been a good opportunity to take stock, think about where this has gone already, and where we’re going over the next few months.
To be very honest, in between the mass shootings and the acts of terrorism and violence, this felt a bit small. What does it matter how Carson’s use of anecdotes compares to Clinton’s, or how well Jeb Bush’s book is cited? But I’ve been justifying reading and writing this and putting it where other people might read because in our political system, details do matter. The details of how candidates present themselves to their voters matter because they speak to how a politician might be held accountable, what they think voters care about and why, and their visions for the country’s future. I don’t claim to be able to predict anything about the race, but any light shed on how this all works seems like good light.
So here’s where we’ve been: we’ve talked about COURAGE and buzzwords, about the concept of going ‘viral’ and what this says to politicians about their support. We’ve eulogized Scott Walker, in the only full-length (read: too-long) review so far, talking about the narratives politicians sell themselves and each other. We’ve talked about the materiality of political books, about their cover designs and the way they stand in for their candidates. We’ve talked about the NYT bestseller list. We’ve talked about experience and education and donor v. voter audiences. Meanwhile, the candidates kept publishing books. We looked at how the candidates treated the current president, one of the only common topical threads. We looked at the sharpest-tongued rhetoric. Finally, we looked at fundamentalism and the nature of political support. So far, this has been with the help of Clinton, Carson, Walker, Bush, Paul, Sanders, and Huckabee.
So where are we headed in the new year?
Well, first I need to get through—deep breath—Cruz, Rubio, Fiorina, Trump (so help me), Kasich, Carson again, Santorum, Jindal, Perry, and Chafee (remember, I’m reading from everyone who declared and published in the last five years, not just who’s still running). At the latest, this will all happen before the election next November, but we’ll see how it goes.
From the ones I’ve been through so far, there are still so many things I’d like to think about, and I expect some of the upcoming books to shed more light on these and raise questions of their own. I’d like to look at tropes of business writing; candidates’ use of anecdotes and more closely at their use of memoir; at foreign policy and how spare writing on it is; at political feelings; at history instrumentalized to make policy points; at PATRIOTISM; at portrayals of the South and of Washington DC; at executive power; at gender; at unions; at race and racism; at inequality, and at the future. I’d like to come up with a grand unified theory of the political book. My current work at the LSE is going to historicize this a bit, looking at Nixon’s post-presidential memoirs, and I look forward to seeing where that leads as well.
For the immediate future, what I think has been missing most has been treatment of individual books. Over this break (I’m writing from the airport) I’m going to try to head on through a few more, write proper reviews longer than 5 sentences, and maybe circle around back to some past ones for the same treatment.
In the slightly-less-immediate future, there are some really exciting plans. While I’m really enjoying myself, I’m hardly an expert—but, luckily, a few actual experts on politics and books have kindly agreed to be interviewed at some point in the upcoming year. I’m unbelievably excited to have some more and different angles on all of this, and really looking forward to bringing those to you soon.
As I said, I’ve had great conversations with so many people on all of these, and thank you so much for your support so far. As always, if there is anything you’re curious about, any other comparative topic you’d like to see covered, do absolutely please leave a comment or drop me a line some other way.