Thursday, January 20, 2011

"O" my . . . a Presidential who wrote it?

I've been reporting on books and publishing for over a decade now, first as sort of an emergency, back-up Lynn Neary (NPR's dedicated books and publishing reporter), and then, when NPR did away with a dedicated book editor, writing about books for 

So anyway, I'm fully qualified to recognize and enjoy a publisher's promotional hijinks when I see them. Especially when they are a recycling of another publisher's promotional hijinks.

Remember Primary Colors, the Clinton Era "novel of politics" written by Anonymous, who -- after 6 months of speculation-fueled best-seller status (ka-ching, goes the cash register) -- turned out to be Joe Klein?

Well, Anonymous is back with a new novel. This one's called O: A Presidential Novel. It goes on sale* January 25th.

The "product description" on Amazon tells us that O: A Presidential Novel, set during the 2012 Presidential campaign, contains,
The truth only fiction can tell.
This is a novel about aspiration and delusion, set during the presidential election of 2012 and written by an anonymous author who has spent years observing politics and the fraught relationship between public image and self-regard.
The novel includes revealing and insightful portraits of many prominent figures in the political world—some invented and some real.
I  think the cover of is spot-on, as apparently does Jill Lawrence, Senior Correspondent for Politics Daily. Ms. Lawrence notes that,  
You don't have to be a close observer to get the cover art: an O with a large ear attached to each side. "What's going on between those ears?" asks the first line of the Simon &  Schuster press release on the book, officially due out Jan. 25.
Obama campaigning in 2008 ( Darron Cummings/AP
Back to publicity hijinks . . . 

The Mail is a British tabloid similar to America's National Enquirer, its front page littered with reports of violence and  pot-smoking toddlers . Earlier this month this article appeared:
A Presidential whodunnit: Mystery of who wrote new Obama novel.
Washington is awash with rumours over the identity of the anonymous author of a new novel written by an Obama insider.. . . It is described as a 368-page roman a clef inspired by Barack Obama and his inner circle. The author is said to have ‘vast personal experience’ of the President. . . . But so far the writer is keeping his or her identity under wraps.
Indeed he/she is. And Jonathan Karp, executive vice president and publisher at Simon &  Schuster stands guard over those wraps, frantically fueling the flames of speculation with missives such as an e-mail sent January 18th to politicos, and any Big Media Cheeses who deal with politics and/or books. I didn't rate one (what an oversight!), but Steven Levingston, who writes The Washington Post blog, "Political Bookworm," kindly published his copy.
On January 25, we'll be publishing a secret novel simply titled O, about President Obama's campaign for re-election in 2012. The author of the novel wishes to remain anonymous. You may be asked to comment on whether or not you are the author. If so, it would be great if you refrained from commenting, in solidarity with the principle that a book should be judged on its content and not on the perceived ideology of its author. The author, an individual with integrity and talent, is someone who has been in the room with Barack Obama and knows the political world intimately. In fact, you may know this person, or know of this person -- if you are not in fact the author yourself. Thanks in advance for your consideration. I apologize for the impersonality of this blind group email, but this seems like the best way to protect the author's identity. I hope you enjoy the book. It's terrific.
Only maybe, it's not so terrific.
Susan Page begins her review ("'O: A Presidential Novel' is primarily an uncolorful tell-al.l,") in USA Today this way:
WASHINGTON — The mesmerizing power of Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics when it was published in 1996 was its roiling, pitch-perfect, three-dimensional portrait of President Bill Clinton, even if his name in the loosely fictionalized account of his first presidential campaign was Gov. Jack Stanton.
The disappointing thing about O: A Presidential Novel, which goes on sale Jan. 25, is the failure of this speculative account of his 2012 re-election campaign to offer any similar insights into President Barack Obama, known throughout only by his initial.
Ron Charles, writing in The Washington Post was equally unenthusiastic, pointing out that,
Dramatically, "O" suffers from its concentration on a pair of candidates determined to be civil and restrained. That would be nice for our country, but it's damning for a novel. 
As to who wrote it, who knows? Ed Pilkington writes in the Guardian:
Rampant speculation has name-checked Rahm Emanuel (though he's a little busy running for mayor of Chicago), David Plouffe (has enough on his plate as Obama's new senior adviser) and the TV comedian Stephen Colbert (the book is not funny enough to have been by him). Ben Smith, a blogger at the Politico website, has diligently obtained denials from many potential culprits, which is in itself suspicious. So is he the author? "No. I'd be happy to take credit for it though – it's a fun read," Smith told the Guardian
Says Ben, anyway.

You know, I thought some about claiming to have written O: A Presidential Novel myself, just for the fun of it. But then the reviews came out . . .

* I link to Amazon on this blog because if you buy this book (or anything) through this link, WMRA gets money!

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