Washington, Between the Sheets (of Paper)

Unbeknownst to most Americans, their elected representatives apparently spend the wee hours of the night hunched over their laptops, committing what they did that day to the immortality of the printed page. (How many readers ultimately find their insights of interest — or worth $25 bucks — is another matter.)

Today, National Journal’s David Baumann supplies a handy guide to the literary efforts of those who walk the corridors of power. One of the newest, penned by West Virginia Senator Robert C. Byrd, is entitled Losing America, and assails the “reckless and arrogant” presidency of George W. Bush. (Observes Baumann, any regular viewer of C-SPAN2 has already heard most of Byrd’s beefs.)

The Byrd book joins a host of others by politicos on the nonfiction table. Writes Baumann:

Republican leaders even have dueling memoirs: House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s book, Speaker, was just published, while former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott’s book, Master of the Game: Tales from a Republican Revolutionary, will hit stores this fall. You’ll even be able to purchase an audiotape of Lott reading his book. Former GOP Reps. Joe Scarborough of Florida, Bob Barr of Georgia and James Rogan of California all have books recently published or expected in bookstores shortly. Former Sen. Jean Carnahan, D-Mo., also has a recently published book.

The obvious question: Does anybody actually read these things?

For that answer, Baumann talked to some Washington booksellers, including Mark LaFramboise, a buyer at Politics and Prose, who conceded that many books by members of Congress don’t make much of an impact. “We’ll sell a few copies of Speaker Hastert’s book and a few of Trent Lott’s book,” LaFramboise told Baumann. “Tom Daschle’s book [Like No Other Time: The 107th Congress and the Two Years that Changed America Forever] came and went.”

The Daschle book ranks number 117,168 among all books sold, according to Amazon data, considerably ahead of a tome — Square Peg: Confessions of a Citizen Senator — penned by Sen. Orrin Hatch, which hovers down at 1,150,301.

As for Senator Byrd’s literary efforts, the book currently is number nine on The New York Times best-seller list, which is topped by the work of another Democrat, Bill Clinton’s My Life.

So, are Americans hungering for political memoirs this campaign season? Ummmm, not exactly. As a deadpan Baumann notes, any summer’s best-seller list is pretty light fare. Also occupying last Sunday’s list, for example was a British treatise on punctuation, and the autobiography of a professional wrestler known as Nature Boy.

Susan Q. Stranahan

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Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.