Political books, political talk unavoidable at BookExpo 2017

Hillary Clinton, 2016 presidential candidate, speaks during BookExpo 2017 in New York last week. She will release her latest memoir this fall. Clinton said it will be about “an experience you all watched, but told from my perspective.”
Hillary Clinton, 2016 presidential candidate, speaks during BookExpo 2017 in New York last week. She will release her latest memoir this fall. Clinton said it will be about “an experience you all watched, but told from my perspective.”
Published June 5, 2017

NEW YORK — It didn't take long for authors to start talking politics at BookExpo America 2017. The convention's headline speaker was Hillary Clinton, but political barbs were flying hours before she took the stage Thursday night.

The author breakfast talks Thursday morning kicked off in the main hall of Jacob Javits Convention Center with Stephen King and his son, Owen King, talking about their upcoming co-written novel, Sleeping Beauties.

Owen said he came up with the idea: What would happen in a world where all the women fell into an unshakable slumber?

"Who knows where it came from?" he said. "Maybe it was a certain rotten-egg smell blowing in from the direction of Trump Tower." Like father, like son: Stephen King has been waging Twitter warfare with President Donald Trump since the 2016 primaries.

The Kings write fiction, but there were a number of politically themed nonfiction books being promoted at BEA, the annual book industry convention for publishers, booksellers, librarians and authors. Political books proliferate during election years, of course, but there was a new crop of them in the immediate aftermath of this one.

The most highly anticipated is Clinton's. She'll publish two books in September: a children's version of her 1996 bestseller It Takes a Village and an as-yet untitled memoir.

Clinton was interviewed for an hour on stage by Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild. She said her memoir will be about "an experience you all watched, but told from my perspective."

"You cannot make up what happened, which is part of the reason why it's been such an incredible experience to write it. Even I had forgotten some of the wacky stuff that happened." She called the campaign and election "totally unprecedented in U.S. history."

Clinton devoted a large portion of the interview to talking about her family and about books.

Nancy Drew was a role model, Clinton said: "She was taking care of the house, she was going to school, she was solving mysteries — I mean, really!" And she described taking solace after November in mysteries by such writers as Louise Penny: "It was very comforting. (Crime) was somebody else's problem."

On Friday, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn, was interviewed by comic and podcaster Marc Maron about his new memoir, the tongue-in-cheek titled Al Franken, Giant of the Senate.

Franken's early career included 15 years as an original writer and cast member of Saturday Night Live, and as he cracked after one edgy joke, "I've still got it, don't I?"

Franken's book, published in May, is a balance of sharp satire and earnest wonkiness, the latter a quality that has earned him two terms in the Senate. He played mostly for laughs in his talk, calling fellow Sen. Ted Cruz "the Dwight Schrute of the Senate, the co-worker who microwaves fish" and noting the advice former Vice President Al Gore offered him after a defeat: "Suck it up."

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Franken's response to Maron's question about Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Accords: "Oy. Say it with me: oy, oy, oy, oy, oy, oy."

A panel of comic authors took a political bent as well. Denis Leary, whose new book is Why We Don't Suck, mentioned Melissa McCarthy's performances on Saturday Night Live as White House press secretary Sean Spicer and said, "I am ready to play Kellyanne Conway tomorrow."

John Hodgman (Vacationland) noted, "I had a comedic career pretending to be a deranged millionaire on The Daily Show. As soon as Trump emerged as a serious contender, that was over."

Authors identified with the right were on hand as well, although most were promoting books that weren't primarily political. Fox & Friends cohost Brian Kilmeade signed galleys of Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans, the latest in his series of presidential history books. Barbara Bush and Jenna Bush Hager, the twin daughters of former President George W. Bush, were on hand to promote their October memoir, Sisters First.

Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson has written a book about a hot political issue: sexual harassment. Be Fierce grew out of her experiences in the aftermath of Fox's $20 million dollar settlement after she accused CEO Roger Ailes of sexual harassment.

"Sexual harassment is apolitical," Carlson said. "This is something everyone should be concerned with. Democrats and Republicans and independents all have daughters — and sons."

MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell's new book, Playing With Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics, isn't about the current election. But, he says, it had an impact on the book, which he expected to complete after November.

"We thought we were in for a really boring time at MSNBC. We've had a Clinton presidency before, so we thought the country would go to sleep and I could take weeks off."

When he began writing, O'Donnell said, "I believed I would write a book about the absolute craziest, out-of-control presidential campaign of all time. Then along came 2016."

Contact Colette Bancroft at or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.