As my colleague Jill Lawrence reports, a book titled "O: A Presidential Novel
" has recently been released by Simon & Schuster and, though reviews so far are tepid
, the undisclosed identity of the novelist
has captured the short attention span of the political press.
Appealing to the clubby insider sensibility
of National Press Club members, the publisher, Jonathan Karp, kicked off a sly inside-the-Beltway guessing game
by suggesting "it would be great" if possible suspects "refrained from commenting" on their non-authorship, in "solidarity with the principle that a book should be judged on its content and not on the perceived ideology of its author."
Currently credited to "Anonymous," the book's "provocative
" plot tracks a 2012 national election campaign in a Democrat-led White House not coincidentally resembling the current occupant of the real 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. This particular unsigned author will no doubt be unmasked at an unspecified moment and so unleash unprecedented sales for the ungainly priced ($25.99
Speculation on who might have created the 368-page book ranges from Obama intimate and former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers, to journalist Joe Klein, who pulled off a similar stunt as the oversubscribed nom de plume with his Clinton-era roman a clef, "Primary Colors
." (Both declined any responsibility for this fiction, but Slate's Chris Beam nevertheless imagined how the novel might have read
had it been the work of such unlikely candidates for obscurity as Klein, Sarah Palin or Maureen Dowd).
Many anonymously written books are artifacts of a long gone era. "Go Ask Alice
," published in 1971, was a popular anti-drug cautionary tale presented as a found diary of an "anonymous" teenage girl lost to the late 1960's street scene -- but the book is considered fiction
and the author is believed to be editor Beatrice Sparks.
In the 1930s Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, wrote the original AA 12-step
handbook, titled "The Little Red Book
" as Anonymous, but penned later books as 'Bill W.'
As the wife of a novelist, I'm all for the rare cases of publishers promoting their authors' books, but the stunt quality of this launch
feels slightly craven, even to me. There are all kinds of reasons why a writer may wish anonymity. In journalism the practice is discouraged for reasons of credibility but, from time to time, for very good reasons, a piece will run with no byline or credited to "Anonymous." For example, in 2009, Politics Daily granted anonymity to an Iranian Muslim student writer, whose safety would be jeopardized were he or she identified, -- here
– as well as an unsourced bit of doggerel about a member of D.C.'s social elite here
But the new "O" book (not to be confused with the 1950's pseudonymously written dominance/submission erotic novel, "The Story of O
") clamors for attention simply because
its author is unnamed. Hoaxers have even begun to take fictional credit
for the work of fiction.
When the most persuasive reason to withhold the identity is to sell more books, it feels like the device lacks respect for readers.
Despite the unfortunate publicity stunt and eventual blowback sure to affect the reputation of the still-unnamed author, the eponymous Anonymous (and her coy cousin, Pseudonym) have historically made great contributions to letters and I remain a big fan of the writer's work. The illusive persona who resists identification turns up everywhere in literature, including the Sanskrit "Bhagavad-Gita
" and the ancient Persian "Arabian Nights
Additionally, there are dozens of pages devoted to the unidentified author's well-spoken homilies in quotation collections,
including the apt observation, "Write a wise saying and your name will live forever."