The book (make that books) on George W. Bush. Smith
WITH THE POSSIBLE EXCEPTION of a spicy-hot former ingredient of Menudo—the group, not the soup—no one has seen his vida loca picked apart more thoroughly by the press in recent weeks than the plausibly White House—bound governor of Texas. Now it’s publishing’s turn. But while hordes of little girls are clamoring for quickie biographies of Ricky Martin, is anyone out there dying for a tome on George W. Bush? How about a pair? The German media conglomerate Bertelsmann apparently thinks so, because two of its imprints plan to release major works on Bush within three months of each other.
Book number one, in terms of chronology, is Bill Minutaglio’s First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty. It will be published by Times Books, whose catalog copy calls it “the first authoritative book on [Bush] and his extraordinary family, written by an acclaimed Texas journalist who knows the lay of the land.” Indeed, Minutaglio is a well-respected writer for the Dallas Morning News, and at 125,000 words—with material gleaned from nine months of research and more than four hundred interviews—it threatens to be weighty in every sense of the word. “It’s a major accomplishment, comprehensive and fascinating,” says his agent, David Hale Smith. It is not, however, authorized. The catalog brags that Minutaglio “gained access to dozens of sources close to Bush, as well as the governor himself,” but the truth is that George W. refused to be interviewed and asked several times that the book not be written. “The governor felt that he hadn’t done enough to warrant a biography,” explains his spokeswoman, Karen Hughes. Minutaglio was given “the standard list of names” of old Bush friends, Hughes says, but he was denied permission to talk to staff or family members.
When will First Son hit stores? Good question. Initially, the publication date was next spring, then next January. Then, according to Smith, Texas booksellers pronounced it a potentially big Christmas seller and asked for a fall release, so it was moved up to October. That is where it remains, though Times Books publisher Carie Freimuth leaves open the possibility of an even earlier release to stay ahead of the reading frenzy.
Which brings us to book number two. In mid-April, around the same time she wrote an atypically wisecrack-free column about the governor that even her critics praised, Molly Ivins of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram was contacted by Random House editor-in-chief Ann Godoff, who was anxious to jump on the Bushwagon. No stranger to the book business—or to Random House, which has published three collections of her columns—Ivins cut herself a deal to write Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush. At just 40,000 words, the book will be slimmer in size and ambition than Minutaglio’s. “His is a full-dress bio,” Ivins says, “and mine is an examination of the public record.” It is also certain to be less neutral, considering that Ivins and her bylined collaborator, Texas Observer editor Louis Dubose are the Emma Goldman and Eugene V. Debs of the Capitol press corps. “I expect Molly’s book will be an exercise in liberal fantasy,” Hughes says. “In four and a half years I can’t remember her calling once to check the governor’s position.” So will Ivins, who finally wants an audience with Bush, be granted one? “Uh, no.”
Shrub is due out in January, though its pub date is also a bit of a sticking point. Ivins is friendly enough with Minutaglio that she hesitated when Godoff approached her: “The first thing I said was, ‘I’m not gonna rain on his parade.’” She was assured that because his book was going to be published first, there could be no storm clouds on the horizon, but the fact remains that—barring additional changes—all that separates the two releases is an uncomfortably close ninety days. As Ivins herself would say: Bidness is bidness.
And there’s probably more bidness to come. If Bush lives up to expectations, it’s a given that more books about him will be published. In fact, at press time, it was learned that at least one other is already in the works—and the author is none other than George W. Bush, who will write his campaign biography with the aid of Houston scribe Mickey Herskowitz. William Morrow and Company will publish it late this year or early next.