Newt Gingrich is storming back into public life, and he's taking the usual route to power: book reviewing. The former House Speaker revealed that he's begun posting reviews on Amazon.com.
Speaking to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Republican former congressman said, "I do it for the fun of it," casting a shadow on the Machiavellian motives of the nation's other book reviewers.
So far, Mr. Gingrich has posted 47 reviews with the Internet bookseller. Expect more soon: The voracious politician claims to read three or four novels a week. Speed like that is sure to alarm the ranks of professional book reviewers, who have spent decades establishing as scientific fact that no one can read more than one book a week - less, if it's a really long one or the weather is nice.
Cries of protest (or was that gentle snoring?) were already being heard in offices around the country. One reviewer, who refused to give his name but asked to be called A Defender of Civilization And All That Is Pure, reacted violently by bending a No. 2 pencil almost to the breaking point. "The very idea," he sputtered, "of this conservative ideologue presuming to pass judgment on literature. It's outrageous."
Reviewers at other major newspapers were more measured in their response. Several could not be roused at all, even with persistent shaking. Some took comfort in Gingrich's limited areas of interest. "Half the things I read are light fiction," he told The Journal-Constitution, "while the rest relate to politics, technology, and warfare."
A book critic who moonlights at an Ivy League university in Cambridge, Mass., expressed relief that the controversial Republican would not be turning his attention to works of Islamic hermeneutics and transsexuality. "If there are people who actually want to read so-called 'light fiction,' I suppose there's nothing wrong with someone reviewing it for them on the so-called 'Internet.' "
As a reviewer, Gingrich is currently ranked 448th by Amazon users, but nervous challengers fear the former congressman will employ his legendary political savvy to crush competitors. Pledging to reform the contentious field of literary criticism - a little-noticed item on his Contract with America - Gingrich has heartily recommended every book he's reviewed so far.
"This will only heighten the pressure on us nattering nabobs of negativism," one reviewer complained while nursing a Frappaccino at Starbucks. "Paper cuts, repetitive stress injuries, and now Gingrich's accursed happiness!"
This isn't the first time Gingrich has turned his attention to books. Part of his rocky tenure as Speaker involved a book deal with media magnate Rupert Murdoch. His contract originally called for a $4.5 million advance, but he later agreed to take $1 plus royalties - which ultimately amounted to $1.2 million.
Maintaining that income as a reviewer will test Gingrich's speed. Insiders noted that if he worked for the average newspaper, he would have to review approximately one novel every 45 minutes for the rest of his life. The situation is even worse at Amazon, which pays its reviewers only with glory. But many reviewers are feeling the pressure already. "If anyone can do it," one said, "Newt can."
Ron Charles is the Monitor's book editor and an occasional satirist.