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Well, after a lot of thought, I’ve got it figured out: the government has shut down because our elected officials don’t read enough literary fiction. I think this is the only possible explanation for their stunning lack of empathy. Okay, okay, the other explanation is that they’re all completely out-of-touch, possibly evil minions of Satan, but that’s not very likely, right? (*crickets*)

Fortunately this is a fairly easy problem to fix: just send them each a package of books and have enforced reading time. It’ll be just like grade school, where you have silent reading time every day and the teacher patrols to make sure you are actually reading your book and not just doodling cartoon cats or flowers or whatever in the margins. (Sidenote: please tell me someone else remembers DEAR – Drop Everything And Read?) I also suggest that we have nuns with rulers wandering the halls of Congress so they can smack the idiots trying to sneak in a game of online poker during this imperative empathy-boosting exercise. Nuns are quite good at this sort of thing because they are the only people alive who still carry rulers, and also a lot of them are secretly badass.

And so, I humbly submit my recommended reading list. I’ve kept it short because obviously many of our Congressmen and women will still need enough time to stand in front of their mirrors and practice pouting, saying it’s all the other person’s fault, and repeating talking points that have no basis in reality.

  1. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan because they’ll be forced to inhabit the perspectives of multiple very different and complicated characters, including one girl who likes to communicate through PowerPoint presentations. In addition, the short story/novel structure will be so easy on our politicians’ short attention spans that they’ll never even realize they’re developing empathy.
  2. The Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle because this book is a nuanced portrait of the upper-class white world and the Mexican immigrant world colliding and what it can mean for everyone involved, and yet it gives us an open-ended resolution that forces us to think about how humanely we would act in the same situations.
  3. Blindness by Jose Saramago because some Republicans might need a reminder that abolishing the government and their vested interest in our lives is NOT the way to go. Just spend this novel watching an entire society disintegrate into anarchy after a mysterious blindness afflicts the population, and be glad you can still see.
  4. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller because this book is the best ever at showing the absurdities of bureaucracy, because it skewers greed and capitalism, and because right now, our government contains a large group of Milo Minderbinders who are selling us all out.
  5. Jazz by Toni Morrison because it is a brilliant riff on jazz and relationships that makes you listen to multiple points of view, often coming from unreliable narrators, and because it is the only book I can think of where part of the story is actually narrated by the book itself. If you read this book and identify with, well, the book by the end, congratulations, you’ve got empathy! If not, go back to the beginning and don’t get out of your chair until you can understand the perspectives of people other than yourself – unless of course you’re ready to leave office.

Part of me wants to propose that our Congressmen and women write up book reports after they’ve read these to prove that they’ve really understood them, but I’m afraid they’d just make some poor furloughed assistant do the report for them. Maybe we can get an update from the nuns instead.

Readers, any books to add?

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