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Politician Book Reports And Why I Think They Should Be A Thing

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Anna Gooding-Call

Staff Writer

Anna Gooding-Call is a librarian and writer originally from rural central New York. She got her BA in the city that inspired "The Twilight Zone" and confirms that the hitchhikers really are weird there. Today, she lives in Massachusetts with her wife and two cats.

People. Fellow Americans. We have a problem in this country and it’s only getting worse. I’m talking, of course, about politicians. Remember how bad things were with G.W., and then the current guy put him to shame? Andrew Jackson was a notorious populist too. It’s a trend and it must be stopped. I have a modest proposal: MAKE THEM READ. And make them prove it by having them deliver little politician book reports.

The Plan

If you convinced every politician in this country that they needed to catch a live goose with their hands and teeth to become president, we’d all get to see many of our elected officials get their asses kicked six ways to Sunday by birds. (After that, I assume we’d welcome our goose overlords into the Oval Office and things would get better.) Reading a book is nothing compared to that. We could absolutely get politicians to read books. All we have to do is make it a requirement of the campaign.

Picture it, if you will: the nation holds its breath as Joe Biden prepares to roll out the name of the book he will be reading, which, rumor has it, will be written by a Black woman. Controversy erupts as sources leak that Donald Trump will be reading a racist picture book. As Mike Pence announces that he’s reading a book by his pastor about the sanctity of marriage, every queer person in America wonders how nobody else has noticed that he’s gay.

The key is that they then must deliver—not write—book reports. No, my friends. There will be no cheating here. There will be no speechwriters debating the best angle to analyze To Kill A Mockingbird in committee. The candidate must sit with two eminent professors and field questions about the book that they read in person. On live TV. No teleprompter. And each of these politician book reports have to last one. half. hour.

They’ll all think they can do it. That’s the beauty. No geese needed.

The Follow-Through

But that’s not all! It’s easy to read one book once, but politics is not an easy job and we need to hold these people to higher standards. Once an official is elected, they will be required to read at least one book a month. The book can be anything from The Hate U Give to one of Ann Coulter’s revolting screeds as long as they’ve never read it before, post the title publicly while they read, and discuss it in a press junket when they’re done. Some of them could get away with reading their own books for a while, but definitely not for a full term in office.

Any official who does not both read a book and perform the monthly politician book report will be ineligible to vote with their particular group until they’ve caught up. Republicans will insist that this is a strategy to minimize their influence in politics, to which I might humbly suggest that it is interesting that we have a party that is politically invested in resistance to information.

Why, Anna? Why?

First, and most importantly, we need people in office who are mentally capable of handling a book. Political office is an incredibly complex and nuanced job. If you can’t handle a book, you’re not the right person for politics, full stop, in the same sense that I am not the right person to be an NFL running back. No time in a politician’s schedule, you say? Make time, say I. If you can run a country, you can manage one book a month.

We also need to see the cut of our politicians’ jibs. It’s idealistic to think that this reading requirement would make our leaders more thoughtful, although there is some research that suggests that some types of reading do make you more empathic. No, in most cases, politicians would probably choose books that they think their electorate wants them to read. The point is not that they absorb new information and broaden their minds, but that they discuss whatever they’ve read in a way that sheds light on how they see the world. It’s easy to mouth a speech, but hard to be thoughtful on command. Let’s make them do something hard.

Just Read, America.

Finally, and most critically, the politician book report would legitimize the concept of reading as something that powerful people do. It will make reading relevant and cool for the average American in a similar way that Michelle Obama normalized growing your own food. This effect won’t be overt. You’ll notice the idea that reading is a sign of power and ambition trickle slowly into people’s minds. Eventually, people who are thinking about running for public office will make sure to be caught reading, or even develop the habit sincerely in preparation. They may even do pre-campaign politician book reports so that people know they’re serious. Adults who find their kid digging into Children of Blood and Bone may nudge each other and remark that they’ve got a future mayor on their hands.

Reading is already a powerful tool for learning about the world. Let’s make it a tool for learning about our leaders.

Want some books about American politics? Here, have 50 of them! In case you want more, and why wouldn’t you, here are seven that are specifically about women in office.