Learning to Live With it

Christmas may be with us yet again, but so is the Bush administration for four more inglorious years, so here are three books that may help you cope. Up first, America (The Book): A Citizens Guide to Democracy Inaction by the writers of Jon Stewart's The Daily Show (Stewart himself is one of the main contributors) is a hilariously spot-on parody of a high school government text book. Printed on glossy paper in a large, heavy, pull-the-stitches-out-of-your-backpack format, it's chock-full of photos (e.g., a picture of the all-white original U.S. Senate from 1789 is shown with a picture of the still all-white Senate of 2004), pie charts (“Figure 1.1: Reasons for Decline in Participation in Democracy: 23% Too tired; 17% Game was on; 52% Monetary rewards unsatisfactory; 8% Had a thing”) and “Were You Aware?” sidebars (“Though they won't admit it, women were much happier when all they had to do was bake shit and pump out kids”). Perfect as a coffee table (or bathroom) book, as smart and funny as the best Daily Show of the month, and so informed historically and politically, it transcends its own snideness. Plus: discussion questions! (Sample: “If 'con' is the opposite of 'pro,' then isn't Congress the opposite of progress? Or did we just fucking blow your mind?!?“)

If it's a novel you want, there's Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. When the Nobel committee gets around to Americans again, it's going to be Pynchon, DeLillo or Roth, so here's a chance to get ahead of the curve. His latest book takes off from the conceit that Charles Lindbergh, who was not only a hero aviator and heroic victim (his son was famously kidnapped and murdered) but was also an open Nazi sympathizer, who beat Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential race, whereupon he made a non-aggression pact with Hitler and made what we thought couldn't happen here—that is, to try and turn the country into a fascist state. The book's thickly plotted, strikes all kinds of contemporary chords about government control, and as a cautionary tale, may be put on the shelf beside Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.

My last suggestion isn't quite a book at all, but a journal, though it's called Final Edition, and the joke is that it's intended to die with its first and only issue, like the brilliant flame-out journals coming out of Paris in the 1920s. Edited by playwright/actor Wallace Shawn (My Dinner With Andre), the magazine includes a “pre-election” diary by Shawn that is as beautifully hallucinatory as some of his plays, Mark Strand's poetry, a long centerpiece of fiction by Deborah Eisenberg, an essay on media and terrorism by the great Jonathan Schell (The Fate of the Earth), and one of the angriest interviews I've ever read with Noam Chomsky. Though Shawn, who conducted the interview, brings out the hope in the man which, given his preoccupation with the horrors of power, rarely sees the light of day. Available through Seven Stories Press (www.sevenstories.com) and your more discriminating bookstores.

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