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politicaliterature

politics has been a thing with me for almost as long as writing. when i was seven, i literally dealt with conservative crap, as i helped out on a candidate's bid for office by cleaning the toilets in the campaign office. to me, politics was interesting (aside from the toilets). it was really exciting to be allowed to stay up late to watch voter returns coming in. i'm not joking. such are the dangers for a child raised in a hyper-literate family of journalists and political observers.

you'd think that given my interest in both politics and writing, that i might enjoy books that combine these two elements. unfortunately, most political writing leaves me dry.

first of all, most writers who choose politics as a subject are political junkies above all. the writing is just a way to exercise their real passion. there are a lot of novels focused on the world of political intrigue, many of them far more popular than anything i write will ever be, and the ones that i've read are almost uniformly awful. they tend to be books written for other people who get high on politics. to me, if that's what i want, i'd rather have the real thing. (in fact, the only modern-era book on politics that i can think of that i really enjoyed was the "we'll call it fiction so i don't get my ass sued off" primary colours. and even that was outclassed in most respects by the underrated movie mike nichols made of it.)

second of all, even for books that i will acknowledge have great literary merit (george orwell), it's really difficult to actually write about politics without sounding as if you're lecturing someone. novel-writing puts the author in the special position of being able to perfect a political message and deliver it without possibility of interruption or debate. if you're talking politics over the course of a three hundred page book, you are eventually going to sound like that guy at the dinner party who drank too much and who doesn't know when to shut up. ok george, we get it, you're disillusioned with socialism. can we please change the topic? how about those red sox?

at best, i find writing about politics comes out as good reportage. as passionate as people are about political beliefs and as undeniably dramatic as political contests can get, these stories seem to lose something when they're translated into a fictional setting. perhaps it's because the appeal and tension of political drama stems from the belief that it is real (although pretty heavily stage managed) and that there is no one person (we hope) who is dictating the eventual outcome. perhaps it's because the human resonance that great writing has seems more and more at odds with the way politics works.

so as much as i'd like to think that the hours i've been putting into following the increasingly dramatic canadian election campaign will somehow inspire me to write something marvelous, i have the distinct feeling that after january twenty-third, i'm just going to feel like i've fallen a lot farther behind on projects that should have had my full attention. oh well, at least i'm not cleaning the toilets any more.

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