In case you don’t already have enough politics in your life this election season — or maybe you’re just so overwhelmed by the real thing it’s time to turn to fiction — there are plenty of great political novels to add to your TBR pile before November 8. And speaking as a reader who is sometimes reluctant to add novels about politics to my own bookshelves (why read fiction when there are so many great books about the real thing?) after witnessing weeks and months of the election that defies description, I can honestly say that sometimes even the most dystopic of political fiction isn’t too far off from the truth. But hey, one more reason to earn that “I Voted” sticker this fall, right? And if you’re looking for some books about politics to read before voting in this election, (or books that will convince you that you need to vote in this election) why not start with some of the titles below?
Here are 9 political novels to read before election day. Because even though it may not seem like it right now, I genuinely believe we’re actually going to make it all the way to election day. And by “believe” I mean “hope”.
1. All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
This political classic by Robert Penn Warren transports readers back to the Great Depression-era south, where one Willie Stark has been named Louisiana’s newest governor. But this man who began his political career with the sincere intent of giving voice to the people who need it most (we think, anyway) allows the power of a political platform to turn him into his worst self — a violent, blundering demagogue who appeals to his constituents’ baser instincts in order to get what he wants. Sounds, need I say… familiar?
2. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
This novel reads just a tad too close to a near-future reality for comfort. Set in a country ruled by its youngest generation — a transparent-pants-wearing, acronym-using, debt-accruing population of youngsters who only communicate electronically and have completely lost their ability to spell — Super Sad True Love Story documents the financial, social, intellectual, and political downfall of the United States of America, as experienced through the eyes of a 39-year-old son of a Russian immigrant, Lenny Abramov, who is writing what just may be the world’s last diary.
3. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Written as a political satire, The Handmaid’s Tale introduces readers to a world in decline, where women have been reduced to breeding, cleaning, and child-raising machines, forced into submission by an ever-rising right wing party populated by demagogues and religious zealots. Oh, and women aren't not allowed to read anymore either. Take those images into the voting booth with you this November.
4. A Dangerous Friend by Ward Just
Although Ward Just’s novel A Dangerous Friend is set in Vietnam circa 1965, it is just as relevant today — if not more — than it was when it was written. Telling the story of political scientist Sydney Parade, who has just embarked upon a foreign-aid mission to Saigon, A Dangerous Friend takes a close look at America’s failed policing of the world, both militarily and of smaller scale, and questions whether or not we really know just as much about what the world needs as we think we do.
5. We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
At just 10-years-old, novelist NoViolet Bulawayo’s heroine, Darling, has seen more violence and political conflict than most people witness in a lifetime. Living in a war-torn Zimbabwe, Darling’s neighborhood has been destroyed, her school closed, and her father sent abroad to find work. With hopes for better opportunities for her own life, Darling immigrates to the United States to live with her aunt in Detroit, Michigan — an environment that might seem flooded with opportunity from afar, but that in reality forces Darling to discard essential parts of her own identity in order to fit in.
6. Sand Queen by Helen Benedict
This election season it feels like there has been endless propagation of ideas about “us” versus “them” or “we” versus “the ominous Other” — whoever or whatever that may be. Helen Benedict’s novel, Sand Queen, takes readers to a U.S. military outpost in the remote reaches of the Iraq desert, where female soldier Kate Brady and Iraqi medical student Naema Jassim form an unlikely friendship — one that challenges their preconceived notions about right and wrong, us and them, and heroes and enemies.
7. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
There is a reason this book is still required reading in just about every high school English classroom in America, even 110-plus years after it was first published — because treatment of immigrants and working-class communities hasn’t actually changed all that much in the last century, since Upton Sinclair went undercover in Chicago’s meatpacking district in order to do research for this book. If you’re tempted to write this novel off as only about food sanitation and the FDA, think again, because at its core this is a book about human rights and understanding the long journey that food we eat and the products we buy take before they end up in our shopping carts — and what their real human cost actually is.
8. Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie
Among the myriad inane soundbites that have been cultivated from a certain political camp this election season, perhaps some of the worst are those concerning the use of nuclear weapons. (Actually not perhaps, definitely.) Burnt Shadows takes readers from the immediate moments before the bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945 all the way to a post-9/11 America, using the story of 21-year-old Hiroko Tanaka — a woman forever scarred both physically and emotionally by the bomb — to demonstrate how the aftershocks of using nuclear weapons reverberate through decades and decades of generations that follow.
9. Hartsburg, USA: A Novel by David Mizner
If you’re loving the idea of a woman in office (and seriously, how could you not be?) then you’ll love diving into David Mizner’s Hartsburg, USA. Bevy Baer — model community member, mother — is running for her local school board. And Wallace Cormier — uninspired writer, attitude problem — is running against her. Two of the unlikeliest of political candidates, Baer and Cormier have somehow wound up locked into a political battle the likes of which Hartsburg, Ohio has never seen.
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