Hype has impoverished our political debate. It has undermined the very idea that political discourse can be educational and edifying - or that national public policy can grow out of reflective discussion and shared political values. We have sought simplistic answers to complex problems without even beginning to comprehend the consequences of our loss.
We desperately need a commonsense prescription for change. My practical and modest solution is a two-step remedy for reviving our ailing civic culture. The steps are:
-- Pull the plug on television news, and stick with serious print media.
-- Read good political novels.
These two steps may seem tangential, but they are indispensable to the cure. A good novel serves as a conscience and a guide to action.
So I've provided a balanced list of 20 novels by contemporary authors that I believe will enliven the mind and nourish the soul. We depend on our fiction for metaphoric news of who we are, or who we think we ought to be. The writers of today's political and social realism are doing no less than reminding us of our true, traditional American values - the hope, the promises and the dreams.
When we read these novels, we learn about who we are as individuals and as a nation. They inform us, as no other medium does, about the state of our national politics and character - of the difference between what we say we are and how we actually behave. They offer us crucial insights into the moral, social, economic and emotional conflicts that are taking place in communities across America.
We need such exploration today more than ever.
Professor Arthur I. Blaustein teaches community development, public policy and politics at UC Berkeley. He was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the board of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and his most recent books are "Make a Difference: America's Guide to Community Service" and "The American Promise: Justice and Opportunity." E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on page H - 6 of the San Francisco Chronicle