Fiction that feeds us

Iraq may be riding all the air waves, but Laura Bush – it appears – is not being sucked in by the White House war talk.

Instead, the first lady is making unobtrusive literary beachheads of her own. Last month, she hosted a symposium on "Women of the West" – Willa Cather, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Edna Ferber. That, in itself, may not sound like victorious news. But the choice of Ferber, who wrote "Giant," a 1952 novel later made into a film, was refreshingly politically incorrect.

As Mrs. Bush pointed out at the book talk, according to the Associated Press, the characters in "Giant" were likely drawn from Ferber's first visit to Texas, "when she was reportedly shocked by the food, the heat, and the swaggering arrogance of men in 10-gallon hats."

At a time when taking sides – you're either with us or against us – is the mantra in politics, literature can still maintain a welcome neutral ground. It can make social commentary, even pointed political observation with a steady tone that stays above the fray.

Its characters may have agendas, strong political views, annoying habits, curious tastes, but we can't debate them. They're cheerfully unswayable – locked in their own fiction.

Laura Bush seems to appreciate that imaginary world without trying to wield it as a political stick.

Submerging ourselves in the metaphors of good literature helps ease us out of the literalism of daily life. It's the ticket of admission to a wider world of ideas, unsnagged by agendas, where we learn other perspectives without feeling prodded.

Kim Campbell discovers what books Londoners of all political stripes are sinking themselves into these days (see story right).

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