Attorney General John Ashcroft today announced the formation of The Nation's Book ClubTM, a new offshoot of the Patriot Act which he says "is designed to get all Americans reading from the same page." Membership in The Nation's Book ClubTM becomes mandatory for all citizens over the age of eighteen starting on April 1, 2004. Enrollment forms may be picked up at any US Post Office, FBI office or public library, or at any of several participating retail chains, such as Borders, Waldenbooks, Barnes and Noble, and WalMart. Additionally, the forms may be downloaded off Amazon and Abebooks.
In a press conference held at the Library of Congress, simultaneous with a mass shredding of recently de-accessioned material from that institution, Attorney General Ashcroft explained the origins of the nation's newest literary salon.
"Once we started secretly scrutinizing the book purchases of our citizens, along with their library check-out records, we realized that there was an incredible and bewildering diversity of reading material being perused across this great land of ours, everything from chick-lit to sci-fi, from left-wing rants to realistic accounts of Armageddon. Now, the Justice Department has no intention of censoring any of this material, no matter how far out it is, or of prohibiting people from reading whatever they want to read. Such freedoms are inherent in our Constitution, at least for the time being. But the government also feels that the heterogeneous nature of the nation's reading material is leading to a dangerous lack of cohesiveness in terms of support for national policy. With so many different viewpoints being consumed, the nation becomes grievously divided over the wisdom of our current governmental course of action in defense of Homeland Security and in pursuit of the nation's interests abroad. The Nation's Book ClubTM is intended to remedy that treacherous lack of uniformity."
The Nation's Book ClubTM, Ashcroft went on to say, was inspired by the success both of televised books clubs such as Oprah's, and by municipal programs such as "One City, One Book," which encourage entire metropolises to read and discuss just a single title.
"Reading the same book at the same time will bring the nation together on an intellectual and spiritual plane in a way it has never enjoyed before," said Ashcroft. "The books we have chosen, moreover, are all academically approved classics from the public domain, full of fine moral values and sentiments, and will impart valuable lessons to our citizens. By choosing to focus on the work of respected dead authors who have withstood the test of time, we also insure that any current literary controversies are bypassed."
The government has already contracted with several publishers to print mass quantities of the books to be discussed. These editions will be sold at negligible prices, insuring that even the poorest households can afford at least one copy of each selection. "Although," Ashcroft stipulated, "we do encourage people to buy individual copies if they can, to insure that people have enough time to finish the text by the designated discussion date."
Penalties for non-compliance with the reading assignments will be stern but fair, Ashcroft said, although he could not reveal them at the time of the press conference.
The discussions will take place in a variety of venues, both real and virtual, with people meeting at assigned times and with assigned peers. All discussions will be recorded "for the benefit of posterity." The largest gatherings of readers will be hosted by various celebrities, and will be televised, allowing shut-ins and the disabled as well as US citizens outside the country to participate.
The first selection of The Nation's Book ClubTM is actually a Young Adult title, reflecting the attempts that have been made to match the selections with the national average literacy level. The first book is Pollyanna, by Eleanor H. Porter, from 1913.
Ashcroft believes that Porter's book is the ideal choice to kick off The Nation's Book ClubTM.
"The inspiring story of this little orphan girl who never complained and who always managed to see the bright side of life will serve to open the eyes of our citizens to all the positive aspects of their country and its policies, both at home and abroad. It is my belief that we will hear a lot less whining and carping once the nation undergoes its re-education in these sturdy virtues from a time when women couldn't vote, pneumonia was a guaranteed killer, and the Ottoman Empire knew its place as the 'sick man of Europe.'"
Paoli du Flippi is a frequent contributor to the website.