I'm going to be honest: Mayor Karl Dean has always struck me as a little bland. The most daring thing his administration has done is contribute to our reputation as the home for wayward architecture by building a convention center, in an era when no one is sure if people still go to conventions.
Otherwise, what? He wants us all to walk and to provide something for Phil Bredesen's friends to do part-time for full-time pay.
You see what I'm getting at? Karl Dean's not someone I normally think of as rocking the boat.
So I'm not sure what to make of his selection of Margaret Atwood's classic The Handmaid's Tale for his "citywide read." As reported by WPLN, he seems aware of its controversial nature:
“Certainly it’s controversial, but those are the books that generate conversations. That’s a book you’ll have a debate about, and that will be a good thing.”
Well, yes. I agree. But it's more than just controversial. It's a searing and damning indictment of a very popular mindset around the state — that we should have a Christian theocracy, that all sex should be procreative, that women should be focused on domestic tasks and making babies, and that anyone who doesn't want a life like that should get the fuck out.
And I was thinking, my God, it takes some intestinal fortitude to take up a citywide discussion of how the state's goals can spiral into the sickness on display in Atwood's novel. But then I got to thinking — is there a Republican I think would read this? Maybe House Speaker Beth Harwell. And it's not like she's going to take the time to explain to her colleagues why they might be upset by this choice.
Maybe it's not such a political risk after all.
Still, I had a certain feeling about the mayor when I heard this — a feeling I didn't recognize at first, because I hadn't felt this way about a Tennessee Democratic politician in a long time.
I am proud.
I think it's awesome that we're reading such a difficult book together as a city and talking about it. (I mean difficult in the sense of it being upsetting and dealing with issues that hit close to home — the way some Thanksgivings are difficult, even if you've cooked turkey a thousand times — not in the sense of it being hard to read.) It seems like the most politically bold thing the mayor has done, though it remains to be seen if the people who should take it as an indictment will have sense enough to be angry.