Amidst this volcanic election year's molten river of lies and accusations, informing yourself politically has never been more important--and that doesn't mean 20 minutes of Fox News while eating breakfast. As Stephen Elliott, author of the new Democratic campaign trail diary Looking Forward to It, says, "If you're going to figure out what's true, you're going to have to make some effort." (See review below) That means reading the news, reading the magazine articles, and reading the books. Read everything! Don't have time? Then start by reading these--the Mercury's official political booklist for this election season...

Looking Forward to It: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the American Electoral Process, by Stephen Elliott (Picador)

"That's why the Right wins--they're tougher," writes a trying-not-to-be-jaded Stephen Elliott from the thick of the democratic campaign trail.

If the Right is tougher, then Elliott is the Right of the Left. Looking Forward to It is a rugged, exhilarating, utterly biased critique of the electoral process that has no qualms about mixing insightful notions about campaign finance reform with jabs at Kerry's fake-looking hair.

"I'm a political person that doesn't have health insurance," Elliott told me in a recent interview. "I'm not a journalist. Other journalism books are trying to be nonpartisan and fair, and I'm not interested in that. This stuff affects me. I don't want to hide these feelings."

In an election year notable for the renewed political interest of normally apathetic Americans, Elliott's book is a godsend; a regular dude's account of trying to figure it all out. In the end, he doesn't even come close (does anyone?), but he does learn that the American electoral process is a system that works, which is all we can really hope for--that our hopeful efforts are not in vain. JWS

House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties, by Craig Unger (Scribner)

Craig Unger's account of the time just before and just after September 11th, 2001, is the main text referenced in Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11. The book also delves into the pasts of the main players, Saudi and American, revealing the political and monetary connections between the two "Houses." Unger paints a picture of unbridled kickbacks and glad-handing that would make any watchdog chew through his leash. But most importantly he exposes the secret airlift of 140 Saudis, including relatives of Osama bin Laden, in the days following 9/11. These were people that should have been interviewed by the FBI before leaving the country, a scandal that resonates as an enormous miscalculation of White House secrecy and hubris.

Unger fills his nearly 400-page account with complex background information, footnoting nearly every sentence and supplying some 75 pages of Appendices and Indexes, which makes one think House of Bush may be THE text book for the ardent Bush presidency study bug. MLS

Let's Stop Beating Around the Bush, by Jim Hightower (Viking)

In Let's Stop Beating Around the Bush, Hightower offers his "Six Perfectly Good Reasons to Elect George W. Bush," with each point leading to a chapter-long rebuttal. Here are three perfectly good reasons to read this book:

1) Let's Stop Beating Around the Bush is quick and enjoyable reading. Speaking in plain, folksy (but not ignorant) English, Hightower appeals to his own neighbors in Austin as well as your (my) registered-Democrat Dad who votes according to whomever lowers his taxes.

2) Practically every page features a sidebar or pull quote featuring eye opening/moronic Bush gaffes. Each chapter also ends with a puzzle of some sort: a crossword, a word search, a quiz, or a word scramble.

3) Having served in and lived around the political realm of Texas for decades, Hightower is a Democrat with a rare perspective for the Portland bubble liberal. WG

America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction, by Jon Stewart, Ben Karlin, and David Javerbaum (Warner)

I was afraid the comic genius of Comedy Central's The Daily Show wouldn't translate into a book--but with the entire history of democracy to play with, Jon Stewart and his laugh squadron assassinate your funny bone until finally, you have to take the book in doses. Seriously.

In all its hardbound glory America (The Book) looks exactly like the lame U.S. history book you had in high school. Only this one, parody or no, is likely to contain more truth.

Containing loads of pie charts and sidebars that slice away at the über serious democratic process, America (The Book) also reflects The Daily Show writers' innate sense of self-deprecation. For example, one of the book's "Insta-Poll" sidebars asks the reader if they are considering returning the book because of the annoying frequency of "Insta-Polls" for either a) store credit or b) cash.

Other highlights include a "Match the Naked Supreme Court Justice to their Missing Robe" activity, a foldout poster guide to America's shadow government, and a hilarious forward by "Thomas Jefferson," which ends with an inquiry as to Halle Berry's availability. No one who has ever been elected, appointed, or even merely volunteered, is safe. LC

The Bush Junta: A Field Guide to Corruption in Government, edited by Gary Groth & Mack White (Fantagraphics)

This is the first graphic novel of its kind, in that it has been thoroughly researched and footnoted, flaunting a beautiful sense of accuracy. The Bush Junta is a compilation whereby 25 cartoonists have each contributed a chapter to the whole, each being dedicated to a particular aspect, event, or co-conspirator relating to the house of Bush. The result is profound, disturbing, and hilarious.

Among the standout contributions is a tear-jerking profile of Condoleezza Rice by Ted Jouflas that evolves from a nursery rhyme to an apocalypse, answering the question I often ask: "What's wrong with these people?" Also worthy of mention is a Chick tract-style campaign anti-Patriot Act leaflet series from Ethan Persoff and Jason Huerta, replete with instructions on copying and distributing the leaflets. Read and resist. LC

Of Grunge and Government: Let's Fix This Broken Democracy, by Krist Novoselic (RDV/Akashic Books)

After Kurt Cobain killed himself, it was a toss-up as to what would happen to Nirvana's remaining members. Drummer Dave Grohl started the pop-rock group Foo Fighters (a shift which always felt fairly peculiar) but bassist Krist Novoselic took an even odder route--he got interested in politics.

Novoselic's Of Grunge and Government limns his political thoughts and observations, often drawing correlations between the role of music in local government and the importance of an involved and informed electorate. Novoselic's thought long and hard, and his analogy of what grunge did to the stagnant music scene of the early '90s and what's needed now with the stagnant political system isn't as forced as it would first appear. EH

Wake Up… You're Liberal!: How We Can Take America Back from the Right, by Ted Rall (Soft Skull)

I consider it a personal aim to get my Republican older brother to vote against Bush on November 2. So far getting drunk and telling him he's "fucking ignorant" hasn't worked. So I'm assembling a care package of books and documentaries that I think he should consider. I read Wake Up to audition it for the package. That is to say, I read it with as harsh a critical eye as I would expect my big brother to do.

Unfortunately, Wake Up is a soft sell to the choir, and its primary goal seems to be to encourage liberals to take on the conservatives; and giving them factual ammunition to do so. I'm going to send it to my brother, because I'll never remember all those facts myself--along with a note that I hope will soften the author's tone. But when is Wake Up... Revelations from a Lifelong Conservative Who Hates That Zealot George W. Bush coming out? MS

Checkpoint, by Nicholson Baker (Knopf)

A fictional exchange between M. William Helfrich and Justin Wescoat Sanders, Mercury political books editor:

JWS: Checkpoint begs the question: is a book of straight dialogue actually a novel?

MWH: It's a script, and a weak one at that. This doesn't sound like two characters talking, but instead like one man writing.

JWS: Touché.

MWH: In the book, Jay wants to assassinate the president. He meets his old friend Ben in a hotel room, and gives him details about his plan.

JWS: Their conversation sounds like an expanded New York Times editorial against the Bush Administration.

MWH: I think the idea of the book is strong, but its execution is pretty weak.

JWS: Why is the idea strong?

MWH: The idea of a liberal getting so pissed off he wants to kill Bush is strong. But then it gets really watered down with talk about abortion and the silly ways in which he hopes to actually do the assassination.

JWS: It's interesting to read someone talking about assassinating Bush.

MWH: Yeah, but it wears off after the first 10 pages.

JWS: You wear off!

MWH: Shit your face off!