A novel idea Reading in the age of Trump
READING IN THE AGE OF TRUMP
ONa recent Saturday afternoon, Book Mountain was completely sold out of 1984, the George Orwell classic about a society in which privacy and dissent have been criminalized, and words have been reconceived to mean their opposite. The long-standing used bookstore on Cerrillos Road is currently out of everything by Orwell and by Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World with its futuristic vision of drug-fueled, contented sameness. Anything along these lines is “going like hotcakes,” said owner Peggy Frank. In the wake of the presidential election, and with increased fervor since the inauguration, readers around the United States are scrambling to get their hands on a certain type of dystopic novel — perhaps collectively hoping to find an explanation for the state of the world. Even Amazon is having trouble fulfilling orders, which could be why Book Mountain has noticed an increase in business.
“Another good one right now is It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. That book describes a Trump presidency,” Frank said. The satirical novel was published in 1935. In recent conversations with booksellers, educators, and mental health professionals about current reading trends — and why books are a crucial means of coping for so many people right now — It Can’t Happen Here was recommended multiple times. Other popular books that envision futuristic authoritarian societies include The Handmaid’s
Tale by Margaret Atwood, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and The Giver by Lois Lowry, the last of which is a young-adult novel about a twelve-year-old boy who lives in a world where emotional depth has been eradicated. Beyond dystopic fiction, however, lies a wealth of books that elucidate our present moment in history, showcase the experiences of immigrants and people of color, and offer solace, escape, or spiritual guidance. Certain books can even inspire readers to take action in support of causes they care about.
“It seems to us that right now, reading a book, any book, is a great thing to do,” said Lillian Weiss Schmid, owner of Big Star Books & Music. “We are lucky to have a very wide customer base that includes those who are just now becoming politically involved and looking for anything that can educate them on sociology and political philosophy, to those who want to heal and grow in their own lives and are looking for books that can help them reach their center.” Christian Nardi, owner of Bee Hive Kids Books mentioned that popular contemporary dystopic and post-apocalyptic fiction for young adults — such as the Divergent series by Veronica Roth or The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins — ostensibly prepares readers for a violent, calamitous future in which they might have to be heroes. For better or for worse, a less extreme dystopic reality may have arrived sooner than those authors anticipated. “It’s important for kids to know they are not the first or last person to have ever felt the way they’re feeling. You want to feel supported in a time when you feel powerless,” Nardi said. She has lately been recommending some of the older canon, including such authors as J.D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, and John Knowles, as well as historical fiction that helps develop readers’ empathy for people and situations outside of their experience. The Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling are also a force for good, Nardi said. “There are important power issues between Harry and Voldemort. Rowling is brilliant and has a lot of wisdom for kids and for adults.” At St. John’s College, students read books that are considered foundational to Western society. Peter Pesic, an emeritus faculty member, reflected on the current political moment, which he said has left many people deeply disturbed. “We are challenged not to give in to anger or despair, nor to the demonization of others,” he told Pasatiempo. “This is indeed a moment that calls all of us to philosophy, in the deepest sense of judging the best way to act and indeed to feel. It’s a time to read Plato’s Apology, to see how Socrates responded with poise, grace, and even humor to a tyrannical regime that sought his death. In the Republic, Socrates helps us understand that tyrants are miserable and eventually fall. Truth is on the march and will not be ultimately denied.” For those who do feel deeply disturbed, take heart — you are not alone. “You can’t keep this out of the therapist’s office,” said Carol MacHendrie, a clinical social worker and couples therapist who has been in practice for more than 30 years. Sales of books by the Tibetan Buddhist author Pema Chödrön, including Practicing Peace in Times of War and When Things Fall Apart, are up around town, as are books that deal with grief. MacHendrie recommended Grief Is the Thing With Feathers, a novel by Max Porter, which she called “dark and beautiful, yet soothing, a bit like a fable.” She also recommended Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, which is about the author’s time in the Auschwitz concentration camp and how he survived. “I reread that once a decade, ever since college,” MacHendrie said.
This is indeed a moment that calls all of us to philosophy, in the deepest sense of judging the best way to act and indeed to feel. It’s a time to read Plato’s Apology, to see how Socrates responded with poise, grace, and even humor to a tyrannical regime that sought his death. In the Republic, Socrates helps us understand that tyrants are miserable and eventually fall. Truth is on the march and will not be ultimately denied. — Peter Pesic, emeritus faculty member, St. John’s College