A novel idea Read­ing in the age of Trump

READ­ING IN THE AGE OF TRUMP

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

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

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