“These are also unusual times”
“MAKE MARGARET ATWOOD FICTION AGAIN!” read one sign at the Women’s March. “THE HANDMAID’S TALE WASN’T MEANT TO BE A HOW-TO MANUAL” read another.
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a story of how a totalitarian theocracy removes the U.S government of power and eliminates women’s rights. Book sales for Atwood’s book rose 30 percent in 2016 from the previous year, and 100,000 copies were reprinted to meet the high demand during the last three months of the year. In the same vein, George Orwell’s novel 1984, has been flying off bookshelves and even made its way to the top of Amazon’s Best Sellers List. Last week, publishing company Signet had to order a 500,000 copy reprint of the dystopic title.
Other popular classics like Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis have also seen spikes in sales since the election.
As our reality is slowly beginning to reflect elements of these works of fiction, people have been turning to these dystopic stories to try to grapple with the Trump presidency.
If you’d like to do extra reading beyond these classroom staples, the editors at the Los Angeles Review of Books shared their recommended books—and one film—under a Trump Administration.
\nAnti-Intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter
I recommend historian Richard Hofstadter's Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963), which argues that evangelical religion and business have been the main forces lobbing what we have just started calling "alternative facts" into the public square. Education, he wrote, the main hope for countering the anti-intellectual tendencies in American life, was itself constantly undermined by these same forces (cf. Betsy DeVos). It is worth noting what intellectualism means to Hofstadter, too. It isn't just being intelligent or being "right": "It accepts conflict as a central and enduring reality and understands human society as a form of equipoise based upon the continuing process of compromise. It shuns ultimate showdowns and looks upon the ideal of total partisan victory as unattainable, as merely another variety of threat to the kind of balance with which it is familiar. It is sensitive to nuances and sees things in degrees. It is essentially relativist and skeptical, but at the same time circumspect and humane." This very mild statement of principles is what the Trump administration is aligned against. The book is important reading not just because it offers a clear lineage for Trumpism, but because it suggests we examine ourselves, too. Anti-intellectualism is also anti-elitist and democratic, and although American intellectuals (which Hofstadter includes not just academics, but journalists and other culture workers in the category) loudly espouse democracy themselves, "It is rare for an American intellectual to confront candidly the unresolvable conflict between the elite character of his own class and his democratic aspirations."—Tom Lutz, editor in chief
\nCitizen by Claudia Rankine
Rankine’s book is formally unusual—it is prose, poetry and visual art all in one—but these are also unusual times. Citizen was urgent when it was published several years ago, but Rankine’s dissection of race, power, media, and art feels particularly apt now, not least for her exploration of how bodies store and bear the weight of injustices both big and small. Rankine recognizes the bodies in the crowd. You are exhausted? There is weight to citizenship, especially when it’s hard won.—Medaya Ocher, managing editor
\nThe Constitution Today by Akhil Reed Amar
The Constitution Today, authored by Yale’s Akhil Reed Amar, published in the fall of last year, has as its sub-title “Timeless Lessons for the Issues of Our Era.” Professor Amar discusses issues that have become far from merely academic, including the antiquated Electoral College, the controversial Citizens United decision, a broken legislative branch, the politicized judiciary, the threat of an Imperial Presidency and the fate of Obamacare. In short, a primer on the urgent controversies in which we are now so deeply embroiled. – Don Franzen, Legal Affairs Editor
\nNetwork directed by Sidney Lumet & On the Pulse of Morning by Maya Angelou
Network: This 1976 classic seems more relevant as the years go by. The story of a profit-hungry television network that exploits the tirades of a deranged former anchor for its own ratings gain is eerily familiar what we've just experienced with media outlets during the presidential campaign -- and a cautionary tale for viewers about their own responsibilities to seek the truth in news rather than being lulled unconscious by the show.
For a book, Maya Angelou's On The Pulse of Morning: It was the poem she read for the inauguration of Bill Clinton, which was eventually published. I thought it was an interesting recitation when she delivered it in '93, but my God, having read it regularly since last November's election, every word she wrote is a reminder of who we are to one another -- and who we should be again. In her closing, Good Morning, it makes one stop and think if we really connect to one another in our real lives, or only when we come out to protest. – Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn, Senior Editor