(That is, in addition to Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, 1984 . . . )
My general mood post-November 9 has been more or less like this:
To be fair, I have a certain amount of privilege that will mean I come away from this election cycle (mostly) unscathed. It is such an English-major-white-girl thing to write about how we can fight fascism with ~<3*books*<3~ rather than doing the dirty work of putting our money where our mouths where our safety pins are. The only thing I can think of that’s more English-major-white-girl-y than this is a toss-up between getting drunk at a party and arguing over who started reading The New Yorker the youngest (“I started at 14!” “Well I started at 13!” *clueless bio major walks over and thinks you’re talking about when you started your periods*), or writing about the ennui of being a sexually liberated young woman, complete with droll descriptions of past lovers, for a creative writing class.
But I digress. When our President Elect attacks the fourth estate, it’s hard not to let one’s mind wander to what else he wants to censor. It doesn’t become a question of if the world will turn dystopian–it becomes a question of which one. Will all our homes be fitted with “parlor walls” à la Fahrenheit 451, with one wall showing nothing but our President’s tweets? Should I get used to the fact that I’m no longer in “Georgia” but rather “District 11”?
So here are my picks for books we need to read before our Orange Overlord–or, more likely/worse, our peers who voted for him–take them away:
John Lewis’ March Series
This recommendation is actually divorced from recent events, though they provide a context for Trump’s unfounded “all talk” comments. They cover Lewis’ time as a Freedom Rider, lunch counter-sitter, speaker at the March on Washington, and Edmund Pettus Bridge march participant, among other things. There is no excuse for people to not read these books.
“But I don’t like to read.” They’re graphic novels and they read fast.
“But I don’t have time.” You’re reading this, ain’t you?
“But I don’t have money.” Libraries, or shoot, borrow my copies. (Give them back, though, they’re signed.)
It’s also very important for liberals to read these books, too. No one is saying your safety pin over your heart isn’t in the right place, but real change takes real work, like what Lewis and his peers did. So most of us didn’t vote for Trump, okay well . . . where are you? Hopefully not buying one of these shirts.
The number-one question following the election was how?!? and the answer lies in this book a lot of us read in middle school (. . . but apparently didn’t retain). Based on true events, a schoolteacher creates an experiment to illustrate how people fall for fascist movements, only the experiment spirals out of his control.
The Handmaid’s Tale
You know Mike Pence masturbates to the thought of the government in this book. You know it like you know the sky is blue.
To distract you from that deeply disturbing mental image, for which I apologize, I would like to nerd out and point out that time when the new Hulu show’s Twitter account followed me:
“But you could have easily Photoshopped that.” Bih take my word for it. And, for what it’s worth, they have since unfollowed me. But I wonder what drew them to me–my profile says I’m a book lover and I tweeted something pro-IUD three years ago that had conservative women breathing down my neck, so maybe that? Well, whatever it was, it worked, because you bet I will be watching, and reading, The Handmaid’s Tale.
You guys, Trump’s cabinet picks really depress me. Somewhere along the line during this past election, raging against “elites” translated to raging against genuine experts and professionals. It begs the question of where the line is drawn on who is an “elite”–do you not listen to your plumber because he’s a “butt crack and water elite”? Is your hairdresser a “cosmetology elite”?
The “elites” that seem to consistently draw the most scorn during a Republican presidential administration are scientists. My retired public-school science-teacher mother didn’t watch The Day After Tomorrow monthly during the wane of the Bush years because of a love for Dennis Quaid, y’all. So in addition to social justice-minded texts, I read scientific texts during these administrations as well. Carl Sagan’s is my favorite because his storytelling is so accessible (to everyone, not just scientists. Recall, I was an English major) that you forget you’re reading about friggin’ astrophysics. Nah, he’s just taking you along a journey of wonder for exploration and how amazing our universe is. So pick this up and learn how to make an apple pie from scratch. Just remember kids,
. . . and literature isn’t either.
Books by and about people who aren’t like us
The cruelest thing we can do to another human being is say we don’t relate to their experience, yet we do this all the damn time with the media we choose to consume. There’s been a lot of ink spilled about the “echo chambers” both sides have created politically, but this goes beyond politics. Several years ago, I laid into a friend of mine who said he didn’t listen to female comedians because he couldn’t “relate” to them. Sure, as a cisgender heterosexual male he couldn’t relate to some of their experiences, like what it’s like to date men or problems with one’s vagina or such, but to shut out their voices based on this alone, to not give the female comedians a chance to show that he and they might have some experiences in common is, frankly, sexist. He could have “related” to them on gender-neutral matters of, for instance, annoying coworkers or nagging parents, but what matters is that he didn’t want to stick around to find out.
Let me illustrate this with another example. I watched a couple of episodes of Insecure when I was at a conference. Yeah, I didn’t relate to Issa’s issues with race, but I also wasn’t meant to. I did relate to her awkwardness, her friendship with Molly, her desire to find an “out” for her job. I am not, nor was I ever, saying you should stick with a story you don’t genuinely relate to, I’m saying you shouldn’t write anyone off because you think you might not relate to them. “Echo chambers” may come from unfollowing all your Trump supporter friends, but they also come from the realization that the last five authors you read were all white men. The post-election narrative was at first that Trump’s victory was due to poor white people screaming to be heard, but then it came out that the victory was secured by well-off, educated white people who want to keep narratives that are not theirs subdued and quiet. So really, seek out any narrative that is not like yours to throw a Molotov cocktail into their efforts.
People can surprise you; I’m hoping Trump surprises us and does well. But I’m not holding my breath.