I didn’t read anything this week. I couldn’t. I pulled together a stack of hefty thrillers to get me through the next month or so, the kinds of books into which a frustrated American might escape in moments of desperation. But this week I stumbled through in a kind of daze—surface-calm while emotionally experiencing something akin to the final scene in Se7en. Kevin Spacey is Donald Trump, Brad Pitt is America, and Morgan Freeman is the rest of the world. We’re all just waiting to see what’s in that fucking box.
But books aren’t far from my mind. Over the past few days, I’ve found myself thinking back to things I’ve read that resonate just as strongly, or more strongly, now as before. Books that seem prescient in light of Tuesday’s results, even if (and I sincerely hope this is true) the specter of a Trump presidency proves scarier than the actuality.
I know, aggregating yourself is a bit douchey. But I hope you’ll cut me some slack in these trying, exhausting times.
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X
Malcolm X and Alex Haley
“It’s disconcerting to realize how timeless The Autobiography of Malcolm X is in its discussions of racial disparity and political inaction and America’s vainglorious opinion of itself on the world stage. Despite the very real progress on these issues that’s been made since 1965, many of the realities that Malcolm X discusses are little-changed today, and many of the successes one feels a knee-jerk compulsion to point out fall somewhere on what I think of as X’s ‘who gives a fuck’ spectrum.” [full review] [book quotes]
“Memories of an Appalachian adolescence meshed with analysis of the disaffected white working class, J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy has been making the rounds as a primer on the sentiments that have given rise to Donald Trump. It certainly has all the right ingredients: Vance is a white man who grew up poor in Ohio with family roots in Kentucky. His mother struggled with addiction and had a string of bad boyfriends and husbands. Vance was mostly raised by his grandparents, Mamaw and Papaw; his sister; and a cast of eccentric aunts and uncles.” [full review]
“There are few ways to feel whiter than to read a novel written from the perspective of a Nigerian woman who moves to America and discovers how it feels to be black.” [full review]
“Set (as suggested by the title) in the not-so-distant future, the novel takes place in the run-up to and aftermath of a great economic collapse, during which the United States renounces its debt and is cut off from the rest of the world by a global refusal to acknowledge the dollar. Isolated from its allies and trade partners (in part by its refusal to acknowledge a new currency, the bancor), the US falls into rapid disrepair: runaway inflation, rising interest rates, no available credit, plus the widespread dismantling of the upper and middle classes and all the fallout that implies.” [full review]
WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS?
“What I like about Thomas Frank is that he skillfully avoids doing what so many of us want and like to do: simply assume middle America is too dumb to realize their mistake. It’s hard not to at least occasionally feel that way when low-income workers in Alabama are clamoring for policies that will only hurt their own interests, or when listening to tirades from conservatives about a ‘liberal elite’ that is only as wealthy and as educated as the Republican politicians (and business leaders) the conservatives support.” [full review]
“The greatest fear I have about The Donald isn’t a Trump presidency. It’s not that I don’t think he has terrifying views, or that the idea of a country with those views in action doesn’t make me want to hibernate forever. I think Donald Trump would be a bad president, but mostly because he’d be an ineffective one—because we’d throw away four years (or eight…Christ, imagine eight) talking about the kinds of things we’ve been talking about for the last four months: insults and machismo, gossip and tweets. We’d spend the better part of a decade trying to solve a problem like Maria, and wouldn’t ever get around to cleaning the convent.
My fear isn’t who Donald Trump becomes as president; my fear is who we become if Donald Trump is setting the example. We become a nation of self-congratulatory, self-absorbed isolationists with a limited understanding of how the world works and a myopic and intolerant perception of multiculturalism. In short, we become a nation of Anders Breiviks. What could possibly go wrong?” [full review]