Littwin: The non-Trump reading list (column)
Fair and unbalanced
It’s that time of year again when, by popular demand, we bring back our annual Books Mike Littwin Has Read in (Fill in Year).
Since this is 2017, the most volatile year in America since at least 1974 and the Nixon resignation, it’s a wonder I’ve read any books at all. I spend most of my time on the computer looking for something more insightful on TrumpWorld than what I find in my Twitter feed — and, despite the low bar, generally failing.
I do read the smart magazines searching for smart people who can explain the fix we’ve got ourselves into, but it turns out nobody is quite that brilliant.
So, what’s left? For me, it’s fiction. You need fictional dystopia to understand the current Trumpian brand. Emerson wrote that “fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” That’s the bet I make, anyway. So, you can binge-watch “The Handmaid’s Tale” for a dark look at today, but I recommend the book. Then you can read anything by Orwell. Or Kafka. Camus’ “The Plague.” Fallada’s “Wolf Among Wolves.” Dreiser’s “Sister Carrie.” DeLillo’s “Libra.” Bolaño’s “2666.” Bradbury’s “Farenheit 451.” Doctorow’s “The Book of Daniel.” Roth’s “The Plot Against America.” The list is, literally, endless.
But I almost forgot. It’s 2017. And here’s the best of what I read this year. The truth is that some of it is Trump-inspired, but much of it inspired by the need not to think about 2017 or Trump at all. As I look over the list, I can’t help but notice I’ve latched onto a series of truly great writers. Maybe what I was looking for was inspiration.
Maybe, these days, that’s what we’re all looking for.
Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders.
What was it that Trump said? That he could be as presidential as anyone but Lincoln? You’re not long into Saunders’ first novel — he is a great writer of short fiction — to see the difference between the two men. Saunders takes us to the 1862 death of Willie, Lincoln’s 11-year-old son, who is buried in Oak Hill cemetery, where Lincoln comes to grieve him. It’s no ordinary cemetery. It’s a place of ghosts and ghostly regrets and the chance of deathly reprieve and, mostly, where the power of Lincoln’s grief for his son — in a time of war, in a place in need of peace — overwhelms. If you’ve read Saunders, you can guess the book is darkly funny, darkly strange and yet more. It is, mostly, a brilliant imagining of how Lincoln’s great suffering brings with it empathy for all those suffering around him.
Read the rest of Mike Littwin’s column here.
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