A Recommended Reading List for Trump’s America

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Copies of George Orwell’s 1984 sold out during the first month of Donald Trump’s presidency. Demand for the book has been so overwhelming that the publisher has issued a 75 000-copy reprint. If your copy hasn’t arrived yet, here are nineteen authors on the books you should be reading in the age of Trump.

 

1. Kim Addonizio, author of Bukowski in a Sundress

Recommended reading: Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think by Ralph Nader

Remember The Matrix? ‘You take the blue pill… you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill… and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.’ Nader gives a cogent history and analysis of our ever-eroding democratic experiment—a detailed primer for anyone wondering what the hell has happened, and a tour of the highlights, from the hijacking of our public land and airwaves to the commercialization of every area of our private lives to the manufactured consent and diminished expectations designed to keep the greedy, amoral one percent in power. But there’s another one percent—that’s how much, or how little, of a politically committed populace he says it takes to turn things around. Nader reminds us of the many individuals and small groups of people who have succeeded against the powerful. He offers a to-do list and a concrete way to put our elected representatives on notice and keep their heels to the fire to uphold the Constitution and work for the real needs of their constituents. Quoting Alice Walker, he reminds us that ‘The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.’ This is a wake-up call. Read it, take heart, and commit to taking action—or stay in bed until they come for you.”

 

2. Charles Bock, author of Alice & Oliver

Recommended reading: I, Claudius by Robert Graves

“The second half of the novel has Claudius watching as his uncle, the madman Caligula, assumes power and trashes the shit out of the Roman empire. A high and favorite point being when Caligula declares war on the sea. (Eventually Claudius leads a revolt and dethrones the mad king. Let’s cross our fingers our country doesn’t have to come to that.)”

 

3. Camille Dungy, author of Guide to Relative Strangers (forthcoming June 2017)

Recommended reading: Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

“It’s 2024. A government that doesn’t believe in government is in power. There is systemic drought in California. Ethnic groups in a diverse society are pitted against one another. Corporations are both caretakers and prison guards. What happens to a family when the walls around their neighborhood are threatened? I have always believed Octavia Butler was prescient. I believe so even more today.”

 

4. V. V. Ganeshananthan, author of Love Marriage

Recommended reading: Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai

“It’s about a young gay boy coming of age in Sri Lanka’s capital as ethnic tensions build before the start of the civil war in 1983. It’s masterfully written, from a child’s point of view, and shows how civil society changes in response to political tensions, violent actions, and inflammatory rhetoric. The depiction of the slow polarization of ethnic communities is particularly heartbreaking.”

 

5. Brenda Hillman, author of Seasonal Works With Letters on Fire

Recommended reading: The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser and Resist Much, Obey Little

“I was talking to a friend about the poet Muriel Rukeyser—she was so far ahead of her time in many ways— terrific writer. So, her Collected Poems. And there’s going to be an anthology of political poetry for this very moment—Resist Much, Obey Little—out in a few weeks. It will be a very big, varied eclectic collection of resistance poetry. I read poetry when things are terribly bad or a little good… Readers can keep in mind that since Trump doesn’t read at all, we’re ahead of him by reading anything.”

 

6. Andrew Hudgins, author of The Joker: A Memoir

Recommended reading: A History of Fascism, 1914–1945 by Stanley Payne and The Rise of Fascism by F.L. Carsten

“I’ve just been in Italy for three weeks, first trip ever, and while there I read some pieces on Slate about fascism’s rise there. In Florence, we took in an exhibit about Jews in Tuscany in the 20th century and learned that thirty percent of Florentine Jews were Mussolini supporters. So I’ve mostly been swinging wildly between obsessively reading the Times, the Washington Post, and other news sources about Trumps erratic cruelties and then escaping from them in mysteries and the Harry Potter series, which I’d never read. To bust out of my bafflement, rage, and denial, I’m gearing up to read either Payne’s A History of Fascism, 1914-1945 or Carsten’s The Rise of Fascism, as I try to figure out how to be a more effective opponent of Trump and all he stands for.”

 

7. Jonathan Lethem, author of A Gambler’s Anatomy

Recommended reading: Going to The Dogs by Eric Kastner and The Aerodrome by Rex Warner

“Eric Kastner’s Going to The Dogs is a tragicomic window into Weimar-era Berlin, from the perspective of idealistic young artists and students undermined by precarity, and giving way to a deranged bad faith toward themselves and one another; Rex Warner’s The Aerodrome is a chilling Kafkaesque allegory of how English pastoral fantasies might surrender to the seductions of a Fascist militarism—both books very much in the spirit of ‘it can happen here!’”

 

8. Paul Lisicky, author of The Narrow Door

Recommended reading: Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely

“I’ve been living with Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric since 2014, rereading its sequence of exchanges so many times they’ve become etched into my mind like dreams. But fewer readers seem to have taken up Rankine’s previous book, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, which is just as fertile and timely, even though it was published thirteen years ago. ‘Define loneliness?’ says the book. ‘It’s what we can’t do for each other.’ In its embrace of discomfort, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely is a book that refuses the safe distance of being a spectator to the lives of others—as well as to our own.”

 

9. Phillip Lopate, author of To Show and To Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction

Recommended reading: The Complete Essays of Michele Montaigne and Zibaldone by Giacomo Leopardi

On Montaigne: “We need to learn from the example of Montaigne’s blend of skepticism, stoicism, and epicureanism in the years ahead. Montaigne lived through the religious wars in France and kept his sanity and tolerance.”

On Leopardi: “This monumental compilation of notes by the great Italian poet will school us in the art of pessimism and bitterness.”

 

10. Jill McCorkle, author of Life After Life

Recommended reading: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

“We see firsthand the experience of those denied immigration during conditions where people are targeted for religious differences. Anne Frank gave a voice and face to the millions who were murdered in the Holocaust. Her voice was one of courage and tremendous hope for mankind in the midst of that horrible time.”

 

11. Dinty W. Moore, author of Between Panic & Desire

Recommended reading: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

“Becoming unstuck in time, only loosely tethered to reality, might be a useful coping mechanism right now. There is no apparent silver lining in the dark cloud of what has been happening these past weeks, but maybe this: I look forward to reading the novel that comes out eventually, the one where an author manages to interpret our national insanity with some of Vonnegut’s lacerating wit and wisdom. And if I’m reading that book a few years down the road, then I guess we’ve survived.”

 

12. Aline Ohanesian, author of Orhan’s Inheritance

Recommended reading: Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish and The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt

On Lish: “For fiction, I would recommend Atticus Lish’s Preparation for the Next Life. It’s a love story set in New York between a Chinese Muslim immigrant and an American veteran and traumatized ex-soldier. The two principal characters have little in common except that they are both exploited, albeit in different ways. The book is an exquisite exploration of the underbelly of our democracy, and is beautifully written.”

On Arendt: “For nonfiction, there is no book more essential to our times than The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt.”

 

13. Jeremy Plume, author of PLUME: A Collection of Short Horror Stories

Recommended reading: The Harry Potter series

“There’s no question we can see parallels of people with less than noble intentions going out of their way to marginalize a certain group of people (or creatures) solely because of their birth status. Later in the series we even see the Wizarding Government become infiltrated and corrupt, punishing others that some see as lesser than because of their blood status. Prevalent themes in the series are love being the most powerful force, loyalty and having the courage to stand up for others who have been marginalized. As Dumbledore says, ‘Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.’”

 

14. D. A. Powell, author of Useless Landscape, or a Guide for Boys

Recommended reading: Civil Rights division of the US Dept. of Justice’s The Ferguson Report

“Trump’s win was orchestrated by capitalists who have benefited from systemic racism in order to profit from—and to subjugate and terrorize—communities of color. Hillary Clinton’s vow to address systemic racism (I’d love to say her vow to “dismantle” systemic racism) shook the power centers of wealth and privilege; their response was Donald Trump. If we are to break free of the billionaire buyers club—which stockpiles weapons and resources while it sends poor people to the graveyard—then it’s imperative that we all try to understand the ways in which laws have been constructed to keep the destitute and the working poor (a population disproportionally comprised of black and brown bodies) disenfranchised, under constant surveillance, exploited, and harassed. We must face the hard evidence of national, state, and local legal systems designed to be stacked against people of color. This book makes plain the need for change in how laws are written and, most importantly, how laws are applied.”

 

15. Carl Phillips, author of Reconnaissance

Recommended reading: Guapa by Saleem Haddad

“Taking place in an unnamed Arab country, and featuring a protagonist whose sexual relationship is with a man who—strictly for cultural reasons—is about to get married to a woman, Guapa provides a window not only into the clash between tradition and contemporary mores, including the underground drag scene, in Arab culture, but on culture more generally, which is to say this book teaches us about one culture and resonates in a way that shows how much we can learn from examining apparent difference more closely. The book is also a kind of meditation on shame, pride, desire, and faith—faith especially in one’s right to be exactly who one is. I know that’s a little unwieldy, but there it is…”

 

16. Greg Santos, author of Rabbit Punch!

Recommended books: Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine and Model Disciple by Michael Prior

On Rankine: “I remember when a woman was caught on the news reading Citizen, with its striking white cover and black hoodie during a Trump rally, and refusing to put it down. If you haven’t read Rankine’s genre-bending work that explores the prevalence of racism in America, do it now! It’s an unforgettable and important read.

On Prior: “This first collection of poetry is an intimate look at memory, loss, family, and identity. The long poem ‘Tashme,’ in particular, is worth the entire price of admission. In it, the speaker goes on a road trip with his grandfather to visit Tashme, the site of the largest internment camp for Japanese Canadians in British Columbia during World War II. It is a haunting and beautiful poem; it serves as a reminder that Canada is not immune to the dangers of singling out and ostracizing a people based on their ethnicity.”

 

17. Susan Rodgers, author of Ex-Boyfriend on Aisle 6

Recommended reading: “I can only say: it’s time to reread Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.”

 

18. Dan Beachy-Quick, author of Circle’s Apprentice

Recommended reading: King Lear by William Shakespeare and Parallel Lives by Plutarch

“I might suggest King Lear as one book President Trump should read, not only for the immediate lesson of what happens when Authority uses divisiveness to gratify his own need for love, but that metaphysical lesson on consequences of a ruler’s narcissism, the damage to the psyche of the land, of the nation itself; and here, ‘psyche,’ in the old sense, not mind, not psychology, but soul. The other book that comes to mind is Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. The President might find therein ample precedent for such political upheavals, and one could hope that examples of flawed men working against their own nature might be a kind of guide; there is of course ample examples of flawed men worsening the genius of their own base character. He might find a mirror in Sulla, I fear; but maybe Lycurgus or Pericles has a better lesson to give. A way to resist himself. One can (almost) hope.”

 

19. Jan Wong, author of Beijing Confidential: A Tale of Comrades Lost and Found

Recommended reading: Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America

“I’ve just started reading it. It imagines Charles Lindbergh beats FDR in presidential election, and America turns fascist. The election campaign is eerily prescient of what happened with Trump.”


Spencer Folkins' writing has appeared online (most recently in/on Maudlin House, Gone Lawn, Danse Macabre's DM du jour, The Brunswickan, and elsewhere), in several anthologies, one magazine and one literary journal for young writers. He currently attends St. Thomas University. More from this author →