I love love love the new Beauty and the Beast movie. One of the best parts, of course, is the Beast’s library, so I wrote “Belle Would Be Enchanted by These 10 Lovely Libraries in Hotels” for USA Today 10Best.Read All Entries
a reading list for a new year, part 1
This is not one of my usual reading lists but these are unusual times.
This is really a reading list for the resistance.
The election and what’s it already done to this country gutted me. And the only way I’ve ever been able to make sense of things I can’t wrap my head around is to do what I’ve done since I was little.
That’s something I suggest He Who Shall Not Be Named and his supporters start doing, too. If they did, I bet we wouldn’t be in this terrifying mess now.
In an attempt to expand my thinking, I started reading Hillbilly Elegy and I posted a fascinating article on Facebook, “An Insider’s View: The Dark Rigidity of Fundamentalist Rural America.” My amazing bibliotherapist, Rachel, once again came to the rescue to suggest books, which led to a great discussion by my smart, thoughtful and compassionate Facebook friends.
I decided it was time for another session with Rachel. I’m sharing it with all of you because we’re going to need tools to get us through the next four years. Here’s what she had to say. And if you have any questions or recommendations of your own, I hope you’ll share them in the comments.
Oh, and be sure to download Indivisible, A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda by former Congressional staffers. It’s free.
Many of us are still having trouble processing the election results. Please help us understand what happened!
You should definitely read American Nations by Colin Woodard. He states that North America is actually 11 distinct nations and each one is very different. It’s a fascinating book and even though I have not lived or visited all the places, it does ring true with what I know from friends who live there. It also amazes me that my home state of Pennsylvania is actually part of three different nations.
Is there a book that can help us grasp who these supporters are and get to know them, their needs, their frustrations better?
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance is getting a lot of press and has been named one of the best books of 2016. It shows how white Americans in the Rust Belt feel like they have been left behind and I’ve seen it for myself. My hometown used to have a large bank headquartered there and a factory, but now both are shuttered. It is very hard to find jobs around my hometown so many people move away. They are trying to find a better life like their parents did but, as Vance points out, it is going to be harder for my generation and generations to come to work our way up and be able to live in the way our parents did.
I also recommend a Nobel Prize winning book from 1984, Crowds and Power by Elias Canetti. It is amazing how true it is today and it really speaks to this crowd mentality that seems to be present in politics these days.
There are so many comparisons to Hitler being thrown around. How can we learn from the past so history doesn’t repeat itself?
I believe Volker Ulrich is writing a trilogy about Hitler and his life. Right now the first one is out and it’s called Hitler: Ascent 1889 – 1939. I think this is the most powerful book right now for people who are concerned that history will repeat itself. It talks about how Hitler got to power and what he did when he gained that power. Many people say that it can’t happen here, but Germans didn’t think it could happen there either and many of our problems today in the States are similar to problems Germany had before World War II.
But I think there is a counterpoint that we all need to read as well. Blanche Wiesen Cook has just done a trilogy following the life of Eleanor Roosevelt and I think this would be a good read too. It looks at how the President and First Lady handled the war, and also her life before and after. The third book focuses on the war, but I’d read the other two as well.
What would you recommend we read to prepare us for the next four years? Is there a guidebook for resistance?
I’d recommend Churchill Defiant by Barbara Leaming. While it focuses on his final ten years after World War II, I think it’s important to read about this great man in history. Churchill really defined a generation of people fighting against Hitler and it’s important to see that he doesn’t give up after it’s over. He’s still fighting, he’s still struggling, and he’s still surviving. It’s a good message for us to know to never give up. To keep fighting until we die. I think that’s a passionate message right now.
Bernie Sanders new book, Our Revolution: a Future to Believe In is a rallying cry for the people of America. Although some thought Bernie too liberal, he makes some really great points and he’s a good leader. People get behind him. This is a great book to read right now.
I think we need to focus on some of the areas and groups of people who are likely to be threatened under the new administration. Maybe if this becomes personal for people, and they see the potential consequences for themselves and their loved ones, they will fight. Can you make suggestions to send home the message about what’s at stake for 1) the environment 2) Muslims 3) African-Americans 4) women’s rights 5) LGBT 6) free press
I’m going to start with some classics for the free press. I truly think that Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 are two books that should be read again. I know we all read them in high school because our teachers forced us to, but now we should read them because we NEED to.
For women’s rights I think it’s important to read The Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft. After Mary’s death, she was pilloried by society as a wanton women whose ideas were too out there, but as time moved on she became one of the first feminists as the feminist movement began. I feel like if she were alive today she would also face censure and be called out by certain people for her ideas. It is important that we learn from her. She lived during a time when women were property. Everything they had went to their husbands upon marriage and they had little recourse if they were abused or if their husbands spent all their money. I know that we often feel that we are so far from that time, but remember a woman couldn’t get birth control during parts of the 20th century unless she was married and she also couldn’t get a credit card without a husband to sign for her.
I’d also suggest reading Muslims, Christians, and Jesus by Carl Medearis. There is so much misinformation out there about Muslims and their religion that I think this book is a good start. It even talks about building stronger bonds and that’s definitely what we need to do. People are fearmongering right now about ISIS and extremism, but many Muslims will tell you that it is not how their religion truly feels. It is the media that continually makes us wary about Muslims. We need to get information out there that this is not the case and this book is a great way to start.
Although Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas L. Friedmant came out around 9 years ago, it is still relevant today. It is a great book about why we need a green revolution. I’m also tempted to throw in some Thomas Hardy because his characters always suffered strife and he would talk about the smog from coal fires centuries ago and the muck and the mess that was encountered on every street because there were no rules about waste: human, horse, or otherwise. This is something that could come back if we get rid of all our regulations and continue our love of fossil fuels.
For the LGBT community, a great book is This Book Is Gay by James Dawson. It is joked that this book is the instruction manual on how to function in the world after you come out as gay, lesbian, bi, or transgendered. It’s good for people who do not understand these lifestyles to get an idea of what this group of people go through every day and how their lives change once they come out.
As far as dealing with racism, Trevor Noah, from The Daily Show, wrote a book called Born a Crime, since he grew up in Apartheid South Africa with one white parent and one black parent, which at the time was a crime. His story can be heartbreaking at times, but he also shows how understanding others can really help you out in certain situations. The idea that if you talk someone’s language they will relate to you better because you have a common bond. This was also voted one of the best books of 2016 and for good reason.
It seems like we better start boning up on Russia. Suggestions?
I’d read Revolution 1989 by Victor Sebestyen. It talks about the fall of the Soviet Union and I’d read Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall by Mary Elise Sarotte. I realize that these both talk about an empire that is now gone, but it is important to understand how the Soviets fell. It is also amazing to read how the fall of the Berlin Wall was accomplished with little bloodshed. It was almost a bloodless revolution.
But to understand Russia as a county before the Soviets were there I’d recommend Natasha’s Dance by Orlando Figes. It does a great job with Russian culture and Russian history.
Of course, there is also The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It speaks to the harsh cruelties that can happen under certain governments. It reminds us to never forget. I also have an affinity to this trilogy because when my parents were engaged, my mom was in Italy getting her wedding dress made and my dad wrote her letters. I found one of the letters years later and in it he was so excited about receiving The Gulag Archipelago. I thought it was the best love letter ever although Dad was none too thrilled that I had read it.
Finally, there is a fairly new book out about Stalin’s daughter, which I found fascinating. She didn’t really know what her father was doing and what atrocities he was committing. She found out much later in life. It’s call Stalin’s Daughter by Rosemary Sullivan. It reminds us that while some leaders can be cruel and inflict great pain on a country, they are also someone’s father or husband. It makes you realize that as humans we can be very flawed.
Note: Part 2 of this list coming next week. In the meantime, I noticed that in his important piece in The New York Times, “The Anti-Inauguration,” today, Charles M. Blow confirms my feelings:
“Spend part of the day reading about the rise and fall of empires and how it always seems far-fetched and inconceivable until it actually happens. There are many books that address this topic, but if you want something shorter, try Andrew Sullivan’s “Democracies End When They Are Too Democratic,” a counterintuitive meditation on how tyranny can spring from populism, or my colleague Paul Krugman’s “How Republics End.”
But, by all means, read something. That is oppositional in and of itself when facing a frightening man who seems constitutionally averse to intelligence — from national intelligence to individual intelligence — and who is apparently, how shall I say this, far from a voracious reader.”