As I write this I’m listening to Bob Woodward, Superhero, talking with Terry Gross about the most dangerous man who has ever sat in the White House. It seems likely I will be reading FEAR by Bob Woodward very soon, along with about a million other people.
But so many other readings–not all of them new–have helped me cope and helped me to understand the world, since Trump’s election. Here are a few off the top of my head. I’ll probably post some more later. Deepest apologies for these all being men, this time–I will make it up one day.
- Frederick Douglass: “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” (July 5, 1852) Douglass’s white friends seemed to think there was nothing untoward about asking a man who had suffered slavery to give the Independence Day address to the Ladies of Anti-Slavery Society of Rochester New York, and a time when nearly four million people were enslaved in the United States. What they got from Douglass was a masterpiece of rhetorical oratory and the most eloquent definition of white privilege ever written, even though the term ‘white privilege’ wasn’t current in the 19th century. After setting the 600 people at ease with his patriotic introduction praising the Founding Fathers, he confronts them with their hypocrisy, and asks: “why have you invited me to speak to you on your Fourth of July?…The Fourth of July is yours and not mine…You may rejoice, but I must mourn.” Profoundly moving. Douglass’s speech reminds me that we have been here before, and what is true and right is the same today as it was in Douglass’s time.
- Runagate, Runagate: a poem by Robert Hayden. Hayden’s subject is the flight of enslaved African Americans to the north; with only slight changes it could just as well be about the flight of Latino refugees to the north. I like to be reminded that terrible things have been overcome before in this country.
- Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera. A border story, about a very young woman making her way confidently and fearlessly through a world of men, many of whom wish to do her harm, and yet the young woman prevails, she triumphs, she finds a way to be fully alive and fully happy even with danger all around her. Much of what I love about Signs Preceding the End of the World has to do with what is not explained. The human relationships and even the landscape itself keep changing, shifting, in mirage-like realignments of feeling and color. The truth is never laid out in explicit detail and it seems right for the novel to remain in many ways unknowable, just as so many things that might happen on a journey across the border can’t ever be fully understood, or fully in control of those who make the journey. This novel gave me the sense of the border as an organic living country in its own right, with dignity as well as degradation, and hope as well as despair.
- The Plot Agains America by Philip Roth. Ignore anything you have been told about Roth’s treatment of his female characters long enough to read this book. It is one of those rare books that, like 1984, seems to capture our age before it happens. Granted, I am a Roth fan, but believe me, the women here are the core of the story and they are beautiful and deeply imagined characters.
- The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan. I’ve already recommended this novel, here, when I said the novel taught me more about despair in West Virginia than reading sixteen billion profiles on Trump voters ever could. The people in McClanahan’s book seem real. Maybe they are. They are unique individuals who are coping with the stress of living in an impoverished state, where jobs are few, and hope is just a cynical memory of a feeling, and where becoming an addict seems like a reasonable life choice, and where living in a Wal-Mart parking lot is just the way things are. Read it to expand your empathy in an unexpected direction, perhaps.
well, five seems enough, for now.