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Books We Need to Read in Trump’s

In light of the inauguration of an American president with a now-indisputable fascist bent, I’ve put together a reading list for a Trump presidency. These books are either lesser-known or often pigeonholed in other niches -there are a few of these kinds of lists going around, so I’m trying to offer some suggestions that might be a bit more novel.
Abolition Democracy: Angela Davis’s very long-form interview. A manifesto for most political realities, especially relevant now.

Bad Feminist: Roxane Gay’s essay collection, dealing with race and gender and the intersection of the two.

Notorious RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a stone cold bad ass.

Long Way Gone: The memoir of a former child soldier from Sierra Leone, a story that speaks to the physical and psychological realities faced by children living in constant war.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Why families migrate, how they seek to survive in extreme poverty and in adverse surroundings.

Notes From No Man’s Land: Essays on how America has handled race, on NAFTA, and one absolutely brutal essay I’ve taught many times about lynching and telephone poles.

Fun Home: One of the best graphic memoirs I’ve read, addressing gender, sexuality, suicide and mental health, and how all of that shit mixes together in the USA

Play It As It Lays: Joan Didion’s crushing novel on the experience of a woman who is tired of living in a certain kind of male reality.

The Bell Jar: A good poet’s excellent novel. Gender, femininity, mental health, and a seemingly intractable fortresses of sexism.

The Demon-Haunted World: The King of Nerds explains why we all need to science way harder.

MAUS: Because this shit has happened before.

Slaughterhouse-Five: Because war sucks, and children wind up with the heaviest shit piled on them.

The Pillowman: A Fascist police state that pretends to care about children and tries to censor artistic expression. Imagine that.

Animal Farm: A pig that superficially resembles a human fucks everyone over in order to obtain an unprecedented and obscene amount of power, then continues to fuck over everyone, especially those who have worked very hard in his service, so as to make himself more comfortable and to further cement his power.

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The Shipping News

-If you have not yet read The Shipping News and you wish to remain ignorant of key plot points, stop reading. You’ve been warned.-

I had read Close Range (Proulx’s collection of short stories set in Wyoming -which contains the infamous “Brokeback Mountain”) a few years ago, but The Shipping News had been sitting in my to-read pile for a long time before I finally got to it. Keeping it in that pile, getting kicked down by new book purchases, was a bad idea. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Proulx is incredibly good at crafting very rounded characters within a literary work, providing the reader with a skeletal frame immediately and then fleshing the person out throughout the book in a very satisfying way. The kind of person Quoyle is is made known from the first few pages, a powerfully concise framing that reminded me of Updike’s story “Oliver’s Evolution”. Having an entire novel at her disposal, rather than the five paragraphs of Updike’s story, Proulx continues to build surprising nuance into a character that had seemed sympathetic from the first, but hardly as deep as we come to see him to be. The novel also makes use of a structural element involving an old books of knots that really, well, ties everything together, and well.

And, for a novel that kicks of with an abusive spouse selling her daughters into sex slavery and child pornography before being killed in a car with her lover, and more than one narrative element involving child abuse and incest, The Shipping News presents that rare incarnation in literary fiction, the happy narrative and the happy conclusion. This book has the most satisfying resolution of anything I’ve read in recent memory. Like another recent read, st. Aubyn’s On the Edge, Proulx balances a cynical and condemning evaluation of a subculture with warmth and pathos. Lots of the characters in this book are terrible, or miserable, or simply so far removed from a normal middle-class American existence as to be intractably strange, and this is often fodder for critique or comedy. But again, you have the warmth. It’s a testament to her writing that Proulx can not only create a compelling story that resolves misery into real happiness without it seeming trite or saccharine, she can write these characters with love and humor balancing the cutting examination.

Recommendation: Read it. It didn’t win her the Pulitzer, the Irish Times Fiction Prize, and the National Book Award just to sit in your to-read pile. For shame.