So it finally happened. 24 years after Francis Fukuyama pronounced we had reached “the end of history”, the year 2016 has brought us Brexit, the Global Warming tipping point, escalating global conflict, the rise of the alternative fascist right in Germany and across Europe, and Donald Trump. Oh, and David Bowie, Prince, and Alan Rickman are all dead. In short, it’s been a tough year.
While the New Yorker – fairly – claimed the election of Donald Trump was a “tragedy”, we here at Nothing in the Rulebook only aim to please, and tragedy generally doesn’t do that. So, while we – like the rest of you right-minded people – are planning the revolution against President Trump’s impending fascist dictatorship, we’re also planning our essential reading list for these dark times.
Although Trump himself (should that be Drumpf?) has admitted he doesn’t read books, we feel that they represent one of the last bastions of culture and intellect, and could prove particularly useful during the imminent nuclear winter when we no longer have electricity or the internet.
We have therefore put together our literary recommendations for the possible future and the end of the world. Spoiler alert, Fukuyama doesn’t feature.
- Capitalist Realism, Mark Fisher
First things first, a crash course in some of the causes for our current state of travesty. Fisher expertly describes the factors that have contributed to the rise of the alt-right and the collapse of the traditional left; and how the neoliberal consensus has alienated and disenfranchised so many of the poorest and most vulnerable in society – to the extent that they are offered no alternative path. When viewed through this lens, Trump’s ascendency appears no shock: but an inevitability
2. Slaughterhouse five, Kurt Vonnegut
Does it feel as though you’re living out of step with reality – with time itself, perhaps? Vonnegut’s mastery in this brilliant novel is to make the unreal real, and vice versa. What’s more, it also serves as a brilliant cultural portrayal of the American psyche – that same psyche that has just chosen to elect as president a misogynist and racist, who is the embodiment of the establishment and corporate power. In the light of the knowledge that Trump secured his victory via the votes of white men and women from rural and post-industrial declining towns, consider the following passage from Slaughterhouse five:
“America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, ‘It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.’ It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: ‘if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?’ There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.
Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.”
3. A vindication of the rights of women, by Mary Wollstonecraft
Since the world now has a President-Elect who seems to think its okay to refer to women as “pigs”, and sexually assault them as much as he wants, it seems vital to take some of the founding literature of modern feminism with us into our revolutionary hiding spots. Wollstonecraft’s principled, logical tract is an inspiration for three centuries of subsequent human rights thinking. She identifies natural rights as inalienable and God-given. So they cannot be denied to any group in society by another. If Trump read books, we doubt he’d understand this concept; but as free-thinking, logical beings – all of us (yes, that’s you) are more than able not only to understand this idea, but to act upon it.
4. Blindness, by Jose Saramago
Blindness is the story of an unexplained mass epidemic of blindness afflicting nearly everyone in an unnamed city, and the social breakdown that swiftly follows.
Absurd to say it, but Blindness is an allegory for not being able to see. For those of us looking on in horror at Trump’s election, and seeing the parallels between this modern era and that of the early twentieth century, the feeling that we seem to be among the few who can see the world as it is, is perfectly captured by this Nobel Prize winning novelist.
”Why did we become blind, I don’t know, perhaps one day we’ll find out, Do you want me to tell you what I think, Yes, do, I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see.”
5. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Given Trump’s aggressive disavowal of intellectualism and books, it seems pertinent that we include one of Bradbury’s most celebrated novels. This is the ultimate dystopia for literature lovers, describing a society where books are burned and intellectual thought illegal. The work tackles head on the nightmare world in which a free press and the dissemination of ideas is not possible. The message from the NITRB team here is clear: comrades! Collect all the books you own and don’t let anybody try to burn them!
6. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
One of the most concerning of Trump’s policies has been insistence on denying climate change, and his promise to reverse the various pieces of climate change legislation (however small they may have been) that have been passed by the US during Obama’s administration. He has also vowed to abandon the Paris Climate agreement, which is pretty terrifying, given the knowledge that our planet is spinning towards an inevitable future of warmer temperatures, which will have catastrophic consequences for human beings and the natural world.
McCarthy’s bleak post-apocalyptic novel therefore is perhaps not one to raise the spirits, but one instead to shock us into action. While the precise cause of the environmental destruction depicted in the novel is never explicitly stated, the bleak reality of living in a world without animals, without vegetation, subject to fierce and unpredictable changes in weather is imagined with McCarthy’s vividly compelling prose. This fiction could well be our reality if we don’t work together to stop the worst effects of Trump’s impending presidency. It is up to us to hold the fire.
These six books are, it must be said, simply a starter for ten (should that be a starter for six?). So which ones are we missing? Let us know which books you’ll be taking with you for the world of Donald Trump in the comments below!