December 8, 2016

Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark sees surge in sales following That Bad Thing That Happened


9781608465767-f_medium-2f1e8dbafb4b3334d0db297eed405179Leonard Cohen, yet another casualty of 2016, on his prescient and excellent 1992 album The Future, sings, “There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.” Well, twenty-four years later, the election of Donald Trump exposed such a crack in American democracy (which, of course, Cohen also sings about on The Future)—a crack that had been, in elections prior, relatively harmless (read: more like a scratch, we thought, shallow enough to be buffed out or, more precisely, glossed over)—and many of us, as a result, have been left looking for sources of light.

One such source has proven to be Rebecca Solnit’s 2004 book Hope in the Dark, which was reissued in March of this year with an updated introduction, new chapters, and an afterword. Originally conceived of as a response to the George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, Solnit’s book of “untold stories” and “wild possibilities” provides an account of activist victories, many of them unlikely (and duly forgotten), from around the world.

Importantly, Solnit’s idea is not to pat herself and her fellow activists on the back, but instead to massage the weary muscles of the world’s activist communities. To prepare us for battle once again. To remind us that, though we don’t always win, and though times are tough, and though the odds are often stacked overwhelmingly against us, we do win sometimes. And remembering this is vital to the health and productivity of the cause. Early on Solnit writes:

You row forward looking back, and telling this history is part of helping people navigate toward the future. We need a litany, a rosary, a sutra, a mantra, a war chant of our victories. The past is set in daylight, and it can become a torch we can carry into the night that is the future.

In the days following the election, Solnit’s book proved itself to be such a torch. Haymarket Books, Solnit’s current American publisher of Hope in the Dark (two earlier editions were published by Nation Books), took action immediately, making the ebook version of the book available for free for a limited time online, a campaign that, according to Danuta Kean of The Guardian, led to more than 30,000 copies being downloaded.

And now, Claire Kirch of Publishers Weekly reports that sales are exceeding all expectations:

Haymarket Books published a third edition in March 2016… that sold 6,000 print copies before November 8. Since then, the book has sold 2,800 more copies, with another 5,000 copies on back order. Haymarket has gone back to press for an additional 10,000 copies in paperback and expects them to hit stores by early next week.

Indeed, the book does seem to be sold out everywhere, though getting it directly from Haymarket may work (it’s not marked as sold out on their website at the time of this writing). Failing that: hold tight, consider the torch you can carry into the night that is the future that Melville House is hatching, and listen to Leonard Cohen:

It’s coming through a hole in the air
From those nights in Tiananmen Square
It’s coming from the feel
That this ain’t exactly real
Or it’s real, but it ain’t exactly there
From the wars against disorder
From the sirens night and day
From the fires of the homeless
From the ashes of the gay
Democracy is coming to the USA
It’s coming through a crack in the wall
On a visionary flood of alcohol
From the staggering account
Of the Sermon on the Mount
Which I don’t pretend to understand at all
It’s coming from the silence
On the dock of the bay,
From the brave, the bold, the battered
Heart of Chevrolet
Democracy is coming to the USA

Chad Felix is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House, and a former bookseller.