November 25, 2016

What to read in Trump’s America


WHEREAS, Donald Trump, somehow, to the best of our current knowledge, won the presidential election, and

WHEREAS, this is obviously really bad news, and

WHEREAS, this occasion, like all occasions, calls for a bit of reading, and

WHEREAS, we are currently in the midst of our Black Friday Sale, which makes it a very good time to buy a couple books,

THEREFORE, be it resolved, that the staff of Melville House have come together to offer our best reading recommendations for the long, dark, Trumpian winter ahead.

(PS Some of us have been unable to limit ourselves to one book and are recommending two.)

Here’s what we think you should read, if you want our opinions:

517p5cCjUML._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Wah-Ming Chang (managing editor):
Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times
by James Tracy and Amy Sonnie

James Tracy and Amy Sonnie reject the familiar narrative that the civil rights achievements of the 1960s were won primarily by a small group of dedicated white college students. They show that poor and working-class radicals, inspired by the Civil Rights movement, the Black Panthers, and progressive populism, started to organize significant political struggles against racism and inequality during the 1960s and 1970s.

Ian Dreiblatt (director of digital media):
The Clown
The Clownby Heinrich Böll
translated by Leila Vennewitz

However the coming months and years shake out, we’ll be talking about them for a long time. And who better to talk about them with than Hans Schnier, the ragamuffin clown whose despairing attempts to piece civilization and coherence back together in the wake of fascism Böll describes with plainspoken, haunting eloquence. What does it mean to live after one’s country has destroyed the world? Good question.

Debt PBDebt
by David Graeber

Debt is a book that begins from a simple, powerfully disruptive premise: maybe the link between debt and repayment isn’t as immediate and unshakeable as we tend to think. Tracing the history of the concept across economic, political, and religious discourses from across the world, Graeber offers to reinvigorate our deep questions about the meaning of exchange. If he doesn’t quite propose a new political economy, he does an astounding job showing us what’s wrong with the old ones.


YT whiteMarina Drukman (art director):
by Alexei Nikitin

This book is valuable in an unexpected way: it tells a story of people who have learned not only how to deal with living under a regime, but also how to have great fun with it, and fight it in subtle, amusing ways. It’s about making the most out of life no matter what the political situation is.


These Are The Names whiteChad Felix (manager of library and academic marketing):
These are the Names
by Tommy Wieringa

Tommy Wieringa’s quietly epic tale of a band of refugees and a small-town cop who’s just experienced a religious revelation couldn’t be more timely — and it’s both crushing and heartening for that. Wieringa’s sentences conjure a mysterious, subtle power. They emancipate a cold, hard world from its banality and cruelty, and send it upward where empathy and understanding sound more clearly than anywhere else. From here the writer counters our justified shouting with a voice that is convincing and calm. When people say, “How do I deal with this shit?” I say, “I read books like These Are the Names.”


Encyclical whiteJulia Fleischaker (director of marketing and publicity):
Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality
by Pope Francis
The US Supreme Court Decision on Marriage Equality
by Justice Anthony Kennedy

Supreme Court Decision on Marriage Equality Gift Edition whiteIn the age of Trump, these picks are pretty self-explanatory. They can serve as a reminder of what we’re fighting for, and why we need to stay active and engaged. No biggie — it’s just about the earth, and the people living on it. We got this.


The Dunwich Horror whiteNikki Griffiths (managing director, Melville House UK):
The Dunwich Horror
by HP Lovecraft

What better way to distract oneself from the horrors of real life than by turning to some fictional grotesquerie?

The Dunwich Horror is one of his key Cthulhu stories (and if you aren’t familiar with Cthulhu, think cosmic monster/God, a sort of large cephalopod with a tentacled mouth, wings, and clawed hands). In the creepy village of Dunwich, Massachussetts, a disturbed boy named Wilbur Whateley ages quickly — far too quickly. A grown man by age ten, he is shunned by locals. All the while, his sorcerer grandfather is indoctrinating poor Wilbur into certain dark rituals and the study of witchcraft. For good old grandfather is harbouring a terrible being on the family farm, a grotesque monster that must be fed cattle, draining the animals of blood before devouring them completely. And when the truth behind the creature’s origins—and Wilbur’s parentage—is revealed, the true terror begins…

Wonderfully weird, this is a true slice of escapism. Because monsters don’t exist in true life, right…?


Dragons In Diamond Village whiteRyan Harrington (editor):
Dragons in Diamond Village
by David Bandurski

One of Donald Trump’s favorite words is “China,” and we can bet that he will spend much of the next four years explaining to us how that country invented climate change and how it is the rightful target of an all-out trade war. This alone makes brushing up on China’s rapid development a good idea. But Dragons in Diamond Village is about something even more crucial under the Trump presidency: community organization and resistance. As the reckless pursuit of the upper-middle-class Chinese dream continues unchecked, we have so much to learn from the hundreds of thousands of people who weren’t part of that vision, and were cast aside. This is a book about saving your neighborhood.


Break Up The Banks whiteKait Howard (publicist):
Break up the Banks!
by David Shirreff

Even before Bernie Sanders dropped out of the presidential race, the idea that breaking up the banks was the best way to to protect us from another financial crisis was already losing support. While Donald Trump spent much of his campaign tapping into anti-Wall Street sentiment, he simultaneously promised to dismantle the Dodd-Frank regulations that hardly went far enough to rein in irresponsible activity at the big investment banks. With Trump now considering several Wall Street insiders for positions in his cabinet, it’s time to take back this issue, and there’s nowhere better to start than with David Shirreff’s Break Up the Banks!. His clear-eyed analysis of the causes of 2008 crisis, and his prescriptions for reform, are more relevant now than ever.


GB84Dennis Johnson (co-founder, co-publisher):
by David Peace

This is a war novel — one of the greatest ever written, and sadly relevant to an America just taken over by the far right. It’s about when the British government, under Margaret Thatcher, declared war on its own citizens, sending a massive, militarized police force to put down a strike by coal miners. Hand-to-hand combat ensued, and hundreds of miners were savagely beaten, maimed, hospitalized, and incarcerated, in what was pretty much the death knell of Britain’s experiment with a humane, populist concept of government, i.e., British socialism.


61oTi2QqQ4L._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_Valerie Merians (co-founder, co-publisher):
The Old World Kitchen
by Elisabeth Luard

I was going to suggest Is Journalism Worth Dying For?  by the heroic Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, who indeed died for her journalism — assassinated on Putin’s birthday as a birthday present to the Dear Leader, it is thought.

But, as this next four years is going to be a long haul of vigilance and resistance, we will need to keep our spirits up! We’ll need to take care of one another, and ourselves. And so I recommend a cookbook — the wonderful Old World Kitchen: The Rich Tradition of European Peasant Cooking. Beautifully written, full of inexpensive and easy recipes, and perfect for large communal meals with friends. So, eat up! And onward!


SpuriousSimon Reichley (assistant to the publishers):
Spurious, Dogma, and Exodus
by Lars Iyer

The Spurious Trilogy by Lars Iyer is at once compassionate and scathing, a deeply silly and thoughtful look at two incompetents facing a banal apocalypse, which I think we can all agree is a timely subject. I don’t think that reading these books will necessarily teach you anything about how to deal with life under Trump, and I don’t think that Lars and W. (our Quixotic anti-heroes) are great role models for a revolutionary moment. But they, like us, are living in the end times, working with limited means and an abundance of alcohol to achieve dignity in defeat. And I think that what these characters and books stand for (friendship, resilience, the impossible heroism of coherent thought) are powerful antidotes to the poison in our body politic.


Trainwreck whiteTaylor Sperry (editor):
by Sady Doyle

In the post-mortem of the past two weeks, there have been many attempts to explain why Hillary Clinton lost the election. But one factor is undoubtedly that she is a woman. To understand this—and that gut feeling you have that this is either true or not true—Sady Doyle’s Trainwreck is essential reading. From Mary Wollstonecraft, to Billie Holiday, to, yes, Hillary Clinton, we have always, always, punished women who dare to exist publicly.

Not On Fire But Burning PB whiteNot on Fire, But Burning
by Greg Hrbek

When we published Not on Fire, but Burning last fall, the world Greg Hrbek described—a post-catastrophe America where prejudice and intolerance metastasize furiously, where Muslims have been rounded up into camps—felt familiar, but still reality-adjacent. Reality-extreme. Well, here we are. At a time when the scope of the Trump agenda feels so overwhelming, it’s important, too, to absorb the local, human drama of its implications. In this novel, two young boys, not yet teenagers, become agents of horrific violence, despite the flickers of doubt and sympathy that nearly put an end to the disaster they’ve set it motion. The result is, unfortunately, more resonant now than ever.


Refugees Terror whitePatrick Weir (intern):
Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbors
by Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek’s last-minute pseudo-endorsement of The Donald may (understandably) have him on the outs with much of the media establishment, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him come back into vogue now that radical critiques of the establishment-left are starting to drive the conversation about where we go from here. In Refugees, we have a great example of Žižek’s ability to ask questions that only he is brave enough to consider, challenging our easy liberal notions so that we might have the best medicine with which to staunch the hemorrhaging of our democracy. Instead of stoking our wrath, Žižek speaks to our emotional restraint, providing us with startling and original arguments for fighting smarter, not harder.