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Writers bloc.

We asked authors and artists to suggest books that bring solace and understanding in this age of political rancor. You can read their complete responses at

Piper Kerman

Orange Is the New Black Jesmyn Ward's Men We Reaped absolutely gutted me. I return to it again and again in my mind because it so perfectly crystallizes what's at stake. The book that actually provides me with solace is Alice in Wonderland. I had a copy in my locker when I was incarcerated, and I've got one on my bedside table now.

Jeff Chang We Gon' Be Alright

The Next American Revolution, by Grace Lee Boggs (with Scott Kurashige), reframes revolution as not a bloody, destructive process, but a set of soulful, creative acts that grow community and consciousness. Her vision guides us now as we build the resistance.

Karen Russell Sleep Donation

Because if everything we write and read becomes dire and reactionary, Trump will have truly won, here's a book that celebrates the radical freedom of the imagination: Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics is brimming with recombinatory energy, play, and joy. Light by which to see into many different futures.

Tracy K. Smith Ordinary Light Poetry helps me contend with the smallness of spirit at the root of American politics. I turn to The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010. Clifton was one of America's great poets, committed to chronicling and celebrating black lives. The honesty, wisdom, and hope she brought to the task are regenerative.

Kwame Alexander The Crossover There are so many books that connect us to our ancestors or to people who paved the way for our world, like The Underground Railroad, All the Light We Cannot See, Freedom Over Me, and March. The collected poetry of Nikki Giovanni (and Langston Hughes and Pablo Neruda). Books that strengthen us long after we've read them.

William Gibson The Peripheral Outbreak! The Encyclopedia of Extraordinary Social Behavior, by Hilary Evans and Robert Bartholomew, is a compendium of the workings of rumor, fear, and the madness of crowds. Baffled by Trump's popularity? Read Evans and Bartholomew on lycanthropy and laughing epidemics. Seriously.

Phil Klay Redeployment Much of Teddy Roosevelt's 1883 speech "The Duties of American Citizenship" holds up as solid, practical advice in how to go about creating political change. Roosevelt continually stresses the hard work of building up organizations and institutions. "A great many of our men in business," he says, "rather plume themselves upon being good citizens if they even vote; yet voting is the very least of their duties."

Daniel Alarcon At Night We Walk in Circles Sometimes I think dystopian literature is the only literature we can write these days. That Margaret Atwood's masterpiece The Handmaid's Tale feels so resonant more than 30 years after it was published is singularly depressing. Read it as a cautionary tale.

Margaret Atwood Hag-Seed What could be better than The Lord of the Rings? A horrible tyrant. An obsession with power. Nine dead guys running errands for him. Small folks doing their bit. And it comes out all right at the end. Or sort of all right.

Alex Kotlowitz Never a City So Real For all the obvious reasons (yes, Mr. Trump, history matters), I'm revisiting former Sen. Paul Simon's Freedom's Champion: Elijah Lovejoy. As if we need reminding what happens when decent people don't stand up against the assault on a free press.

W. KamauBell The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell If we want to have any hope of not just surviving, but thriving, in the next four to eight years, then we need to listen to Lindy West, the author of Shrill. Also, she's funnier than probably everybody you know--unless you know her.

Wendy C. Ortiz Bruja Handwriting, by Michael Ondaatje, lives in the drawer of my night table--it's my antidote to despair. The fragmentary nature and white space allow for breaths. I've memorized its lines over the years and consider it an influence on my prose and poetry, and my psyche.

Reza Farazmand Poorly Drawn Lines Somehow, Cat's Cradle still manages to present a fictional political setting stranger than the one we're in now. I can reread Kurt Vonnegut's absurd parody of Cold War politics and think, "Well, at least things aren't this weird yet."

Peggy Orenstein Girls & Sex I'm reading My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Emil Ferris' graphic novel about a 10-year-old Mexican-Irish-Cherokee girl growing up in 1960s Chicago, a social outcast who tries to solve the murder of her Holocaust-survivor neighbor. The radical politics of her present spiral with the fascism and kink of the Third Reich. The novel tackles race, gender, and what it means to be "monstrous" in big and small ways. It could not be more relevant.

Gene Luen Yang Secret Coders Shusaku Endo's Silence is probably my favorite fiction book of all time. It's about a Catholic missionary to 17th-century Japan who eventually loses his faith. The story reminds me that grace can be found even when things are horribly broken.

Ana Castillo Black Dove The Wind Is Spirit: The Life, Love and Legacy of Audre Lorde brings together memories from more than 50 contributors, such as Sonia Sanchez and Angela Davis, and reminds us not only of the significance of Lorde's work, but of the importance of a writer's perseverance in the face of political adversity.

George Saunders Lincoln in the Bardo In dark times, it's important for people to fortify themselves with beauty, if only to remind ourselves that kindness, nuance, and ambiguity are real things. I recommend Anton Chekhov's short stories, in particular the beautiful trilogy consisting of "The Man in a Case," "Gooseberries," and "About Love."

Bill McKibben Oil and Honey This Is an Uprising, by Paul and Mark Engler, is the best summary of all that the last 75 years has taught us about nonviolent organizing. I wish I'd had it a decade ago, because it would have saved a lot of trial-and-error experimentation as we got up and running.

Dave Eggers Heroes of the Frontier My friend Flagg Taylor edited The Great Lie, a book of essays by writers who lived under tyranny. Everyone you could think of is in there--Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Vaclav Havel, Hannah Arendt. It's richly rewarding and accessible to anyone interested in the parallels between our flirtations with truthless fascism and societies that were crushed by totalitarianism.

Darryl Pinckney Black Deutschland These days I turn to the consolations of poetry: James Fenton's Yellow Tulips. (He's my partner, my life.) I open the Donald Allen edition of The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara. His poetry is a past I share with several friends. And then for the small hours there is Thomas Wyatt: "These bloody days have broken my heart."

T Cooper Changers I find myself turning to Kiss of the Spider Woman, Manuel Puig's stunning novel from the mid-1970s, but it's hitting a little close to home--what with the "freak" and the revolutionary locked in a cell together by a repressive government. I'm grateful for the escapism, even when I feel there's no real chance of escape.

Siddhartha Mukherjee The Gene: An Intimate History How could one not choose the timeless Henrik Ibsen play An Enemy of the People? A Norwegian doctor suspects the water in a town has been contaminated with toxins. He ultimately follows his moral instincts to release the news to the public, whereupon he is dubbed an enemy of the people and publicly flayed. Perhaps our president forgot the irony of the title when he used that phrase to describe the American press.

Joe Romm Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know The last time we were so divided, the greatest orator and writer ever elected president repeatedly shared his thoughts on how to preserve liberty. Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings, edited by Roy Basler and Carl Sandburg, includes classics like the Gettysburg Address alongside lesser-known gems such as "The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions," in which a 28-year-old Lincoln explains the danger to the Republic of a demagogue just like Trump.

Rabbi Jack Moline Growing Up Jewish Aside from the fact that Book of Psalms is the only book in the Jewish Bible that is of undisputed human authorship, it is a collection of essential yearnings and gratitudes that give me a sense that our current troubles, existential and political, are neither new nor permanent.

Ayelet Waldman A Really Good Day It was as if Mohsin Hamid knew exactly what would convulse the world when he wrote Exit West. It's a novel about refugees, about cruelty and empathy and compassion, and in the end about the possibility of an odd kind of redemption.


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Title Annotation:suggested books for solace and understanding
Publication:Mother Jones
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2017
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