We asked a range of authors and creative types to name books that bring solace or understanding in this age of rancor. More than two dozen responded. Here are picks from the visionary novelist, essayist, and Twitter aficionado Margaret Atwood.
Recommended reading: In times of great anxiety, 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. It’s okay to have pointy ears. And it comes out all right at the end. Or sort of all right. So comforting! To go along with it, A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin. Do not forget the enemy that comes from within you. But if recognized and named, it can be neutralized.
From the real life end of things, Darkness At Noon, by Arthur Koestler. How totalitarianisms brainwash people into caving in. Remember Stalin’s show trials? Maybe not, but now you will. Not exactly consoling, but forewarned is sometimes forearmed. More recently: Do Not Say We Have Nothing, by Madeleine Thien. Living through Maoist China by the skin of your teeth, plus music. Small mercies help.
And, for perspective, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick: An arrogant, narcissistic, crazed captain bent on revenge tackles the life force of Nature, and loses. Too bad that the ship is named after an extinct Manhattan tribe, and that it is the Ship of State. It sinks, taking all with it but the lone narrator. Don’t let it happen!
The complete series: Daniel Alarcón, Kwame Alexander, Margaret Atwood, W. Kamau Bell, Ana Castillo, Jeff Chang, T Cooper, Michael Eric Dyson, Dave Eggers, Reza Farazmand, William Gibson, Mohsin Hamid, Piper Kerman, Phil Klay, Alex Kotlowitz, Bill McKibben, Rabbi Jack Moline, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Peggy Orenstein, Wendy C. Ortiz, Darryl Pinckney, Joe Romm, Karen Russell, George Saunders, Tracy K. Smith, Ayelet Waldman, Jesmyn Ward, and Gene Luen Yang.