It’s inauguration weekend, so a lot of this week’s national discourse has been political by default. Unsurprisingly, that theme also extended to the week’s various discussions of books and related subjects. So as the era of President Donald Trump officially begins, here’s our more-political-than-usual roundup of the best online writing about books and related subjects for the week of January 16, 2017.
- Outgoing President Barack Obama recommended 12 novels to Oprah’s Book Club and talked books with the New York Times’s chief book critic, Michiko Kakutani:
For me, particularly at that time, writing was the way I sorted through a lot of crosscurrents in my life — race, class, family. And I genuinely believe that it was part of the way in which I was able to integrate all these pieces of myself into something relatively whole.
- And incoming President Trump pointed at some books. (Trump, if you are curious, has said at various times that his favorite book is All Quiet on the Western Front.)
..what books are on your nightstand, or what’s a book —
Well, you can see some of them over there. You can see some of them right over here. This is one that I just —
Which should we read? Should we read it?
No, I wouldn’t say. I mean — [Laughter] It depends on whether you want to read it. This is one. It’s very good.
Is there one you actually like that you’d recommend?
I like a lot of books. I like reading books. I don’t have time to read very much now in terms of the books, but I like reading them.
- Once in office, Trump plans to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. At the Washington Post, Alyssa Rosenberg argues that the plan is a politically motivated fig leaf that’s unlikely to have a meaningful effect on the national budget but will definitely hurt the poor communities that the NEA and NEH serve:
The total of $744.7 million is a tiny fraction of President Obama’s $4.15 trillion budget request. It’s less than half of what Jared Kushner paid for 666 Fifth Avenue in 2006. It’s only slightly more money than the $713 million in loans Trump reported that he holds in his public financial disclosures. It’s less than four times the $200 million in donations Trump’s nominee to be education secretary, Betsy DeVos, and her family have contributed to the Republican Party. Anyone who pretends that this is a particularly meaningful amount of money and that getting rid of it would be a serious step toward shrinking the federal government is trying very, very hard to delude the public.
- A poet unaffiliated with Trump and his team wrote a poem in honor of the inauguration. It’s not an official inauguration poem, but it is very bad and arguably racist, which is more or less what you would expect from a poetry association that thinks of Shelley as a damned radical and doesn’t see why we ever moved on from 19th-century neoclassicism.
- At Publisher’s Weekly, Derek B. Miller recommends five books on media and government “for getting our bearings in the maelstrom around us with ideas, arguments, history, and conceptual clarity that can help us make sense of what's around us, and serve as building blocks in making reasoned cases for progress.”
- At the Village Voice, Aleksandar Hemon calls for writing that stops making sense in the Trump era:
America, including its literature, is now in ruins, and the next four years will be far worse than anyone can imagine. Which is why we must keep imagining them as we struggle to survive them. To write in and of America, we must be ready to lose everything, to recognize we never had any of it in the first place, to abandon hope and embrace struggle, to fight in the streets and in our sentences. It will not be even close to comfortable.
- Here at Vox, we’ve been talking a lot about the state of conservative book publishing. At the Guardian, Colin Robinson discusses the rising influence of the alt-right on the industry:
With the start of the Trump presidency comes fear of a new, more vituperative tenor in the mainstream, cementing a national lurch to the right. The American far right is characterised by, as Angela Nagle puts it, “a slippery use of irony”; its “hip elitism” allows prejudice to be disguised as harmless entertainment. [Milo] Yiannopoulos, with his Hugh Grant-like bashfulness and potty mouth, perfectly fits this tawdry bill.
- Nobel Prize–winning writer Wole Soyinka, who once came to the US as a political refugee from Nigeria, is now leaving the US in the wake of Trump’s election:
Soyinka told me that he has now rendered his Green Card “inoperable,” without going into further detail. “I don’t have strong enough fingers to tear up a Green Card,” he added. “As long as Trump is in charge, if I absolutely have to visit the United States, I prefer to go in the queue for a regular visa with others,” he said. “I’m no longer part of the society, not even as a resident.”