How the 2016 Election Has Impacted My Reading

Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of that one time America voted Hillary Clinton as President. Unfortunately, the Electoral College did not, so today our already conflicted country is now run by a man who has no real interest in maintaining or promoting peace, social justice, human rights, environmental stability, health, or really anything else positive and fair. The night of the 2016 election I remember a feeling of numb disbelief as I sat on the floor and ate Halloween candy with a side of wine for dinner. I was scared and pessimistic, and I still am today. This country is on the verge of collapse on so many levels that I can’t help but to constantly question how Hillary Clinton possibly could have done a worse job.

Relatively soon after the loss I took stock of what I could personally do to back up my vote. I started donating more money when I could to causes I knew would feel the brunt of budget constraints (Planned Parenthood, The Sierra Club, and the ACLU). I have contacted representatives over the issues I am most concerned about (it’s so easy with email, guys!) and I give my students opportunities to reflect about causes that impact their world (DACA, fears regarding shootings, etc…).

This last year has greatly impacted my reading, as well. I have made a significant effort to better educate myself on issues that I may not have first-hand knowledge of or need to understand better. I also bought my three-year-old son a slew of books as a starting point to talk about concepts such as gay marriage, poverty, racial differences, and gender equality. Reading and books have always been what I turn to in times of stress and when I need to learn, and the last year has been no different. Because of this I have seen a bit of a change in my reading and purchasing habits and I thought I’d share some that have helped me better cope and, more importantly, understand.

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance
I read this book immediately after the election to try to wrap my head around the mentality of those in states who voted Republican. Vance offers a unique perspective as someone who was able to make it out of the extreme poverty of the region and obtain an advanced education. I don’t think anything in this book necessarily was incredibly new, but seeing it spelled out in front of me last November was helpful.  I finished the book feeling depressed and angry, but I did have a better understanding of why some people voted the way they did.

How to Win at Feminism by The Reductress
Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
As a woman and a feminist I don’t think I have ever felt in my lifetime that the progress of our sex is in as much jeopardy as it is today, whether it’s because of an attack on the right to make decisions about our own bodies, access to affordable birth control, or the way the president has treated women in the past.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
This is beautifully written novella that describes the journey of a young refugee couple from, presumably, Syria who face extreme difficulty while trying to simply work for a better, safer life. The magical realism adds an additional element that enriches their story, as does the complex relationships Hamid creates. We see the horrific pictures on the news of refugee boats capsizing and countries refusing to help, but it’s so easy to click to a new site or change this page. This book resonates longer and humanizes the crisis even more.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
I confess, I have been a total slacker when it comes to taking the time to really understand the Israeli/Palestine conflict. In an effort to better understand more than just the basics, and to read more graphic novels, this book was a really interesting starting point.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
One of my favorite books of the year, Shamsie retells Antigone using ISIS and the public’s perception of Muslims. The story begins with the protagonist at an airport carefully answering security questions so that she will be permitted into the United States to further her education- she knows how meticulously she is being scrutinized and that many may judge her for wearing a Hijab. Differing opinions regarding cultural assimilation end up being at the forefront as well, straining familial and potentially romantic relationships. Shamsie’s usage of the underlying themes and issues in Antigone, in combination with more timely issues proves to be close to perfection.

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
I am definitely not a YA reader, but I had some serious FOMO when it came to this book, and I had a hunch that it was important. I was right- every white person needs to read this book, like, yesterday. Centering around police brutality/shootings, this novel deals with the complexity of race in America and how we need to be better. I will never understand what it means to be and African American, just as a man will never understand what it means to be a woman, but I can listen, ask questions, and be an ally when/if needed. Next semester my students have to read an outside reading book dealing with social issues, and I will definitely let them read this one (with parental permission, of course).

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton
This was a much  more interesting read than I thought it was going to be- I was worried it may become bogged down with political jargon, long-winded excuses, and rants. Sure, there was a little bit of that, but I thought as a whole it was a really thoughtful reflection of what happened before, during, and after the election. I’ll never say Clinton is perfect, but I still stand by my opinion that she was the best choice last year.

Evicted by Matthew Desmond
We read this for book club last month and I learned a lot about the eviction process and issues with housing in America (this book was set in Wisconsin). It is so, so hard to get out of the cycle of poverty and eviction, and there are so many people out there ready to take advantage of those caught up in it (or just ignore them completely). What struck me is how tough it is for the kids- when moving from place to place and watching one’s parents struggle so hard, it’s incredibly challenging to know how to do differently as an adult. It’s heartbreaking.  With gentrification, the widening of the class divide, and the ineffectiveness of the government, help doesn’t seem to be anywhere in sight.

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? By Alyssa Mastromonaco
I listened to this book over the summer and adored every minute. Mastromonaco was Obama’s Chief of Staff and it was fascinating hearing about her experiences in the White House. She’s funny, smart, and the professional, diverse, fair environment of the White House she discusses seems starkly different to what it seems to be now. It made me miss Obama even more than I already did.

Purchased (but not read yet):

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
I purchased this when the “taking a knee” controversy started at football games, even though I had meant to pick it up months ago.

The Accusation by Bandi
North Korea is the enemy, but what about the actual people who live there? I know so little.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of what all was published last year on the social, political, or cultural level. I also didn’t limit myself to books just in line with these is

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