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 some selections from George Saunders, who spent five years reading about the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln for his truly unique latest novel.
Latest book: Lincoln in the Bardo
Also known for: Tenth of December
Reading recommendations: I Will Bear Witness, by Victor Klemperer: The journal of a Jewish academic that shows the way a country slides into dictatorship and mass violence in real time. It all happens with courtesy and in a spirit of banal aggression. But it happens just the same.
Faithful Ruslan, by Georgi Abramov: A tour de force done in the voice of a Siberian work-camp guard dog that is a profound glimpse at what authoritarian rule looks like from the inside.
Anton Chekhov’s short stories, just because, in dark times, it’s important for people in resistance to fortify themselves with beauty, if only to remind ourselves that kindness, nuance, and ambiguity are real things. In particular: the beautiful trilogy consisting of “The Man in a Case,” “Gooseberries,” and “About Love.“
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison: This gorgeous and daring work of art served for me, years ago, as a kind of Compassion On switch, reenacting a notion I’d often felt as a Catholic kid, which was: Our ability to empathetically imagine the experiences and feelings of other people argues that our habitual feelings of separateness are actually delusional.
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.