What I’m Reading Now … by Jaswinder Bolina

 

In the month or so since the election, I’ve been in a dark way. To my mind, the incoming administration is the greatest internal threat the American experiment has ever faced. There are mornings I wake up in a state of breathless anxiety and afternoons my guts tighten at the thought of what disasters await in the months and years ahead. For all those lousy feelings, there are also nights I lie awake with the optimism and urgent energy of resistance. Through all of this, I’ve been in search of distraction, hope, and resources. As such, the five things I’ve been reading might appear random, but they feel to me interconnected by context.

Distraction, humor, and hope have arrived in the form of rereading. I recently picked up a new copy of an old favorite in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which I first read two decades ago. In the present day, its wry, offhanded treatment of planet-sized catastrophes, its expansive temporal scale, its hapless and affable cast of characters, and its daffy address of ontology and metaphysics have all been a salve. The book remains thrilling, too, for its sense of adventure even if it demonstrates again and again the essential insignificance of the individual. I’m also glad to be reminded now of its enduring message: Don’t Panic.

Another novel I’ve turned to is in an entirely different category of classic. I realized some months ago that culturally encouraged gendered biases have left me blind to an entire catalog of literature: the one often derogatorily referred to as “chick lit.” While I’ve certainly read many female novelists, critics, and theorists over the years, and though I regularly and eagerly read books by female poets, I feel like I’ve missed out on far too much. As such, I’ve resolved to get myself caught up on a whole host of books I was long ago conditioned to ignore or dismiss. That project has begun with Little Women. My wife generously loaned me her copy, and I’m just now digging into all it has to offer. There is so much optimism and decency in the early going there, I can barely express what a relief it is to enter its world. I’m hoping to carry on my education in the coming year with everything from a volume or two of The Babysitters’ Club to Gone with the Wind to The Feminine Mystique. I’ll be looking to my spouse and many others I admire to guide me.

In a different effort at understanding, one of the best things I’ve read in recent months is a long-form piece in Mother Jones by Arlee Russell Hochschild titled, “I Spent 5 Years With Some of Trump’s Biggest Fans. Here’s What They Won’t Tell You.” It came out in the September/October issue and is available online. I read it when it first appeared and have returned to it again and again. What impresses me most is not only the depth of its reporting but also the humanity of it. It doesn’t offer up platitudes or a patronizing look into “Red America.” Rather, it tells a textured story about complicated people in a manner that moves far beyond the more standard practice of archetype-ing or stereotyping. As PEOTUS becomes POTUS, it seems well worth seeking to understand who all are out there and what they’re experiencing that’s led all of us to the brink of the authoritarian overthrow of American democracy.

Another piece of online reading I’ve turned to is the widely circulated “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.” I’m pretty sure the title explains all the document has on offer, and I just want to deliver my endorsement of it. I have no idea whether the strategies it recommends will succeed or fail, but there is hope at least in learning them.

Finally, I am a poet, so I’m always reading several books of poetry at once. Four that stand out the most among my current reading are Kathryn Nuernberger’s The End of Pink, Victoria Chang’s The Boss, Patrick Rosal’s Boneshepherds, and Matthew Olzmann’s Contradictions in the Design. Every one of these books has been rearranging my relationship to reality by way of their bizarre and brilliant turns of phrase, their often surprising subject matters, and the forcefulness of their perspectives. I can’t express strongly enough how much I feel that anyone and everyone with any interest at all in poetry should be reading all four of these enviably brilliant books. As a writer, they make me jealous. As a reader, they make me damn happy.