When I told a friend of mine I was going to create a booklist for you, he laughed and reminded me that you weren’t much of a reader. As a librarian that’s not supposed to stop me from introducing literature to people. It is, in fact, the point of being a librarian: to wed people and knowledge. In any event, I’d like to recommend some books to you, since we’re both going to be here a while and I’m genuinely concerned that you might not be reading enough for someone influencing world economies, the largest army on the planet, and nuclear codes. Seriously, the only picture I could find of you reading something that wasn’t a book that already had your name on the cover was one of those orders you sign that they keep in those leather wine list folders. I won’t waste your or my time with notes about process or things that librarians of a certain experience level could tell you about how we read who we’re attempting to help to aid in recommending things. I do, however, feel the need to express one thing: I will be honest with you here. No cheap shots. I genuinely want you to find this list and attempt to read at least one of these books because if you do, you might actually reconsider one thing that won’t terrorize or get people like me killed one day.
Case in point: There isn’t anyone around you right now who would tell you this, but you aren’t that deep. You and I both know you’re not a genius, at least not in the sense that society generally labels people as such. One might argue that you are perhaps a genius of the con, pointing out that I had to start this letter off with the honorific of “President” as evidence of said game. It’s not true, of course. Genius would have been if you had planned things this way, and despite many years of being in the public eye, you’ve never developed the acting skills necessary to convince even your most ardent fans that you believed you could actually win. Besides, genius isn’t something you integrate into yourself via loan. You can lease or even own the results of genius – license a patent, fund a study, opt not to gut schools by installing a leader who hates education on principle…whatever – but you cannot claim it as a character trait. As someone who subscribes to winning at all costs that’s probably irrelevant to you, and I want to make clear that me pointing all of this out isn’t taking a shot at you. For me to do this task justice I need to be honest about what I see in you, since it will inform what I’m recommending. I see you, sir, and to pretend otherwise would make me a poor librarian. No one will ever be able put those words in their mouth while I breathe.
Just one book, Mr. President. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request of the leader of the free world.
Animal Farm – George Orwell
People have been waving around fresh copies of 1984 as evidence of the kind of government you’ve ushered in. Seriously: that book was catching dust on library shelves until you got elected and now there are reserve lists for it like everyone suddenly remembered they had summer reading to catch up on before going back to school. I feel like most of these people haven’t read the book, or at least don’t remember the themes behind all the Big Brother talking points, because when it comes to capturing what America’s doing right now, Orwell’s other classic, Animal Farm, published four years before 1984, kind of nails it. Both books have relevancy to our times (and many argue one is the politically allegorical sequel of the other), but Animal Farm is all about the kinds of things you campaigned on: class battles, fat cat largesse, political abuse, upending government from within…it’s all there. We’ve been dealing with the stuff 1984 lays out since the day after 9/11. If it took you for people to make the connections, they’re about 15 years late. I would argue that the end of Animal Farm captures your ascendancy to the presidency. How you feel about that interpretation could go either way, but you’re going to have to read it to find out.
Citizen: An American Lyric – Claudia Rankine
I know you have some…history with this book, but we both know you didn’t read it or anything, no doubt because you were in the thick of campaigning, so hear me out. Now that things have mellowed out to figurehead levels of employment, I would encourage you to flip through this one. I’ll warn you now: it’s a deceptive book. It starts out as a series of testimonials, but parts of it veer into poetry and social criticism, criticism you will not agree with. It is, however, written in such a way that you can pick it up at any point and get into it. If you only read one page of this book, let it be page 54.
Read that one page and I’ll call this one even.
Dear Committee Members – Julie Schumacher
Considering the fact that Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education today, I think it’s safe to say you don’t think much of academia in general. I was expelled from OSU after two quarters, so I don’t have the best gauge for determining what a Wharton degree is worth. I think we can both agree that college has little to do with one’s proclivity toward intelligence. Education is political, sometimes ludicrously so (I mean, Betsy DeVos, right?). In that spirit, I offer this epistolary novel told in a series of one-sided emails written by a college professor who hates just about everybody and everything, yet is constantly tapped by students for references and has a paranoid obsession with his ex-wife. I know how much you love reading other people’s emails, so the narrative device here is a bonus.
How Britain Got the Blues: The Transmission and Reception of American Blues Style in the United Kingdom – Roberta Freund Schwartz
Let’s talk war. Let’s talk about what other countries have stolen from America. Let’s talk about something that the rest of the world has been taking from hard working Americans for two centuries and trying to pawn off as something else, something that’s now “free for all”. I’m talking about he blues, man; the bedrock of most American music, and one hundred percent the stuff you like. Rock’n’Roll? Straight blues. Elvis? The blues. You know how much country music gets from the blues? To have all that American product lifted from our rural brothers and sisters and taken back over our borders to Britain is practically a reason to launch a second Revolutionary War. If you want to stop American jobs from going oversees, let’s shut down the European blues pipeline and keep those guitar picks and sweaty juke joints here, where they belong, in the hands of real, hardworking (occasionally black) Americans.
The Dead Zone – Stephen King
I can’t tell if you liked The West Wing or not. Since you’re not a real Republican it’s kind of hard to say where you fell on the two terms of liberal wet dream President Jed Bartlett and his zany crew of political misfits. In the event that you actually believe the things coming out of your mouth, you probably despise Bartlett, and you should know that in the movie version of this excellent book, Martin Sheen plays the bad president that wants to blow up the world with nuclear armaments. It’s like Bizarro Wing, and once you get that image in your head, you can have a lot of fun imagining Jed Bartlett doing the other deplorable things they didn’t put in the movie. Fair warning: he’s not the hero or anything, obviously. The hero is a guy named John Smith who has psychic powers and can predict the future of certain people. Through circumstance, he bumps into Evil Jed Bartlett and discovers that he wants to kill us all, so goes on a mission to…wait, maybe this one is a bad idea. This one might be Hillary Clinton’s pick, not yours. Sorry about that. Let’s just stick with the Mirror, Mirror Jed Bartlett as a selling point. I think I read that in one of your books somewhere: stop when you’ve got what you want. If you ever read this list and you’ve made it this far, I’m taking your advice here.