Ah, November 4. Friday, and thank the heavens for that. More important, four days from the end of an electoral cycle that seemed never to end and that has involved some of the most distasteful moments and players in modern political history.
Surveying the scene, is there anyone of a certain age who would not be moved to wonder what might have happened had Bobby Kennedy, and not Richard Nixon, been elected president in 1968? We are certainly moved to ponder it just about every time a political ad comes on television—which is roughly every 20 seconds, it seems, even between plays in one of the best World Series matches ever.
Bobby Kennedy was many things, but one for which we will love him always is that he was a reader—a devoted reader, passionate about books, always interested in talking about books. That’s one of the takeaways from Larry Tye’s biography Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon, whose very subtitle may drive away some readers who otherwise might not fully appreciate how his bookishness put RFK up alongside Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln in the hall of fame devoted to literate politicos. Bobby read through tragedy and through happiness alike; though tragedy was a more constant companion, he greeted it by reading the pages of the greatest tragedians of all, Aeschylus and William Shakespeare. Given the tragedies that are our constant companions, it’s not a bad program to adopt.
One thing would seem certain: Given the disaster of Vietnam, Bobby Kennedy would not have sent American soldiers into Iraq.
That nation is slowly rebuilding, picking up the pieces from a dozen years of war. A new fiction anthology published last month in Britain (and released in the U.S. on Dec. 17) extrapolates that rebuilding, successful or not, 100 years after the American invasion, which explains its title, Iraq +100. The anthology, reports the BBC, is shelved in the science fiction section; some of its pieces are apocalyptic, some dystopian (assuming you agree with the hypothesis that a global empire controlled by the Islamic State would be a far piece from paradise), some almost reportorial, as with a story by Hassan Blasim that hints that peace will come only when the scramble for oil is finally over, to say nothing of the Iraqi desert made too hot for human habitation by climate change.
Speaking of desert lands, we praised Libyan novelist Hisham Matar’s The Return on its publication last year as both “beautifully written” and “harrowing.” Matar’s story, a quest after the facts of the disappearance of his dissident father, is one of four books to be shortlisted for Britain’s Baillie Gifford (né Samuel Johnson) Prize for Non-Fiction, the other three being Margo Jefferson’s Negroland, Philippe Sands’ East West Street, and Nobel Prize-winner Svetlana Alexievich’s Secondhand Time. The winner will be announced on November 15.
Speaking of Nobel Prizes, it appears as if the elusive Bob Dylan has finally popped up to acknowledge his own awarding thereof, which hails six more weeks of wrought metaphor. And speaking of literary honors, we’ve just announced the winners of our own Kirkus Prize. More to come!
Gregory McNamee is a contributing editor.