The election is over. The voting part, anyway, if not the residual bluster. Now there remains the work of getting on with governing, and, for those so inclined, with healing. For those inclined to ponder as well, Caleb Crain, author of the pleasing and politically tinged novel Necessary Errors, offers a meditation on democracy and its discontents in the new number of the New Yorker. With nods to Churchill’s famous dictum that democracy is “the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time,” Crain examines several recent books on the tussle of popular government, concluding that voting may be more a species of warfare than of debate. If you’re feeling a little shell-shocked, then, there may be good reason.
Speaking of books and politics, Bill Gates has long kept up a recommended reading list, and all sorts of publications, including the Christian Science Monitor and Esquire, have delivered lists of the top 10 (or thereabouts) political books ever. But who knew that Charles Koch, who figures, seldom flatteringly, in books such as Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, would have one, too? His list offers some of the usual suspects—von Mises, Hayek, Sowell—but also some surprises, including the leftly inclining Hemingway, Faulkner, and Larsson. Have a look.
Islam has figured in the newly past election, and seldom positively. It’s a salutary coincidence, it seems to us, that one of the oldest libraries—if not the oldest, period—in the world should have been founded by a Muslim woman, Fatima al-Fihri, more than a thousand years ago. Reports the History Blog, her library is the centerpiece of a mosque and university in Fez, Morocco. That library is now being restored, notes NPR, and its holdings are being digitized for public access to scholars and readers around the world.
It’s good cause to reread the Thousand and One Nights and hope for better stories to take the place of the ones we hear now. Some of them might come from China, the source of some of the most interesting speculative fiction being published today—including the Hugo-winning novels The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin, and this year’s Folding Beijing, by Hao Jingfang. In a new essay in the Mithila Review, Regina Kanyu Wang surveys the emerging scene and the great literary promise it holds.
Wouldn’t it be pleasant to have a conversation with Fatima or Scheherazade, or, to return to politics, with, say, Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, or Abraham Lincoln? Ah, for that we’d need time travel, the stuff of so much science fiction of whatever nationality. Better, we’d need eternal life. Thus the premise of the wonderful novel Tuck Everlasting, which has enchanted young readers since it first appeared in 1975, which only seems like a lifetime ago. Says one of the beneficiaries of ageless immortality of that unbidden gift, “dying’s part of the wheel, right there next to being born. You can’t pick out the pieces you like and leave the rest. Being part of the whole thing, that’s the blessing.” After blessing us with Tuck and other books, Nathalie Babbitt passed away on October 31. She was 84.
We’ll be taking a brief break to make room for our Best Books of 2016 coverage. See you in 2017!
Gregory McNamee is a contributing editor.