Reading in Trump’s American dystopia

For a voracious reader like me, retirement should be close to nirvana. In fact, before I retired at the end of 2016 I had a magnet on a file cabinet in my office saying, “Born to Read, Forced to Work.” And a self-imposed COVID lockdown should add even more time for reading. Yet as the charts below demonstrate, my reading declined dramatically. The reason: Trump.

It’s a mental toll to live under a president — fully enabled by the GOP — who is (limiting myself to words starting with the letters “c” and “d”) childish, clownish, clueless, corrupt, cowardly, crass, criminal, crude, cruel, dangerous, delusional, demagogic, depraved, devious, dim, disgraceful, dishonest, disparaging, and disreputable. It truly is a form of PTSD — President Trump Stress Disorder.

Books read


Total pages read

Think I’m exaggerating the Trump effect? Let’s look closer.

In 2017, the number of books red was about the same and there was a slight decline in total pages. Yet that needs to be put in context. I was still reviewing books at that time, creating reading obligations. I posted 29 book reviews that year and read several books from publishers for which reviews weren’t posted. Notably, the last one review — also the last post until this month — was on December 18. I also read 6 book as a judge for the John Leonard Prize, awarded by the National Book Critics Circle each year for the best first book in any genre. Thus, more than a quarter of the books I read were “obligations.”

Some themes also appeared in 2017. One is reflected in this list, which I’ll let you interpret:

The next theme is more obvious:

Finally, I’ve told a lot of people over the last four years that I feel like I’m living in a science fiction novel. My reading may reflect that. From 2011-2016, science fiction novels accounted for about 12% of my reading. It increased slightly in 2017 but there’s an important trend. Of the 22 science fiction novels I read that year,  59% were in the last half of the year. During 2018-2020, a full 28% of my reading consisted of science fiction books. It’s likely immersion in a science fictional world I could leave figures into the gradual increase in reading over those years. An invented dystopia is far more acceptable than a psychotic Trumpian nation.

Hopefully, this week this strain of PTSD start disappearing.

I divide all readers into two classes — those who read to remember and those who read to forget.

William Lyon Phelps, Yearbook

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