Burn After Reading: Five Scorching Spring & Summer Books for These Times


“How marvelous books are, crossing worlds and centuries, defeating ignorance and, finally, cruel time itself,” wrote Gore Vidal, himself a cunning wordsmith who left us such enduring classics as The City and the Pillar and Burr. He was also a master of the political essay, who famously wrote that “any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically by definition be disqualified from ever doing so.” If only he were around today to write about Donald Trump.

We might not have Vidal’s penetrating insights and vicious wit, but plenty of other books are interrogating this strange political era in which a President can tell us that black is white, and two plus two equals five – and then the next day decide that black is actually pink, and that two plus two equals 15.

In the midst of such socio-political divisiveness, here are five upcoming books to put on your spring and summer must-read list. If they don’t serve to help you make sense of these turbulent times, at least they’ll underline that no, you’re not crazy: the world really is this effed up.


Adjustment Day, by Chuck Palahniuk

As with anything by the author of Fight Club, expect plenty of deviousness and depravity in the author’s 20th novel, in which the United States is a country on “the brink of chaos,” according to advance press, and feisty millennials are in the gunsights, literally, of a senator seeking to prevent an uprising. Like everything by Palahniuk, his newest novel delves deep into the psychosis of contemporary America: a website is used as a way to name and shame people who threaten the social order. Journalists inevitably rank high, and are targeted as a result. Democracy crumbles, and the country is fragmented into three ethnic entities: “Blacktopia,” “Gaysia,” and “Caucasia.” It may all seem a little too close for comfort. (W. W. Norton, May 1)

No Immediate Danger: Volume One of Carbon Ideologies, by William T. Vollmann

No Immediate Danger launches a two volume investigation into the human actions that have caused global warming. At his own personal risk, Vollmann undertook multiple visits over seven years to the contaminated zones and ghost towns of Fukushima in Japan, beginning shortly after the tsunami and reactor meltdowns of 2011. Presented in part as a letter to the future, Vollmann, among our most ambitious, and prolific, of writers, seeks to understand why we closed our eyes and ears to scientific consensus. “Back when I lived,” he writes, “some of us believed that heavily polluting coal could somehow lift people out of poverty without impoverishing us in any more fundamental way.” (Viking, April 10)


                                                Adjustment Day and No Immediate Danger


Sabrina, by Nick Drnaso

If his 2016 graphic novel, Beverly, captured the melancholy banality of the American suburb, Drnaso’s new tome interrogates a world in which technology has alienated us from one another and enabled the rumor and conspiracy theory to take the place of news. In Sabrina, a UD airman undertakes a search for a missing woman. (Drawn & Quarterly, May 22)

Captive Audience, by Lucas Mann

Given that reality TV gave us our current president, we should perhaps care about the ways in which this most popular form is influencing (degrading?) our critical faculties. Mann comes at this well-worn subject with a little more joie de vivre. He understands the formulaic nature of shows such as the Housewives franchise, while admiring them nonetheless. By tracing the relationship of reality TV to his own marriage, Mann emerges at the end with a surprisingly soulful love story.  (Vintage Books, May 1)

Florida, by Lauren Groff

Having rocketed to fame after President Barack Obama named Fates and Furies his favorite book of 2015 (what, one wonders, might the current incumbent of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave nominate?), Groff’s latest is a collection of 11 short stories set in America’s weirdest state. Capturing the alienation and complexities of contemporary life, each of Groff’s stories is a marvel of description (a great dane “the color of dryer lint”), and lyricism. (Riverhead Books, June 5)


                                                              Sabrina, Florida, Captive Audience


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