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How to Survive 2016: A Literary Guide for Coping with Current Events

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Nov. 29, 2016
Posted in Books
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Let’s be honest, 2016 has not been an easy year. We have lost some of our biggest cultural icons and have been bombarded with rhetoric of hatred and individualism during the EU referendum and the US presidential election.

I have composed a list of literature to help you survive these difficult times and remind you that language can still be a beautiful thing, used to bridge gaps rather than create them.

 

Walt Whitman – Leaves of Grass

Like Trump, Whitman believed in his country’s ‘greatness’. However, unlike the president-elect, he believed this greatness came from the diversity of the nation.

He believed greatness came from the diversity of the nation

In Leaves of Grass, Whitman celebrates difference and calls for harmony: “I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise; / Regardless of others, ever regardful of others, / Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man.”

In a world where the gap between ‘I’ and ‘you’ seems to widen by the day, a poem whose third line reads: “for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” is vital, reminding us of our inherent similarities and shared goals.

 

E. E. Cummings – 100 Selected Poems

E.E. Cummings was one of the most innovative writers of his age. He eschewed poetic conventions such as capitalisation, elaborate conceits, and even correct grammar. The result is verse that conveys feeling of love, pleasure and longing with incredible immediacy and precision: “your slightest look easily will unclose me”.

If there is any writing that can redeem language from its current embroilment in divisive rhetoric, it is Cumming’s poetry

A good poem that aptly communicates our current frustration with the state of the world is the scathingly ironic ‘Humanity I Love You’. If there is any writing that can redeem language from its current embroilment in divisive rhetoric, it is Cumming’s poetry.

 

Marina Keegan – The Opposite Of Loneliness 

Marina Keegan died in a car accident only five days after graduating from Yale, aged 22. Nonetheless, in her brief life she wrote many articles, essays, poems, short stories and plays. The Opposite of Loneliness is a collection of some of this work.

Marina’s prose is not ‘uplifting’ per se; she writes about difficult topics – death, break-ups, blindness, cheating. But she also writes about human interactions, the blossoming of relationships, and the journey towards self-awareness and self-acceptance. Her words are brimming with empathy, emotion, and a love of life.

The future may be filled with uncertainties, but we are a generation of talented and diverse individuals who have the power to change things

I’d recommend the eponymous essay ‘The Opposite of Loneliness’ to any Warwick student. Marina writes about a community of young people anxious about their future. She suggests that the future may be filled with uncertainties, but that we are a generation of talented and diverse individuals who have the power to change things.

 

Michel de Montaigne – Essays

Michel de Montaigne was a 16th century philosopher, and pioneer of the essay form. In fact, Montaigne coined the term ‘essay’, which originates from the verb ‘essaier’ in French, meaning ‘to try’.

What inspires me most about Montaigne is his relentless questioning of everything. Curiosity and the desire for truth are inherent human qualities, yet recently we seem to have put them aside in favour of instinct, misinformation and fear.

Recently we seem to have put curiosity and the desire for truth aside in favour of instinct, misinformation and fear

While all the essays are brilliant in their own right, I would especially recommend ‘Of Cannibals’ for a piercing critique of how we perceive difference. 

 

Yuri Herrera – Signs Preceding the End of the World

After weeks of hearing that Mexicans are all criminals, it is vital that we ignore this and continue to valorise and appreciate the work of Mexican writers. Yuri Herrera’s latest novel Signs Preceding The End of The World tells the story of a young woman’s odyssey to bring her brother back from the US to Mexico after being sold false dreams.

Voices like Yuri Herrera’s cannot and will not be silenced

Despite there being a lot of discussion about immigration, it is rare that we see the perspective of the immigrant. For any of you who have ever felt unsettled by Trump’s racism, I would advise reading this book and proving that voices like Yuri Herrera’s cannot and will not be silenced.

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