For many people, the recent presidential campaign (and its result) proved to be mentally exhausting. But take heart—there’s a way to regain your equilibrium and perspective that’s healthy, cheap, and widely available: reading a book.

Losing one’s self in a work of literature offers the consolation and affirmation that heated political discourse will never provide. So, whether you have found yourself on the losing side of the election, or are secretly crowing about the results, these five titles will help restore your battered psyche, shed some much needed perspective on the turbulence of our own times, and remind you that art – like partisan bickering, I suppose—will outlive us all.

 

The Dialogues of Plato

In trying to put the election out of mind, let’s travel all the way back to the beginning of Western thought. Plato, an ancient Greek philosopher who was himself a student of the eminent thinker Socrates, recorded many of his teacher’s “dialogues” in which some aspect of life (truth, justice, goodness) is dissected. The so-called “Socratic method” derives from this back-and-forth style of conversation. A modern translation can make these verbal debates truly exciting, and if nothing else The Dialogues are a good reminder of the value of talking to each other.

Around the World in Seventy-Two Days by Nellie Bly

If you’re a member of Pantsuit Nation, don’t shelve your enthusiasm for a strong, courageous trail-blazing woman. Instead, join the intrepid journalist Nellie Bly as she takes you literally around the world – at a time when women were treated with suspicion when they ventured much past the marketplace or the church. Bly’s prose might well be over 100 years old (the articles that comprise the book were written in 1890) but her zeal, determination, and sense of wonder are as fresh as an internet meme.

M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang

This 1988 Tony-award winning play seems more relevant today than it did when it was garnering critical kudos – and challenging gender norms – during its successful but controversial run. A story based on a documented love affair involving a middle-aged French diplomat and a male Peking Opera singer, Hwang turns deception inside out, illuminating the toxic cultural biases that debase the purity of unalloyed love. One of the messages of the play is how we need to see each other as we really are, not as someone might misrepresent us for social or political gain.

US(a) by Saul Williams

Just what it means today to be an “American” is a question generating lots of debate. Into the fray boldly steps Saul Williams, a writer, actor, and spoken-word artist whose 2015 book of poetry is a real mind bender. Just as no one single idea can confine every iteration of “American,” the pages of US(a) themselves have trouble containing the rush of words spilling over from poem to poem. For more traditional readers willing to suspend their notion of what poetry is, Williams’s word-drunk ramble through the turbulent American landscape is a thrill ride you won’t forget.

The Kindness of Enemies by Leila Aboulela

Sometimes it takes a chance encounter with another to reveal who we really are. Aboulela’s beautiful and challenging novel – ostensibly about a history professor researching resistance fighters in Russia in the 19th century – is really a meditation on how difficult it can be for some people to make peace with their own cultural or religious heritage. A book about warriors fighting against annihilation, the novel is also a reminder of the timeless value of our own stories – which, if we’ve lived well, will continue long after we don’t.

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We’ll all have a chance to go to the polls and change the world again in four years, but in the meantime, you can change your world by going to your local library and checking out any of the above — or any other titles you think might make good post-election reading. If there are books you’ve turned to for comfort or reassurance since the campaign, please share the titles in the comments section below. Let’s all shelve the partisan sniping and book some time with a favorite writer.

Happy reading!

 

Jim Broderick has been teaching at NJCU for almost 20 years. The author of seven books, he is currently writing a book about James Joyce to be published in the spring of 2018. He also writes feature stories and book reviews for the subscription-based website BookBrowse.com.