“Books and reading aren’t political.” Sure. Here’s 15 classic authors who literally fought against totalitarianism.
1. Isaac Asimov, author of I, Robot, who fought in WWII
2. Albert Camus, author of The Stranger, who fought Germans during their occupation of France during WWII
3. Roald Dahl, author of Matilda, who served as a fighter pilot during WWII
4. Ian Fleming, James Bond series author, who worked as a British naval intelligence officer during WWII
5. William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies, who participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy
6. Mariano Azuela González, author of The Underdogs, who fought in the Mexican Revolution
7. Robert A. Heinlein, author of Stranger in a Strange Land, who worked with the U.S. Navy during WWII (edit: Heinlein was discharged from the Navy before WWII for medical reasons, though he continued contributing to war efforts by working at the Naval Air Experimental Station)
8. Joseph Heller, author of Catch 22, who served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during WWII
9. Ernest Hemingway, author of The Sun Also Rises, who served during WWI and worked as a front-line journalist during WWII
10. Frank Herbert, author of Dune, who served with the U.S. Navy during WWII
11. James Jones, author of From Here to Eternity, who served in the U.S. Army during WWII
12. Norman Mailer, author of The Naked and the Dead, who served during WWII
13. George Orwell, author of Nineteen Eighty-Four, who fought in the Spanish Civil War
14. J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge in WWII
15. Kurt Vonnegut, author of Slaughterhouse-Five, who fought in WWII and was a POW in Dresden
These authors all had radically different views on governance and politics, both during and after the wars they fought in, but the unifying theme was fighting against a form of governance that recognized no limits on its own power, and placed its own authority over the needs and rights of its people. And then these authors brought those experiences directly to their words on the page.
Even more, since this post focused only on authors who fought totalitarianism in the most direct, literal, military sense, we’re missing so many authors (especially women and authors of color) who fought and continue to resist totalitarianism in their own way–by action or by pen. I’m thinking Isabel Allende, Pablo Neruda, Ralph Ellison, Marjane Satrapi, Alison Bechdel, or Josephine Johnson. (I’ll be expecting you to add your own favorites of those in the comments too.)
All of this to say: don’t kid yourselves.
Books are and always have been political.
Reading is and always has been a political act.
These 15 classic authors who literally fought totalitarianism are just a very small example of how intertwined our political and reading lives actually are.