New/Old Bestsellers: MARCH, CITIZEN, 1984, and THE HANDMAID’S TALE

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Ilana Masad

Staff Writer

Israeli American, queer, chronically ill, and forever reading, Ilana Masad is a book critic and fiction writer. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, Tin House, McSweeney's, Joyland Magazine, and more. She is the founder and host of The Other Stories, a podcast that features new, emerging, and established fiction writers. Twitter: @ilanaslightly Blog: Slightly Ignorant

We’re living in a new and scary reality, one many of us aren’t super happy about (and that’s an understatement of the most dramatic sort). It seems that many readers have taken some of the scariest stuff that President Trump has done and said to heart, and have put their money where their mouth is: turning some old books into bestsellers once again.

MARCH by John Lewis

Even before Trump was sworn in, his words and actions already had a side effect. After Georgia Senator John Lewis called Trump’s presidency ‘illegitimate,’ Trump answered back with a furious series of tweets. Of course, what Trump didn’t anticipate was the favor he was doing the senator.

Walking with the Wind, Lewis’s memoir and first-hand account of his involvement in the Civil Rights movement, became a bestseller by the Saturday after the spat, and SOLD OUT (and selling out on Amazon, a huge corporation with tons of distributors and big stock warehouses, is a big deal). Not only that, but March, a graphic memoir by Lewis, co-written with Andrew Aydin with art by Nate Powell, also depicts, with gorgeous art and a super accessible format, Lewis’s involvement in the Civil Rights movement. Lewis won the National Book Award last year for the third installment of March, but it was his spat with Trump that seemed to have caused the books to be either sold out on Amazon the next day or to become almost instantly a bestseller.

More recently, three other books have been getting a lot of attention from readers. Last week, Publishers Weekly reported that The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood was seeing big sales because of the TV series based on the book that’s coming out on Hulu in April. But is that really the reason? It seems like there are many reasons to be reading the Atwood classic right now, chief among them being the way the new administration has spoken about Planned Parenthood, who are hugely helpful with women’s healthcare (far and beyond abortions, for which they are most famously known).

Another book that saw “renewed interest” according to PW was Citizen by Claudia Rankine, which, once again, seems to be tied to the fears many people of color are facing today, whether it’s undocumented immigrants whose crimes will be collected in a weekly report or the Native Americans of Standing Rock who worked so hard to oppose the North Dakota Access Pipeline which will be going through, it seems, despite all their work.

Finally, one more book that has garnered a lot of recent sales is likely the most obvious one. What is a book that may teach us what thought police look like, that may help us figure out what happens if we play through the political scenario we’re coming to see as our new and terrifying normal, and that will also give us a terribly depressing outlook on the world? Oh yeah, I know this one!

It’s 1984 by George Orwell, of course. On Tuesday, January 24th, the book was reportedly the 6th bestselling book on Amazon. Which, again, is saying something. This specifically seemed to come after the whole idea of “alternative facts” came to life after the first White House press conference (if you can call reading a statement and not answering questions a press conference).

So what do the surges in sales of all these books mean? Well, in my opinion, it’s proof that literature is going to continue being incredibly important for the ongoing fights ahead of us. Free speech is essential, but so is remembering our history and our past mistakes and fears and learning to stand up to the encroaching threats on our safety, our ideals, and our morals.