The Enright Files: How books from the past can help explain the present
If there's one positive effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be that many people are reading more
If there's one positive effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be that many people are reading more — both to fill those hours spent alone indoors and to help make sense of these unsettling times and our strange new normal.
That may be true of any era that might be called unprecedented, and it was certainly true in 2015, when the rise of Donald Trump and other nationalist populist leaders was turning global politics upside down.
In response, books like Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, George Orwell's 1984, Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here and Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism were flying off the shelves.
In 2017, Michael Enright spoke with Margaret Atwood herself, Sally Parry — an authority on Sinclair Lewis — and Roger Berkowitz — an expert on Hannah Arendt — to see what kind of roadmap to the 21st Century's upheavals could be found in books from the 20th Century.
"These novels can give us a sense of what could happen but on the other hand also make us think. That's really the power of literature: to think and to say, "if I were in those shoes — whether we're talking about Gilead or 1930s America — would I have resisted, would I have collaborated, what would I have done?" says Sally Parry.
Guests in this episode:
- Margaret Atwood is the author of several works of dystopian fiction, including The Handmaid's Tale.
- Sally Parry is a professor of English at Illinois State University and the executive director of the Sinclair Lewis Society.
- Roger Berkowitz is the founder and academic director of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College in New York State.
- Ben Lerner is the author of 10:04 and The Topeka School, a novel that explores masculinity and whiteness in Trump's America, right-wing trolls, and how to raise children well.
* This episode is produced by Chris Wodskou.