A Revolution in the Mind: How to Protest War by Reading Books

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Yesterday Linda Yuknavitch wrote a powerful, softhearted essay about the revolutionary act of reading in The Rumpus. Instead of succumbing to the dystopian reality of the 24-hour news cycle, she devours political books, writing, “There was only one thing I managed to ‘do’ that I think made a radical difference – not in stopping anything terrible that was happening, but in my own consciousness. I read books.” This is not to say she rejects taking to the streets and protesting, but that books can make an incredible impact on a mind willing to be transformed. She continues, “I spent hours in the University of Oregon library. I stole several books. I was so into reading them I wanted to bite them. Eat them. They made my brain hurt in the best possible way.”

Yuknavitch describes four books that shook her up:

White Noise by Don Delillo is a novel about a nuclear family’s fear of death, random airborne toxic events, simulated evacuations, and the inability to distinguish words from things.”

Empire of the Senseless by Kathy Acker is a novel about a post apocalyptic revolutionary landscape where multimedia corporations and patriarchal figureheads have demolished identity and human relations.”

Shikasta by Doris Lessing is a novel about a future earthlike planet that has been colonized and is being documented from afar in order to see what its fate will be under the competing thumbs of complete militarization of civilian society and the possibility of a humanism in touch with earth’s natural resources.”

Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Silko is about a future Native American insurrection in a world where water has replaced oil and a violent end to white rule in America is the logical extension of its colonizing beginnings.”

We’ve added six more, for good measure:

Since yesterday we forgot to celebrate the birth of May Sarton, the queer poet and writer of both fiction and nonfiction works who died in 1995, we’re making amends today by featuring her controversial 1965 novel, Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing , which features an old poet looking back on her life and love affairs. Also, check out her 1983 Paris Review interview with Karen Saum here. During the interview, Sarton says, “I think of myself as a maker of bridges —between the heterosexual and the homosexual world, between the old and the young.”

Homage to Catalonia is George Orwell’s humorous and disturbing account of his experience volunteering with revolutionaries during the Spanish Civil War.

When we were in middle school Ender’s Game absolutely blew our minds, and it was terrifying. Thanks, Orson Scott Card!

Yossarian doesn’t want to die, but everyone around him is trying to kill him so it’s proving increasingly difficult to stay alive. What would we have done without Joseph Heller’s anti-war novel, Catch-22?

Kurt Vonnegut wrote his sci-fi masterpiece, Slaughterhouse Five, after experiencing firsthand the bombing of Dresden during World War II.

Super Sad True Love Story is out now in paperback form, so pick up a copy if you haven’t yet. Gary Shteyngart gives us a sobering glimpse of New York’s near future, where China owns us and where everyone is constantly worried about their credit and “fuckability” ratings, which are conveniently projected on a device we carry around with with us wherever we go. Wait, you say? We do that already?

So, what are the books that made a difference in your lives, readers? What are the books that sent you into the streets? What are the books that irreparably damaged your view of the world?