By Jesse Goodwin, Staff Writer
President Donald Trump is not a reader. During the first week of his presidency, the New York Times reported that he “does not read books,” preferring instead to watch television or browse through newspapers such as Time, the New York Post, and the Washington Post.
But shortly after Trump’s inauguration, sales of one book rose dramatically.
In a Meet the Press interview, Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway used the phrase “alternative facts” while defending false claims White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer had made about the size of Trump’s inauguration audience.
Reporters drew comparisons between Conway’s phrase and two terms from George Orwell’s 1984: “newspeak,” a fictional language that limits freedom of thought, and “doublethink,” the act of accepting two contradictory beliefs as correct.
Orwell’s novel, in which a superstate manipulates its people and persecutes independent thought, soon became the #1 best-selling book on Amazon.
Other novels set in countries ruled by authoritarian or totalitarian regimes have followed 1984 as best-sellers on Amazon, enjoying what Time has called a “Trump bump.”
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which is often compared to 1984, similarly focuses on the manipulation of the people of a totalitarian state.
It anticipates many developments in technology, science, and medicine.
In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which was described by its author as a commentary on how mass media reduces our interest in literature, one of the characters says that “the word ‘intellectual’ became the swear word it deserved to be.”
This assertion “seems astonishingly prescient during this run-up to the 2016 presidential election,” according to an article published in Time during late 2015.
Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here sold out at many online retailers after Trump won last year’s election, and it is easy to see why.
It was published in 1935 as the Nazis took power in Germany and describes the election of an authoritarian, populist demagogue as president of the United States.
In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the U.S. government is overthrown by a fundamentalist Christian theocracy that suspends the Constitution, erodes women’s rights, and reorganizes society along militarized, hierarchical lines.
These novels, along with other books that address the effects of totalitarian or authoritarian regimes, have been distributed to bookstores by donors who oppose Trump.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that 50 copies of 1984 were purchased from Booksmith, an independent bookstore located in the famous Haight-Ashbury district, by an anonymous local resident on the night of February 3.
The books were placed on a table with a sign that read: “Read up! Fight back! A mystery benefactor has bought these books for you if you need one.”
Proprietor Christin Evans told the Chronicle that the act, which she described as a “fruitful, constructive form of resistance,” encouraged other customers to do likewise.
“This has become a way for bookstores to play a role in this political climate,” she said. “Bookstores believe greatly in the power of the written word to help inform, educate, inspire, and persuade.”
Evans said that after the copies were gone, the anonymous donor repeated the act with copies of The Handmaid’s Tale and Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts, an account of the career of William Dodd, the American Ambassador to Germany from 1933 to 1937.
The following Monday, Booksmith announced via Twitter that it had ordered 100 additional copies of 1984 and would continue to help customers “sponsor” copies to give to others.