The huge amount of attention that the lengthy presidential campaign drew has been cited by publishers and booksellers as a reason book sales have been sluggish for much of 2016. Now that the contest has ended—with a result many did not expect—booksellers are hoping a good read can be an antidote to post-election anxiety, confusion, and malaise. As Oren Teicher, CEO of the ABA, put it in a brief post-election statement, booksellers now have a unique opportunity to “foster communication and help reconcile our communities.” Teicher added that “there is no better place than within the walls of a bookstore” to start the process of unifying a divided nation.
With this in mind, we asked booksellers around the country which titles they’re recommending to their customers. For some, the ideal post-election book offers an experience of pure escapism. For others, the best read right now is one that helps explain, well, what just happened.
“I have been recommending The Gentleman in Moscow [by Amor Towles] all year long. It is perfectly delightful and very well written, but it also shows how to endure gracefully under pressure. The gentleman is Count Rostow, who is held under house arrest. He makes a life of it and, while less than perfect, shows resilience.”
—Valerie Kohler at Blue Willow Books in Houston
“A book I recently special ordered for a customer that I think is perfect for this moment is The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday. It’s a daily mediation book—Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living is the subtitle. It is hopeful, yet also acknowledges that there is something to be borne.”
—Sam Miller at Carmichael’s Bookstore in Louisville, Ky.
“One book that I was already a huge fan of, which now seems to resonate even more deeply for me, is News of the World by Paulette Jiles. It was on this year’s shortlist for the National Book Award, and its takeaway is that you can’t judge anyone by anything other than their actions—that good and evil have nothing to do with people’s politics or appearances or your preconceptions about them, but emerge from the choices we make every day in our encounters with others. And we all have the power to make those choices.”
—Nina Barrett at Bookends and Beginnings in Chicago
“I continue to recommend Yuge! 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump by Gary Trudeau, which is great for comic relief.”
—Sue Roegge at Chapter2Books in Hudson, Wis.
“For pure distraction, I am recommending Harrison Scott Key’s The World’s Largest Man, which is hilarious. Also A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, which will allow you to immerse yourself in a sad little Swedish man’s life.”
—Jessica Osborne at E. Shaver Booksellers in Savannah, Ga.
My recommendation is Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees. It puts you in touch with the trees and how they communicate—and how we communicate. It’s also not just about how trees help each other, but how people help each other.”
—Sue Morton at Byrd’s Books in Bethel, Conn.
“I think what people need is a book that is a total diversion from politics and reality. El Paso by Winston Groom is a good, rollicking adventure story. Also Hero of the Empire by Candice Millard, about Winston Churchill, and the fearlessness [he demonstrated as a soldier during the Boer War]; it’s uplifting and inspiring.
—Stefanie Crowe at Page & Palette in Fairhope, Ala.
“I’m focusing the bulk of my attention on my YA customers, because they are the ones who will need a distraction from the world. Anything I can do to take their minds off of what happened [on election] night. So I’m recommending YA fantasy because what better way to escape than to enter another world for a while? Some books I’m recommending include Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo, The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, and Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter.
—Emily Hall at Main Street Books in St. Charles, Mo.
“I kind of think people have been looking for distractions from the campaign for the last month or so. Now it’s officially over, but people have been tired of it for a while. One book that I have been having fun recommending is Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer. I think the voice is fresh and funny. It also takes place primarily about a mile from [our bookstore]. It’s an engrossing family story that should prove able to get one’s head out of the nightly news and the campaign rhetoric.”
— Mark Laframboise at Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C.
“I’ll be playing ‘We Shall Overcome’ and recommending Let Your Voice Be Heard by Anita Silvey, a biography for middle grade readers about Pete Seeger, to the kids who come in. I think it’s important to look at the election in the scope of recent history and show ways in which our heroes empowered themselves when optimism was difficult to hold on to.”
— Anna Stypulkowski at Book Culture in New York City
“For customers who want to understand what happened on election night, I’m recommending: White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg; Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild; and Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. We also need something funny to help us laugh, so for that I offer Carl Hiaasen’s Razor Girl.”
— Martin Schmutterer at Common Good Books in St. Paul, Minn.