At this time of year, I customarily write a column about books -- notable, interesting, subjects of special significance, usually recent volumes.
Generally, I have included both fiction and non-fiction, although leaning toward the non-fiction category, focusing particularly on biographies and books about politics and public affairs -- books with a factual basis.
Considering recent trends, I might create a new category: "fictional facts." This could be entirely appropriate in this era of "fake news," the devaluing of facts, and the blurring of reality and unsubstantiated rhetoric.
Normally, the end of each presidential election campaign brings an outpouring of books recounting and analyzing the campaign and the key players and events, the first drafts of campaign history in the aftermath of this unprecedented election. Indeed, one forthcoming volume is titled "Unprecedented," and is from CNN politics, with CNN journalists and commentators reflecting on what has occurred in this marathon campaign.
However, CNN's coverage of Donald Trump has been the subject of some stout criticism -- for "hours upon hours of unfiltered, unscrutinized coverage of Trump," according to a top adviser to Mario Rubio's campaign. Others argue CNN allowed Trump surrogates to spread falsehoods on the network and hired his former campaign manager as a commentator.
Trump himself blasted CNN's coverage as favoring Hillary Clinton.
Not just "Unprecedented," but "Unbelievable," the title of Katy Tur's upcoming book. She covered Trump for NBC and was a frequent target of Trump and his followers. Trump said Tur was dishonest and a "third-rate" reporter as he regularly berated and belittled those covering and commenting on the campaign.
From polemics to analysis, a number of volumes were already on the shelf. Ann Coulter provides a steady supply of rants. Two prominent journalists offer their takes: the smugly self-centered Maureen Dowd of the New York Times with "The Year of Voting Dangerously," and Megyn Kelly of Fox News ("Settle for More"), who drew the wrath of Trump and found herself injected herself into the middle of some bizarre twists and turns in the campaign story.
The book of the moment, or at least one pointed to as helping explain the Trump phenomenon, is J. D. Vance's "Hillbilly Elegy." Vance offers his view of "how Appalachia and the South went from staunchly Democratic to staunchly Republican in less than a generation." Vance provides some context for Trump's support among those who are estranged, embittered, and economically insecure. A good companion to this is George Packer's "The Unwinding," 2013 National Book Award winner, about the development of a country of winners and losers with many citizens left adrift.
There is no doubt that the pseudo-populism prevalent in today's politics has a strong appeal. Accompanying and driving this trend is the disregard of facts or the fictionalizing of facts.
The reality is that we are living with different versions of truth. Facts aren't accepted as facts and, even if they are, they don't matter to many.
Earlier this year I looked back at the biography of William Randolph Hearst ("The Chief") by David Nasaw, published in 2000. Writing about the media magnate and politician, Nasaw said of Hearst, "he made his own rules." Of Hearst's presidential aspirations in the early 1900s: "His aim was not to make better laws, but to convince voters that their government, as constituted, was incapable of meeting their needs and that he alone was capable of rescuing it from the stranglehold of trust-controlled and corrupted politicians."
It sounds a lot like Donald Trump doesn't it? Both Trump and Hearst tried to present themselves as men of the people, standing up against vested interests. Of course, Hearst, though an influential figure, was unsuccessful in reaching the political pinnacle while Trump was.
We can anticipate a passel of post-mortem books trying to explain Trump's success, including efforts to discern how we got into this post-fact period and what it means.
However, many of us may be ready for a break from politics while we await the inevitable "Collected Tweets of Donald Trump." So here's a quick check list of new/recent books to consider:
• History -- "His Final Battle -- The Last Moments of Franklin D. Roosevelt" by Joseph Lelyveld" and "Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film" by Alexandra Zapruder.
• Music and culture -- Ed Ward's "The History of Rock and Roll," Volume 1 (1920-63) or the controversial "Testimony" by Robbie Robertson.
• Sports -- S.C. Gwynne's "The Perfect Pass: American Genius and the Reinvention of Football."
Then there's always the latest John Grisham novel (realistic fiction), "The Whisperer."
Regardless of our political perspectives, it could be a good time to emulate Hillary Clinton, who recently said this might be a good time to curl up with a good book.
Commentary on 12/07/2016
Print Headline: Facts, fiction or none of the above