Angry Books in an Angry Time

Like a lot of other Americans, I am angry. Like a lot of liberal Americans, I am regularly furious. I’ve gotten so angry that on bad news days, I stay away from Twitter and Facebook because I know that I risk having an aneurysm. I stay far away from political non-fiction because I know that my blood pressure can’t handle it. So why, then, do I read angry books like How to Be Safe by Tom McAllister, Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, or The Power, by Naomi Alderman? Why would I want to read something that I know will probably make me angry?

Gotthard Kühl

I suspect that I read these books because so many of them are angry about the things I’m angry about. I live in a conservative state and it’s not hard to end up on deep red internet, so sometimes it feels good to be angry with like-minded characters. They help me feel less alone that way. They let me know that I’m not the only one who has a similar perspective to me and they’re angry, too.

Reading angry books can backfire. Years ago, I read Dan Simmons’s Flashback and ended up hating it. The publisher blurbs led me to think it was an interesting alternate history novel. I liked the other books I had read by Simmons, so I snagged a copy from the bookstore. I don’t want to speculate about Simmons’ politics, but the novel struck me as something from the conservative point of view. I ended up angry at the book rather than with the book. 

There are some topics I stay away from, even if I might feel some solidarity with the angry characters. When a friend asked me to read Future Home of the Living God, by Louise Erdrich, I asked her if it would piss me off. I read the book (and liked a lot of it) because she needed someone to talk to about it. What worries me most about reading books about topics that I know will enrage me is that the book will fail to treat these topics (bodily autonomy, rape culture, etc.) with the respect and thoughtfulness they deserve. Or that they will turn out to present a conservative point of view. This is a species of confirmation bias, but I freely admit that I’ve a strong, pink-tinged liberal bias. 

How do you feel about books that wear their anger on their dust jackets?

2 Comments

  1. I’m not proud about it, but I tend to stay away. I’m not reading fiction books to inform myself, and I project myself too much onto fictional characters. Anger is not what I want to experience when I read fiction (there is enough of that). I still can’t get over the Handmaid’s tale that I read about 20 years ago, and haven’t passed episode 2 of the TV version…

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    1. I wouldn’t feel guilt about it! For me, I think reading angry books actually helps me from getting burned out with all the political outrages happening over here. Weirdly enough, it works for me.

      Liked by 1 person

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