Dystopian novels are in vogue
By COLLIN BINKLEY
Save the light reading for later. In 2017, dystopian fiction is all the rage.
Gloomy classics depicting societies gone terribly wrong have shot to the top of best-seller lists such as Amazon’s in recent months, including George Orwell’s “1984” and Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” prompting publishers to ramp up production decades after the books were first released. Others have followed close behind, such as Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here” and Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.”
Some nonfiction works in the same vein have seen similar resurgences, including Hannah Arendt’s 1951 “Origins of Totalitarianism.”
Longtime staples in English literature courses, dystopian works are attracting new attention from casual readers and social book clubs. Local theater groups are adapting versions for the stage. College courses on dystopian classics are suddenly drawing long wait lists.
Much of the renewed interest has followed the November election of President Donald Trump, which publishers and scholars say is no coincidence.
“Definitely the election had an effect,” said LuAnn Walther, editorial director of the paperback division at Knopf. “There’s fear out there about what is going to happen, and I think these predictive books are helpful to people who are looking for the dangers the future might hold.”
One edition of “1984” has seen sales jump by 10,000 percent since January, when Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway defended incorrect claims as “alternative facts” in a TV interview. It instantly drew comparisons to the type of government manipulation Orwell wrote about nearly 70 years ago.
“That was so perfectly Orwellian, that truth is variable and can be changed, and that there’s a fact and then there’s a counter-fact,” said Peter Stansky, an Orwell biographer. “The current Trump situation has just caused a vast upsurge in interest.”
Other critics have said Trump’s views on immigration and the news media, while not unique, would fit neatly into the plot of a dystopian tale. In college classes on dystopian works, students have been eager to draw their own parallels. Dozens of U.S. movie theaters are screening a film version of “1984” in April as a protest against many of Trump’s policies.