Q: Which books would you suggest to deal with the constant and creeping sense of existential dread in today’s social, political and economic times? Should I be reading to cope, or for escapism on my daily commute?
Foresight strategist, 36, north London
A: Alex Preston, novelist, critic and nonfiction author, writes:
A foresight strategist sounds like something out of a Don DeLillo novel, but I hear you as far as the existential dread goes. It’s hard to live today and not be assaulted by what David Foster Wallace called the “howling fantods”. Lying behind your question seems to be the suggestion that we read either to be informed or entertained; I’d say that great literature has a duty to do both.
You may have seen the news coming out of London Book Fair about the “stratospheric” rise in sales of political nonfiction. People share your desperation and are looking to experts to make sense of the madness. Two superb recent books that do just that are How to Lose a Country by Ece Temelkuran and James Meek’s essay collection Dreams of Leaving and Remaining.
Often, though, the deepest truths come to us in fiction. I’ve just finished Ali Smith’s latest novel, Spring, and it’s a glorious call to arms, a book full of hope and joy and righteous anger. It will give you luminous insights into everything from Brexit to social network algorithms, while also providing a dose of what John Gardner calls “moral fiction” – this is a good book for bad times.
I’d also recommend another novel about Britain today, although this one is set in its mythical past. I keep returning to Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giantis a masterful contemplation of memory and loss, crisis and forgiveness. The commute will fly by.