Reading is a curious thing. Curling up with a book often feels like the most private, personal experience in the world. The next moment something can reach out from the page and yank you into a different dimension, populated by myriad people, places and ideas; it can bombard you with collectivity. As a child, I remember the strange sensation that washed over me as I read Robert Tressell’s classic novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists about working men in early 20th century Hastings struggling against exploitation – a sensation that mingled pain, power and possibility, and which seemed to arise from somewhere both outside of me and within. I knew then that some books were capable of remaking reality beyond the mind of a single reader, and I’ve been seeking them out ever since.
Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit (2004)
Whether they are novels or essays, poems or reportage, the most inspiring political books impart a belief in the reader as a political actor – a person with agency, capable of acting in concert with others to redesign the world around them – rather than as something inert, condemned to play a bit-part role in someone else’s reality. No modern writer captures this better than Rebecca Solnit. This book is both a warning and an exhortation to action, and resonates fiercely with our present chaos. “The future is dark,” Solnit argues, “but with a darkness as much of the womb as of the grave.”
Jack Shenker is the author of Now We Have Your Attention, out now.