BOSTON -- 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 like 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.”
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 jumpsince 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.
Some experts say readers often return to dystopian works during periods of great change, hoping to find out how they can avoid the nightmarish worlds the works depict. Beyond the U.S. election, readers might be jarred by events like the global refugee crisis, some say.
“There’s a factor of activism that you can take away from reading dystopian fiction, reading it as a defense against who we might become,” said Therese Cox, a doctoral candidate teaching a course on dystopian fiction at Columbia University. “It speaks to impulses and fears that we’ve had for a very long time.”
John Morillo, who teaches a course on dystopias at North Carolina State University, said dystopian fiction can offer readers a comforting reminder about the world today. “Now maybe it’s a sense that, well, it’s still not that bad,” he said. “They can close this book and say, ‘Now there’s hope for the future.’”