2015 was a very bad year for adulthood. In its twelve months, the aging Baby Boomer generation and the despised Millennials faced challenges to common sense and decency on all sides – and failed every single one of those challenges. Privileged college undergraduates screamed at their college administrators in public and were not disciplined; pampered college undergraduates tried to create “safe spaces” on their campuses, where they wouldn’t be confronted with ideas (or skin colors) they didn’t already like – and they weren’t expelled for it; a college instructor was filmed inciting a group of students under her authority to physical violence against a member of the Press and was not prosecuted for it. All across the country, adults started using the term “identify as” synonymously with “play-act as” and intended to be taken seriously (or they’d sue, of course); one such adult actually asked me, “Do you identify as a dog?” – and she meant it in a legal, reality-defining way, and when I patiently pointed out that, as she could see with her eyes, I am, in biological fact, a human, she was genuinely offended. It was a year in which tens of thousands of grown-up taxpaying adults shouted their support for a racist, bigoted, misogynistic bullying idiot not because they agreed with any of his policies but because they wanted to be part of his gang It was a year in which thousands of shaving, voting, bill-laying adults continued their full-scale retreat into their imagined fantasy-version of childhood, an utterly wretched period they’ve somehow convinced themselves was simpler, easier, and more honest. Those adults read children’s books in record numbers, wore pajamas in public, and used kids-speak like “all the feels” and Twitter abbreviations in public. It was a year of regression and rebellion-politics, in other words, a year in which a greater-than-ever proportion of adults in the civilized world decided to deny reality and demand respect for their denial. It was all appalling, and a good deal of it slopped over into the Republic of Letters, with predictably deplorable results. These were the worst offenders of 2015:
10 A Time for Truth by Ted Cruz (Broadside Books), Gods, Guns, Grits, and Glory by Mike Huckabee (St. Martin’s), American Dreams by Marco Rubio (Sentinel), Crippled America by Donald Trump (Threshold), Rising to the Challenge by Carly Fiorina (Sentinel), Taking a Stand by Rand Paul (Center Street), etc. – The run-up to any US presidential election season is going to see an influx of campaign tracts masquerading as books, and such booklets will be much the same: simplistic, self-congratulatory, ghostwritten (indeed, the Stevereads Worst Books of 2015 contains more ghostwritten books than any previous year – I count 14), and inordinately stupid. But this crop share an added similarity that pushes the whole batch from seasonal annoyance to Year’s Worst, and that similarity is racism. The theme running through all of these campaign books – under the surface in some, proudly displayed in others – is one of recovery: America is weak, lost, even crippled, and the candidate in question is sadly but sternly pointing this out (as an act of tough love) and offering a regimen to fix things. In every single case, the regimen boils down to hate – of intellect, of poor people, of difference, of experience, but most of all of the black man who’s been in the Oval Office for the last two terms, and most of all because he is black. By every objectively measurable standard, America is not weaker, more lost, or more crippled than it was eight years ago – and yet the tone of all these books is one of cumulative regret, a sense of sorrow that the country has been badly off-course in all that time. And the root of that tone isn’t hard to see; it shows itself every time these candidates soak up support from donor conventions that are little more than un-upholstered Klan rallies; it shows itself in every passage where these candidates question the patriotism of the President of the United States; it shows, of course, in the ongoing quest of one of these candidates (uncriticized by the others) to prove that the black man in the Oval Office isn’t even actually an American at all. These are noxious little books, in other words, hate-mongering, fear-mongering screeds coming before the American reading public at one of the most complex moments in the 21st century and offering only the 18th century by way of solution. Reading them all has been more like taking pathologies at a mental health clinic than learning the thoughts of would-be national leaders.
9 Killing Reagan by Martin Dugard (with Bill O’Reilly) (Henry Holt) – We’ve seen already how laughable Martin Dugard is when he tries to write history, so most of the idiocy of this book (written in some kind of collaboration with FOX comedian and well-documented liar Bill O’Reilly) comes as no surprise. Even so, the extent to which Dugard takes things here is a little staggering. Most of the book is just badly-summarized swipings from real biographies of Reagan, and what passes for a central theme – that Reagan getting shot in 1981 essentially “killed” him by accelerating the onset of his Alzheimer’s – is so ludicrous it ought to have embarrassed even a fraud like Dugard.
8 Love and Lies: An Essay on Truthfulness, Deceit, and the Growth and Care of Erotic Love by Clancy Martin (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) – Imagine you’re invited to the Dumbo prestige-loft of a loathsome young power couple for an evening of food nobody wants to eat (kale) and music nobody wants to hear (Mahler). They have no interest in anything you might have to say – you were invited because of your Twitter numbers, in order to join an audience, and that audience was invited solely in order to sit and mutely appreciate the dual performance of the power couple. And the performance itself? Why, stories about themselves, of course – how smart they are (even though it doesn’t take you long to figure out that they’re actually quite stupid), how cool they are (even though it doesn’t take you long to figure out that they don’t really have any sense of proportion or grace), and, ultimately, how much better they love each other than other couples do (even though it doesn’t take you long to figure out that they virulently hate each other)(and even though during this very party each of them propositioned you in the bathroom). Now imagine the grueling ordeal of that evening captured in book form.
7 Hello Life! ‘by’ Marcus Butler (Gallery Books), In Real Life ‘by’ Joey Graceffa (Atria), Binge ‘by’ Tyler Oakley (Gallery Books), The Amazing Book is Not on Fire ‘by’ Dan Howell and Phil Lester (Random House), A Work in Progress ‘by’ Connor Franta (Atria), etc. – In addition to cat videos and video game play-along videos, the sticky loam of YouTube has also given rise to a peculiar, very specific phenomenon: cute-boy millionaires. They didn’t start off as millionaires, of course; they just started off as brainless cute little hair-styled narcissists. But in the era of YouTube, these cute boys turned their cameras to their favorite subject: themselves – and they found an audience of millions of teenage girls. That audience allowed YouTube to generate ad revenue from the channels of those cute boys, which made those cute boys into millionaires without, of course, chipping away at their narcissism at all. In fact, the money and the screaming, worshipful audience hugely increased the narcissism of these vapid cute boys – it led them to the mistaken belief that they could think, that they could have concerns and causes that extended beyond which kind of hair products to use. And one horrific result of this mistaken belief foisted itself on the reading world in 2015: books ghostwritten in the on-camera voices of these cute-boy millionaires, books laying out the life-philosophies of preening little creatures with brains like pretty soap-bubbles. The merchandising managers of these millionaires know the value of multiple streams of income, and the cute boys know that they like income, and the only victims are trees and readers.
6 Exceptional by Liz & Dick Cheney (Threshold) – The sheer effrontery of a public figure as openly, unmitigatedly evil as former Vice President and war-architect Dick Cheney maintaining a public persona after leaving office would be startling enough, but Cheney has done much worse, popping up on talk shows in order to vociferously defend his worst illegalities, writing memoirs exonerating himself from the obscenities he committed in broad daylight, and, in this bizarrely malevolent book co-written with daughter Liz, implicitly positioning his eight years in power – during which two wars of conquest were started and a $600 billion-dollar deficit was run up – as high points of recent American history, a time when the “exceptional” nature of the United States was most closely realized. No single page of this book, no single paragraph, and hardly any single line is free of flat factual errors and outright lies, all told along the central theme that will be familiar from the first item on this Year’s Worst Books list: that the last eight years of American life have betrayed and subverted on a fundamental level – by the black man in the Oval Office. This is not the customary whine of a political grandee whose party is out of power – none of the books on this list are – but rather the far more concerted anger of a man who believes the entire basis of American decency has been polluted at a basic, personal level. And in its anger it gets almost every single fact about American history wrong.
5 Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock between Evolution and Design by Perry Marshall (BenBella Books) – Since the only people who think there’s a “deadlock” between evolution and creationism are creationists, the very title of Perry Marshall’s affable distillation of snake oil hints at the lies to come in the book, and sure enough, there they are, all the usual suspects of creationism: that random mutation and natural selection aren’t sufficient to shape life as we see it in the world today, that molecular mechanics are too complex to be the result of natural processes, and so on. Marshall is far from the first creationist to ineptly characterize these kinds of things as indications that life was designed by supernatural forces (and of course he has only one supernatural force in mind, a personal force whose name and opinions he believes he knows; books like this are never about the benevolent creativity of Thoth), but his book is extra-mendacious in its ingratiating, fake-compromising tone, as though the author were striving to make peace between two equally-valid camps who have more in common than they want to believe, when in reality there is no compromise between magic and reality.
4 Kissinger Vol. I by Niall Ferguson (Penguin Press), Being Nixon: A Man Divided by Evan Thomas (Random House) – Regression and rebellion-politics reach their peak in lying biographies of bastards, and these two noxious books represent the worst of that fad in the course of 2015. You can get a strong hint of the lies in store for you in both these books by the frequent mentions Niall Ferguson makes to James Boswell and Samuel Johnson, but of course both volumes have far, far worse in store than the mere egotism of their authors, each of whom makes a strong protestation (Evans implicitly, Ferguson explicitly) of objectivity and then proceeds to slant, shape, and massage their documentation in order to exonerate their appalling subjects from the court of historical judgement that’s already branded them as two of the worst villains the 20th century produced. Both Evans and Ferguson have done excellent work prior to the writing of these books, and after the writing of these books, both of them should not only be denied all future book-contracts but also denied all future interaction with ethical human beings, since the only person worse than a public official willing to bully, cheat, and kill in order to revel in personal power is a biographer willing to lie about those officials to future generations.
3 Reagan: The Life by H. W. Brands (Doubleday), Destiny and Power by Jon Meacham (Random House) – Two more widely and publicly honored historians, two more fat volumes of lies about public officials from the recent past, in this case two presidents whose contiguous time in office was not a saint’s progression around the stained glass windows of Ely Cathedral. In both books, the authors – who damn well know better – use as their primary sources (and almost their only sources) the air-brushed, self-serving, and lawyer-vetted official memoirs of the men and women involved, and so in both books the authors come to exactly the gummy, Patton-watching conclusions about those men and women that the men and women themselves now most contentedly want readers – and history – to reach. It’s a glaring inversion to the proper relationship between biographers and the historical record, and it’s hugely unsettling that it’s happening closer and closer to immediate living memory. A “biography” along these lines of George W. Bush or Slobodan Milosevic can’t be far away.
2 Alone on the Wall by David Roberts (with Alex Honnold) (W. W. Norton) – We circle back again to the retreat from adulthood with this rambling hagiography of sociopathic narcissist Alex Honnold, who’s built a career as a “free solo” rock climber, i.e. climbing tall rock-faces without any equipment other than his hands and feet. Roberts predictably portrays Honnold as some kind of free-spirit visionary, an innocent soul living a simple kid’s life in our crazy, complicated world, wanting only to hang out in his van, look befuddled all the time, and play on rocks. There’s almost no trace in Roberts’ book of a money-hungry, groupie-rogering pothead, and by the standards of the “biographies” on our list this year, I guess that means such a money-grubbing, groupie-rogering pothead must not exist. Whew!
No Comments Yet
You can be the first to comment!
Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.