Do the books that Jared Lee Loughner was reading tell us anything useful about his state of mind?
“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are,” the great French lawyer and gastronome Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once said.
In other words, you are what you eat, Brillat-Savarin posited. Are we also what we read? Can an individual’s bookshelf offer a glimpse into his mind? Are we a reflection of what we read – or vice versa?
Investigators, legal aid workers, counselors, and the media are considering these questions as they pore over a revealing piece of evidence in Saturday's grisly Arizona shooting spree: suspected shooter Jared Lee Loughner’s reading list.
Loughner’s YouTube profile page includes a long list of his favorite books. On the list are “Animal Farm,” “Brave New World,” “The Wizard Of Oz,” “Aesop Fables,” “The Odyssey,” “Alice Adventures Into Wonderland,” “Fahrenheit 451,” “Peter Pan,” “To Kill A Mockingbird,” “We The Living,” “Phantom Toll Booth,” “One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest,” “Pulp,” “Through The Looking Glass,” “The Communist Manifesto,” “Siddhartha,” “The Old Man And The Sea,” “Gulliver's Travels,” “Mein Kampf,” “The Republic,” and “Meno.”
Since its discovery, observers have scrutinized the list, straining to find clues about the mysterious 22-year-old suspect. They have attempted to draw correlations between his bookshelf and the impetus that drove him to release an explosion of bullets into Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others, ultimately leaving six people dead and 13 wounded or in critical condition, including Rep. Giffords.
What insight does Loughner’s reading list offer?
Anti-government propaganda, for starters. “In examining Loughner’s list of favorite books, which includes Orwell and 'Mein Kampf,' the Southern Poverty Law Center’s [Mark] Potok notes that an anti-government thread runs through all those works," reports Newsweek. In the current climate of political vitriol and venom, particularly regarding health care and immigration, the impassioned political rhetoric may have inspired violence in the mentally-troubled 22-year-old Loughner.
Another theme in his reading list? Paranoia. Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic theorizes, “What unites [the assassin’s reading list] is paranoia, a sense of others controlling you, of conspiracy theories and government plots, of illegitimate government and its agents of control.”
If “Animal Farm,” “Brave New World,” “Fahrenheit 451,” and “One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest,” provide a sampler of paranoia and conspiracy theories, unfortunately, so does 21st-century politics. Some Americans still believe 9/11 was an “inside job,” while scores of others continue to claim President Obama is a foreign-born Muslim/Fascist/Socialist/terrorist intent on killing Americans through health care “death panels.” As yet, we don’t know Loughner’s views, but he may have absorbed some of the paranoia he read and observed in politics.
Indeed, speculation has run far and wide – some say Loughner was an anti-Semite, as indicated by the inclusion of “Mein Kampf” on his reading list; Others have posited he is a proponent of conscious dreaming, the idea that reality is perceived and we live in a holographic universe. Evidence? “Alice in Wonderland.”
Still others wonder not about what’s on the list, but what’s not on the list. “Catcher in the Rye” isn’t on the list. It was a novel favored by two other mentally-disturbed shooters: Mark David Chapman, who killed John Lennon, and John Hinckley, who tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan.
Whatever insight Loughner’s bookshelf offers into his mind, “the idea that this list will tell us much about Loughner and any political motives he had for shooting those 19 people is sorely misguided,” Salon.com reports.
Loughner’s story isn’t likely to be found between the covers of his favorite books. The real story lies in his garbled, rambling, imcomprehensible statements on YouTube, indicative of a mentally disturbed young man whose grip on reality had become increasingly weak in recent years.
Husna Haq is a Monitor contributor.