Russian Fiction Is Much Better Than Trump’s Diction

With the corrupt Trump administration’s ties to Russia all over the news, I’d like to offer a different Russia-related topic this week: Russian literature.

Which includes an amazing array of dark/compelling/unforgettable fiction, particularly in the 19th century. Even Trump would be impressed reading Crime and Punishment — as long as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel was shortened to a one-paragraph memo.

Crime and Punishment is my favorite Russian novel, and one of my favorites from any country. Riveting, feverish, psychological (it was said to have influenced Sigmund Freud). The high points of The Brothers Karamazov may be even better, but there are some slog-through pages and chapters that the never-a-dull-moment Crime and Punishment doesn’t suffer from. Dostoyevsky reportedly planned to make The Brothers Karamazov the first of a trilogy, but death intervened.

There are several other Dostoyevsky works well worth discussing, so please have at it in the comments section! But now I’ll turn to Leo Tolstoy, whose War and Peace and Anna Karenina are as famous as novels can be. I was impressed with those two classics (though I’m more a fan of Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov) as well as with several of Tolstoy’s magnificent short stories, some almost novella length. “The Kreutzer Sonata,” “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” “Master and Man” — wow!

Speaking of short stories, you can’t go wrong with Tolstoy’s pal Anton Chekhov. A pioneering writer of tales that are more character-oriented and human-emotion-focused than plot-oriented, plus Chekhov of course was also a master playwright.

Earlier-in-the-19th-century Russian authors can also knock your socks off (though I wouldn’t advise that during a Moscow or St. Petersburg winter). Alexander Pushkin’s The Captain’s Daughter novel is a great read, as is Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls novel and his “The Overcoat” short story. Dostoyevsky contemporary Ivan Turgenev wrote a really good novel, too, with Fathers and Sons.

Moving near/into the 20th century (experienced by the 1910-deceased Tolstoy for a decade), we have socialist-realist writers such as Maxim Gorky and Nikolai Ostrovsky. The latter’s How the Steel Was Tempered (a novel I purchased during a 1980s trip to Russia) is quite gripping for a while before getting a bit tedious.

Then there was Boris Pasternak, whose Doctor Zhivago novel drew the ire of Soviet officials despite it being somewhat nuanced about socialism; and the dissident writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who was adept at both fiction and nonfiction (and the subject of this “Mother Russia” song by Renaissance). I’m not fond of the way Solzhenitsyn’s politics turned very right-wing, but he did go through imprisonment hell.

Renaissance has a lead female singer and a female lyricist, but Russian literature (unlike fiction from a number of other nations) has been dominated by men. Unfortunately, lots of patriarchy, machismo, and sexism in that country — which might be one reason why Trump is so attracted to Putin and Russia’s oligarchs.

Russia’s history of authoritarianism and oppression certainly has had an effect on its writers, as has that country’s politics, poverty, income inequality, geographic size, high rate of alcoholism, aforementioned machismo, and huge war casualties — including the carnage resulting from Napoleon’s and Hitler’s invasions. But the most famous Russian writers would most likely be literary geniuses no matter where they had lived.

Obviously I’ve left some writers out, so please fill in some of those blanks in your comments. Who are your favorite Russian authors, either ones I mentioned or didn’t mention?

Here’s a review of, and a video interview about, my new literary-trivia book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com, which covers Montclair, N.J., and nearby towns. The latest weekly column — set in the year 4034 AD! — is here.

Do the Republicans Trashing Your Health Care Also Root for Literature’s Villains?

Most fiction readers root for the characters who are nice and admirable, not the villains. But after America’s far-right Republicans voted May 4 for a Trumpcare bill that would heartlessly yank medical insurance from millions of non-rich citizens, I’m thinking the majority of those soulless GOP scoundrels might identify with literature’s “bad guys.” So…

— When Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, etc., read Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, they love them some Mr. Brocklehurst — the wealthy “religious” hypocrite who cruelly allows Jane and the other girls at the Lowood institution to freeze, be badly fed, and more. Some of the girls die as a result, as would many Americans “thanks” to Trumpcare.

— Many far-right Republicans perusing John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath would undoubtedly cheer when a thug murders compassionate fighter against injustice Jim Casy — whose sharing of initials with the humane (not the GOP version of) Jesus Christ is no coincidence.

— A good number of GOP ghouls are most likely thrilled when brutal slave-owner Simon Legree viciously abuses the brave/kindly Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

— In George Eliot’s Silas Marner, William Dane frames the sympathetic title character and steals his fiancee — making Dane a hero to many a far-right Republican.

— Nathan Price of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible is a sexist and racist missionary, earning him the undying love of countless reactionary GOPers — including various Christian-evangelical leaders.

— The despicable, patriarchal men ruling the roost in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale? Thousands of Republican ultraconservatives want to party with them.

— In Emile Zola’s The Ladies’ Delight, department store owner Octave Mouret is a ruthless capitalist who drives mom-and-pop shops out of business — a Walmart approach that sends numerous right-wing Republicans into ecstasy. But Mouret does have a bit of humanity, so that’s troublesome to the Paul Ryan crowd.

— The far-right GOP also has mixed feelings about Samad Iqbal. That character in Zadie Smith’s White Teeth is obnoxious, overbearing, sexist, and not as smart as he thinks — all catnip for Trump and his ilk. But Samad is Muslim, which mostly disqualifies him from Republican admiration.

— The husband of the title character in Stephen King’s Rose Madder is a policeman who’s a racist and a wife abuser — two qualities very endearing to Trump and other lowlife GOP leaders.

— Erich Maria Remarque’s Spark of Life? Many far-right Republicans may feel a kinship to that novel’s Nazi concentration-camp guards. (And Trumpcare’s motto should be the second half of the title of Remarque’s A Time to Love and a Time to Die.)

— Finally, pathological right-wingers pull for Lord Voldemort in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Role model!

Of course, who knows how much literature America’s reactionary GOP bigwigs actually read? Maybe the occasional Ayn Rand novel…

Any novels you’d like to mention featuring villains far-right Republicans would adore?

Here’s a review of, and a video interview about, my new literary-trivia book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com, which covers Montclair, N.J., and nearby towns. The latest weekly column is here.

Even the Plots of Past Novels Change in the Disruptive Era of Trump

With President Trump and America’s far-right-Republican-controlled Congress changing everything for the worse (trying to yank away medical insurance, gut environmental regulations, lower taxes on the rich, etc.), it’s only a matter of time before the content of past novels changes to more accurately reflect what’s currently going on. Here’s what we might see:

— John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces becomes the story of today’s vile GOP politicians.

— Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls becomes the biography of House and Senate leaders Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.

— Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping becomes the saga of Republicans trying to retain control of the House via gerrymandering and suppression of Democratic votes.

— Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness becomes the story of Vice President Mike Pence.

— Robin McKinley’s Rose Daughter becomes the tale of dad-enabler Ivanka Trump’s rise.

— Toni Morrison’s Beloved becomes about the admirable people who oppose Trump, Ryan, McConnell, and their GOP ilk.

— Henry James’ Washington Square becomes a confirmation that the far right now in DC is just plain un-hip.

— Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country becomes a description of the custom of many lower-income whites in rural areas (“the country”) to vote against their self-interest for the cater-to-the-rich Trump.

— George Orwell’s 1984 becomes about the IQ Trump thinks he has (but doesn’t).

— (Ms.) Lionel Shriver’s Big Brother becomes an Orwellian novel rather than a book about an obese sibling.

— Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses becomes Trump’s self-published book of bawdy limericks.

— Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood becomes a list of all the lies flowing out of Trump’s mouth in 2017. Annual sequels to follow.

— Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things becomes an anatomical look at Trump’s small fingers and his small…

— Willa Cather’s Shadows on the Rock becomes the story of how Trump and his expanding waistline loom over Melania’s huge wedding ring.

— Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 becomes about the first 22 law-abiding, hard-working undocumented immigrants the Trump administration cruelly nabs and deports.

— Colette’s The Shackle becomes the description of a prison device Trump wants to use on innocent Muslims.

— Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind becomes about climate change melting polar ice and causing various species to become extinct.

— Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano becomes about the coolest place to huddle after climate change worsens.

— Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire becomes the story of the all-white, cross-burning Ku Klux Klan that enthusiastically supports Trump and other GOP leaders.

— Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude becomes a treatise on the length and type of prison sentence deserved by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

— James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On the Mountain becomes the story of Mount Rushmore’s four sculpted heads getting so disgusted with Trump that they actually speak.

— Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale becomes speculative fiction about anticipating the day Trump leaves or gets kicked out of the White House.

— Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea and Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy become the go-to collections of our physiological and verbal reactions to today’s far-right GOP rule.

Any novels with new meanings you’d like to add to my list? Would love to see them!

Here’s a review of, and a video interview about, my new literary-trivia book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I also write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com, which covers Montclair, N.J., and nearby towns. The latest weekly column is here.

Fictional Religious Hypocrites Seem All Too Real These Days

Religious hypocrisy is on my mind at a time when many Christian evangelicals support Donald Trump despite America’s so-called president being an immoral person who has no compassion, cheated on his wives, sexually assaulted women, is racist to the core, is endlessly greedy, is a blatant liar, is pathologically narcissistic, and more. Anything to get their right-wing agenda enacted, I suppose.

Literature includes many hypocrites resembling those evangelicals and the many “religious” Republican politicians who espouse “values” (ha ha). I’ll discuss some of those fictional characters today.

For instance, Benjamin Blake’s Ireland-set A Death in Summer, which I read recently, includes a priest character who runs an institution for troubled boys. Despite his pious exterior, he is well aware that the institution’s rich benefactor is a vile pedophile taking advantage of those boys.

(I followed Blake’s absorbing murder mystery with Alexander Pushkin’s 1836 adventure-romance The Captain’s Daughter, which depicted little religious hypocrisy but is a great novella containing fluid prose and dialogue that seems more 20th century than 19th century.)

The priest in A Death in Summer reminded me a bit of the faux-religious Mr. Brocklehurst, wealthy “benefactor” of the Lowood institution in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The girls at Lowood get crummy/inadequate food, little heat in the winter, and are treated in other awful ways — with some dying as a result. St. John Rivers is a more ethical religious figure in Bronte’s book, yet is a rather coldhearted man who displays a colonialist mentality in his desire to become a third-world missionary.

Nathan Price of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible is a missionary in Africa — and that American is as hateful, racist, and sexist as many right-wing evangelicals and Republican politicians are today.

Then there’s the unnamed priest in Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory who’s on the run from Mexican authorities. Not a totally bad guy, but he’s an alcoholic who fathered a child he barely sees. Hardly a religious role model.

The cast of James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On the Mountain includes Gabriel Grimes, a mean-spirited minister who also fathered a child out of wedlock and left the mother to fend for herself.

Sinclair Lewis might be best known these days for his It Can’t Happen Here novel about a fascist elected U.S. president (sound familiar?). But another of his novels relevant to our times is Elmer Gantry, whose charismatic preacher title character is a hard-drinking, ambitious womanizer.

Friar Tuck of the Robin Hood stories is a jovial figure who loves his food and wine. Maybe not hypocritical, but certainly not as ascetic as one might expect from someone in a religious position.

In the drama realm, we have the supposedly religious title character in Moliere’s play Tartuffe. He’s actually a two-faced guy who tries to seduce a married woman.

Who are some fictional religious hypocrites you’ve found memorable?

The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone.

My new book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia will be published soon.

But I’m still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for Baristanet.com. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

Guest Literature Post by Donald Trump!

This blog will be different today, because Donald Trump demanded to write a guest piece. I told him he doesn’t read literature or know much about it, but he insisted. Anyway, things will go back to normal next week, but until then…herrrrrre’s the illegitimate president:

The Donald (me) doesn’t read novels, but I do read the backs of cereal boxes. Lots of back story, ya know?

Actually, I know a yuge amount about fiction. Not the literary kind — the “alternative facts” kind.

I can’t deal with The Wings of the Dove. Why didn’t Henry James write The Wings of the War Hawk? Sad.

The Red Badge of Courage? Stephen Crane — what a loser. Believe me, I showed more courage getting Vietnam War deferments for alleged bone spurs in my heels, even though I played a ton of sports at the time with no problem. They called me The Natural, and Bernard Malamud wasn’t referring to my hair. Colored my hair while flat on my back: As I Lay, Dyeing.

Also, I bigly love Theodore Dreiser. Sister Carrie? I’d like to grab her by the [deleted]. Make An American Tragedy Great Again? I’m on it!

You see, I have great respect for women. But was George Eliot transblender or something? George is a guy’s name, but that 19th-century scribbler looks female in photos. Lock her up!

“Low Energy Jeb,” “Little Marco,” “Lyin’ Ted,” Chris “Agatha” Christie (And Then There Were None: cabinet positions for him). Was Toni Morrison the lead singer of The Doors? Why did Harper Lee surrender to Ulysses Grant? Were the Brontë sisters at the Women’s March on Washington? How did Richard Wright co-invent the airplane five years before he was born? I have a Tan, but it’s not Amy.

Another George: Orwell. Love, love, love the oppressors in 1984. I even tried doublethink, but I can’t think once most of the time. Ask Herman Melania, my wife’s ancestor, who wrote about a big white male — that’s me! Captain Ahab sounds kind of Muslim, doesn’t he?

Speaking of people with that religious belief, I as the 45th president don’t want refugees and immigrants coming to America from Muslim countries (unless they’re Muslim countries I do business with). Some will die from the horrors they’re trying to flee? That’s The Art of Me Saying “Big Deal.” Call me cruel, call me vicious, call me sadistic, call me anything, but don’t call me Slaughterhouse-Forty-Five. Is that a book?

And The Blacks, The Blacks. Why isn’t novelist Benjamin Black called Benjamin White? Why doesn’t E.B. White use the name E.B. Very White? White Fang rocks. I heard about Zora Neale Hurston’s 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God — how were those eyes watching me nine years before I was born?

Flowers for Algernon — thrilling! I mentally mocked the disabled for pages and pages. Can you beat that? Well, maybe when I bring back torture. The Weight of Water author Anita Shreve needs to write a sequel called The Weight of Waterboarding.

And Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel Garcia Marquez will never cross our southern border while I’m racist-in-chief, um, sexual-predator-in-chief, um, commander-in-chief. It helps that those Hispanics are dead. Not much border-crossing mobility there…

Mark my words, I’m going to build a wall — paid for by Mexico (aka American taxpayers). We’ll build that big, beautiful fence at The Border — a novel by Cormac McCarthy, whose last name reminds me of my hero Joe McCarthy. Jim Casy of The Grapes of Wrath was a commie, wasn’t he? Not the good kind like Putin. I love Russian literature: War and WarCrime and No Punishment for Me… But Anna Karenina? Overrated! Blood coming out of her whatever (after she was hit by a train). And Alexander Solzhenitsyn? I like authors who don’t get jailed.

Did I mention I drained the swamp? Just so I could have a dry place to burn books by liberal, pinko writers. Ever read Fahrenheit 451? The same number as my IQ. It’s so high! But I didn’t really drain the swamp — I made it swampier. My administration is like a dystopian novel come to life. I have no idea what dystopian means, but Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon mentioned it one day. I think of them as The Sound and the Fury. Me? Pride and Prejudice.

It Can’t Happen Here
? It already has.

Well, that was Trump’s post. Any quips or comments about him and his tenuous connection to literature?

The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone.

My new book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia will be published soon.

But I’m still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

Perceiving the Personal in the Pages We Peruse

There are many reasons to love literature, and one of them is seeing things familiar to a reader’s specific life.

Of course, that can mean spotting recognizable emotions, character types, etc., but for the purposes of this blog post I’m mostly talking about other content — as you’ll see. I should add that when authors are accurate or not accurate in mentioning things we’ve experienced firsthand, we obviously know it!

Anyway, I’ll give some examples that are personal to me, and then ask for some that are personal to you.

For instance, I read Sue Grafton’s B is for Burglar this week, and, early in that excellent novel, California-based private investigator Kinsey Millhone flies to Florida and drives a rental car north to Boca Raton to look into the disappearance of a woman. I immediately thought of flying to Florida last April and driving a rental car north to Boca Raton to start a weekend celebrating my mother’s 90th birthday.

Speaking of travel, the mentions of New York City subway rides in James Baldwin’s compelling Go Tell It On the Mountain reminded me of the countless NYC subway rides I’ve taken myself.

Edith Wharton, an author often associated with NYC, wrote some terrific ghost stories. When I read a collection of them last year I was thrilled to see that “The Looking Glass” tale was set in my town of Montclair — the same New Jersey setting for Susan Moore Jordan’s absorbing novel Jamie’s Children, which I also read in 2016.

Then there’s Junot Diaz’s memorable The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which includes scenes at my Rutgers University alma mater in New Brunswick, N.J.

And Audrey Niffenegger’s haunting The Time Traveler’s Wife visits several of the Chicago places I saw during my time as a student at Evanston, Ill.-based Northwestern University. Niffenegger even mentions punk clubs, which made me think of the Clash concert I saw way back when — though that was in NYC rather than The Windy City.

Many of us had “interesting” roommates during and after college, and the different-household pairings of Marian and Ainsley, and Duncan and Fischer, in Margaret Atwood’s quirky debut novel The Edible Woman reminded me of my own dorm and apartment experiences as a young adult.

Moving this blog post out of the U.S. for a minute, I saw the great statue of painter Paul Cézanne during a 2007 visit to Aix-en-Provence, where my French professor wife was presenting a paper at an Emile Zola Society conference. Not long after that trip, I read Zola’s dramatic The Masterpiece starring an artist partly based on Cézanne, and immediately thought of that statue. (Zola’s not-so-positive portrayal of fictional painter Claude Lantier apparently ended the author’s lifelong friendship with Cézanne.)

During that same trip to France, we visited the Chateau d’If island prison off Marseille that figured so prominently in The Count of Monte Cristo. That stony jail was in my mind’s eye when I soon reread Alexandre Dumas’ rousing revenge novel.

And if I ever reread Sinclair Lewis’ eye-opening novel It Can’t Happen Here, I’ll think about miserably getting through Jan. 20, 2017 — the day when a man with fascist tendencies became president of the United States in real life. But those huge, fantastic anti-Trump marches the next day — wow!  🙂

Which novels have contained things personally recognizable to you, and what were those things?

(I wrote a “Recognizing Ourselves in Literature” post in 2012, but today’s new piece takes a somewhat different angle and mentions different books.)

The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone.

My new book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia will be published soon.

But I’m still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

We Like These Vulnerable Characters for NOT Being Like Trump

Thanks to a bunch of gutless Electoral College electors on Dec. 19, the U.S. will soon have a new President who seems totally sure of himself despite being a vile, incompetent, sad excuse for a human being. So it’s sort of comforting to think of characters in literature who are vulnerable and not so confident despite being nice, smart, and capable.

I’ll name some of those characters and discuss the possible reasons why they’re not Trump-like egomaniacs. Many of the reasons have to do with the knocks they’ve taken in life, not necessarily a genetic tendency toward humility.

As you’ll see, I won’t include many protagonists who are straight white males — a “group” with a seemingly disproportionate percentage of “members” possessing too much conceit and vanity. After all, to be female, a person of color, and/or gay in a sexist/racist/homophobic society can do a number on one’s self-worth.

I thought of this topic last week after finishing the first of Sue Grafton’s “alphabet series” — the absorbing A Is for Alibi. We’re introduced to private investigator Kinsey Millhone — a decent, intelligent woman with an appealing sense of humor. Yet she often beats herself up mentally, even as her “go-getter-ness” and competence rarely falter. Why the self-doubt? Well, her parents died when she was very young, she is twice divorced despite being only in her 30s, and she’s just getting by financially (being tight on money hardly boosts self-esteem in our material world). Also, she’s a not-always-respected woman in a mostly male field — especially so in 1982, when the novel was first published.

Contrast that with Philip Marlowe, a male private investigator of the 1930s who does NOT have confidence issues — as I found when just reading Raymond Chandler’s compelling “hard-boiled” novel The Big Sleep. But the skilled, cynical, slang-slinging Marlowe has much more integrity than The Big Bleep: Donald Trump.

(The many people who recommended I read Sue Grafton and Raymond Chandler are thanked in the comments section.)

Other admirable protagonists lacking Trump’s off-putting boastfulness include Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre — who is average-looking, unloved as a child, and spends years in the awful Lowood school where some of the shivering and underfed students become sick enough to die. The smart/resilient Jane’s confidence is almost never totally shaken, but there are certainly moments of despair before she reaches the dramatic ups and downs of her adulthood.

Adolescence can be tough for even the happiest of characters, but Irie Jones of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Molly Bolt of Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle face sexism and other serious stuff that partly undermines their sense of self-worth. The brainy, biracial Irie struggles with racism, her weight, and unpopularity at school, while the strong-willed Molly has a rocky relationship with her mother and is a discriminated-against lesbian during a more homophobic time (the novel was published in 1973).

A couple of white guys with confidence issues? One is Silas Marner, who is so buffeted by life (a “friend” frames him and takes his fiancee) that he becomes a recluse and a miser. Yet he has a good heart, which becomes especially obvious in the heartwarming second half of George Eliot’s novel. Another is Philip Carey, whose psyche is undermined by being an orphan, getting co-raised by an emotionally cold uncle, and having the disability of a club foot in W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage. So it’s not a total surprise when he becomes masochistically enamored with an unlikable woman who treats him badly. Yet, at the same time, the decent Philip works toward entering a helping profession (medicine) — which is certainly more than someone like Trump would ever do.

Your favorite characters who are nice, smart, and capable but vulnerable and not very confident?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’ve finished writing a book called Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Writers, which will probably be published during the first quarter of 2017. But I’m still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.