Thanks, Obama. You ran the country for eight years and you’ve also added to my ever-growing reading list. Sorry, but unlike the President of the United States I’m too busy to read.
Chief book critic for the New York Times Michiko Kakutani got a chance to interview Barack Obama on Friday about her favorite subject: books. She assembled it into a piece about literature informing the presidency and Obama teaching himself to write both fiction and his own speeches, but the basic transcript of their talk is itself full of great recommendations. Kakutani asks him about books he gave to his daughter Malia on her Kindle, and he mentions some classics:
I think some of them were sort of the usual suspects, so “The Naked and the Dead” or “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” I think she hadn’t read yet.
Then there were some books I think that are not on everybody’s reading list these days, but I remembered as being interesting, like “The Golden Notebook” by Doris Lessing, for example. Or “The Woman Warrior,” by Maxine [Hong Kingston].
Shockingly, Obama occasionally has a moment to pick up a work of fiction himself. I assume his brain moves ten thousand times faster than the average citizen. Perhaps he just flips the pages and absorbs them, I don’t know. He makes a convincing argument for why reading informs the politically-minded even when the texts are not categorized as political:
But this is part of why it was important to pick up the occasional novel during the presidency, because most of my reading every day was briefing books and memos and proposals. And so working that very analytical side of the brain all the time sometimes meant you lost track of not just the poetry of fiction, but also the depth of fiction.
Fiction was useful as a reminder of the truths under the surface of what we argue about every day and was a way of seeing and hearing the voices, the multitudes of this country.
Some other books recommended by President Obama are Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, the Three-Body Problem series by Hugo Award winner Liu Cixin, Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, the works of Junot Díaz, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Jhumpa Lahiri, and of course, the novel Gone Girl. There are still more mentioned in the transcript if you are interested in joining the unofficial President Obama Book Club and also expanding your belief in what one human being can accomplish in a day.