25 August 2011

President Obama's summer reading list

A variety of sites are discussing the books President Obama has chosen to read during his vacation at Martha's Vineyard.  Here's some commentary from the National Review:
According to reports from the Los Angeles Times and the AP, Obama purchased five books on his trip to the Vineyard bookseller Bunch of Grapes: Marianna Baer’s Frost, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Daniel Woodrell’s The Bayou Trilogy, Emma Donoghue’s Room, and Ward Just’s Rodin’s Debutante. The second wave came when, according to Alexis Simendinger, White House aides listed for reporters the three books Obama brought with him to the Vineyard: two more novels — Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone and David Grossman’s To the End of the Land — and one nonfiction work — Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration...

Assuming that Brave New World and Frost are for his daughters, this leaves six books that are presumably for presidential consumption, and they may constitute the oddest assortment of presidential reading material ever disclosed, for a number of reasons. First, five of the six are novels, and the near-absence of nonfiction sends the wrong message for any president, because it sets him up for the charge that he is out of touch with reality...

Beyond the issue of fiction vs. nonfiction, there is also the question of genre. The Bayou Trilogy has received excellent reviews, but it is a mystery series. While there is nothing wrong with that per se, not every presidential reading selection is worth revealing to the public...

The Grossman novel, which is about an Israeli woman who hikes to avoid hearing bad news about her soldier son, could create complications for Obama on the Israel front. Grossman is a well-known critic of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians, so reading this novel will likely not assuage those concerned about Obama’s views on the Middle East. While the fiction-heavy aspect of the list is something new, the liberal authors should come as no surprise. Obama, like other Democratic presidents, has tended to read mainly liberal books, although he could stand to gain some insight from conservative ones...

This year’s list suggests that Obama needs to consider the messages sent by his reading more carefully. According to Mickey Kaus, the Obama list is “heavy on the wrenching stories of immigrant experiences, something the President already knows quite a bit about.” For this reason, Kaus feels that the list reveals an intellectually incurious president. Either that, or it is “a bit of politicized PR BS designed to help the President out.” In that case, he notes, “it’s sending the wrong message.” Either way, the annual book list should be a relatively easy way to make the president appear to be on top of things and in control. This year’s list, alas, reveals a president who appears to be neither. 
Good grief.  He's on vacation, and being criticized for reading fiction and mysteries.  Lighten up.

I hope nobody gets hold of my reading list.  More at the link.  And his reading selections from previous years is depicted in a graphic here.

Image credit: Zoe Pollock.


  1. I'm sure the president does plenty of dense, non-fiction reading every day with reports from around the country and the world.

  2. If he reads too much fiction he's "out of touch." If he reads too much non-fiction, he's a boring technocrat, a wonk.

    Or we could say, "Oh, National Review. At least they didn't express surprise a black man can read."

  3. My middle daughter went through a period while in college where she disdained all fiction. Fortunately, she learned that fiction deals with truth in different ways, and there is much to be learned from fiction.

  4. A Progressive Crank - your comment made me snort.

    Must have been a slow news day, that's all I can say.

  5. a progressive crank has it just about right

  6. But does it compare well to Bush's reading habits?

    Of course, we're a far cry from Edmund Morris's claim that TR was putting down a book a day…

  7. Has the press got nothing else to do? At least this president *can* and does read.


    I kid.

  9. You'd think this was some new brand of psychology. Suddenly they know everything that's going on in his mind & his life, amazing!

    Have a good vacation Mr. President, & enjoy those books!

  10. He is reading, that alone qualifies him ahead of a large percentage of the voting public.

  11. I admit I'm not an Obama fan, but come on! He's entitle to unwind with a book that just entertainment. In fact, it's healthy do do. I consider my books and reading time as important as food and bathroom breaks!


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