We are in denial that President Obama will leave the White House in just two days time. But though the hours are few, it seems right to follow his advice as he wraps up eight years – to believe in our own ability to create change and to read more books.
Sitting down for an interview with The New York Times book critic, Michiko Kakutani, Obama, a bookworm (his words) has advised us to open our minds and read more great literature so that we might have a better understanding of the world we live in and those around us.
Yes, he was busy being President, but equally important was the opportunity to step away from memos and speeches and enter the world of a story to gain knowledge outside of his own universe. And he also recommended books to his daughter: The Naked and the Dead, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing and The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston.
“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. Fiction was useful as a reminder of the truths under the surface of what we argue about every day.”
I found myself better able to imagine what’s going on in the lives of people throughout my presidency because of not just a specific novel but the act of reading fiction.
Aptly Obama was asked to choose a book that he could find comfort by in “times of turmoil,” and as usual, his answer hit the nail on the head:
“Out of this moment, there are a whole bunch of writers, a lot of them young, who are probably writing the book I need to read. And so in my post-presidency… my hope is to link them up with their peers who see fiction or nonfiction as an important part of that process. When so much of our politics is trying to manage this clash of cultures… the role of stories to unify — as opposed to divide, to engage rather than to marginalise — is more important than ever.”
He also recommended the following works:
- Shakespeare’s The Tempest
- V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River
- Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad
- Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead
- Liu Cixin’s the Three-Body Problem series
- Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies
- Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon
- The works of Junot Díaz, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Jhumpa Lahiri
- Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.
- Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad.
There’s something particular about quieting yourself and having a sustained stretch of time that is different from music or television or even the greatest movies
Pull up a chair and take Obama’s advice: find joy from the beautiful words in a book.