Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Obama’s Reading List

I don’t know about you, but I’m curious to know what the president reads. I’m sure whatever book titles have been relayed to the media are PR-approved. What isn’t? And I’m also sure Obama’s authored books [plural] were ghostwritten so therefore they are merely an approximation of his character. He is the most highly scrutinized main-man, in this great country of ours, so his staffers can’t just let his bibliophilic whims slide.

I truly believe Obama is an intellectual: a well-dressed, well-spoken, cool-as-a-cucumber nerd with an overextended social schedule. He’s probably read Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Machiavelli, Proust, maybe even Nabokov’s “Lolita”, but could he honestly tell the press he’s boning up on the world’s most famous pedophile. Be serious. What if he was reading “Animal Farm” or “Mein Kampf” or “Huckleberry Finn”? Wouldn’t politically correct zealots have a shitfit?

John Dickerson of Slate astutely noted that Obama’s reading list was not poll-tested— no female authors on it and the writers selected all appear to be white males from a certain generation. I wonder what happened to the copy of “Open Veins of Latin America” by Eduardo Galeano that Hugo Chavez recently gave the President.

His five hand-picked books for his weekend peregrination to Martha’s Vineyard are: “The Way Home” by George Pelecanos, “The Lush Life” by Richard Price, “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” by Tom Friedman, “John Adams” by David McCullough, and “Plainsong” by Kent Haruf. Stylistically, it’s a mix of sorts: crime thriller, social novel, founding father tribute, a cry for environmental justice, and one regional lit book.

From a literary standpoint, I enjoyed Haruf’s “Plainsong” myself. Several months ago I had had some time to kill at the B & N by Union Square and was very impressed with Haruf’s prose. Interestingly enough though the title of the book is a reference to the traditional songs used in the liturgies of the Roman Catholic Church. A subtle ploy for Bible Thumper support, perhaps.

I’m wondering about his plan of attack. Does he have an order preference? Will he read straight through until each book is finished? Does he jump around, speedread or does he lull through each and every syllable and imagine morphing into the characters he meets along the way? A vicarious vacation, a Walter Mitty sojourn.

I’d hate to think he’s going to finish his list because he thinks he’s expected to, an extension of his presidential briefings. In that case, he might as well quit while he’s ahead. Given my druthers, I’d read “Plainsong”, McCullough’s “John Adams”, but I’d also recommend Matthew Crawford’s “Shop Class as Soulcraft” because I think it so perfectly describes what went wrong with our once fine country and how we detoured into a ferocious drive to make mullah anyway possible at the expense of our passion. Crawford, who has a PhD in political philosophy, left a DC think tank to start his own motorcycle shop because the honest work rang true for him plus he now gets to flex his synaptic noodles more so then by pushing paper and sending a gazillion pointless emails to middle manager nimrods.

Obama should consider David Eggers’s “Zeitoun” a non-fiction book by the agile-scribbler and creator of McSweeney’s. This might shake up his reprieve, but we all know presidents don’t really get to have vacations. “Zeitoun” sheds new light on the atrocities of Hurricane Katrina for a Syrian family in New Orleans. It’s such a visceral tour-de-force you’d wish it were fiction rather than the harsh, unmitigated truth.

Aside from my suggestions and knowing what is on his list, I am only curious about one more salient point. Will Mr. President be reading paperback, hardback, or Kindle?

1 comment:

  1. David Long would really dig this blog! I'll facebook him tonight and encourage him to read your shtuff. I read Hot, Flat, and Crowded a few months ago after reading Diamond's Collapse. Kind of made me want to live in a commune and recycle my dental floss...or something. Now, again thanks to you, I will be gathering even more books to sink into.