I am reading Obama’s memoir A Promised Land with my daughter. Actually, Caroline is listening to the audio version and I am reading the text. She is about a chapter ahead of me. This morning we exchanged notes at lunch. “Fired up, ready to go!”
Over at The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani has a nice piece on Obama the presidential memoir writer. She writes about what Obama has read and how his reading informs his writing.
While he was writing “A Promised Land,” Mr. Obama did not read a lot of books — maybe because he was “worried about finding excuses to procrastinate,” maybe because he gets swept up in books he particularly enjoys and can hear those authors’ voices in his head. But when he finished writing “A Promised Land,” he eagerly turned to his friend Marilynne Robinson’s new novel “Jack,” the latest in her Gilead series, and Ayad Akhtar’s “Homeland Elegies,” which he describes as “a powerful and searching examination of contemporary American politics and attitudes.”
What literature would he recommend to someone who just arrived in America and wanted to understand this complex, sometimes confounding country?
Off the top of his head, says Mr. Obama, he’d suggest Whitman’s poetry, Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” Morrison’s “Song of Solomon,” “just about anything by Hemingway or Faulkner” and Philip Roth, whose novels capture that “sense of the tension around ethnic groups trying to assimilate, what does it mean to be American, what does it mean to be on the outside looking in?”
As for nonfiction: autobiographies of Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X, Thoreau’s “Walden,” Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, Dr. King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” And Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” which makes us remember, Mr. Obama said, “that America really was a break from the old world. It’s something we now take for granted or lose sight of, in part because a lot of modern culture so embodies certain elements of America.”
Read the entire piece here.