Front Page News:
Presidential Reading

The chief book critic for The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani, makes a rare departure from reviewing books to interview the President, in a front page, above-the-fold story titled “How Reading Nourished Obama During the White House Years.”

Kakutani writes “Not since Lincoln has there been a president as fundamentally shaped — in his life, convictions and outlook on the world — by reading and writing as Barack Obama.”

He says that reading gave him time to “slow down and get perspective” and provided “the ability to get in somebody else’s shoes … [both] have been invaluable to me.”

While in office he turned to the works by Martin Luther King Jr., Lincoln, Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela. He finds knowledge in Shakespeare, the tragedies proving “foundational for me in understanding how certain patterns repeat themselves and play themselves out between human beings.”

9780765377067_5f53bHe reads biographies of past presidents as well as SF such as The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin (Macmillan/Tor Books, 2014), saying “The scope of it was immense. So that was fun to read, partly because my day-to-day problems with Congress seem fairly petty — not something to worry about. Aliens are about to invade!”

It zoomed up to #32 on Amazon’s sales rankings as a result of the Presidential nod.

9781250062185_d7f86How did he find the time while in office? He read, says Kakutani, “for an hour or so late at night — reading that was deep and ecumenical, ranging from contemporary literary fiction (the last novel he read was Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad) to classic novels to groundbreaking works of nonfiction like Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow and Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction.”

Kakutani writes that he is hoping to eventually use his presidential center website “to widen the audience for good books,” something he’s already done with regular lists of book recommendations, and then encourage a public “conversation about books.” She also hints that Obama plans to write more books himself.

A transcript is also available, with much more on his take on specific titles.

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