President Obama on Books and Storytelling: Recommended Reading

In case you didn’t know already, sometimes I’ll write and schedule a blog post ahead of its Saturday publication. This one is one of those days. While you are reading this on Saturday, this was written two days in advance, on President Barack Obama’s last full day in office. While I have zero intention of watching the inauguration, I can still imagine the reality of Friday leaving me drained to some degree. That’s why it only seemed right to write this post while Obama is still in office – especially since this post is about him.

For the first Recommended Analyzing piece of the year, I am recommending readers to read two pieces Michiko Kakutani, the chief book critic for the New York Times, did on President Obama’s love of books and writing. As a kid who moved around a lot and found himself feeling displaced several times, he would turn to books as “portable worlds” that provided a form of companionship. As an adult, in particular as president, books served as outlets into seeing and understanding other people’s lives, which he feels has helped him navigate his way through such a demanding job.

Writings from the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi have been credited as helping him gain “a sense of solidarity.” Liu Cixin, writer of The Three-Body Problem, has even been acknowledged as providing unexpected perspective, despite originally approaching his novel for the sake of escapism.

Through reading, President Obama became a writer as well. He would keep journals and write short stories; the latter being heavily influenced by the community members he would work with back when he was living in Chicago. His writing skills would come in handy when it came to penning a number of the speeches he has delivered over the years. It’s both reading and writing that he aims to bring his attention back to post-presidency.

I’m really glad Kakutani got to talk to President Obama about something that, I feel, has been highly overlooked. In between critics lashing at him and supporters cheering for him, somehow, this vital practice has seemingly been glossed over. Regardless of how you feel about him, you can’t help admire him for being a reader; a practice that isn’t really done a lot by many in this high speed era we are in. I liked how reading has influenced him as president and how it has allow for his mind to be expanded, especially when he was least expecting it (again referring to The Three-Body Problem). The fact that he’s now sharing such books with his daughters is wonderful.

I’m also glad that Kakutani also spoke with him about his writing; in particular when it came to his short stories, for I hadn’t known before that he wrote short fiction. Now that he’s no longer going to be our president, maybe these stories, and then some, will see the light of day. Despite not having a lot of time for writing stories, I’m glad he was able to put that skill to use for his speeches, for that is an asset I’ve always admired about him since the day he first took office. It should come as no surprise then that he was one of the presidents whose speeches I studied, when writing the speech scene in An Absolute Mind.

There are two separate pieces from Kakutani’s interview with President Obama; this one is the article, and this one is the transcript. If you’re already missing him, are curious about this side of him, or have read the article and just want to read it again, give it a go! Again, regardless of your politics, I believe that one should always admire a person who makes the time to read books.

An Absolute Mind is now available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & NobleCreateSpace, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, etc. If you read it, please leave a review, for they’re greatly appreciated and help me grow as a writer. Also, be sure to check out its Goodreads page, and feel free to leave any questions you have about the book.

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