Books

The books you need to read this summer, as recommended by Barack Obama

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Sarah Shaffi
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Barack Obama's summer 2019 reading list.

If you’re confused about what to read this summer, don’t worry: Barack Obama has you covered.

Even though it’s been three years since Barack Obama left the White House, he’s still a big influence.

He and Michelle Obama are currently producing a number of shows for Netflix, including a drama series about the fashion world in post-war New York and a feature film biopic of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, all of which will no doubt be much-discussed.

And the Obamas will also be influencing our listening habits with the podcasts they produce as part of the deal they’ve signed with Spotify.

While we wait for those TV shows and podcasts, we can turn to the former president to influence our reading.

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Obama has just released his annual summer reading list, and it’s as varied as always. In previous years, Obama has recommended books including Educated by Tara Westover, Tayari Jones’ Women’s Prize for Fiction winner An American Marriage, and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

His 2019 choices include the collected works of Toni Morrison, who died at the beginning of August. “You can’t go wrong by reading or re-reading the collected works of Toni Morrison,” wrote Obama on the Instagram post where he shared his list. “Beloved, Song of Solomon, The Bluest Eye, Sula, everything else — they’re transcendent, all of them. You’ll be glad you read them.”

In addition to Morrison’s books, Obama has also recommended 10 more books…

  • The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

    The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
    The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

    Based on the history of a real reform school in Florida that destroyed the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is the story of idealist Elwood and sceptic Turner, who become friends at the Nickel Academy, a chamber of horrors where physical, emotional and sexual abuse is rife. The tension between Elwood and Turner leads to a decision which will have decades-long repercussions.  

  • Exhalation by Ted Chiang

    Exhalation by Ted Chiang
    Exhalation by Ted Chiang

    Science fiction writer Ted Chiang’s short story The Story of Your Life was the basis of the film Arrival, which starred Amy Adams. Exhalation is his second collection of short stories.

  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

    Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
    Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

    We suspect Obama is reading Wolf Hall in preparation for the release of Hilary Mantel’s third and final novel in her Wolf Hall trilogy, The Mirror & The Light. The trilogy is a fictional retelling of the life and rise of Thomas Cromwell, who was chief minister to King Henry VIII.

  • Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

    Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami
    Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

    Translated by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen, Men Without Women is a collection of seven stories by the internationally acclaimed Haruki Murakami. Involving vanishing cats and smoky bars, the short stories all involve the lives of men who have found themselves alone.

  • American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

    American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
    American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

    In 1986, Marie Mitchell works at the FBI as an intelligence office. As the only black women in an all-white boys’ club, her career is at a standstill, until she’s recruited to a shadowy task force aimed at undermining the revolutionary president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara. Although fiction, American Spy was influenced by true events.

  • The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

    The Shallows by Nicholas Carr
    The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

    In The Shallows, technology writer Nicholas Carr looks at how the internet is literally re-wiring our brains to change the way we think, read and remember. Carr argues that the internet is fostering ignorance and urges us to look again at our dependence on the web.

  • Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

    Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
    Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

    Hope Jahren is an award-winning scientist and professor of geobiology. Her memoir Lab Girl is about work and love, from stories about the discoveries she’s made in her labs to her childhood playing in her father’s lab and the field trips she’s taken. 

  • Inland by Téa Obreht

    Inland by Tea Obreht
    Inland by Tea Obreht

    Another novel grounded in history, Inland follows Nora, a frontierswoman awaiting the return of the men in her life with her youngest son, who is convinced that a mysterious beast is stalking the land around their home, and her husband’s 17-year-old cousin, who communes with spirits.

  • How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu

    How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu
    How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu

    Fresh from a failed marriage, Jonas hits the road to trace the route that his Ethiopian parents took to Nashville, Tennessee 30 years previously. Going from the war-torn Ethiopia of his parents’ youth to the contemporary America he lives in, Jonas’ journey holds the possibility of reconciliation and redemption.

  • Maid by Stephanie Land

    Maid by Stephanie Land
    Maid by Stephanie Land

    As a struggling single mum Stephanie Land worked for years as a maid, working long hours to provide for her family. This memoir explores what it’s really like to be in service to the upper-middle classes, and examines what it takes to survive in an unequal society.

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