These are the books that President Obama wants everyone to read

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Kayleigh Dray
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President Barack Obama will be leaving the White House on 20 January, but he’s been far from taking it easy before he goes.

From encouraging US citizens to protect their democratic rights, to donating his daughters’ old swing set to a local shelter, everyone’s favourite POTUS has been working hard to ensure his legacy is one of kindness, of respect and of acceptance.

So, naturally, the self-confessed bookworm has also decided to put his voracious literary appetite to good use

Sitting down for an interview with The New York Times book critic, Michiko Kakutani, Obama – who has penned a whopping 16 books himself – has called upon people to open their minds and read more great works of literature in a bid to better understand those around them.

Explaining his own important relationship with books, Obama revealed that he has always made a point of reading fiction – even when he was busy with, y’know, being president.

He said: “It was important to pick up the occasional novel during the presidency, because most of my reading every day was briefing books and memos and proposals. And so working that very analytical side of the brain all the time sometimes meant you lost track of not just the poetry of fiction, but also the depth of fiction.

“Fiction was useful as a reminder of the truths under the surface of what we argue about every day and was a way of seeing and hearing the voices, the multitudes of this country.”

Obama went on to reveal that he recently gave his eldest daughter Malia a Kindle – and that he had already downloaded a number of important books for her to read, too.

“I think some of them were sort of the usual suspects, so The Naked and the Dead or One Hundred Years of Solitude, I think she hadn’t read yet.

“Then there were some books I think that are not on everybody’s reading list these days, but I remembered as being interesting, like The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, for example. Or The Woman Warrior, by Maxine [Hong Kingston].”

He also went on to recommend a number of other books, including:

  • Shakespeare’s The Tempest
  • V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River 
  • Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad
  • Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead
  • Liu Cixin’s the Three-Body Problem series 
  • Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies 
  • Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon
  • The works of Junot Díaz, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl

However, when asked to recommend a specific book for this moment in time – one that would “capture this sense of turmoil” – Obama had the perfect answer.

“At this moment, there are a whole bunch of writers, a lot of them young, who are probably writing the book I need to read,” he said. “They’re ahead of me right now. And so in my post-presidency, in addition to training the next generation of leaders to work on issues like climate change or gun violence or criminal justice reform, my hope is to link them up with their peers who see fiction or nonfiction as an important part of that process.

“When so much of our politics is trying to manage this clash of cultures brought about by globalisation and technology and migration, the role of stories to unify – as opposed to divide, to engage rather than to marginalise – is more important than ever.”

Obama finished by saying: “Part of what we’re all having to deal with right now is just a lot of information overload and a lack of time to process things. So we make quick judgments and assign stereotypes to things, block certain things out, because our brain is just trying to get through the day.

“There’s something particular about quieting yourself and having a sustained stretch of time that is different from music or television or even the greatest movies.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Images: Rex Pictures


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.