Enjoy the Last of Barack Obama’s Literary Wisdom

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President Obama Departs from the White House to Florida
Photo: Pool/Getty Images

Like us, President Obama has been considering the power of the novel under his presidency lately. And, as he told the New York Times, he’s not worried. The president — who counts Marilynne Robinson as a pen pal and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad as his most recent read — said that he isn’t concerned about the survival of fiction because we’re a “storytelling species.” In classic star-seminar-student-who-actually-did-the-reading mode, Obama drew parallels between what’s on his bookshelf and his day job: “Working that very analytical side of the brain all the time [as president] sometimes meant you lost track of not just the poetry of fiction, but also the depth of fiction,” he said. “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 also revealed the coming-of-age literature primers he shared with Malia. There’s not a lot of Kerouac-style musings on the list, he explained, saying that he’s never tapped into the “open-road, young kid on the make discovering stuff.” He described his early reading and writing habits as focusing more on an inner, melancholy life. “I loved reading when I was a kid, partly because I was traveling so much, and there were times where I’d be displaced, I’d be the outsider,” the president recalled. “The idea of having these worlds that were portable, that were yours, that you could enter into, was appealing to me.” His picks for Malia: The Naked and the Dead, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Golden Notebook, and, The Woman Warrior. Like everyone, Obama admits that he’s not as plugged into young writers as he should be, but he promises to whittle down his list once he leaves the White House.