2,400 pages. That’s what President Obama’s vacation (to use the Yankeeism) reading entails according to the White House, as reported by Slate’s invaluable John Dickerson:
- The Way Home by George Pelecanos, a crime thriller based in Washington, D.C.;
- Lush Life by Richard Price, a story of race and class set in New York’s Lower East Side;
- Tom Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded, on the benefits to America of an environmental revolution;
- John Adams by David McCullough;
- Plainsong by Kent Haruf, a drama about the life of eight different characters living in a Colorado prairie community.
‘What does this list of American authors tell us about the president? Well, it’s not as fun as the year Bush decided to read Camus’ The Stranger. George Bush reading a French Existentialist is like Obama reading a Cabela’s [huntin’-fishin’ sportswear] catalog. Plus, it was a story about a one-time layabout turned unrepentant Arab killer, which, if you wanted to overinterpret things, gave you enough material to get you through a few packs of Gauloises.’
Dickerson concludes in pre-emptive double-guessing Beltway style that as the list is all white male authors, and ‘given his aides’ penchant for cleaning up little things like this, we’ll soon see the president with a copy of Kate Walbert’s A Short History of Women.’
As a rather distinguished writer himself of both books and speeches, I’m sorry that Obama’s selection doesn’t excite me at all. Richard Price is a terrific crime writer and crime is a perversely good hoilday choice, but allowing that he needs a change from his mountain of briefing papers one might have expected quirkier or brighter and comic titles.
But those who read in a glass library (if only) should resist picking up the first stone.
The President’s list prompted me to consider the books I have bought in the last while in the unrealistic hope of quiet hours absorbed with pleasure. Here is one list below. Among that group are US & UK hardbacks, a kind of book object I love, which eventually find their way to the discount table at my local independent bookshop. No doubt I’m part of a sizable demographic which often enjoys coveting and buying a book more than reading it. (But only if, of course, that book already has the it factor.)
- My Sister’s Hand in Mine – The Collected Works of Jane Bowles.
- Giving Up the Ghost – A Memoir, by Hilary Mantel.
- Between Stations, by Kim Cheng Boey (immigrant autobiographical “travel” essays.)
- The Heart of Things – Applying Philosophy to the 21st Century, by A.C. Grayling (heard him on Late Night Live a few months back.)
- Against the Machine – Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob, by Lee Siegel (actually reading this! – in which Siegel interrogates the claim that the web encourages individualism; he concludes that it often does the opposite. He is an acerbic critic – check him out at the Daily Beast.)
- How Fiction Works, by James Wood (bought on Amazon; slowly sipping at this fine distillation by the book critic.)
- Equals, by Adam Phillips (essays by the head Freudian: on the one hand, trashed in the Guardian and on the other, praised in the Observer! Interesting to note the scalar relationship between author and title type. )
- Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All – An Unlikely Love Story, by Christina Thompson (an American academic washes up in NZ and marries a Maori named Seven; a mash-up of colonial history and autobiographical romance. I know someone in the States who’s a friend of Thompson so I feel very inclined to read this – certainly didn’t buy it for the cover, which fails the splendid title.)
- Baking – From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan (fantastic reading, or leafing – have made the irresistible peanut butter cookies, left.)
- The Sight of Death – An Experiment in Art Writing, by T.J. Clark (two Poussin paintings observed daily over six months: halfway through, but very dense and intense so gave it a rest a month or so ago; it’s in danger of being dumped.)
- The Cultivation of Whiteness – Science, Health and Racial Destiny in Australia, by Warwick Anderson (a beautifully packaged Aussie hardback that promises great things.)
Mm, no novels in this block! Most likely because the novels got read, finished, returned to the library (& as I read fiction manuscripts all the time, the novelistic promise has to really sing.)