President Obama started his Martha's Vineyard vacation this week with a stop at a local bookstore where he picked up a trio of novels: An advance copy of Jonathan Franzen's latest, Freedom, along with Tinkers by Paul Harding and A Few Corrections by Brad Leithauser. (For his daughters, Sasha, 9, and Malia, 12, the president selected To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Red Pony by John Steinbeck.) What do Obama's choices say about him? (Watch a local report about Obama's book stop)
He's in an escapist mood: "Fiction is a bold statement for a president," says Julie Mason at the Washington Examiner. Generally, when our leaders hit the seashore for a break from the Oval Office, they gravitate towards conspicuously weighty fare: "Historical tomes, books about other presidents and the plague, whatnot." Obama, facing a bad economy and a tough midterm election year, clearly walked into that bookstore seeking an escape.
"Book scandal rocks Obama vacation!"
If that's so, Obama's still a glutton for punishment: It's true that Obama's 2009 picks were more traditionally presidential, says Alison Flood in the Guardian, including New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman's best-seller on globalization, Hot, Flat and Crowded, and David McCullough's biography of John Adams. But if this summer's list is supposed to be a mood lifter, Obama must be in a gloomy place indeed. "Franzen's tale of an American family in meltdown, and Harding's story of death from cancer and kidney failure, are hardly the cheeriest of fare."
"Barack Obama goes shopping for holiday reading"
Father issues, maybe?: Anyone "wishing to psychoanalyze" will find "plenty of material" here, says Toby Harnden in Britain's Telegraph. Leithauser's A Few Corrections — about a son who gradually uncovers how his father, a respected traveling salesman, neglected his family — has obvious overlaps with Obama's past; his own father abandoned the family when the future president was a toddler.
"Obama book reading hints at continued opposition to Iraq war"
Franzen might help Obama weather his current storms: The choice of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, about a dysfunctional family, is particularly "apt," says Maureen Dowd in The New York Times. Obama "is the head of the dysfunctional family of America — a rational man running a most irrational nation, a high-minded man in a low-minded age." So with the country in the throes of "some weird mass nervous breakdown" — over the "Ground Zero mosque," among other things — maybe this book will help the president cope.
"Going mad in herds"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How liberals are unwittingly paving the way for the legalization of adult incest
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 10 things you need to know today: September 30, 2014
- The troubling persistence of eugenicist thought in modern America
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Why the Chinese military is only a paper dragon
- Libertarianism's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea
- What the Romney boomlet says about the establishment GOP's feeble 2016 field
- How the Simpsons/Family Guy crossover revealed the worst of both shows
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
Subscribe to the Week