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.
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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."
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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.
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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"