Barack on books and "the role of stories to unify"

New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani talks to Former US President Barack Obama on "the indispensable role that books have played during his presidency and throughout his life."

  1. In the final days of his presidency, Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, sat down for an interview with Kakutani to relate his passion for books and the transformative power of stories. Obama has promoted a reading list of former presidents, civil rights activists, and a sampling of diverse authors of fiction and non-fiction, and credits a daily practice of reading and writing that shapes and inspires his work. The former president says that reading has sustained him through dark and difficult times, and he believes that novels have the potential to make sense of today's biggest problems.
  2. "At a time when events move so quickly and so much information is transmitted, the ability to slow down and get perspective, along with the ability to get in somebody else’s shoes — those two things have been invaluable to me," said Obama. "Whether they’ve made me a better president, I can’t say. But what I can say is that they have allowed me to sort of maintain my balance during the course of eight years, because this is a place that comes at you hard and fast and doesn’t let up."
  3. To Obama, stories have potential to build empathy, unite people, and invite readers to experience different and diverse perspectives. He admires the work of fiction authors like Junot Díaz and Jhumpa Lahiri for their ability to relate a "very particular contemporary immigration experience” that communicate a "longing for this better place but also feeling displaced" - something Kakutani identifies as a common theme in American literature.
  4. "When so much of our politics is trying to manage this clash of cultures brought about by globalization and technology and migration, the role of stories to unify — as opposed to divide, to engage rather than to marginalize — is more important than ever."

  5. Entertainment Weekly compiled all of the books he has recommended during his eight years in office - a long syllabus of his best-loved literature and authors, divided into categories like poetry collections, childhood classics, and all-time favorites.
  6. In his post-presidential years, Obama will continue his bookworm legacy by continuing to write memoirs that draw on the journals that he kept during his time in the White House. He also hopes to use his position to "widen the audience for good books" – and he's already started this commitment with his pledge to build the Barack Obama Presidential Library in Chicago's Jackson Park.
  7. "I think that what one of the jobs of political leaders going forward is, is to tell a better story about what binds us together as a people," says Obama. "And America is unique in having to stitch together all these disparate elements — we’re not one race, we’re not one tribe, folks didn’t all arrive here at the same time. What holds us together is an idea, and it’s a story about who we are and what’s important to us. And I want to make sure that we continue that."
  8. Obama Foundation Announces South Side as Home for Library