President Obama and His Reading Life

This January interview of President Obama and his reading life came up in my feed because of the rumor that Michiko Kakutani is leaving as book editor for the NY Times. (She is the one doing the interviewing.)

It’s such a good reminder of why we read: for the quiet reflection, for taking the time out to think about things when it’s so much easier now to switch on our phones, iPads and computers.

In my mid-twenties I traveled by myself through Europe for nine months and wouldn’t have an internet connection where I would stay. I spent a lot of time by myself reading, being a kind of hermit, and developing my own tastes. Tastes that were not dictated by popular media, what everyone else was reading, or what school or my professors told me to read. It was such a delicious way to read. There was no showmanship about it. It was such an intensely personal experience and totally mine. Those books I read during that time live in my mind. I probably have never discussed half the authors with anyone I know but they still inform and shape my point of view.

In Budapest I had cable TV and ended up watching a lot of documentaries on CNN. But I would have trouble writing about what I watched after because I would forget those bubbles of thoughts by the time I could write–at the end. It made me realize that books are made more for contemplation. A book carves out a space for silence and thinking. A book you can pick up and put down. A book you can stop and copy your favorite passages into a notebook. You can rest and think, “Wow, what a beautiful way to phrase it” or “I never thought of it in that way.” TV and movies just zoom on by in a way that are completely immersive (which I love too) but where I lose more of those interesting and provocative thoughts.

This interview is a good reminder of why I should read more and what I’m missing out by not doing it enough. Really, for the purest of reasons. To enter that space of meditation and quiet. To enjoy a book no one else may be reading, no rush, and then hold that book in my hand and think about what it means to me and if it changes how I view the world.

And what a loss to have had a president who understood the value of reading and taking the time to think more deeply about things and to where we are now.

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