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Literary Blog

Obama Should Read Less Fiction, More Women

At least that’s the verdict of the political press. On Tuesday, at the National Review Online, Tevi Troy described Obama’s summer reading as “the oddest assortment of presidential reading material ever disclosed.” Five of his six books are fiction, which is a problem, you see, because it “sets him up for the charge that he is out of touch with reality.” Meanwhile, over at Salon, Robin Black was less exercised by his books’ genre as by their authors’ gender. “Obama’s reading [is] 70 percent male,” she said — “which is actually a better male-female ratio than the past.” Studying a list compiled by the Daily Beast of every book Obama has mentioned since 2008, Black howled that “It’s a 23-to-one blowout in favor of the men.”

If it is displeasing both left and right, the White House might just consider declaring victory and putting the books away. The real problem, this summer as last (when he wasted his time with Jonathan Franzen’s overhyped Freedom), is that all of Obama’s books speak with one voice. Troy noticed something of the kind when commenting on the president’s non-fiction reading load:

While the fiction-heavy aspect of the list is something new, the liberal authors should come as no surprise. Obama, like other Democratic presidents, has tended to read mainly liberal books, although he could stand to gain some insight from conservative ones.

As long as he is going to read fiction, though, Obama is going to read liberal authors. Perhaps the only publicly identified conservatives who are known for writing novels these days are Charles McCarry and Christopher Buckley. Shelley’s Heart, McCarry’s masterpiece, is unlikely to appeal to the president, since it is about a conspiracy by the political left to install a “messiah” in the White House. And he needn’t curry any favor with Buckley. The author of Thank You for Smoking endorsed Obama in 2008.

The fiction that Obama does read is guaranteed to make him smile. Not only do its authors side with the better angels of the president’s progressive nature, but as I have observed here and here and here, Bush-and-Cheney-and-Fox News bashing has become one of the most reliable conventions of contemporary fiction. Small wonder Obama took home so many novels to enjoy this summer. Even smaller wonder that that so few were by women. Nearly all of them share his purity of heart, after all.



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