It’s late August. It’s the silly season. Maybe that’s why there have been so many stupid and snide articles about President Obama’s summer vacation reading list.
The Atlantic Wire rounds up some of the overheated commentary:
First, the reading choices themselves: “Saturday’s pool reports” revealed he purchased two books for himself: The Bayou Trilogy, a collection by Daniel Woodrell (author of Winter’s Bone), and Ward Just’s Rodin’s Debutante (set in Chicago). He added that to the books he carried with him, which include two novels and a history, according to the Los Angeles Times: Abraham Verghese’s bestseller Cutting for Stone, David Grossman’s story of a family in Israel, To the End of the Land, which was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award in fiction, and 2010 NBCC nonfiction winner The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson.
First out of the gate with a sneer is Greta Van Susteren: “While the country’s economy gyrates with uncertainty, our leader is reading ‘fiction.'”
Then, in Salon, Robin Black laments, “President Obama: Why don’t you read more women?” Black complains that the books purchased this week are 70% male, and that the president’s reading list over the past three years skews even more strongly toward male authors.
Now the fact that the president of the United States apparently doesn’t read women writers is not the greatest crisis facing the arts, much less the nation — but it’s upsetting nevertheless. As I suspect Obama would agree, matters of prejudice are never entirely minor, even when their manifestations may seem relatively benign.
Ooh, burn. Burn with the heat of a thousand pissy glares. Her assertion that the president has a “prejudice” against women authors is audacious enough. But then she suggests that she can “help” cure the president of this moral failing — by sending him her own recently published short story collection. Luckily, my window was closed, or I might have flung the computer outside.
But the champion in the stupidity sweepstakes is the column by Tevi Troy at National Review: What’s Obama Reading?
[These books] may constitute the oddest assortment of presidential reading material ever disclosed, for a number of reasons. First, five of the six are novels, and the near-absence of nonfiction sends the wrong message for any president, because it sets him up for the charge that he is out of touch with reality.
Whunk. That sound is my head, hitting my desk, repeatedly. Or maybe it’s the sound of William F. Buckley spinning like a weedwacker in his grave. Honest to God, claiming that people who read fiction can be judged as losing contact with reality? That’s the level of intellectual argument that gets past today’s editors at National Review? Whunk.
Beyond the issue of fiction vs. nonfiction, there is also the question of genre. The Bayou Trilogy has received excellent reviews, but it is a mystery series. While there is nothing wrong with that per se, not every presidential reading selection is worth revealing to the public. Bill Clinton, for example, used to love mysteries, but he did not advertise the titles of what he once called “my little cheap thrills outlet.”
Them’s fightin’ words. Mr. Troy, you can call my books cheap genre trash all day long. You can tell me to hide them in a brown paper bag. You can tell me to hide my own self in a brown paper bag from the shame of writing cheap little thrills. But do not mess with Daniel Woodrell. The man’s a genius, and his books are beautiful, brilliant, heartbreaking and true.
This year’s list suggests that Obama needs to consider the messages sent by his reading more carefully. According to Mickey Kaus, the Obama list is “heavy on the wrenching stories of immigrant experiences, something the President already knows quite a bit about.”
Because… he moved from Honolulu to Chicago? That must be it. Holy cow.
[T]he annual book list should be a relatively easy way to make the president appear to be on top of things and in control. This year’s list, alas, reveals a president who appears to be neither.
Troy is “senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former senior White House aide.” The Hudson Institute is a think tank. And I’ve known people who were fellows there — people I respected and admired. But if this is the current quality of the analysis their fellows produce, Hudson should strike the word “think.” Because they’re just tanking. Sheesh.
(By the way, while I’ve been sitting here frothing and pounding at the keyboard and muttering darkly, the Husband has declared that all these commentators are asking the wrong question. They should be asking: Is the president reading books by left handers? The Husband also wonders whether President Reagan ever read a book during his tenure in office. He suspects that the Gipper read Mad magazine.)
Look here: the president went to a bookstore. While he was on vacation. He came out with an armful of books. The leader of the free world thinks that reading is cool. We should be celebrating that.