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Reading with Barack Obama

Barack Obama Books
It’s that time of year again when former President Obama releases his summer reading list. “Books have always shaped how I experience the world,” wrote the former President. “Writers like Mark Twain and Toni Morrison, Walt Whitman, and James Baldwin taught me something essential about our country’s character. Reading about people whose lives were very different from mine showed me how to step into someone else’s shoes.”That’s empathy, one of the most important benefits of reading. Obama believes that reading about people whose lives are different from our own allows us to better understand and empathize with others.

Barack Obama’s 2023 book list, the summer edition!

Over at our bookstore, Fable editor Alex Posey listed all the books that Obama chose this year. The brand new list includes a diverse array of titles from many different genres. Let’s take a closer look!
Poverty, by America” by Matthew Desmond
This compassionate book gives us new ways of thinking about a morally urgent problem. It also helps us imagine solutions. Desmond calls on us all to become poverty abolitionists, engaged in a politics of collective belonging to usher in a new age of shared prosperity and, at last, true freedom.
"Small Mercies" by Dennis Lehane
An all-consuming tale of revenge, family love, festering hate, and insidious power, set against one of the most tumultuous episodes in Boston’s history.
Hello Beautiful” by Ann Napolitano
An exquisite homage to Louisa May Alcott’s timeless classic, Little Women, Hello Beautiful is a profoundly moving portrait of what is possible when we choose to love someone not in spite of who they are, but because of it.
All the Sinners Bleed” by S. A. Cosby
Titus Crown is the first Black sheriff in the history of Charon County, Virginia. In recent decades, quiet Charon has had only two murders. But after years of working as an FBI agent, Titus knows better than anyone that while his hometown might seem like a land of moonshine, cornbread, and honeysuckle, secrets always fester under the surface.
Birnam Wood” by Eleanor Catton
A gripping psychological thriller from the Booker Prize–winning author of The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton’s new novel is Shakespearean in its drama, Austenian in its wit, and, like both influences, fascinated by what makes us who we are.
“King: A Life” by Jonathan Eig
In this landmark biography, Eig gives us an MLK for our times: a deep thinker, a brilliant strategist, and a committed radical who led one of history’s greatest movements, and whose demands for racial and economic justice remain as urgent today as they were in his lifetime.
What Napoleon Could Not Do” by DK Nnuro
America is seen through the eyes and ambitions of three characters with ties to Africa in this gripping novel. When siblings Jacob and Belinda Nti were growing up in Ghana, their goal was simple: to move to America. For them, the United States was both an opportunity and a struggle, a goal and an obstacle.
“The Wager” by David Grann
a page-turning story of shipwreck, survival, and savagery, culminating in a court martial that reveals a shocking truth. The powerful narrative reveals the deeper meaning of the events on a ship called The Wager, showing that it was not only the captain and crew who ended up on trial, but the very idea of empire.
“Blue Hour” by Tiffany Clarke Harrison
Our narrator is a gifted photographer, an uncertain wife, an infertile mother, a biracial woman in an unraveling America. As she grapples with a lifetime of ambivalence about motherhood, yet another act of police brutality makes headlines, and this time the victim is Noah, a boy in her photography class. It’s a fragmentary novel with unignorable storytelling power.

What happens when Obama adds a book to his list?

Obama’s stamp of approval can be like “rocket fuel” for bestseller status, explained Dennis Johnson, the publisher of Melville House. When Obama picked “How to Do Nothing” by Jenny Odell, the Melville House title saw demand for the book increase an astounding 450 percent! “I’m honestly surprised that anyone had the patience to wade through what is at times a dense, strangely shaped book,” Odell told The New York Times.Here are some of the books Obama picked last year, many of them already hailed as modern classics.
“Black Cake” by Charmaine Wilkerson
A debut novel about how the inheritance of betrayals, secrets, memories, and even names can shape relationships and history, taking an extraordinary journey through the life of a family changed forever by the choices of its matriarch.
“The School for Good Mothers” by Jessamine Chan
A page-turner that is also a transgressive novel of ideas about the perils of “perfect” upper-middle class parenting. The story shows the violence enacted upon women by both the state and, at times, one another; the systems that separate families; and the boundlessness of love,
“An Immense World” by Ed Yong
A tour of the radically different ways that animals perceive the world that will fill you with wonder and forever alter your perspective as Yong coaxes us beyond the confines of our own senses, allowing us to perceive the skeins of scent, waves of electromagnetism, and pulses of pressure that surround us.
“Sea of Tranquility” by Emily St. John Mandel
A novel of art, time travel, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon five hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.
“South to America” by Imani Perry
LeVar Burton also chose this book for his book club, a nonfiction book that weaves together stories of immigrant communities, contemporary artists, exploitative opportunists, enslaved peoples, unsung heroes, lived experiences, and ancestors. The author shows us that if we want to build a more humane future for the United States, we must center our concern below the Mason-Dixon Line.  

Obama on libraries

Barack and Michelle Obama also released an essay this week, recognizing the importance of libraries and librarians.Posted across different social media platforms, the passionate letter thanked librarians for promoting freedom of expression and providing access to a wide range of ideas. Here's an excerpt:

"If America — a nation built on freedom of expression — allows certain voices and ideas to be silenced, why should other countries go out of their way to protect them? ... Nobody understands that more than you, our nation’s librarians. In a very real sense, you’re on the front lines — fighting every day to make the widest possible range of viewpoints, opinions, and ideas available to everyone. Your dedication and professional expertise allow us to freely read and consider information and ideas, and decide for ourselves which ones we agree with."

Obama’s love of reading continues to guide readers every summer, showcasing a wide range of genres and themes. This year, as book-banning efforts ramp up around the country, it is especially important to remember the power of storytelling to illuminate our world and challenge our perspectives.Whether you’re drawn to thought-provoking nonfiction, thrilling crime novels, or moving works of fiction, Obama's list has something for everybody.Happy reading!

Keep reading on Fable!

Sharing a book with friends, family, and co-workers is a great way to enjoy the entire mental and physical benefits of reading. We call this “social reading.” The Fable app is built for social reading, with tools for sharing highlights, comments, insights, links, pictures, and videos as you read together.Find a book club to join for free!We also make it easy to launch your own free book club. With our platform, you can host every aspect of an online discussion at a single destination, to reach readers and build safe online communities regardless of location or time zone.Start your own book club today!You can sample our ever-growing collection of Folios, exceptional book recommendations from some of the world’s great tastemakers. Each Folio covers a critical theme, and some of our Folio curators include LeVar Burton, Paulo Coelho, Wolfgang Puck, and Jasmine Guillory. Discover great book recommendations!

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