Barack Obama — Reader-in-Chief

We fondly recall each and every one of President Obama’s book recommendations, reading lists, bookstore jaunts and Top-5’s

With our current President — a scholar, a sophisticate, a man of letters; in short our most literary leader in recent times — set to leave the White House, his place taken by a narcissistic bigot with a 140-character attention span and disdain for all things thoughtful, we at Electric Literature are already starting feel nostalgic for those bookish halcyon days. Remember when the President would make a regular pilgrimage to Politics & Prose then follow it up with a night cap at Upshur Books? Or on summer vacation, when he’d drop into Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven and browse the shelves after a morning of golf, bicycling and leading the free world? Those were the days.

Call it sentimentality, denial, wallowing, or just an homage — we wanted one more trip to the bookshop with our favorite Reader-in-Chief, so we pulled together a quick de-brief — every summer reading list, every Small Business Saturday bookshop haul, every all-time-favorite-list President Barack Obama has put out since taking office back in 2008. The man’s taste runs the gamut: William Finnegan, Jhumpa Lahiri, Neal Stephenson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jonathan Franzen, Colson Whitehead, Daniel Woodrell…That’s the type of President you want in office, right? Someone who makes a study of the full range of human experience and ideas. A person who appreciates art, scholarship and a little mystery, or a dash of sci-fi on a summer night, who unwinds from the highest-pressure job in the world by reading James Salter.

Maybe in addition to fixing our country’s outdated and discriminatory system of political districting, Obama’s post-Presidency plans could also include some sort of national book club. We could all use that, right?

For now, let’s find comfort in looking back on the many books of Obama.

2016 Summer Reading — Martha’s Vineyard

  • Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  • H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  • Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
President Obama awards Toni Morrison Presidential Medal of Freedom.

2015 Small Business Saturday — Upshur Books

  • Purity: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen
  • Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights: A Novel by Salman Rushdie
  • Elske: A Novel of the Kingdom by Cynthia Voigt
  • On Fortune’s Wheel by Cynthia Voigt
  • Jackaroo: A Novel of the Kingdom by Cynthia Voigt
  • A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
  • Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck, Book 8 by Jeff Kinney
  • Dork Diaries 1: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life by Rachel Renée Russell

(POTUS also revealed his favorite of 2015: Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies)

2015 Summer Reading — Martha’s Vineyard

  • All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
  • The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

(There was also a POTUS Summer Vacation 2015 playlist on Spotify.)

2014 Small Business Saturday— Politics & Prose

  • Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
  • Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business by Barbara Park
  • A Barnyard Collection: Click, Clack, Moo and More by Doreen Cronin
  • I Spy Sticker Book and Picture Riddles by Jean Marzollo
  • Nuts to You by Lynn Rae Perkins
  • Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Redwall by Brian Jacques
  • Mossflower by Brian Jacques
  • Mattimeo by Brian Jacques
  • Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
  • The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  • Nora Webster by Colm Toibin
  • Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos
POTUS at Politics & Prose, 2014.

2013 Small Business Saturday at Politics & Prose

  • The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri:
  • Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo:
  • Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews
  • Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst and Lane Smith:
  • Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow
  • Journey by Aaron Becker
  • The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
  • Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
  • A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
  • The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein
  • Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football by Nicholas Dawidoff
  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed
  • All That Is by James Salter
  • Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel
  • Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus
  • My Ántonia by Willa Cather
  • The Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers
  • Jinx by Sage Blackwood
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell
  • Moonday by Adam Rex
POTUS at Politics & Prose, 2013.

2013 Favorite Books

In lieu of a summer reading list, the President named his five favorite books.

  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  • Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  • Parting the Waters: America in the King Years by Taylor Branch
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson

2012 Small Business Saturday at One More Page Books

In 2012, no official book list was released, but the White House told the press that President Obama bought 15 children’s books to hand out as gifts.

2012 Summer Reading

The man was busy campaigning, so no Vineyard vacation. Dammit, Mitt.

2011 Small Business Saturday at Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe

In 2011, a complete book list was not released, but purchases included:

  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney
  • Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia by Ahmed Rashid

2011 Summer Reading — Martha’s Vineyard, Bunch of Grapes

  • The Bayou Trilogy: Under the Bright Lights, Muscle for the Wing, and The Ones You Do by Daniel Woodrell
  • Rodin’s Debutante by Ward Just
  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
  • To the End of the Land by David Grossman
  • The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
The Obamas leave Bunch of Grapes, in Vineyard Haven, 2011. Carolyn Kaster/AP

2010 Summer Reading — Martha’s Vineyard

  • Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Red Pony by John Steinbeck
  • Tinkers by Paul Harding
  • A Few Corrections by Brad Leithauser

2009 Summer Reading — Martha’s Vineyard

  • The Way Home by George Pelecanos
  • Lush Life by Richard Price
  • Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Tom Friedman
  • John Adams by David McCullough
  • Plainsong by Kent Haruf

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