You are either a reader of books, or you’re not. You might pick up a magazine now and then, or skim some article while waiting for the barber. You may be that young lifeguard years ago who told me, “No thanks, it’s the summer. I don’t read in the summer.” Meaning, if it’s not on his Fall reading list for school, it’s not happening. Reading became a chore somewhere along the way, and reading for pleasure an oxymoron.
As you already know, I’m a Reader. I like to read everywhere, especially on a beach. I can read on a train, a plane or even a boat. This type of reading makes Bob sick; if his body is in motion, he cannot read. I’ve been known to read while sitting on the floor next to a baby in a bathtub, though I couldn’t read while nursing. I’ve made some of the best friends through book clubs. So yesterday, I eagerly picked up the NYTimes article at the gym, “Obama’s Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books,” by the book critic Michiko Kakutani.
I really love reading on the bike, while everyone else is plugged into some TV or work-out music playlist. And I love Kafka’s quote on reading: “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”
And what I took away from Obama’s love of books, is that books were a refuge for his childhood. He grew up a Black child in a White world, and even when his mother moved him back to Hawaii, he felt different because he had come from Indonesia. He always felt different. And I could relate to that, because I was the child with a different last name from my foster parents, I was the girl with flaming red hair who stood out in a crowd when I so wanted to blend in.
President Obama could time travel through books and find that all cultures touch on some of the same human conditions. And he learned to fit into whatever world he found himself in by reading about other people, that included Shakespeare, and forging his own unique identity. Because knowledge was portable in the form of a book…”from his peripatetic and sometimes lonely boyhood, when “these worlds that were portable” provided companionship, to his youth when they helped him to figure out who he was, what he thought and what was important.”
To this day, reading has remained an essential part of his daily life. He recently gave his daughter Malia a Kindle filled with books he wanted to share with her (including “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” “The Golden Notebook” and “The Woman Warrior”). And most every night in the White House, he would read for an hour or so late at night — reading that was deep and ecumenical, ranging from contemporary literary fiction (the last novel he read was Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad”) to classic novels to groundbreaking works of nonfiction like Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The Sixth Extinction.” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/16/books/obamas-secret-to-surviving-the-white-house-years-books.html?_r=0
I love the idea of a Kindle as a graduation present! We gave Great Grandma Ada one for her birthday once, and it’s the gift that keeps on giving – since every book she downloads, we pay for! She told me I must read “A Man Called Ove,” for fun and diversion, and I’m planning on it.
President Obama recently invited a number of authors to the White House, including Michael Chabon. I just finished his novel, “Moonglow,” which was mailed to me by my favorite place in Nashville, the One and Only Parnassus Bookstore, since Bob has signed me up to their First Editions Club. It’s a book of the month club for Literary Nerds like me. Moonglow is one of those books you never want to end, you savor the last pages, drawing them out over many nights. And it made me think about a new approach to the Flapper, because he was dealing with his grandfather’s hidden history. http://www.npr.org/2016/11/19/502581929/moonglow-shines-a-light-on-hidden-family-history
You see my Mother was a gun moll, who went to prison in the 1930s, and my book is very much about her. My writing is like taking an axe to my family history.
If I am arrested on Saturday, Bob swears he will bail me out, but if you don’t hear from me next week, I may just be reading in jail! Here I am reading Emily Dickinson during lunch: “I have no life but this to lead it here.”