June 10, 2012

The Sunday newspaper test of Presidents

A very old way to summarize politicians' personalities is to speculate upon which section of the Sunday newspaper they would most look forward to reading. I believe Teddy Roosevelt joked that he always read the sports section first because it was the only place he had a 50% chance of being right.

For the rather opaque Mitt Romney, it seems likely that he would turn first to the business news.

Off the top of my head, I'll give my impression of some other famous politicians:

Richard Nixon would likely have been most interested in the NFL news (he was well ahead of the rest of the country in his pro football obsession), international news, and domestic politics. 

Bill Clinton would read the entire newspaper, but would be most interested in the movie news.

Ronald Reagan would be most interested in the Op-Ed page. (Nobody seems to remember this about Reagan, but he really liked arguing. He made a perfectly good opinion page pundit himself between being governor and president.)

George W. Bush would turn to the sports page first during baseball season.

George H.W. Bush would be interested in the international page, the baseball, tennis, and golf news, and the business news.

More than other presidents, John F. Kennedy would turn to the society page. 

What about Obama? During NBA season, the sports page would be a priority. But I think what would be distinctive versus other presidents is that Obama would turn quickly to the book reviews, especially the new novels. The man has really good taste in contemporary literary fiction. 

One thing to note about Obama's literary tastes are how WASP, even Congregationalist they are. According to Michiko Kakutani, his Facebook page during the last election said his favorite books were: "Shakespeare’s plays, Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” and Marilynne Robinson‘s “Gilead” are mentioned on his Facebook page, along with the Bible, Lincoln’s collected writings and Emerson’s “Self Reliance“"

Obama's is about the WASPiest list imaginable. What's interesting about this is not the politically obvious, unthreatening choices: Bible, Shakespeare, Lincoln, but the other three. 

There's no diversity, other than that Marilynne Robinson is a woman, but she's from Idaho and is a convert to Congregationalism. Indeed, Gilead, which won the Pulitzer Prize for 2004, is about an elderly Congregationalist minister in small town Iowa. I haven't read any of Robinson's three novels, but a few weeks ago I read the preface she'd written for some proto-feminist cult novel and ... yes, she is an excellent essayist. 

I read Emerson's "Self-Reliance" when I was 13 or 14 for Brother John Doran's American Literature class, and I have to say that was the worst piece of prose style I've ever seen. I asked Br. John if we should try to write our essays in the manner of "Self-Reliance" and he half laughed, half harrupmhed: "Well, of course not. I'd flunk you if you wrote like Emerson. But, it's an American classic, so you have to read it."

We all read Melville's most famous short story Bartleby the Scrivener, about a clerk who starves himself to death, which was a big hit with Br. John's class. Bartleby's relentless response to any and all entreaties:  "I would prever not to" quite appealed to the 1970s adolescent male mind.

When Obama went to the Martha's Vineyard bookstore last summer, he bought Daniel Woodrell's latest mystery novel. He's the author of Ozark crime stories, such as Winter's Bone, which provided most of what was good in the successful indie movie that launched Jennifer Lawrence's career has a hillbilly hardass.

One recent book Obama has announced he is reading is The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by English author David Mitchell, author of the acclaimed Cloud Atlas. This is an attempt at a more commercial Shogun-style historical novel about the Dutch trading post in Nagasaki harbor during the Shogun period of 1601-1853. It helps you learn a little bit about the Dutch, a nationality whom Americans tend to think we must know all about, but generally don't, and the Japanese. But the novel really takes off in the last quarter when an English Royal Navy frigate sails in (modeled upon the 1808 Nagasaki Harbor Incident). Mitchell ought to think about taking up the sea story mantle of C.S. Forrester and Patrick O'Brian. He's brilliant at putting you inside the head of an extremely competent captain as he weighs courses of action and makes decisions in real time.

Obama's two favorite things to do in the whole world are:

- walking to the bookstore and spend a leisurely afternoon browsing through the new titles;

- being President.

It's kind of an odd combination.

92 comments:

gummerson said...

http://www.emersoncentral.com/selfreliance.htm

I like it. I wish I could write like him. Very contemplative.

Anonymous said...

"There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried. Not for nothing one face, one character, one fact, makes much impression on him, and another none."

I like it, I like it.

Anonymous said...

'The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray.'

I'll be damned. The greatest ray of philosophical truth to reflect off the page and touch me where the eye is placed.

Anonymous said...

Obama doesn't buy or list books to actually read but to be 'read' by others. It's Read Herring.

DYork said...

Obama's is about the WASPiest list imaginable.

Which is why 800 year old Don Rickles' "Obama the janitor" joke didn't work.

That joke plays on Rickles' "Obama the ole negro" imagery which is wrong not because it is "racially insensitive" but because it is simply not true to Obama.

Obama is the Waspiest President since Daddy Bush so the joke needs to highlight that truth.

Obama is a Wasp down to his DNA despite the Kenyan-Hawaii-Asian dog eating-paki roommate-Rev. Wright-early wiggerish tendencies.

He even looks more like his White grandfather than his Kenyan father. His brain structure and personal tendencies probably owe more to his mother's line than his father's.

Lawful Neutral said...

"really good taste in contemporary literary fiction"

Now there's an oxymoron.

DYork said...

'The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray.'

I think he got that from Goethe. Those guys back then were really into the German writers of the 17/1800s.

bjdubbs said...

His reading material is almost as conventional as his policies. The rule of thumb appears to be, never pick a policy or an author which suggests any sort of distinctive or unorthodox thought. He missed his true calling as Ford Foundation president, the perfect job for a dull, Waspy liberal who wants to erect monuments to his good intentions.

Anonymous said...

My freind worked for a congressman and he used to used to provide a list of his boss' favorite pieces for the DC classical music station - completely fabricated.

We won't know if Obama's book list is genuine until he writes something alluding to them, or an inteviewer discusses them. I wish I weren't so cynical, but the media and entertainment people really do know how to craft an image. They are probably as smart as you.

Anonymous said...

The Bible?! Who has read the entire bible? The New Testament and the Pentateuch, maybe. The Gospels only, more likely. Geneologies, poetic verse,they might as well have put in charts and graphs. I'm sure many fundamenralist have marathoned through it, but to read it with understanding would take years.

Mark Caplan said...

The section of the newspaper Thomas Jefferson first turned to was the advertisements: "Advertisements are the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper."

Anonymous said...

Steve - seriously dude - why do you keep falling for this crap?

It's the same trap which they laid for you [and which you walked right into] when you ignored the overwhelming evidence that William Ayers had written Dreams and plowed ahead with Half Blood Prince as though Obama had written Dreams.

Everything about Obama is a fraud.

EVERYTHING!

I honestly think that Ulsterman [EVEN IF IT PROVES TO BE UTTERLY FICTITIOUS!!!] is probably painting the best picture we have of the real, true, deep-down-inside Obama.

Anonymous said...

We won't know if Obama's book list is genuine until he writes something alluding to them, or an inteviewer discusses them.

And risk having the Anointed One go off-TOTUS and say something like "corpse-man" or refer to "his two sons"?!?

Sheesh.

Be for real.

Anonymous said...

I believe Teddy Roosevelt joked that he always read the sports section first because it was the only place he had a 50% chance of being right.

"he had" = "in the newspaper that had"?!?

As written, it sounds like a gambler who was reading the newspaper to see whether he had won his bets.

Anonymous said...

Obama plays a round at Andrews Air Force Base GC, eats dinner, has a drink, smokes a cigarette, watches NBA, reads Hamlet.

Delete as doesn't quite ring true...

Gilbert P.

David said...

I don't know. I think like everything else about Obama, what he is proported to read, especially during election seasons, is likely to be a list of titles that were carefully selected by David Axelrod and others to put forward a certain image of Obama. The list is clearly concocted to appeal to whites at several socioeconomic classes. At least his advisers understand the Sailer Strategy. Did he actually read any of these books? Who knows. We know he is unscrupulous enough to claim things that aren't true without batting an eye.

scoobius dubious said...

I have a hard time believing that a guy with his proclivities likes Shakespeare and Moby-Dick. Not that I think they're beyond him, I just can't picture a guy with his sort of fixations really caring much about them.

It'd be interesting, to me at least, to hear what his take on Moby-Dick is. My bet would be, similar to what DH Lawrence thought.

But maybe he'd surprise me.

Ray said...

"The Bible?! Who has read the entire bible? The New Testament and the Pentateuch, maybe. The Gospels only, more likely. Geneologies, poetic verse,they might as well have put in charts and graphs. I'm sure many fundamenralist have marathoned through it, but to read it with understanding would take years."

- Gotta love that scene at the end of 'Book of Eli' where Denzel Washington, with a mortal wound to the abdomen, proceeds to sit down and quote the entire Bible, word for word to Malcolm McDowell. And this after traveling to Alcatraz.

slumber_j said...

Not sure why Bill Clinton would pay particular attention to the movies, but maybe you understand something I don't.

Wouldn't Nixon first try to stimulate / control his paranoia by reading everything about politics? Only once he'd fed the monkey would he have been in a position to enjoy the football news. By the way, Hunter Thompson was very good on the subject of Nixon's infatuation with the NFL, which Thompson shared.

Right about Obama's WASPishness and the horrors of Emerson. Emerson's Cantabridgian swill fed the original wellspring of SWPLdom: just hang around self-satisfied yupsters anywhere in the country and you'll smell the scent-echo of that dude's writing. Hence Obama's affection for him. Gross.

But you lost me at the end. Does Obama like being President? It's not at all clear to me that he does. Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan: now those were guys who liked being President!

Lucius said...

Surely you jest. An inveterate bookworm would have a much more sprawling (and less predictable) list of favorites, and it'd come up on some place besides facebook.

In what way does Obama's life, rhetoric, or real or assumed principles, indicate any deep reflection on the Bible, or Lincoln, or Shakespeare?

He might as well have added Euclid's "Elements" while he's grabbing for things everybody recognizes as a must-read, but hasn't. Of course, Euclid has slipped off the radar, but that shouldn't stop Obama, who makes such slips all the time. He was self-educated, don't you know, in a log cabin in Hawaii or Kenya or some such place.

And really, you've used this Geerrr--eight!!! taste in Contemporary Literature meme before, and it's no more plausible now. Yes, we heard about the "Winter's Bone" author thingie-- that was, what, when he also pulled "Brave New World" off the shelf on his beach/Martha's Vineyard/whatever the hell vacay?

Strange, for someone who takes so many vacays, we're still perusing his book choices (it was three, wasn't it?) from that one trip?

The man's not broke. He can toss some Eugenides in the basket if he's feeling so bored.

Anonymous said...

"Obama doesn't buy or list books to actually read but to be 'read' by others. It's Read Herring."

This is what the mention of Shakespeare's works suggests to me. Does anyone read them for pleasure anymore? I'm sure that lots of people did in the first century or so after they were written, when they were still easy to understand without looking things up on every line. And they're still interesting as a window onto their time. But is Obama that interested in pre-20th century history? Not as far as I know.

Camlost said...

I think Obama's lying about his reading habits.

He's actually reading Franz Fanon and Cornell West.

Anonymous said...

Its true, India's Sonia Gandhi reads and decides a a daily course of politics based on the Daily Horoscope column.

FredR said...

"There's no diversity, other than that Marilynne Robinson is a woman, but she's from Idaho and is a convert to Congregationalism. Indeed, Gilead, which won the Pulitzer Prize for 2004, is about an elderly Congregationalist minister in small town Iowa."

John Brown gets a walk-on role, and the book is about, among other things, abolition. It's also amazing.

FredR said...

"I read Emerson's "Self-Reliance" when I was 13 or 14 for Brother John Doran's American Literature class, and I have to say that was the worst piece of prose style I've ever seen."

I knew it was a high-school thing. All high-schoolers hate Emerson. It's just not the right time to be reading him.

Anonymous said...

Marilynne Robinson is also a fairly traditional believing Christian, and writes about it -- one of the few such who will get respectful attention from the Scots-Irish critical gatekeepers.

Walter Russell Mead, a pretty good pundit, drew attention to Obama's WASPiness in his 2010 review of Remnick's bio. His prep school, Punahou, was founded by Hiram Bingham, of the New England Binghams.

Honolulu, Harvard, and Hyde Park

The Bostonian vision of the United States as "a city on a hill," whose government is the moral agent of a society of good people determined to suppress vice and establish virtue, has fueled some of the country's most important and lasting social movements, and it is this tradition that seems to have shaped Obama most profoundly...

At its best, the tradition of New England reform, with its moral earnestness and its willingness to call on the full powers of a strong state, is a nonracial or postracial vision. Punahou's 1851 decision to open its doors to nonwhite and non-Christian students reflected more than the missionary ambitions of its founders; it represented the New England faith in the essential equality, and even similarity, of all people under the skin.

That is, just as the missionaries believed that given Christian values and education, the Sandwich Islanders would build their own version of a New England commonwealth, so modern reformers have believed that giving African Americans, Roman Catholics, and other formerly marginalized Americans greater access to better education would ultimately lead them to embrace New England's core values.

This seems to have worked in Obama's case. Just as President John F. Kennedy, the Harvard-educated scion of Boston Irish-ward politicians, out-WASPed the WASPs by placing himself firmly in the line of high New England moral and political leadership, so Obama has used his eloquence and conviction to emerge as the leading representative of this old and deeply American political tradition.

Jimbo said...

Steve, this may be the most pro-Obama post you've written.

Anonymous said...

"Not sure why Bill Clinton would pay particular attention to the movies, but maybe you understand something I don't."

Porn movies.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's time to coin a new shorthand term- BLASP, i.e. "Black Anglo-Saxon Protestant". It certainly seems to fit.

R K said...

Do you remember the name of the novel for which Robinson provided a preface? I'm always on the lookout for more of her stuff to read.

Marlowe said...

JFK praised low brow thrillers such as Fleming's From Russia with love didn't he? I suppose he had Ernest Hemingway's last wife, Mary, to tea along with Gore Vidal.

scoobius dubious said...

"This is what the mention of Shakespeare's works suggests to me. Does anyone read them for pleasure anymore?"

Yes.

Just, probably not Obama.

btw, they aren't really all that difficult to understand, once you get a bit used to it. And they're rollicking, rip-roaring good fun.

For instance, one of Shakespeare's plays contains the funniest (and second-longest) insult in the English language*. See if you can guess which one.

(* -- The longest insult in the English language can be found in Finnegans Wake, but it isn't nearly as funny.)

Anonymous said...

http://www.thenation.com/article/168125/amazon-effect#

Harry Baldwin said...

I'll bet Al Gore turns to the weather map first. As summer approaches, he feels a warm glow of vindication, Then, in December, he despairs.

Joe Biden reads the comics first. Struggles over the Word Jumble.

Anonymous said...

Personality, I don't think hispanics are that political as a group. The left wing cause supported the most by them is the legalization of their people. Even the occupy is mainly white almost as much as the Tea Party.

Sheila said...

Steve, are you really that credulous? When the top four titles on the New York Times' Best Seller list begin with "Fifty Shades of . . . "? I'm supposed to believe that "The shahada is the prettiest sound" president is studying Shakespeare and the Gospels? Next you'll be telling me that "Diversity is our Strength" and "Race is a Social Construct."

Truth said...

Steve-O has a new crush on somebody...

Anonymous said...

"Amazon’s entry into publishing’s traditional casino is a sideshow. More worrisome, at least over the long term, is the success of Amazon’s Kindle Single program, an effort to encourage writers to make an end run around publishers, not only of books but of magazines as well. That program offers writers a chance to publish original e-book essays of no more than 30,000 words (authors agree to a bargain-basement price of no more than $2.99 in exchange for a 70 percent royalty and no advance). It has attracted Nelson DeMille, Jon Krakauer, William Vollmann, Walter Mosley, Ann Patchett, Amy Tan and the late Christopher Hitchens as well as a slew of lesser-known scribblers, some of whom have enjoyed paydays rivaling or exceeding what they might have gotten were magazines like Vanity Fair or The New Yorker to have commissioned their work. Royalties are direct-deposited monthly, and authors can check their sales anytime—a level of efficiency and transparency almost unknown at traditional publishers and magazines."

Sailer should write long articles like he used to for vdare and charge us 50 cents per article.

Aaron in Israel said...

Steve Sailer writes: "I haven't read any of Robinson's three novels...."

Well, you have no idea what you've been missing. Robinson's novels are amazingly good. I think they'll be read a hundred years from now, if anything will. Read them in order.

Housekeeping is one of the most beautiful books I've read. Its structure is taken from the first chapter of the Book of Ruth. Also see the excellent movie adaptation by Bill Forsyth, who said he wanted to make a faithful adaptation (he did) as kind of an advertisement for the novel, he loved it so much. I think it's the best of the movies I've seen by him.

Gilead is Robinson's masterpiece. It got universally rave reviews, but even so it was underrated. It's one of the best novels I've read. It's also very political, in a self-consciously Calvinist, New England way that's the complete antithesis of paleoconservatism. This is kind of a spoiler, but race plays a large role in the plot. I believe that Obama read the novel and chose it himself for his favorites list. When I read that list back in 2008, I thought, this is the candidate I'd most want to have the proverbial beer with.

Home is her third novel. It's overshadowed by the quality of the other two, but if it were the only novel she'd written, she'd be famous for it.

Robinson's Calvinism is closely related to Melville's. Remember that in "Bartleby" the narrator turns to some writings on free will by Jonathan Edwards (if I remember correctly) in order to try to figure things out. Robinson once said that she got deeply into Calvinism as a result of reading Moby Dick: she wanted to read what Melville had been reading.

Really, you just have to read Robinson's novels.

pat said...

I grew up in Washington DC and its suburbs. This was in the days of the Damn Yankees. No one was interested in baseball when their home team was the pitiful Washington Senators. As a teen I was interested in politics.

Then one night on the TV News there was Nixon effusing about Roy Sievers and the Senators. Like all good Democrats at the time I hated Nixon. But he was a well known figure. He legitimized baseball for me. I started listening to the radio games. Sievers retired but Killebrew soon emerged.

I've always associated Nixon with baseball not football.

Clinton would be pleased that you thought of him and the newspaper. He has taken you in.

There is a famous story about Clinton and NYT crossword puzzle. He had a confederate on the Times staff who would send him the crossword puzzle answers. Then he would stage a scene in the oval office where a reporter would come in and find him filling out the puzzle at high speed and in ink. At least two reporters wrote up this manufactured legend.

Clinton worked hard at getting people to overestimate him. We have Bush's test scores and those of Gore and Kerry. Everyone now complains that Obama hasn't released his scores or grades but we forget that Clinton also hid his.

Reagan was indeed fond of disputation. There is a old tape of Republicans debating the Panama Canal. It seemed unfair. On one side there was Bill Buckley and Pat Buchanan and another prominent conservative. Those three highly experienced TV debaters opposed the supposedly lightweight Ronald Reagan.

Reagan wiped the floor with them. He did it with real relish. He was articulate and he was quick. His friends deny it but he had lost quite a lot by his second term. The younger Reagan was the best debater I've ever seen.

I guess I'm a little annoyed that Obama reads all that fiction. I don't allow myself that much fiction and I don't have any real responsibilities. I am trying to read Mies and the Austrian economists. I am half way through Daniel Yergin's latest book and also halfway though Chernow's biography of Washington. When you realize how little Obama knows about economics, energy or history why isn't he reading from my list rather than indulging himself with so much stylish fiction?

Albertosaurus

as said...

Really fun post.

peterike said...

Obama's reading list doesn't pass the guffaw test. It's a list created by some singularly unimaginative junior staffer with an English BA from Bard. I can imagine the thought process.... (doo doo dooo-doooo.... dream sequence....)

Let's see... gotta put Shakespeare on here, because you just gotta have that. (Likely reality: Obama has never read an entire Shakespeare play in his life).

Now Emerson... so very American, a good counter to all the Conservative wackos saying Obama is "foreign." And Self-Reliance is a perfect counter-weight to someone that wants everyone 100% reliant on government, like Julia.(Likely reality: Obama may have read Self-Reliance in college, but hasn't touched it in twenty years.)

What else? Moby-Dick! Yes, that's perfect. Quintessentially American... and what a great snarky in-joke! Obama wanting to hunt and kill the "great white whale"! Yeah, the boss hates white people, we all know that. (Likely reality: Obama has never read Moby-Dick and if he ever tried did not last more than 100 pages.)

And so on it went. We all know Obama's love of comparing himself to Lincoln (one of the few Presidents to challenge him in greatness, so he says himself). And of course Lincoln is a perfect role-model for Obama, being an extra-legal tyrant who crushed his own people, which is what Obama would love to do. Man, Lincoln had it good, shutting down newspapers and throwing journalists he didn't like in jail!

Lincoln is the most over-rated bum in American history, and Obama is cut from the same cloth.

James_G said...

>It'd be interesting, to me at least, to hear what his take on Moby-Dick is. My bet would be, similar to what DH Lawrence thought.

For what it's worth, my take on Moby Dick is that parts of it succeed in being a very effective, lucid kind of fictional journalism. The section in the middle, in which Melville lampoons inept illustrations of whales, is also hilarious.

He has the following to say about this illustration from a 19th century textbook:

"Nor are the most conscientious compilations of Natural History for the benefit of the young and tender, free from the same heinousness of mistake. Look at that popular work "Goldsmith's Animated Nature". In the abridged London edition of 1807, there are plates of an alleged "whale" and a "narwhale". I do not wish to seem inelegant, but this unsightly whale looks much like an amputated sow; and, as for the narwhale, one glimpse at it is enough to amaze one, that in this nineteenth century such a hippogriff could be palmed for genuine upon any intelligent public of schoolboys.

But as a narrative, Moby Dick didn't impress me. The modern reader comes to this book expecting to be shown the obsession of Captain Ahab, and feel the morbid fate driving him towards his ultimate showdown with the white whale.

However, for me the book is severely afflicted with the problem of "telling rather than showing". Melville goes to great lengths to tell his reader about Ahab's obsession with Moby Dick, for example, but I never felt that Ahab much more than a cardboard cut-out - there is not much more to him than what his Wikipedia page has to say. In fact, Wikipedia just quotes directly from the novel:

"The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose dominion even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the ancient Ophites of the east reverenced in their statue devil; -- Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it."

You should be showing us this, not telling us Herman! Whatever its other merits, to use Nabokov's phrase this book fails in general to invoke "aesthetic bliss".

D.H. Lawrence's piece (which claims that Moby Dick is a racial allegory about the demise of the spirit of the white race) strikes me as utter rot. The titular whale is white simply because the book is partially based on a real whale that was similarly ferocious and happened to be an albino. Moby Dick isn't particularly successful in igniting the themes of fate and obsession that it is obviously supposed to evoke, let alone does it form some grand allegory in addition to this.

Anonymous said...

Moby-Dick is an especially odd choice. It contains the observation (in Ch. 42) that "whiteness refiningly enhances beauty" and that "this pre-eminence in it applies to the human race itself, giving the white man ideal mastership over every dusky tribe[.]"

- A Solid Citizen

Henry Canaday said...

Don't feel bad, Steve. I was an obnoxious little moron when I was 14, too. Probably much more obnoxious and much, much more moronic than you.

Luke Lea said...

So you formed your opinion of Emerson as a prose stylist when you were 13 or 14? How much have you read since? Do you know his essay on Conservatives? His book describing the Industrial Revolution in England?

There's a difference between saying someone is a good prose stylist and wanting to write like them today. None of the best ones would pass that test.

Gringo said...

Obama’s reading list is not completely WASPy. In the 2008 campaign, he said something which many took to be a weird, self-centered remark, but which was actually a literary reference: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” Alice Walker is the author of We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting for: Inner Light in a Time of Darkness, published in 2006.

Did Obama actually read the book? I have no idea. But he must at least have beren one of the few people that were aware of it. Like Obama, Alice Walker is the product of an interracial marriage.

I recall reading that in his years of exile in NYC, Nixon read a lot of political biographies. A biography of Benjamin Disraeli was mentioned.

Anonymous said...

The Camelot President made me skeptical of just about any and every story of a President, particularly one who has close ties with or a seeming admiration of things Hollywood. A publicist need not be that shrewd to craft a narrative the public will buy. In fact, the pol himself can craft it and get his minions to spread the narrative. We know how good Kennedy, his old man, and his lackies were at doing this.

While JFK was portrayed as a voracious reader, I don't believe for a minute he was.

Clinton too was seen almost everywhere with a book. I don't think there was a time I recall seeing him exit Air Force One without his clutching one. He made sure we all saw that book in his hand. I tended to believe the narrative at the time, but some years back, I decided it was likely hyperbole. I think he did indeed want to find something in those books, scanning them, probably looking for some anecdotes that amused him, ones he could use on the campaign trail. He probably scanned them enough to gain some insight into any personal quirks or strategies used by the historical figures whose bios he chose. Then too, there's the fact that Clinton had been mesmerized by all things
JFK since he was a boy. Surely he knew and admired how successful the portrayal of JFK as both an intellectual AND a man of action had been.

At first I was willing to buy the notion that Obama was a reader, particularly a lover of fiction, but nothing I've learned since about him suggests this description of him as a comtemplative reader is anything but fiction itself.

Browsing book stores can indeed be a relaxing activity in and of itself, looking at titles, skimming the contents of the books, reading their covers. That doesn't mean one is a great reader.

Nah, it's all show.

win one for the gummer said...

I have an idea to help sports teams that lose a lot of games.

Throughout history, conflicts weren't about good vs bad but badass vs badass. Some badassers were more badass than other badassers. So, the more badass badassers beat the less badass badassers. History was about winners and losers. But then came the politics of morality... and suddenly the winners were 'oppressors' and losers were 'victims', as if one side won cuz it was evil and aggressive while other side lost cuz it was saintly and peace-loving.
So, the once proud West has been made to feel sorry and guilty for having won too much in the past few centuries. In fact, the West was no worse than other peoples. It was just more badass. Indeed, even within Europe itself, the more badass folks--French, Germans, Russians, etc--dominated the less badass folks, such as Poles and Croats.

Well, why not apply this to sports? Sports is still ruled by badass vs badass mentality. We cheer for the winners no matter how mercilessly they defeat the losers. We praise the winners and laugh at the losers.
But what if we were to apply the politics of morality to sports? This way, losers can claim to the 'victims' of the 'oppressive' winning teams. Thus, the winning side will be on the defensive and will have to feel guilty for winning.
We can even speak of 'spreading the victories around'. And of 'score equality'. Indeed, some progressive communities have already done away with score-keeping in school games cuz it might lead to 'oppressive' mentality.

Anyway, losing teams might finally be able to 'win' more glory by putting on the victim act.

Charlesz Martel said...

Steve,
Remember when Hilary Clinton made her Tammy Wynette crack about baking cookies and standing by her man? Her office immediately released her favorite cookie recipes ( I guess they got them from Elizabeth Warren, who got them from her great Indian spirit guide.....).
The point is, the poster(s) who mentioned that this list of books that Obama allegedly enjoys is no more true than anything about him, or any other politician, for that matter, is correct. I wish I could tell you whom, but some of your fiercest critics on your race writings say in private how they plan to move once their neighborhood goes dark, and use racist terms all the time in private.
To most politicians and do-gooders, it's a racket. That's all. Just a racket.The way they can be so deceitful makes me believe there's more than a touch of schizophrenia amongst our ruling class.

Ex Submarine Officer said...

Funny thing about the Dutch and the Japanese.

Prior to the closed off Edo period, there was some confusion in Japan about how differentiated the various Europeans showing up on their shores really were.

They really didn't know who to believe when, say, the Portuguese said they were more influential than the Dutch or even sometimes suspected whether the Dutch and Portuguese and other sundry Europeans were in collusion to trick the poor Japanese.

Eventually, the Dutch convinced the Japanese that they were only interested in trade, which allowed them the Nagasaki/Dejima exception to their isolation for 250 years.

Although they were isolated, the nation had a keen interest in studying foreign developments (rangaku) through documents and artifacts provided through the Dutch fisheye lens view of the world.

So when they finally opened up and began sending diplomats abroad, they all spoke fluent Dutch, rather than major languages like French, English, etc.

Anonymous said...

It's kind of an odd combination.

Not really, if you think about.

He likes fiction i.e. making shit up i.e. what he does as president.

Charlesz Martel said...

Steve-
another example of our magnificent, unbiased free press, which carefully archives all it's writings for the benefit of future researchers:
http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/01/the-only-remaining-online-copy-of-vogues-asma-al-assad-profile/250753/

Read 'em and laugh!

walter condley said...

I once interviewed with a big-firm lawyer who as a Yale 3L published an op-ed piece about China in the WSJ. One night his phone rang around 1 a.m. and it was Nixon, wanting to talk about the piece.

JWalker said...

Sorry that Emerson's brilliant, original, inspired prose didn't live up to your expectations of a good "prose style" when you were 13. On the other hand, thank you for reminding me to reread it. That essay is worth rereading several times a year.

Anonymous said...

Gilbert P. has the right of it. Obama's brow isn't quite as high as Steve thinks.

Fred R., in my case Sister Gregorita was the culprit. I withstood Emerson, though, much better than that windy parasite Thoreau!

Aging Hag said...

" but a few weeks ago I read the preface she'd written for some proto-feminist cult novel and ..."

You read proto-feminist cult novels? Mr. Sailer, you are giving yourself away.

Anonymous said...

Steve, Thank you for this. I had worried in recent years that your Obama comments were overly focused on making him seem very black, black agenda driven etc. This seemed a tad unsophisticated by your standards, and I'm glad to see being subtle on this point. Obama is very Waspy, unsurprisingly. (maybe in the slightly left wing Wasp rebel sense.)

Londoner said...

Obama is ethnically/racially more WASP than John Kennedy to the power of infinity.

Anonymous said...

Here's a story for you, Steve.

Link

There’s this perception that China is a land of opportunity where any foreigner can succeed, which is not really true,” says Michael Thorneman, partner and head of China operations for Bain & Co., which advises numerous multinationals on hiring decisions. “They don’t necessarily want us here,” says Mathew Alderson, a Beijing-based lawyer for international law firm Harris & Moure. “America is a nation built on migrants, but China can’t say the same.”



Given the choice between a Westerner with decent Mandarin and an educated, English-speaking local applicant, companies will favor the Chinese. “We almost only recruit PRC nationals or Chinese speakers,” says Thorneman.

They just don't appreciate diversity.

Steve Sailer said...

The Awakening by Kate Chopin -- the paperback I picked up at the bookstore had a dozen page preface by Robinson that was really good.

Christopher Paul said...

Emerson was no citizenist, so naturally Steve wouldn't care for him.

Dutch Boy said...

Obama is ahead of FDR - one of FDR's intellectual admirers once admitted that he had never known him to read anything but detective novels.

Anonymous said...

The glaring omissions from a fiftyish radical's reading list:
Normal Mailer
John Irving
George Orwell
Henry Miller
Joseph Heller
Richard Wright(and all the other black guys/gals)
Bruce Jay Friedman
Kurt Vonnegut
Albert Camus

Does Michelle have a reading list?

Anonymous said...

Looks like they are all reading the funnies.

Anonymous said...

Emerson was with Jefferson the most powerful rhetorician this country has produced. Postliterate ears can't appreciate it.

David said...

>While JFK was portrayed as a voracious reader, I don't believe for a minute he was.<

According to Gore Vidal, who knew JFK quite well, you're right (or so I glean from Vidal's essays). The bulb of Camelot's Emperor was no brighter than Gerald Ford's by Vidal's account. But with movie star looks, Joe Kennedy as his dad, and an army of ghostwriters and glamorizers, poor Jack damn near saw his portrait chiseled courageously into Rushmore.

Anonymous said...

audacity of trope

Anonymous said...

"Steve-O has a new crush on somebody..."

Maybe it's like David Brock. He went after Hillary but all that research made him empathize with her. He fell under her spell, like Capote did with killers in IN COLD BLOOD.

Sailer,in trying to read Obama's mind, is finding his mind melding with the bro. Sailer even imagines themselves to be fellow dweebs.

The Brockholm Syndrome.

gumma rays said...

"Emerson was with Jefferson the most powerful rhetorician this country has produced. Postliterate ears can't appreciate it."

Sailer's ear wasn't placed where that voice should fall, that it might testify of that particular voice.

Anonymous said...

Say whatever you like about Emerson, he was a serious influence on Nietzsche.

And Nietzsche is the type of guy about whom you can't say whatever you like.

Anonymous said...

Emerson had a big influence on Nietzsche [and, of course, on Peirce].

Whiskey said...

OK, a guy who revels in the complete Blackness and semi-minstrel show that is the NBA, and rappers like Jay Z and Kanye West, reads respectable WASPy stuff?

Not buying it. Its about as consistent as a guy who loves NASCAR and Country Music reading Foucalt and Derrida.

Kylie said...

"Housekeeping is one of the most beautiful books I've read. Its structure is taken from the first chapter of the Book of Ruth. Also see the excellent movie adaptation by Bill Forsyth, who said he wanted to make a faithful adaptation (he did) as kind of an advertisement for the novel, he loved it so much. I think it's the best of the movies I've seen by him."

Yes, both the novel and the film are hypnotic. I hunted down the novel because I was so taken with the movie. I've given copies of the novel to a couple of people who'd never heard of it or Robinson. Both loved it.

A. Lincoln said...

Lincoln is the most over-rated bum in American history

To cite Steve Jobs: "What have you done that's so great?"

Catperson said...

There is a famous story about Clinton and NYT crossword puzzle. He had a confederate on the Times staff who would send him the crossword puzzle answers. Then he would stage a scene in the oval office where a reporter would come in and find him filling out the puzzle at high speed and in ink. At least two reporters wrote up this manufactured legend.

Fascinating! How do you know this? Do you have a source for Clinton faking his legendary crossword genius? I always thought there was something off about all the praise Clinton got from the media for his supposedly towering intellect.

Canadian Observer said...

I'm surprised no mention has been made in this post about Barack Obama's love of Phillip Roth, arguably 20th Century America's most prolific novelist. He once called Roth's prose "shimmering", or something like that.

scoobius dubious said...

James_G: Thanks for your Melville thoughts, but I have to say, I do believe you're getting it seriously wrong about Moby-Dick.

"...But as a narrative, Moby Dick didn't impress me. The modern reader comes to this book expecting to be shown the obsession of Captain Ahab, and feel the morbid fate driving him towards his ultimate showdown with the white whale..."

Well to begin with (and it's a long topic so I'm just going to skip along the surface) Ahab is not the subject of Moby-Dick, the subject is the salvation of Ishmael. Compare the opening of the book with the opening of Dante's Divine Comedy (or to cut it in bite-size pieces, the opening of The Inferno.)

But to get back to Ahab: I dunno man, I think he's one of the most vivid characters in all of American literature, I don't know how you could have been left wanting. Show, don't tell? With Ahab? The "Down, dog, and kennel!" Ahab -- that guy? The guy who paces the deck obsessively, who nails the gold coin to the mast, who keeps his own private harpooneer in seclusion -- that isn't vivid enough for you? How about the great speech, the key to the whole novel, where he says exactly what's on his mind:

"All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event — in the living act, the undoubted deed — there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there's naught beyond. But 'tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him."

The irony being of course that Ahab himself is, too, an agent of that "inscrutable malice". Or... maybe it isn't malice after all, maybe it's something Else. Ahab isn't really hunting the whale, he's hunting the thing that made the whale, the "outrageous strength" -- and it's this mad collision course that, irony of ironies, saves Ishmael.

peterike said...

The titular whale is white simply because the book is partially based on a real whale that was similarly ferocious and happened to be an albino.

Not necessarily. White is a repeating trope in Melville's work, and is nearly always associated with void, death, nothingness. Why?

One theory. When Melville was young (early teens if I recall correctly) he was living in Albany, and his father was in the city on business. This was winter. Heading back upstate, the boat couldn't make it to Albany because of the ice. So Melville's dad had to get out and walk much of the way home in a snow storm. He got terribly sick as a result, and not long afterwards was dead. He spent his last few hours (days?) raving madly. People died at home then, so young Herman was exposed to all this. His death left the family destitute.

The young Melville forever after associated snow, and whiteness, with the terrible death of his father that had such a negative impact on him and his family.

The anecdotal facts here are true (I may be off on minor points, this is from memory). The symbolic influence is speculative, but it fits quite nicely.

peterike said...

Me: Lincoln is the most over-rated bum in American history

A. Lincoln: To cite Steve Jobs: "What have you done that's so great?"


Nothing. But I haven't declared total war on my fellow Americans, bombarding cities, destroying industries and farms, looting private property and killing one out of four males of military age in order to consolidate wealth and power for my rich railroad magnate cronies. No, I haven't done that.

Anonymous said...

According to Gore Vidal, who knew JFK quite well, you're right (or so I glean from Vidal's essays). The bulb of Camelot's Emperor was no brighter than Gerald Ford's by Vidal's account.

The trope of confabulating a politician as an intellectual goes back before Joe Kennedy et fils. We now know that Adlai Stevenson, lauded at the time as The Egghead Too Smart To Be President, actually hardly ever cracked open a book in his adult life.

slumber_j said...

On the subject of Moby-Dick, I stand foursquare with Scoobius Doobius.

astorian said...

Obama's Facebook listing of his favorite works of literature reminds me of an exchange from Hugh Leonard's great play "Da':

====

Mr. Drumm: You had better know that I do not tolerate liars. Don't try it on with me ever again.

Young Charlie (protesting): I didn't!

Mr Drumm: Shakespeare is NOBODY's favourite author.

Norville Rogers said...

Lincoln is the most over-rated bum in American history

Also, RW Emerson sucks (see above)

jody said...

astonishing numbers i just came across, demonstrating how insular and monolithic africans in the US have become with regard to what media they consume:

http://targetmarketnews.com/storyid05251201.htm

this says that in the 3rd week of may, in african households in the US, 9 of the top 10 highest rated cable television shows were NBA basketball games. and 14 of the top 25. they didn't watch any other sport, unless you consider WWE a sport. which it's not.

and, i guess, these are the people who are watching "Basketball Wives". it's one of the many television shows where i have wondered, who in the world is watching this crap?

now you know. and, as GI joe says, knowing is half the battle.

Charlesz Martel said...

Kennedy (JFK) was not an intellectual- Ted White wrote "Profiles in Courage": for him. He was a heck of a womanizer, though. My mother once heard him down the hall from a girlfriend's of hers, who lived in a bad building in Manhattan. Drunk, screaming, pounding on the door. My Mom's friend explained, upon my mother asking what the noise was, that that was JFK visiting the "demi-mondaine" who lived down the hall. Her friend said he was there all the time, and always drunk. (This was in the early 1950's). His interests were physical, not intellectual. In fact, the entire Kennedy clan, as best as I can tell, tend that way.
Remember when Hillary was touted as the smartest lawyer in America? As well as the best commodity trader? It's all crap. Check that link about Syria I posted earlier- for very little money ($5,000 a month) you too, can be the next fashion queen, brilliant literary critic, etc. Most people, no matter how accomplished, can never get enough adulation.

The surprising thins is not that people are corrupt- it's that they're for sale really cheaply.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 12:10 quoted Emerson, saying, I like it:

"There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried. Not for nothing one face, one character, one fact, makes much impression on him, and another none."

I agree. There's sure nothing lacking in substance nor style in that prose.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you've actually waded through the 'autobiographies'. Does Bill Ayers go for Shakespearean (or Oxfordian ;) ) allusions?

Gilbert P.

Anonymous said...

"Personality[sic], I don't think hispanics are that political as a group."

All one has to do is look at Mexico for proof you're right. If a people who exist in their numbers were/are political, they'd have overthrown the corrupt government they have, and they'd have replaced it with something that benefits them long ago.

Anonymous said...

"If a people who exist in their numbers were/are political, they'd have overthrown the corrupt government they have, and they'd have replaced it with something that benefits them long ago."

Not quite. In order for that condition to obtain, they would have to be both political AND competent.

David said...

White people will be reading Emerson long after every copy of Obama's books is remaindered.

Anonymous said...

http://targetmarketnews.com/storyid05251201.htm

Jody - thanks for the link.