Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Gathering Around The Bookish President

Happy Inauguration Day! I'm psyched that at the last minute we've decided to screen the event at McNally Jackson. It's the sort of thing you want to be around other people for -- the excitement just isn't the same by oneself.

I'm also pleased that those who come to the store will get a chance to take a look at the new display some of our staff have been working hard to compile. Titled "How History Was Made: Books That Inspired A President," the display encompasses two groaning tables of political theory, fiction, history, memoir, and classics of world literature that make you wish you'd taken more cross-disciplinary critical thought-type classes in college.

The books come specifically from a period in Barack Obama's 20s when he read voraciously and when much of his political thought was formed. My coworker John McGregor has done a ton of research to put this together, and it shows. Starting with Laura Miller's Salon article "Barack By The Book" and culminating with Michiko Kakutani's piece in yesterday's Times "From Books, New President Found Voice," it's been widely observed that Obama has been shaped by his reading in unprecented ways, and that shows, too.

Contemplating this massive reading list (and dipping in oneself) is fascinating. But one of the best part about reading great books is that they spark great conversations. On February 13,
we're having a panel of distinguished guests to talk about what this reading list tells us about our president, and what we can learn from his influences. In addition to Laura Miller herself, James Baldwin scholar Colm Toibin, political writer and scholar Susan Jacoby, journalist and novelist David Samuels, and Spiegel & Grau editor Chris Jackson will each bring a unique perspective to this discussion of the books that shaped a president.

I'll be mentioning this panel again as it gets closer, but it seemed that today was the perfect day to let you know about the ongoing conversation of books and politics we've got going on. Along with, I suspect, many in the world of books, I'm full of joy and hope to have a real "book person" in the White House, and I can't wait to see what it does for our national conversation. Having books at the center of things might be part of the change we want to see.

1 comment:

P. J. Grath said...

It's wonderful, isn't it?!