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Barack Obama’s summer reading list starts with a nod to Toni Morrison

Barack Obama’s reading list includes five Toni Morrison books
Barack Obama’s reading list includes five titles by author Toni Morrison.
(Timothy Greenfield Sanders / Random House)

Former President Obama took to Facebook this week to share his summer reading list.

Obama focused on contemporary fiction, beginning with a nod to Toni Morrison, the American Nobel laureate who died Aug. 5 at 88.

“To start, you can’t go wrong by reading or re-reading the collected works of Toni Morrison,” Obama writes. “‘Beloved,’ ‘Song of Solomon,’ ‘The Bluest Eye,’ ‘Sula,’ everything else — they’re transcendent, all of them. You’ll be glad you read them.”

Obama has been a longtime admirer. In 2012, he awarded Morrison the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the two highest honors the U.S. government presents to civilians.

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After Morrison’s death, Obama shared a remembrance on social media. “Toni Morrison was a national treasure,” he wrote. “Her writing was not just beautiful but meaningful — a challenge to our conscience and a call to greater empathy. She was as good a storyteller, as captivating, in person as she was on the page.”

Obama followed his Morrison recommendation with enthusiastic words about the latest novel from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead.

“Sometimes difficult to swallow, ‘The Nickel Boys’ by Colson Whitehead is a necessary read, detailing the way Jim Crow and mass incarceration tore apart lives and wrought consequences that ripple into today,” Obama wrote.

This isn’t the first time Obama recommended one of Whitehead’s novels. In 2016, he released a summer reading list that included the author’s “The Underground Railroad.”

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Obama’s new list included three other recently released works of fiction: Téa Obreht’s novel “Inland,” Lauren Wilkinson’s thriller “American Spy” and Ted Chiang’s short story collection “Exhalation,” which he calls “the best kind of science fiction.”

Not all of Obama’s selections were published this year, though. He had kind words for Dinaw Mengestu’s 2010 novel “How to Read the Air,” Haruki Murakami’s 2017 short story collection “Men Without Women” and Hilary Mantel’s popular historical novel “Wolf Hall.” (Mantel’s book, Obama noted, “came out in 2009, but I was a little busy back then, so I missed it.”)

Obama included three nonfiction books on his list: Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains,” Hope Jahren’s “Lab Girl” and Stephanie Land’s “Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive.”

Obama’s reading lists have become a staple of his post-presidential life. In December 2017, his favorite books of the year included Naomi Alderman’s “The Power,” Mohsin Hamid’s “Exit West” and Matthew Desmond’s “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.”

In a summer reading list last year, Obama recommended books including Tara Westover’s memoir “Educated” and Tayari Jones’ novel “An American Marriage.” He followed up in December to discuss the best books he read in 2018, which included Lauren Groff’s “Florida” and Tommy Orange’s “There There.” The list started off with this recommendation: “‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama (obviously my favorite!)”


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