Bush critics would say that many things have been absent from the White House during the current president’s administration. But certainly one of the things missing was a leader that read books. Previous presidents have made careers and started trends. Take, for example, Bill Clinton’s casual 1999 mention of Prayers for Rain by Dennis Lehane. Though Lehane’s career had been clipping along nicely by that point (hell: the book ended up on the president’s nightstand, did it not?) once Clinton had given Lehane’s work his boyish smile, there was no looking back.
In the time between, we have occasionally sighed for those good ol’ days of presidents who read for pleasure. Unsurprisingly, in this way, too, Obama seems the answer to so many dreams. In yesterday’s New York Times, Motoko Rich went so far as to compare Obama to Oprah in the book department. “For Books, Is Obama New Oprah?” queried the headline. Nor was it an idle comparison. Says the Times:
When President-elect Barack Obama appeared on “60 Minutes” on CBS on Sunday in his first interview since winning the election, he mentioned having read “a new book out about F .D. R.’s first 100 days” without specifically naming a title or author.
That tantalizing reference set off a scramble for the claim to First Reader rights all day Monday before a spokesman for Mr. Obama disclosed what the president-elect had actually read.
The publishers and authors of at least three such books that could fit Mr. Obama’s description each spent much of Monday wondering whether they had just gotten a plug from the soon-to-be leader of the free world.
As a result, publishers found themselves scurrying back to press while journalists tried to uncover exactly which non-fiction work about Franklin Delano Roosevelt the president-elect had been enjoying.
In the end, it didn’t matter. Several books on FDR enjoyed a boost in sales and Americans got a new taste of what once again having a reader in the Oval Office will feel like. From the sound of things, it felt more than all right.
And speaking of politics (come on: it was a long haul. It’s going to be a tough habit to break) the Los Angeles Times reports that a book by Samuel Wurzelbacher — aka “Joe the Plumber” — is being super-fast-tracked to bookstore shelves even as I write this. The book will be published December 1st.