Obama's Vacation Reading List

Obama chooses his summer reading.

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One tradition associated with presidential vacations is the reading list. The White House staff informs reporters of what the boss is reading while on holiday, and the pundits proceed to dissect the choices and analyze what the president's reading material says bout his character, his personality, and his values.

Obama continued this tradition by visiting Bunch of Grapes, a local bookstore on Martha's Vineyard, where he is vacationing, Obama purchased The Bayou Trilogy by Daniel Woodrell, a series of crime stories, and Rodin's Debutante by Ward Just, a novel set in Obama's hometown of Chicago. He also brought three other books with him on vacation: Cutting for Stone, a novel by Abraham Verghese; To the End of the Land, a novel by David Grossman, and The Warmth Other Suns, a story of the migration of African Americans by Isabel Wilkerson. The Associated Press said the list showed that Obama "seems to be in search of drama, passion, and intrigue—at least in his reading material." Here is a CNN report on Obama's reading list.

Of course, Obama needs no reading list to burnish his literary reputation. He wrote two autobiographical best-sellers, and is considered a talented author in his own right. [See the month’s best political cartoons.]

President Bill Clinton had his own claim to literary sensibility. He would bring bags filled with books on his vacations, and aides said it wasn't just for show—he would actually read most of them.

President George W. Bush had the book-reading habit, too, even though he wasn't generally considered a literary sort, to put it mildly. At one point, Bush's staff let it be known that he was in a long-running competition with his chief political strategist Karl Rove to see who could read the most books annually. [Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad.]

In August 2006, Bush's staff let it be known that he was reading Albert Camus's existential novel, The Stranger, during summer vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. This threw Bush's critics for a loop. They never made him out to be a student of philosophy or a man willing to delve into the deep recesses of the soul. John Dickerson, writing for Slate.com, speculated that his experience of waging war with Iraq might have drawn Bush to stories of "angst, anxiety and dread." White House officials declined to speculate on what Bush's reading of The Stranger meant, if anything.

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