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Defining a Literary President


Interesting commentary from the Chicago Tribune‘s Cultural Critic, Julia Keller. Keller takes a closer look at what is meant when people refer to Obama as a “literary president”.

It is true that President Barack Obama writes books. So, of course, did previous presidents. If you want a real treat, read Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Rough Riders“—or any of his myriad other books of history, biography, travelogue and memoir.

We all know what people mean when they say Obama is a “literary” president—and, sadly, it has less to do with our widely beloved new leader than it does with the apparently unloved man he replaced: George W. Bush. Bush became the poster president for the non-literary set, for people who not only don’t read, but also seem to be rather proud of not reading. Reading, to certain people, is classified as a sort of prissy, fussy, sissified activity, equivalent to daydreaming or lollygagging. It’s a sign of elitism. Of having too much leisure time and too little drive.

Keller goes on to say how she’s more concerned with what is meant when the “literary” tag is applied than with which president is/was more literary. Does it mean you’re a better person, a better leader, that you’re full of virtue?

Yes, things are tough all over. But nobody ever claimed that buying a Chevy Malibu would make you a superior person. Books, though, are supposed to be special. They’re supposed to elevate, illuminate and inspire. We love to laud books as essential to a civilized and satisfying life, as crucial to our well-being as individuals and as a nation. We talk the talk. But do we walk the walk—straight into the nearest bookstore or library, that is?

It’s great to have a literary president of the United States. Now let’s focus on having a United States that makes literature a priority. Toward that end, here’s a novel way to heed Obama’s call to service: Get a book. Read it. Repeat.

You heard the woman! Get a book!

See Obama’s favorite books.

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