Dust off your library cards because Barack Obama just shared his favorite reads and we must consume them all
It’s truly the most wonderful time of the year — the time that former President Barack Obama breaks out his favorite books of the year. It was so great to have a president who reads — and reads not just serious non-fiction but also novels. And on top of that, his book picks are pristine. We love the mix of memoir, deep dives, and literary fiction as well as the mix of diverse voices.
We’re so glad that even though his terms as our leader are over, we still get to peek at his bookshelves and benefit from his guidance and he and Michelle are still such staunch supporters of literacy and reading.
Since these are works I have actually listened to, watched, or read, I’m sure I’ve missed some worthy stuff. So if you have your own recommendations to share, I’ll add them to the stack of books and movies I hope to catch up on over the holidays!
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) December 15, 2021
And unlike a lot of end-of-the-year lists, where are curated by helpers or influenced by marketing, Obama’s list is special because he really truly reads all the books that he recommends and picks them without assistance — they are a true reflection of the best things he sat down and read over the past twelve months. And we love that.
He released his summer list halfway through the year — we’re going to take a look at the 13 new books that he recommended for the second half of the year.
Barack Obama’s 2021 Recommended Reading List
This book has been tallying awards and nominations since it was published earlier this year and now Barack has it on his bedside table. And more than that, it’s about exiled royal who decides to turn a declining nunnery into a feminist enclave and guess what we very badly need that energy in our lives.
A best-seller that’s appeared on tons of book of the year lists, this non-fiction volume is one of the top picks when it comes to anti-racist reading and history in 2021. An examination of how slavery is still lurking behind so many parts of our everyday lives as well as a call to action for how to move forward, this book is a must read (and we’re not surprised that Obama is putting it front and center this year).
We are completely thrilled that Obama loved the book that Scary Mommy picked for our December Book Club! And we totally agree with him. This is a novel told like an oral history of a rock and roll band, and it’s utterly immersive and fun. The two main characters are strong and lovable, and it’s a perfect page-turner. We highly recommend the audiobook, too, which is recorded with a full cast of colorful characters.
This book has gotten rave reviews from everyone, and now that includes a past President. The author of Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow is back with a book that lots of people are saying will be a modern-day classic. Set in 1954 over the course of 10 days, the book follows a teenaged boy and two of his friends on a non-stop adventure as they try to get from Nebraska to New York City.
Written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist Andrea Elliott, This book centers on eight years in the childhood of Dasani, a Black girl growing up in modern day Brooklyn. But the book is also so much more than just that – it spans history and explores issues of class, race, and poverty. It’s also told in a riveting way that will give you a better understanding, not only of an amazing little girl and her struggles, but of the world at large.
We love everything that Colson Whitehead writes and would enthusiastically read his grocery list – and now we know Barack Obama feels the same way. Whitehead’s newest novel is about a man living in Harlem called Ray, who feels torn between being a good law-abiding citizen and a lawless robber who lives life on the edge – and everything that happens to him as he tries to support his family and be true to himself. It’s a fast, fun adventure of a book that’s also smart and literary at the same time.
Doerr’s last novel, All The Light We Cannot See, was one of our favorite reads ever. Now we get to explore a whole new world with Cloud Cuckoo Land and it is just as wonderful as the first go-round. Just to hint at how epic it is? It’s set in three places: Constantinople in the fifteenth century, in a small town in present-day Idaho, and on an interstellar ship. Climb aboard for a ride.
Anne Patchett is widely known for her incredibly celebrated novels, from The Dutch House to Bel Canto. But she’s also a truly talented writer of essays, and her newest collection will leave you in tears reading about the most common and everyday topics: friendship, art, and keeping a home. Her reflections and thoughts are just beautiful, and you’ll find yourself with a new appreciation for your everyday life after reading them.
Written by the lead singer of indie rock band Japanese Breakfast, Crying in H Mart is a book about grief, family, and food. This beautifully written memoir is centrally about the relationship between Zauner and her mom, a first-generation Korean immigrant who just wants the best for her sometimes wild daughter (who wants to be a rock star). When her mom is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Zauner’s life is thrown into chaos and sadness – but everything her mom has taught her helps her keep going, from her life lessons to her best Korean recipes.
If you liked Educated and The Glass Castle, you will likely be swept away by this year’s standout memoir Aftershocks. It follows the life of Nadia Owusu, whose nomadic and tragic early life has her struggling to find normalcy and peace as an adult – but who is also amazingly driven and strong through everything. You won’t be able to put this one down until you’re done.
This big old novel clocks in at more than 500 pages – and yet it mostly takes place over the course of a single day: December 23, 1971. It follows one family of five people, who are all engaged with their own personal struggles as well as conflicts among each other. This is Jonathan Franzen at his best – painting an incredibly detailed picture of a single family and creating characters that feel extremely real.
Originally a poet, this is Honoree Fanonne Jeffers’ first novel, and she knocks it out of the park. A meditation on the modern African-American family as well as a historical novel that looks at 300 years of Black history, this book will transport you, educate you, and make you feel deeply. It’s simply one of the best books of the year.
An incredible, moving memoir that doubles as a stark look at what life is like for undocumented immigrant workers. The book follows Qian Julie Wang as she moves to America in 1994 and greets a completely different life than the one she knows back in China. As her family tries to adjust and survive, they confront the challenges and struggles so familiar to those who have left everything behind to start over in the United States. A must-read.