The president's visit the day after Black Friday to Politics & Prose, a Washington landmark, was timed to Small Business Saturday, but will likely pique more interest for sparking a regular political ritual -- picking apart the president's book choices.
As a window into what the leader of the free world is thinking, the chief executive's reading list has long been the subject of armchair analysis. President George W. Bush made headlines and sparked speculation, for example, when he told reporters he was reading Albert Camus’ existentialist novel “The Stranger” in 2006, a low point in his second term.
No reader aside from Oprah Winfrey can creates more buzz for a new book. When the White House announced several years ago that Obama was reading Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom” on his vacation, even before its release, booksellers faced angry customers demanding the much-anticipated novel. (Obama had been given an early copy.)
This year the president did not play along with those ready to dissect his beach reads. With his two daughters away at summer camp for part of his summer vacation, the president and first lady did not swing by their favorite bookstore during their getaway to Martha’s Vineyard.
Obama made up for that missed visit on Saturday. The president bought 21 books in about 30 minutes, most of which was dedicated to chatting with other customers.
His long and eclectic list makes it difficult to find a common theme, much less offer some insight into his state of mind at a particularly troubled moment in his second term.
Nearly half the books are written for children or young adults, and are presumably for his daughters Malia, 15, and Sasha, 12. Or maybe not.
Among the notable reads is “Red Sparrow,” a spy novel by Jason Matthews that has been praised for its realism. Russian President Vladimir Putin, Obama’s occasional real-life rival, makes a cameo in the book.
But most of Obama’s choices lean more toward pure escapism.
“The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance,” by Sports illustrated writer David Epstein, tries to dispel common myths about what makes athletes great. “Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football” is an unvarnished look at the National Football League from Nicholas Dawidoff.
Obama’s list included little new, literary fiction. James Salter’s “All That Is,” Anthony Marra’s “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,” and Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Lowland” made the list.
He’s following Winfrey to Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.” The memoir of a woman’s emotional trek was Winfrey’s first selection when she rebooted her book club.
Others are aimed at younger readers. Kenneth Oppel’s “Half Brother” chronicles how a teen adjusts to a new family dynamic when his parents take in a chimpanzee.
“Heart of a Samurai” is a highly acclaimed novel about a Japanese teenager living in America in the mid-19th century. Willa Cather’s “My Antonia” is a high school English staple.
The bookstore visit was timed to a campaign to support mom-and-pop businesses. Earlier, Obama tweeted: "When our small businesses do well, our communities do well. Join me and visit a small business near you today to celebrate."
At the store Obama didn't say which of the books he intended to read and which were gifts. He noted only that he has something for every age, “from 5 to 52,” he said, referring to himself.
That said, Obama is known to be a devotee of his iPad.