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It’s March 1st, which means I’ve got a new list of books to read. I *think* I’ve mentioned it before, but at the end of 2019, I made a list of books I wanted to read in 2020 and sorted them by season and month. I enjoy reading books seasonally, so beach reads in the summer and holiday books at the end of the year.
That was a great idea and all until a pandemic hit and I followed my list for a while, but once summer hit I just wanted to let myself read whatever felt right. So, I ditched a majority of the list, but I liked the idea so much that I did it again this year. For February, I made a list of books by Black authors, and although I didn’t get through all of them, I got through some lengthy ones: the Malcolm X biography and now this “A Promised Land” by Barack Obama.
This book came out in November (I think) and at first, I wasn’t jumping on it. I don’t know why, I just wasn’t sure how much it would interest me. But then I saw so many people reading it and loving it, so I added to my library reserves list. It became available last weekend and I started reading it immediately.
The book is basically “Volume 1” of Obama’s presidency, which includes a bit about his family and childhood, law school and how he met Michelle, running for the Senate, and the first two-ish years of his presidency. Whew!
It provides insight into some of the bigger events of those years, and — I won’t give away which events are in there — it’s really interesting to see all of the work that goes into the decisions, the speeches, the trips, even the parties… it’s a really insider’s view of what it’s like to be president.
Memorable Quotes from ‘A Promised Land’
- What I can say for certain is that I’m not yet ready to abandon the possibility of America — not just for the sake of future generations of Americans but for all of humankind.
- But the idea of America: this I clung to with a stubbornness that surprised even me. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’ — that was my America.
- What I couldn’t fully appreciate yet was just how malleable this technology would prove to be; how quickly it would be absorbed by commercial interests and wielded by entrenched powers; how readily it could be used not to unify people but to distract or divide them; and how one day many of the same tools that had put me in the White House would be deployed in opposition to everything I stood for.
- I especially mourned the fact that I’d probably never get a chance to take Malia and Sasha on the sort of long summer road trip I’d made when I was eleven, after my mother and Toot decided it was time for Maya and me to see the mainland of the Univted States. It had lasted a month and burned a lasting impression into my mind — and not just because we went to Disneyland (although that was obviously outstanding). We had dug for clams during low tide in Puget Sound, ridden horses through a creek at the base of Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, watched the endless Kansas prairie unfold from a train window, spotted a herd of bison on a dusky plain in Yellowstone, and ended each day with the simple pleasures of a motel ice machine, the occasional swimming pool, or just air-conditioning and clean sheets. That one trip gave me a glimpse of the dizzying freedom of the open road, how vast America was, and how full of wonder.
- So I ended my speech that night by quoting from Teddy’s letter, hoping that his words would bolster the nation just as they had bolstered me. ‘What we face,’ he’d written, ‘is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.’
- ‘But,’ I said, ‘we’re not going to be able to do it if we are distracted. We’re not going to be able to do it if we spend time vilifying each other. We’re not going to be able to do it if we just make stuff up and pretend that facts are not facts. we’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers.’ I looked out at the assembled reporters. ‘I know that there’s going to be a segment of people for which, no matter what we put out, this issue will not be put to rest. But I’m speaking to the vast majority of the American people, as well as to the press. We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We’ve got better stuff to do. We’ve got big problems to solve. And I’m confident we can solve them, but we’re going to have to focus on them — not this.’
Book Club Questions for ‘A Promised Land’
Just a note that I have general book club question printables in my Etsy Shop if you’re looking for additional questions that will work for any book, but here are some specifics:
- What parts of this book surprised you the most?
- Were there parts of (this section of) his presidency that you expected to read about, that was not in the book?
- How do you think he handled writing about his opponents (John McCain, Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, etc.)
- After reading this book, do you feel you have a better understanding of what it would be like to be president?
- We’ve gotten Michelle’s side of the presidency in “Becoming” and now Barack’s side… do you think we will ever get an account from Sasha or Malia?
All in all, this was a very good book and I’m so glad I read it. I’d recommend it to anyone that followed his presidency or has an interest in politics — whether just to understand them or if you’re considering a life in public service.
While I was reading the book, I kept making mental notes of the speeches he mentioned, but once I was finished with it I watched his interview with Oprah on Apple TV. It covered parts of the book but also some parts that were not mentioned in the book and there are some clips of his early speeches, which was neat to see.
Since March is Women’s History Month, I tried to pick books that are empowering and written by women, but I also tossed in some romance since I feel spring is the start of wedding season… and well, I still have a few books leftover from February, so it’s a mixed bag… but a good one!
What are you all planning to read this month?
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