Some people have relied on TikTok to get through the past year of Covid. Barack Obama relied on books.
On Wednesday the former US President Posted a list of his favorite books of 2021 on Facebook and Twitter, continuing a tradition he started in the White House in 2009. “Art always sustains and nourishes the soul,” Obama, 60, wrote in his posts. “But for me, music and storytelling felt particularly urgent in this pandemic year.”
The 13 books on Obama’s list this year span multiple genres, but are all written by American authors and center around the human experience. In 2015, Obama told the New York Review that he has long been drawn to novels that evoke empathy, a trend that continues this year.
Here are his favorite books of 2021:
- Matrix by Lauren Groff
- “How the Word Is Passed On: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America” by Clint Smith
- “The Final Revival of Opal & Nev” by Dawnie Walton
- “The Lincoln Highway” by Cupid Towles
- “Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival, and Hope in an American City” by Andrea Elliott
- “Harlem Shuffle” by Colson Whitehead
- Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
- “These Precious Days” by Ann Patchett
- “Crying at H Mart” by Michelle Zauner
- “Aftershock” by Nadia Owusu
- “Crossing” by Jonathan Franzen
- “The Love Songs of WEB Du Bois” by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
- “Beautiful Country” by Qian Julie Wang
Some of the authors are particularly highly acclaimed: Colson Whitehead, for example, has won two Pulitzer Prizes and a National Book Award. Others, like musician Michelle Zauner, are relative debutantes as authors.
And many are novelists. Dawnie Walton’s The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, for example, takes readers through the rock scene of early 1970s New York City through the lens of Opal, an up-and-coming Detroit musician.
Decades later, in 2016, Opal’s life is markedly different — part of a story about music, race, and family secrets that NPR called authentic and emotionally powerful.
The non-fiction book on Obama’s list seems equally emotionally gripping. Take Andrea Elliott’s Invisible Child, which tells the story of Dasani Coates, a child living in a homeless shelter in Brooklyn, New York, who made the front page of The New York Times for five consecutive days in 2013.
The book follows Coates through the next eight years of her life and shows how growing up homeless contributed to her ongoing struggles to this day.
Obama’s posts also included a list of books he recommended earlier in 2021:
- “All Blood Is Black At Night” by David Diop
- “Land of Big Numbers” by Te-Ping Chen
- Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe
- Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
- “When we no longer understand the world” by Benjamín Labatut
- “Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future” by Elizabeth Kolbert
- “Things We Lost in the Water” by Eric Nguyen
- “Leave the world behind” by Rumaan Alam
- “Clara and the Sun” by Kazuo Ishiguro
- “The Sweetness of Water” by Nathan Harris
- “Intimacies” by Katie Kitamura
Notably, two of those books — “Project Ave Mary” and “Klara and the Sun” — also appeared on Bill Gates’ year-end list of book recommendations, which the billionaire Microsoft co-founder published in a blog post last month.
Gates declined to give many details about Project Hail Mary, noting that he didn’t want to divulge any of the myriad twists in the book’s plot. “Clara and the Sun,” he wrote, got him “thinking about what life might be like with super-intelligent robots – and whether we’re going to treat these kinds of machines as part of the technology or as something more.”
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