Friday, November 07, 2008

Barack Obama, the writer, headed to D.C.

I haven't yet read Barack Obama's two books. Maybe I should have, since he wrote them and not some ghost-writer. But political biographies, especially those written and released during a campaign, are usually bland and self-serving. They're written to get the candidate elected. At its core, the book is no different from a stump speech at a gym in Paducah. On the other hand, those memoirs written after a stint of public service tend to be a lot more interesting. I have a whole shelf of those, inherited from my father the accountant. My prize is an 1885 edition of Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant which goes into incredible detail about an incredible life.

Toni Morrison likes Obama's writing. And, according to an AP story by Hillel Italie, Obama is a Morrison fan. Last winter, he called up the literary Nobel laureate to ask for her support in his race against Sen. Hillary Clinton. But politics was not first on the agenda. Obama said that Morrison's Song of Solomon had "meant of lot to him." Here's Morrison's post-election take on the conversation:

"And I had read his first book (Dreams from My Father). I was astonished at his ability to write, to think, to reflect, to learn and turn a good phrase. I was very impressed. This was not a normal political biography."

That's high praise coming from Morrison. Song of Solomon is one of my favorite books. Lyrical and strange, a great story with a surprise ending. Some may call it magical-realist but we'll leave that long discussion for another time.

Italie ends the article with a comment that "the vast majority of writers usually vote for Democrats anyway." Maybe that's true in NYC but not in Wyoming. But I know what Italie means. In the summer of 2003, I was at an outdoor concert in Cheyenne. I was wearing my "Poets Against the War" T-shirt. A friend introduced me to a young writer who took a look at my shirt and asked, "Do you know any poets for the war?" I had to think about that.

To have an actual writer in the White House? That seems like a good thing. Writers have an ability to explore the subtleties of an issue. We don't see the world in black and white. We like "gray areas" because that's where the stories are. Is this a good trait for a president? It will be a big change from our current regime. But too much gray can overwhelm you, leave you lost in a fog. Obama's pragmatism should prevent him from getting lost in any fog.
And we'll probably have to wait eight years before another Obama book. He'll be busy in the interim.

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