President Obama and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, visited a well-known independent bookstore named Politics and Prose in Washington on Saturday. The visit was meant to show support for small businesses and to mark a day sometimes known as "small business Saturday," when consumers are encouraged to follow-up the big-chain purchases of black Friday by patronizing small businesses.
The visit is perhaps of most interest, though, for the books that Obama picked up with his daughters. It's hard to imagine the purchases were entirely spontaneous — the White House knows presidential reading gets a lot of scrutiny — but it's still interesting to see. The two that most stand out to me are Evan Osnos's book on life in contemporary China — China is a major and quietly successful foreign policy issue for Obama — and Heart of Darkness. I would be very curious to know who in the Obama White House has taken an interest in reading about colonial depravation and horror in 19th-century sub-Saharan Africa.
Here are the books, largely a mix of young adult fiction (Sasha and Malia are 13 and 16), kids' books (probably a gift), and contemporary non-fiction.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande (non-fiction, about aging, death, and end-of-life care)
Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune Truth and Faith in The New China, by Evan Osnos (non-fiction, a National Book Award-winner about life in today's China, by the former New Yorker correspondent there, who now covers DC politics)
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson (fiction, a National Book Award-winner about growing up black in 1960s and '70s America)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan (fiction, a Man Booker Prize-winner about an Australian surgeon held in a WW2 Japanese POW camp)
The Laughing Monsters, by Denis Johnson (fiction, about two illicit businessmen in Sierra Leone and Uganda)
All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr (fiction, about a blind French girl and German orphan boy in Nazi-occupied France)
Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad (fiction, the classic 1899 novel about a European steamboater finding madness and brutality in colonial Congo)
Nora Webster, by Colm Toibin (fiction, about a widowed young mother struggling in Ireland)
Young adult books
Redwall, by Brian Jacques
Mossflower (#2 in the Redwall series), by Brian Jacques
Mattimeo (#3 in the Redwall series), by Brian Jacques
Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, by Katherine Rundell
Nuts To You, by Lynn Rae Perkins
Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business, by Barbara Park
Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, by Barbara Park
A Barnyard Collection: Click, Clack, Moo, and More, by Doreen Cronin
I Spy Sticker Book and Picture Riddles, by Jean Morzollo