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Obama’s best of 2017 list is hip and wonky — and might be nodding at Trump

His end-of-the-year list centers on class, race, and gender in America.

Obama Visits Local Bookstore On Small Business Saturday Dennis Brack/Black Star
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

Former President Barack Obama is making his hip, literate pop culture bona fides known. He’s shared a list of his favorite books and songs of 2017 on Facebook, and the result is equal parts wonky, high-minded, and cool — not to mention laced with what look like a few winking nods to the current occupant of the White House.

Obama’s taste in books tends to run to the award-winning and the safely literary; he rarely recommends genre titles or anything too edgy. His selections also tend to focus on whatever he feels to be the most pressing issues in the world today, and the books he recommends for 2017 suggest that currently, those issues are class, gender, and race in America.

For nonfiction, those themes are straightforward: Matthew Desmond’s Evicted is about inner-city poverty; Amy Goldstein’s Janesville is about a recession-ravaged town.

But Obama’s fiction picks tend to stick to a theme too. Naomi Alderman’s The Power imagines a world in which women develop physical power over men, complicating and resetting existing gender dynamics. Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West develops an elaborate metaphor to examine the world refugee crisis with thoughtfulness and empathy. Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, the winner of the 2017 National Book Award, uses a ghost story to delve into the lasting legacy and trauma of the era of mass incarceration.

And then, in the midst of several highbrow novels and award-winning wonky policy books, there’s Amor Towles’s A Gentleman in Moscow, a slight but charming novel from 2016 about a Russian count living under glamorous house arrest in a Moscow hotel in the beginning of the 20th century. It might be on the list simply because Obama enjoys a little brain candy as much as the next person and doesn’t mind that it’s a year out of date — or the title might be a sly reference to the Trump-Russia scandal.

It might take a while to make your way through all 11 books on Obama’s list, but an enterprising soul has already collected his music picks into a Spotify playlist. You can listen to them here, or check out his Facebook post here. Sit back and bask in the good taste of America’s 44th president.

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