It was not at all surprising to learn that reading and writing have played a major role in shaping Barack Obama, not only during his presidency, but throughout his life.
Michiko Kakutani, an old college classmate I knew from the Yale Daily News, interviewed the president about his reading habits in yesterday’s NY Times, and I was pleased to see that, in addition to the expected writings of great statesmen, civil rights activists and political thinkers, Barack Obama picks up the occasional work of fiction– including science fiction! He seems equally inspired by many genres. To quote Michiko quoting Obama, reading and writing afford him a chance to slow down and reflect, “when events move so quickly and so much information is transmitted,” to “get in somebody else’s shoes,” and to regain his perspective in tumultuous times.
The three R’s help you to separate yourself from the tumult (like Benn Marr watching himself from a safe distance as he tumbles down a steep icy slope, in the opening dream sequence of Fourth World) and thereby gain critical perspective. Among other benefits, historical perspective obviates reinventing the wheel, and promotes long-term solutions over impulsive actions. Scientific perspective moves evidence-based policies ahead of choices based on greed, prejudice or just plain wishful thinking. And reading or writing fiction gives you multiple ways of looking at not-so-hypothetical situations (see my earlier posting in this blog, “How True Is Fiction?”). Fortunately for us, the president kept reading, but also remembered to put down the books and engage the moment.