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What should President Obama and Mitt Romney read?

August 17, 2012|By Carolyn Kellogg
  • California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera is one of the authors with book recommendations for President Obama and Mitt Romney.
California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera is one of the authors with… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

The final leg of the presidential race begins at the end of this month, after the Republican National Convention. Perhaps in these last days before the candidates must focus almost exclusively on campaigning, President Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney will have some extra time to read.

We hope so. Because 14 authors and journalists have provided their book recommendations to the candidates. Our advisors include Jonathan Alter, who wrote the presidential biography "The Promise: President Obama, Year One"; Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley; Isabel Wilkerson, whose history of the African American diaspora in the 20th century, "The Warmth of Other Suns," was seen last year among Obama's book purchases; Fox News contributor and radio host Monica Crowley; and Juan Felipe Herrera, California's poet laureate.

See the complete list of recommendations. A sample is below.

Sherman Alexie, novelist and winner of the National Book Award: For Mitt Romney, Emily Dickinson's "Collected Poems," so he'd learn that faith and doubt are fraternal twins. For President Obama, a dictionary so that he could look up the definition of "progressive."

From Douglas Brinkley, author of several biographies, including 2012's "Cronkite": Steve Coll's "Private Empire." A penetrating investigative exposé on the philosophy of Exxon Mobil (the largest, most powerful oil and gas company in America). The mask of Big Oil is ripped off in this outstanding hybrid of journalism and history.

From Leo Braudy, USC professor and author of cultural histories such as "The Frenzy of Reknown": Joseph Heller's "Catch-22." No contemplation of the human ravages of modern warfare is complete without "Catch-22" (1961). Written about World War II, "Catch-22" crucially mocks the bureaucratic military world in which the ordinary member of "the greatest generation" had to live, and die. Even though Heller's airmen seem to be far above the action, the war damages them nevertheless. Heller's insights and his comic clarity are even more relevant today in an era of drones and other means of psychologically detaching combatants from warfare.

From novelist Susan Straight, finalist for the National Book Award: Sherwood Anderson's "Winesburg, Ohio." Here's the land cleared and planted with cornfields where farmers work and grieve, where lovers lie in secret, where unhappy small-town men dream, the land when brick buildings are erected to make the small towns and big dreams, the streets where people hold onto their guilt, their burning need to be someone bigger, to leave the small town which is still held up as true America. When politicians talk about "real America" and "small-town values," they might read this and realize how reductive that seems, how small towns are not "flyover" space but have their own mythologies.

Even if you're not running for president -- and, really, most of us aren't -- the books provide a fascinating picture of how we have come to think of America and its stories.

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