***Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama (1995, 2005)

This was a unique experience.  Reading Obama’s words on the page and then hearing him daily on the news was like living in two worlds.  It felt like I was getting his most private insights at the same time I was listening to his most public proclamations.  And since the book covers the years from his early childhood to law school and a bit beyond, it unfolds  so much of his past, leaving me with much greater insight into who he is today.  I love that he wrote the book long before the presidency because it feels so real and genuine, truly his own voice, not a ghost writer.  It felt so intimate that it was actually weird to read the most private thoughts of the most public individual.  Did he have any inclination back then that he might one day be president?  I mean he writes about being an angry black man, about drinking and smoking pot, and losing his temper and being confused, about understanding race and hating much of what he sees.  It’s all so raw, personal, exposed.  It shows the incredible journey he traveled, not just from middle class boy of a single mom to president, but of a person who for many years was not so confident or composed or articulate.  I think it’s easy to assume today that he’s always been the way we see him now, but that’s really not so, and it’s refreshing to see that he had to overcome a lot of internal obstacles to see a clear path to follow.  That he needed to make peace with his father’s absence, his African roots.  He needed to dig into his Indonesian years and his early years with his grandparents and his mother who gave him so much strength and support but who also pursued her own interests, sometimes on the other side of the world.

In addition to a compelling story, it’s just so well written.  Sentence after sentence stuck me: interesting language, images, sentence variety and flow.  A few examples–“At certain points the potholes yawned across the road’s entire width” or  “For Sale signs cropped up like dandelions under the summer sun.”  So much fun to read good writing! (memoir)

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