The New York Times did a great survey in its book section yesterday, asking writers to recommend books for the presidential candidates. The answers ranged from the classic (Henry James, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, essays by Samuel Johnson) to the wonky ("Pornography of Power" by Robert Scheer," "Takeover" by Charlie Savage) to the green (Gore and McKibben, of course) to the snarky (Gore Vidal advises them not to read The New York Times.)
Some books were aimed at particular candidates while others were general. If I were making my own list, I'd want all three candidates to do identical reading. I'd ask all of them to start with Kiran Desai's "The Inheritance of Loss." This is a lovely novel about our new migrant world in which people and ideas travel easily across borders – but with consequences for all of us. I think it'd be a good thing for the head of the most powerful nation on earth to keep this in mind.
Then I'd ask them to pick up "Paradise Travel" by Columbian writer Jorge Franco. This is an illegal immigrant's story and whatever the policies of the administration it wouldn't hurt to develop a little compassion for those who find themselves in this situation.
After that, two recent nonfiction works: "The Lemon Tree" by Sandy Tolan (so they can never forget how complicated the Middle East is and that in the end this is a story of people and families) and "Without Me There Is No You" by Melissa Fay Greene (so the cause of the AIDs orphans in Africa would be burned into their memories.)
And after all that, being a classical kind of girl myself, I'd urge all of them to pick up "War and Peace." I say that in part so they would be reminded of the folly of imagining that there is grandeur to warfare but also because none of them were lit majors in school and may well have missed this great pleasure. Surely all three are at a point in life where Tolstoy would have much to teach them.
What about you? What would you like our next president to read?