Observing Obama: Does he have what it takes to be a leader?

Regarding the Jan. 17 article, "Much buzz, many questions over Obama's bid": People seem confounded that someone as relatively inexperienced as Barack Obama could rise so quickly to the national spotlight and be considering a run for the presidency. "How can this be?" they ask, astounded by his charismatic presence. Those who see his potential and dislike it try to discredit him by saying "He has little experience. What has he done?"

But if we look at the qualities of the strongest leaders, we see that they have a clear vision of what is possible and an ability to articulate and inspire others with that vision. Additional qualities that make great and good leaders include intelligence, integrity, wisdom, and good judgment, as well as a commitment to the idea that one who leads must use one's power in the service of others.

As we look at Mr. Obama, it is clear that he is gifted with the first qualities. Now he needs to indicate to the US electorate that he has wisdom and good judgment in the wielding of power. Voters will scrutinize his words and actions for signs of the qualities of great leadership – and these are what some, such as I, are looking for in our next president.
Heather Brodhead
Santa Barbara, Calif.

Modern relevance of classic literature

Janine Wood's Jan. 16 Opinion piece, "Please, I want some more Dickens," really struck a chord with me. Last fall, my husband and I attended our first open house at my daughter's high school. The English teacher reflected on the choice of novel for the semester. "We either do 'Twelve Angry Men' or 'Great Expectations,' " she said. "But we're considering dropping Dickens because he's just too hard for the students."

One mother agreed with the teacher. But I begged her to keep Dickens – and my daughter indeed read "Great Expectations." We had great discussions about this story, even though my husband and I struggled to remember the intricacies of the plot.

But I do remember the first time I read a classic, thinking that I would find it so boring. The book was "Jane Eyre," and to this day I am haunted by Jane, Mr. Rochester, and the mad woman in the attic. That novel encouraged me to read other classics and to understand the allusions that can be found throughout literature.

Hooray for Ms. Wood's suggestion that we encourage reading of the classics. I think the best way to start is in the home, so I'll be pushing one of my best-loved books ("Little Women") my daughter's way again.
Maeve Reilly
Champaign, Ill.

Regarding Janine Wood's Jan. 16 Opinion piece on reading classic literature: Works by Charles Dickens are often found in the children's section. Why? Because adults do not want to read them. Keep in mind that Dickens was a serial writer. His material was meant to be read in sections over extended periods of time. What is more, his works were not written to satisfy any great literary calling; Dickens was a hack paid by the word.

Can children, or even most teens, appreciate the political satire of Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels"? Will Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" have the same influence now as it did in its day, since slavery has long ended? How many could grasp the nautical dialect that peppers Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick"? It is time to accept the fact that so-called classics are irrelevant to most modern readers. Defenders of the classics need to accept this and discover that there are many fine modern books as well.
David Cohen
Alturas, Calif.

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