McCain, Obama share their favorite books

It's not the first question they generally toss out to presidential candidates, but Katie Couric finally got around to it and asked John McCain and Barack Obama to name their favorite books.

Their choices are illuminating – and yet at the same time completely unsurprising.

Both candidates stuck with American classics, although of different generations. McCain says his favorite book is Ernest Hemingway's  1940 Spanish civil war novel "For Whom the Bell Tolls." Barack Obama's favorite is Toni Morrison's 1977 novel "Song of Solomon."

The appeal of "For Whom the Bell Tolls" for McCain is easy to understand. Robert Jordan, the protagonist, is an American fighting on the side of the Republicans in Spain. The mission he is sent on, to blow up a bridge, is a doomed one, but Jordan's greatest fear is being captured and tortured by the enemy. The horrors of war and the intense camaraderie of wartime are major themes throughout the book.

Interestingly, there are also occasional discussions of politics and even (at least once) taxes.

"But are there not many fascists in your country?" one of the Republican fighters asks Jordan. "There are many who do not know they are fascists but will find it out when the time comes," he replies.

Obama's attraction to "Song of Solomon" is equally easy to understand. The book is the life story of an African-American man named Macon "Milkman" Dead III, set during the 1950s and '60s.

The narrative weaves together the points of view of various members of Milkman's family. It touches on themes of identity, family relationships, the rootlessness of African-Americans who live in northern cities, and the effects of slavery.

Part of Milkman's quest is his search for connection to a community. "It was a good feeling to come into a strange town and find a stranger who knew your people," he thinks at one point. "All his life he'd heard the tremor in the word: 'I live here, but my people . . .' or: 'She acts like she ain't got no people,' or: 'Do any of your people like there?' But he hadn't known what it meant: links."

Two very different books – chosen by men with two very different world views.

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