Friday, November 07, 2008

A Reading List for the New President, or my ten humble suggestions

This is inspired by this article published in Inside Higher Ed written by Scott McLemee, "Turning a Page." Mr. Lemee did an unscientific survey among academics asking them to suggest books (or articles, theses, dissertations or any other reading material) they would suggest to the incoming president. Well, it is a somewhat nice list, but I think it is a bit pretentious and stuffy, as many lists put together by academics often are. And yes, I know I work in academia, but I think I am bit more in the trenches than some of those folks. The point is I think we should be giving Mr. Obama some practical things to read. He is going to be a busy guy for one. And two, I think there are plenty of books out there that will give the man a good overview of things to consider. I am working on the assumption that Obama is already well-read in things like the classics and history (especially American History). So, if I could sit down with the guy, or at least pass him a note, these would be the titles I would suggest (book titles are linked to WorldCat records):

  • When it comes to education, I would suggest anything written by Jonathan Kozol. The Shame of the Nation would probably be pretty good, but Mr. Obama is on a tight schedule. So, I would instead suggest Savage Inequalities. It will make the point clear, and it is a shorter work. Our schools are pretty much an embarrassment. They need to be fixed pronto. And then ask him if he would send his children to any school Kozol writes about. If the answer is "no," then point made. By the way, Kozol has also written about the homeless and the illiterate in this country. Maybe a scan of those works might be good as well. The illiteracy issue is one close to my heart. I worked for almost a year as a volunteer at an adult literacy center. I have a tale or two I could tell.
  • For a treatment of war, I would suggest Joe Haldeman's The Forever War. In addition to doing a little escapism with science fiction, our new president can certainly reflect on the nature of war, especially in the context of two wars that seem to keep going without end in sight.
  • Need some insights on the working people? I would probably throw in Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed. Maybe he, along with the rest of the legislature, will get a clue that the minimum wage as it stands now does not work for most hardworking people. Not to mention getting some appreciation for the people who do the small jobs that make life better for the rest of us.
  • Joe Bageant's Deer Hunting with Jesus. This is probably one of the better books on looking at the red areas of the nation. By the way, the chapter on health care should give you enough reason to work on getting us universal health care (not just some token "improvement" over the disastrous system we have now).
  • Since the original list had plays, I have to put one in as well. After things like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, I would hope our new president is ready to put torture and other less than decent practices out of business. So, to go with this I would recommend Griselda Gambaro's Information For Foreigners. Originally in Spanish, it has been translated. Anyhow, Mr. Lemee assumed Mr. Obama would have a crack team of translators standing by for anything not in English.
  • The article suggested reading the words of Osama Bin Laden. I could not agree more. There are some editions out there by now. The article mentioned Messages to the World, which I read, so I am recommending it as well. This nation cannot afford to be ignorant of the enemy. To go along with this, pick out a good history of the Middle East and also read some parts of the Qu'ran while at it.
  • Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Not one of my favorites, but it will certainly show what will happen if we don't remember there are such a things in this nation as the separation of church and state as well as a right to the freedom of religion (and by logic, freedom from religion). In fact, I think a few Republicans (the few reasonable ones left) should be reading it as well before they keep letting religious extremists hijack their party.
  • Robert I. Sutton's The No Asshole Rule. A good number of people in the campaign behaved like total assholes, pure and simple. They should not have been tolerated. And I would hope Obama would not tolerate any in his administration.
  • Latinos in this country are emerging as the largest minority. They are a diverse people; yes, Mexicans are different from Puerto Ricans who are different from Cubans and so on. Ilan Stavans's Latino USA: A Cartoon History will provide a very quick and visual look at Latino History in the U.S. There are other books that treat this history well, but again, the man is on a tight schedule.
  • For Latin American History (i.e. the rest of the continent heading south), Eduardo Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America will do nicely. I read it in Spanish, but it has been translated into English.
  • I know; I said ten books, but here is one more, just for fun (and in case they give Obama one briefing and handout too many on how things work in the White House), here is How To Be President: What To Do and Where to Go Once You're in Office. This will remind you of things like who takes care of the laundry, how to get a haircut, and other little details of the new home.

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