Okay, put away that Dick Francis novel, so deliciously redolent of basement mildew, and that James Patterson paperback you took from the Little Free Library under cover of night. It's serious summer reading time now.
At least it is for the intellectual heavyweights who release their reading list to the public. Bill Gates has put his weighty recommendations online – three memoirs, one novel and a book about the future of humanity (I like to think he's got a Sidney Sheldon or two on his Kindle).
For years, Barack Obama gave hope to the readers of the world by talking about books seriously and passionately. Every summer, he would stop on his way to Hawaii or Martha's Vineyard and pick up a collection of interesting new titles (I like to think he had a Danielle Steele or two on his Kindle). He would read fiction and biography, history and poetry. Reading fiction, he told his novelist friend Marilynne Robinson, made him not just a better president, but a better person: "When I think about how I understand my role as citizen. … the most important stuff I've learned I think I've learned from novels. It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of greys."
Yeah, well, no use crying over past presidents. The current inhabitant of the White House is too busy screaming at the television, stripping health care from millions and taking "meetings" at golf courses to read. "I read passages, I read areas, chapters, I don't have the time," Donald Trump told Megyn Kelly, who did not tell him that chapters, areas and passages, when glued together, form a thing called "a book."
If he could find time to read – say, by cutting out one MMA bout between Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon a day – think of what the President might learn about himself and his country. Here's a small list to get him started.
- The Dead Zone, Stephen King. In this terrifying novel, a blustering outsider strong-arms his way to the presidency and almost leads the world to a nuclear conflagration. This book can be found on a shelf labelled “cautionary fables (please God please).”
- Being There, Jerzy Kosinski. Another tale about an outsider who fails upward, this satire takes on power, belief and tribalism. A television-loving simpleton and his empty pronouncements find favour thanks to their very emptiness. “I don’t like newspapers,” says Chance the gardener, and here, the President will find room in the margin to write, YES! FAKE NEWS! SAD!
- The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir. “There is no good reason to believe men when they try to defend privileges whose scope they cannot even fathom,” the great French philosopher wrote. Perhaps Mr. Trump read this passage in college and underlined it and read and re-read this feminist classic till its binding cracked and its pages fell out and then bought more copies to give to his frat brothers. Or perhaps not.
- Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich. In short: It sucks to be poor in the United States. Even worse, even more of an indignity, it sucks to be poor and invisible. This is a fine book to read while praising the chocolate cake and the golf course at Mar-a-Lago, especially when you have no idea who baked the one or mowed the other.
- Berlin 1961, by Frederick Kempe. Walls are hard. Walls are really, really hard. While they may not move, history flows around them in troubling and unexpected ways. And you know what? Mexico never pays.
- The Dance of Anger, Harriet Lerner. Sure, Dr. Lerner’s classic is aimed at all those women who feel their rage-kettles constantly on the boil, but who says a mature, emotionally grounded man couldn’t also benefit from its strategies for coping with this most toxic of emotions? At the very least, it would make a useful projectile aimed at the next minion to enter the Oval Office with the words, “Sir, there’s a story in the Washington Post … ”
- The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. A horrid little boy takes terrible advantage of a loving, kind and loyal tree over the course of its lifetime. Memo to Mr. Trump: You are not the tree.
- The Caine Mutiny, by Herman Wouk. The crew of the Caine is never really sure about its new skipper, Lt. Commander Queeg, and then Queeg goes off on a nutty tangent about missing wiretaps, I mean strawberries, and demands that the missing wiretaps – I mean strawberries – be found. The crew spends valuable time in a fruitless hunt for the wireberries. Finally, there is a mutiny and a new election is held. Sorry, that should read, “a court-martial is held.” Sometimes fiction just gets a little too real.
- Carry on, Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. Because the idea that a 71-year-old man has never laughed in his life is too tragic to contemplate.
- The Constitution of the United States of America. There is no indication that Mr. Trump took up Khizr Khan’s offer to loan his copy of the Constitution, made at the Democratic Convention last July. Most likely he did not. However, for busy executives tied up in “meetings,” there is always The U.S. Constitution for Dummies. Happy summer reading!