This post is also available in: العربية

Once again former US president Barack Obama has shared his favourite books (and films and music) of 2021 on Twitter.  The list includes fiction, non-fiction and memoir, with the former president writing: ‘Art always sustains and nourishes the soul. But for me, music and storytelling felt especially urgent during this pandemic year.’

Novels chosen include Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroads, Colson Whitehead’s Harlem Shuffle, Lauren Goff’s Matrix, Dawnie Walton’s The Final Revival of Opal and Nev and Amor Towle’s The Lincoln Highway.

Non-fiction includes Andrea Elliott’s Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City, Ann Patchett’s These Precious Days and Qian Julie Wang’s Beautiful Country, described as an ‘unforgettable account of growing up in New York and what it means to live under the constant threat of deportation’.

Obama is well-known for his releasing his summer and end-of-year reading lists, and it seems to be territory that he owns exclusively.  Does China’s leader release such lists?  Or Germany’s?  Or Norway’s? Egypt’s?  It is one of those cultural phenomena that seem a little strange the more one examines it.

The nearest equivalent is another Democrat US president.  In 2003, to coincide with the opening of a Clinton Library-related exhibit of books and gifts he received while president, former president Bill Clinton released a list of his 21 favourite books.  It was an eclectic list that included Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Thomas à Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ

One fact is certain about such lists: they receive huge publicity and drive people into bookshops.