President Obama & Harold

I deeply appreciate having a reading president. A president who makes a point of doing his Christmas shopping at an independent bookstore? This is excellent, no question.

No, my quibble is with the New York Times. Which says,

Many of the nearly two dozen volumes Mr. Obama picked up at Washington’s Politics and Prose bookstore will be gifts, and certainly children’s tales like “Harold and the Purple Crayon” offer few lessons for dealing with Tea Party congressmen. But even if they are given away, some of the books reflect what Mr. Obama has already read or would like to read. They are volumes about identity and reinvention, about what it means to be American, and about family, love, betrayal and redemption.

Ahem. Really? First of all, I have a whole problem with "about what it means to be…" because—ugh. I don't care if it's about what it means to be human, or American, or whatever, it just stinks of bullshit to me. Every great book is "about" something larger than can be defined in a single word, especially a single word so freighted with everyone's crazy projected meaning.

Second of all? Harold and the Purple Crayon offers few lessons for dealing with Tea Party congressmen? Not so. Harold creates his own reality—is there a better lesson about what it means to be human (heh, heh) than that? Or, about what it means to be a politician? (Not that I'm calling Harold a politician, I swear it.)

Do we really have such a reductive view of books? It's as though books are useful in a directed way: read about Lincoln for tips on how to deal with asshole senators; read A Constellation of Vital Phenomena to learn about dealing with violence. Isn't reading and understanding the world way less direct than that? Don't you read Anna Karenina and end up with a clearer vision of your school's math specialist, and read Chaos and end up thinking more about how your grandmother was lonely? Isn't that how brains and reading and thinking work?

All of which is to say: I am very much hoping Harold gives President Obama some crazy inspiration on how to manage his altogether impossible job. Or at least is, as we know him to be, really fun to read. I would imagine he could use something pleasant and wonderful once in a while.

7 thoughts on “President Obama & Harold

  1. Wasn’t there some conservative blowback recently about how many pies the Obamas had for Thanksgiving? Because at the time I thought of Harold and his picnic with “all nine kinds of pie that Harold liked best”


  2. Read Harold —> feel better –> confidence boosted –> able to take on TP
    read Harold –> see how he doesn’t let himself get stuck –> emulate
    But, yeah, the idea of one-to-one correspondence from book to action is in general stupidly simplistic when it comes to fiction.


  3. Differently worded only! Your account post led me to imagine Obama drawing himself a pie and a porcupine friend to share it with in the Oval Office, which I find a marvelously poignant vision of fundamental loneliness.


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