Hello everyone! Welcome back to BirthMay! Today, I thought I’d share my thoughts on reading through President Obama’s 2021 favorite book list.
In case you’re new, every May I blog every day and call it BirthMay! Why? Because it’s my birth month and I’m super extra.
If you don’t already know, President Obama always shares books he recommends in two parts. One is his summer reading list, and the other is just a general end-of-the-year list. Together, they make up one list for the year. He also shares a list of music and another of movies, but I just paid attention to the book list for 2021.
Anyway, I always figured he has interesting recommendations, but something about the 2021 list called to me and I felt compelled to read through the entire list! I’ve been sharing my thoughts on a few of these in my Ten Mini Book Reviews from time to time, so I won’t go too into depth on my thoughts on each individual book, but I figured I’d share thoughts overall for the list. I will make sure to at least list the books at the bottom of the post, with my star rating (which I add on Storygraph, find me under the @ StarringPamela) and some short thoughts!
Reading President Obama’s Favorite Books of 2021
I suppose the first hint that President Obama and I read very different books should have been the fact that I read over 100 books in 2021 and not one of them were on the President’s list. Even so, how could I resist the lure of books with titles such as Cloud Cuckoo Land, Crying in H Mart, and Things We Lost to the Water? (Spoiler, I couldn’t! So those were among the first books from the list that I read!)
Before I started looking up the books and reading them, I had certain assumptions of the books. I honestly expected a lot of non-fiction books. I hadn’t expected as much fiction as there ended up being on the list and it was a very literary focused list! I was pretty surprised about how surprised I was though. I suppose I never paid too much attention to the previous book lists!
I have heard a few YouTubers that I’ve seen talk about the list say they feel like they’re in a book club with the President and honestly, it kind of does feel like that! It’s pretty cool to be reading through the list and reading stuff I would never have picked up on my own. I have been wanting to branch out on the books I tend to read for awhile, and I have found some really amazing books already. I’ve also read books I haven’t enjoyed at all and books that I liked well enough, but some of the most amazing books I’ve experienced this year have come from this list, which is really cool.
Overall, I’m really glad I decided to do this. While I think I should have given myself some wiggle room to not finish all the books, I am currently planning to finish them all. I did come close to DNF’ing at least two so far though LOL. But, I’m pretty committed overall. The list consists of 24 books, which is a hefty number for sure, but I’ve made good progress so far so I think it’s doable before the end of the year.
At the time of writing this, I’ve read 11 of the 24 books, and I am reading another three right now from the list.
President Obama’s Favorite Books of 2021 List & My Ratings/Thoughts
If I read the book already, a star rating will accompany the book title and there will be a short blurb about what I thought of the book! The blurb probably won’t make sense if you haven’t read the book though!
Matrix by Lauren Groff
How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles: 4.25 stars. This was actually the first book I read from the list and it was hard for me to get into at first because it’s so different than from what I’d normally read. But once I got into it, I was hooked to the story! I loved that they passed by Chicago, however briefly, and the story overall was amazing. Honestly, this book is one I am sad to think I could have missed if I hadn’t taken on this challenge.
Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City by Andrea Elliott
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead: 3 stars. This book was one I really wanted to DNF. It just was not as enjoyable as I’d expected! It was quite sad, and I had actually been really excited for it but I just couldn’t get into it and pushed through just to finish it.
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr: 4.75 stars. This was the second book of the list I read, and I loved it! With that amazing name, I was so, so interested in it and devoured the story. I’m really enjoying the books that take place over many time frames and connect the distant characters in some way. I really, really loved this book.
These Precious Days by Ann Patchett: 4.75 stars. This was a nonfiction set of essays by Patchett and I really liked it a lot. I haven’t read any of Patchett’s books or knew anything about her until this book, so I think she did write it for someone who followed her more closely, but it was still cool to piece together her life though the essays.
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner: 3.75 stars. I honestly expected a lot more of actual H Marts in this book, surprisingly enough. This was another nonfiction book, and it was a memoir that I really enjoyed. I think a lot of the celebrity memoirs I’ve read are often about the celebrity’s entire life, but I really enjoyed how Zauner focused in on the impact that her mom’s passing had on her, particularly when it was happening. I found it really cool how Zauner took that one period of time and spoke so powerfully about it.
Aftershocks by Nadia Owuso
Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers
Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang
At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop: 3.75 stars. It was so wild reading this book. It was a really short, really weird read.
Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen: 3.75 stars. This was a really interesting book since each chapter was a different story. Honestly it was kind of frustrating because there was no concrete resolution to the stories, but it was still really interesting to think about these scenarios. It gave me sort of Klara and the Sun vibes, but much shorter.
Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut
Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert
Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen: 3.25 stars. I actually did considering DNF’ing this one too, although less so. I just found it to be pretty bland overall and I really did not enjoy it.
Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam: 3.75 stars. I thought this book was a bit vague and too open ended for my liking, but it really captured feelings that reminded me of the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. So that was a journey to work through!
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro: 5 stars. I absolutely loved this book! Immediately this story just grabbed and kept my attention. Honestly, I imagined Klara to look like the character of Kara from the video game Detroit: Become Human, but maybe a little younger since since Klara is supposed to be a child’s AF.
The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris: 4.5 stars. This was a great read. I would have never picked it up without this list but I’m glad I did. It was a really thought provoking and insightful look at what life must have been like at that time.
Intimacies by Katie Kitamura
So that’s my progress so far on this reading list! I am enjoying this challenge I’ve set for myself and I’m really excited to complete it!
Thanks for reading!
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