Reading President Obama’s Favorite Books of 2021 Pt. 2 (The End)

Hello everyone! Today, I thought I’d share my thoughts on reading through President Obama’s 2021 favorite book list.


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! I also have a Bookstagram account under @ StartingPamelaReads!


Reading President Obama’s Favorite Books of 2021

I finally finished reading the entire book list in July of this year, so it took me about half a year to read them all! Some of the books, in my opinion, were indeed phenomenal reads. Others were just okay. Still others were terrible. But I actually was surprised at how many I did end up liking at the end of my journey. I am going to add some thoughts later but did also include all of them in my “Ten Mini Book Reviews” posts.

So after reading all 24 books, I realized many of these made my own summer reading list for 2022. I ended up adding five of these to my favorites list that I posted on my Bookstagram. Another book from my favorites list ended up being a book that President Obama had included in his list a few years ago! And, as a sneak peek, another book I read after publishing that list has since ended up on my favorites list for the second half of 2022 and it was in Obama’s summer 2022 list! So it turns out, we do actually have a lot of common interests in books.

I will say, the books that I loved, really stuck with me long after I’ve finished them. Some of these books truly are unforgettable and amazing reads, at least for me. I am honestly really glad I read them all, even if I didn’t enjoy them all, because the ones I adored were completely worth it.

A question I have been asked a few times is if I plan to continue this challenge. The answer is not really! I do plan to always keep an eye out for his lists going forward and look up the books and consider reading them, but I won’t make myself read them all. I am sort of disappointed by that, because there are some books that I would have never actually read even after looking up their description but it still ended up being on my favorites list. So I guess I do risk missing some good ones, but isn’t that just the way a book lover’s life goes?

President Obama’s Favorite Books of 2021 List & My Ratings/Thoughts

The blurbs below will truly be just my thoughts on the book. So they won’t necessarily make sense if you haven’t read them before!

Matrix by Lauren Groff: 3.75 stars. I was honestly pretty bored with this book. I don’t think the plot was interesting enough for me, and I didn’t love the medieval setting. But I did like that the main character made the most of her situation after she was forced to live there and that she managed to share her vision for the convent with the others.

How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith: 4.75 stars. I really liked this one although I did feel the author was far to nice to the racists he encountered. Even so, I liked that he did interview people who had been forced to face reality and make them sit with those moments a little longer.

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton: 4.75 stars. When I read the synopsis of this novel I did not expect to like it but I actually really did enjoy it! I loved this story! I do think the fact that I listened to the audiobook was key to enjoying it though. The cast was amazing! By the time the story really started to unfold, I already could see where it was going and could see the role Opal was going to play in the climax of the story. But even then I was holding my breath listening to the characters tell the story and was hooked.

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: 4 stars. I did really enjoy this book but it was so disappointing how it all turned out at the end. It’s so strange to me how far people will go to self-sabotage and ruin their chances, even after so many fought to get them opportunities.

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: 4 stars. While I did like this memoir, I also didn’t feel it was incredibly remarkable.

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen: 3.25 stars. I was very close to DNF’ing this book. If it wasn’t for the challenge, I wouldn’t have finished it! The entire family was so aggravating because of their self-destructive tendencies and self-absorbed personalities. They didn’t really act like a family at all. They acted like strangers attempting to get along because they lived together or grew up together.

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers: 3.25 stars. This was the last book I read from the list and I’m glad because if I had read it any earlier I would have DNF’ed it and ditched the entire challenge. I did like the end a lot better but, again, the self-destructive tendencies of the family members and the poor choices they kept gravitating towards were insufferable!

Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang: 3.5 stars. This memoir was great, but also felt pretty generic to the usual immigrant experience.

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: 4.25 stars. This was a really great read about the horrid Sackler family fortune. The family gained their fortune by starting the opioid epidemic in the US and pretending the drug was less dangerous than it was. How anyone could live with that guilt on their conscious, I have no idea.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir: 5 stars. This book was amazing. Honestly, as I was reading this and realized there were aliens I was dreading continuing it, thinking it was going to have some absurd ending. But actually, it was pretty awesome.

When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut: 3.75 stars. This book was pretty forgettable. I actually have to look up what it is about every time I start to talk about it because I legitimately can’t seem to remember.

Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert: 4.5 stars. This was a great read about climate change and super easy to understand. I would say this should be required reading for everyone honestly.

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: 3.5 stars. This book was okay. Not great, not bad, but just pretty bland overall.


So that’s my thoughts on reading each book of President Obama’s book list of 2021! I’m really glad I did finish this challenge, and I’m so glad President Obama shared his book list!

Thanks for reading!

Pamela

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