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The New “O” Book Club: 12 Fiction Picks from President Obama

Julianna Haubner is an associate editor at the Simon & Schuster imprint, which she joined in September 2014 after completing the Columbia Publishing Course. She graduated from Colby College with a B.A. in English and history, and happily lives her life according to the three B’s: Books, Baking, and Bravo. A lifelong reader, Julianna is a compulsive borrower, buyer, and collector of literary and historical fiction, biographies, and cultural history. She’s on Twitter @jhaubner2, and is behind your favorite bookstagrams @offtheshelfofficial.  

President Obama has made it clear over the past 8 years that books are a big part of his life—whether he’s shopping on Small Business Saturday or releasing his vacation reading list. (Plus, he did an impressive interview with author Marilynne Robinson, which you can listen to here. Cross your fingers for a post–White House podcast!) A bestselling author himself, our reader-in-chief has followed his predecessors in recommending some great nonfiction titles, but has surprised us all by being a particularly prolific fiction reader as well. Here are some of the books he’s picked up during his time in office.


All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr
Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel was a hit with pretty much everyone who read it in 2014 (and since), and the president was no exception. A tale of the intertwining experiences of a blind French girl and orphaned German boy during the Nazi occupation, it is a mesmerizing story of how people can change each other’s lives without even realizing it.
All the Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr

Already beloved by millions of readers, this novel follows a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as they both try to survive the devastation of World War II. The breakout hit of 2014, this beautiful novel was a finalist for the National Book Award and it just won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. If you haven't read it yet, this one should be at the top of your spring reading list.

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Heart of Darkness and the Secret Sharer
by Joseph Conrad

Though his contemporary reading repertoire is impressive, President Obama also has made time for classics, including Joseph Conrad’s duo of literary voyages. Both are chilling yet relevant stories of self-discovery, corruptibility, and the ways of the mind.

Heart of Darkness and the Secret Sharer
Joseph Conrad

Though his contemporary reading repertoire is impressive, President Obama also has made time for classics, including Joseph Conrad’s duo of literary voyages. Both are chilling yet relevant stories of self-discovery, corruptibility, and the ways of the mind.

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Fates and Furies
by Lauren Groff
The President called FATES AND FURIES his favorite book of 2015, and readers across the country agreed. The story of a marriage told from the perspectives of both husband and wife, it’s a raw, dark, and dazzling examination of how a relationship—and the people in it—can change over 24 years, for better or worse.
Fates and Furies
Lauren Groff

For fans of “The Affair”

There are two sides to every story—and the psychological drama “The Affair” explores that quite creatively. FATES AND FURIES is perfect for fans of dramatic romances told from alternating perspectives. At the core of this expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents a dazzling examination of a marriage over the course of 24 years.

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Nora Webster
by Colm Tóibín
Set in a small Irish village, Colm Tóibín’s latest novel introduces us to widowed mother Nora Webster, who must navigate the complexities of grief and loss while continuing to live her life. The president picked this one up at the D.C. bookstore Politics & Prose in 2014.
Nora Webster
Colm Tóibín

Set in the same village where BROOKLYN begins, Colm Tóibín’s magnificent seventh novel introduces us to the formidable and deeply moving Nora Webster. Widowed at forty and with four children, Nora has lost the love of her life. Wounded but strong-willed, she is drowning in her own sorrow and blind to the suffering of her children. As she navigates the complexities of grief and loss, the novel shines with moments of courage, empathy, kindness, and hope.

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The Whites
by Richard Price

Though the reasons for his literary picks are rarely explained, it’s safe to say that the unfortunate contemporary debate over police-civilian relationships might have motivated the president to pick up Richard Price’s novel about a South Bronx cop trying to find redemption after a new case brings back memories of an old mistake.

The Whites
Richard Price

Though the reasons for his literary picks are rarely explained, it’s safe to say that the unfortunate contemporary debate over police-civilian relationships might have motivated the president to pick up Richard Price’s novel about a South Bronx cop trying to find redemption after a new case brings back memories of an old mistake.

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Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights
by Salman Rushdie

Every reader needs a little escapism, and the leader of the free world is likely no exception. Salman Rushdie’s fantastic (and fantastical) story centers on a storm in New York City that reawakens an ancient conflict between humans and the descendants of a mystical creature known as the Jinn.

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights
Salman Rushdie

Every reader needs a little escapism, and the leader of the free world is likely no exception. Salman Rushdie’s fantastic (and fantastical) story centers on a storm in New York City that reawakens an ancient conflict between humans and the descendants of a mystical creature known as the Jinn.

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The Lowland
by Jhumpa Lahiri
In 2015, President Obama announced that Jhumpa Lahiri’s latest novel was one of 6 books on his summer reading list (we love an ambitious book packer!). THE LOWLAND follows 2 brothers bound by tragedy, a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past, a country torn by revolution, and a love that lasts long past death.
The Lowland
Jhumpa Lahiri

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning, best-selling author of "The Namesake "comes an extraordinary new novel, set in both India and America, that expands the scope and range of one of our most dazzling storytellers: a tale of two brothers bound by tragedy, a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past, a country torn by revolution, and a love that lasts long past death.

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The Narrow Road to the Deep North
by Richard Flanagan

POTUS showed off his cultural knowledge once again in 2015, when he picked up this Man Booker Prize–winning novel by Richard Flanagan. THE NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH is a sweeping story that moves from a Japanese POW camp to present-day Australia and explores the important themes of war and truth, love and death.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North
Richard Flanagan

POTUS showed off his cultural knowledge once again in 2015, when he picked up this Man Booker Prize–winning novel by Richard Flanagan. THE NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH is a sweeping story that moves from a Japanese POW camp to present-day Australia and explores the important themes of war and truth, love and death.

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A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
by Anthony Marra
Set in a small rural village in Chechnya, Anthony Marra’s novel about love, compassion, and war centers around a young girl named Havaa and the neighbor who takes her in after Russian soldiers abduct her father and set fire to her home. The president likely picked it up in 2013 as an accompaniment to his briefings on the conflict still brewing overseas.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
Anthony Marra

In a small rural village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night and then set fire to her home. When their lifelong neighbor Akhmed finds Havaa hiding in the forest with a strange blue suitcase, he makes a decision that will forever change their lives. A story of the transcendent power of love in wartime, A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENA is a work of sweeping breadth, profound compassion, and lasting significance.

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Brown Girl Dreaming
by Jacqueline Woodson
A National Book Award winner and favorite of many adults, Jacqueline Woodson’s young adult masterpiece is a collection of poems that reveal what it was like for her to grow up in South Carolina and New York in the 1960s and ’70s, among the remnants of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement.
Brown Girl Dreaming
Jacqueline Woodson

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Jacqueline Woodson always felt half at home in each place. In mesmerizing verse, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. The winner of the 2014 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, each poem in Brown Girl Dreaming is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a young girl’s soul as she searches for her place in the world.

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Tinkers
by Paul Harding

One of the first books publicly shared by the president after taking office in 2009, Paul Harding’s debut novel is a Pulitzer Prize winner and is a meditation on life, loss, illness, faith, and nature, told through the perspective of a dying old man. As the clock runs down, his memories intertwine with those of his father and grandfather.

Tinkers
Paul Harding

One of the first books publicly shared by the president after taking office in 2009, Paul Harding’s debut novel is a Pulitzer Prize winner and is a meditation on life, loss, illness, faith, and nature, told through the perspective of a dying old man. As the clock runs down, his memories intertwine with those of his father and grandfather.

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Rodin's Debutante
by Ward Just

It’s not hard to imagine why the former Chicago resident picked Ward Just’s historical epic set in the Windy City. Following the life of Lee Goodell, a man whose life was once changed by a Gatsbyesque figure named Tommy Ogden, RODIN’S DEBUTANTE explores the ways in which we remember, and how we decide which moments shape us forever.

Rodin's Debutante
Ward Just

It’s not hard to imagine why the former Chicago resident picked Ward Just’s historical epic set in the Windy City. Following the life of Lee Goodell, a man whose life was once changed by a Gatsbyesque figure named Tommy Ogden, RODIN’S DEBUTANTE explores the ways in which we remember, and how we decide which moments shape us forever.

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The New “O” Book Club: 12 Fiction Picks from President Obama

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