Last Updated: Tue Aug 23, 2011 00:33 am (KSA) 21:33 pm (GMT)

Angela Simaan: Barack’s beach reads

President Barack Obama waves as he visits Nancy's restaurant in Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. (Photo by Reuters)
President Barack Obama waves as he visits Nancy's restaurant in Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. (Photo by Reuters)

The American First Family is on vacation in idyllic Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts known as a summer retreat for the US’s upper crust. The journalists traveling with the Obamas, a group known as the press pool, send cutesy email updates about the First Family’s vacation activities to the media corps sweating out the last few days of summer back in Washington.

Shortly after they arrived last week, President Obama and his daughters Malia and Sasha went to a bookstore on the island, presumably to pick up beach reads, sparking a flurry of pool reports noting that there was no additional information yet about what books the President bought.

Well, publishing houses, authors and Obama’s critics (who are quite adept at finding fault with anything and everything the President does) can let out that long breath they’ve been holding. A White House official said on Saturday that the President purchased The Bayou Triology by Daniel Woodrell and Rodin’s Debutante by Ward Just, in addition to bringing three books with him to Martha’s Vineyard: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, To the End of the Land by David Grossman, and The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson.

It’s hard to imagine Obama’s doing any recreational reading right now during the fall of Tripoli, and it’s almost harder to imagine that anyone cares given world events of exponentially more importance. But as an avid reader and generally nosy person, I eagerly waited for pool reporters to find out what Obama was reading because our recreational reading lists say a lot about our inner lives, and the stories, ideas and topics that tickle our minds when a day’s work is done. Moreover, everyone wants a window into the President’s personality–the songs on his iPod, the sports he plays, and the foods he orders at restaurants–that tell us more about who he is as a person.

Obama, who some say is too intellectual and professorial but who presents himself as a basketball-playing and student-loan paying man of the people, played it pretty safe with his beach read list and picked best-selling books that reflect both those traits. And I, not above the idle fascination surrounding our commander in chief, added more than one of those titles to my own list of books to read.

(Angela Simaan is a producer in Al Arabiya’s Washington, DC bureau. She can be reached at

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