Book Club: 5 books to read this holiday season as recommended by Barack Obama

Book Club: 5 books to read this holiday season as recommended by Barack Obama

Read and relax

Text: Aravin Sandran

What the Obama said: "Tara Westover's Educated is a remarkable memoir of a young woman raised in a survivalist family in Idaho who strives for education while still showing great understanding and love for the world she leaves behind."

Why this book matters: Tara Westover was the seventh child of Mormon survivalist parents in the rural mountainous region in Idaho, America. Her parents had an extreme paranoia that spanned government conspiracies, end-of-days apocalypses as well as a deep mistrust of modern medicine and education. Westover recounts her journey to break free from the ignorant shackles of her parents' ideologies and seek a formal higher education. In the face of today's raging Trump-supporting mid-America, this memoir reflects with perceptiveness, respect and empathy for those who may not choose to believe the facts before them.

What the Internet is saying: "I devoured this book, unbelievably sucked into this life. I am thankful for the author's willingness to be so vulnerable."

What the Obama said: "Set after WWII, Warlight by Michael Ondaatje is a meditation on the lingering effects of war on the family."

Why this book matters: The novel begins in post-war London in 1945 and revolves around Nathaniel and his sister Rachel whose parents mysteriously depart for Singapore on business without them, then jumps forward to 1969 when Nathaniel is grown with a house in Suffolk. From the author of The English Patient, the book is a harsh reminder of the damaging ramifications of war on the young, impressionable and vulnerable. 

What the Internet is saying: "If you are looking for a completely linear novel, this is not that book. If you are looking for an amazing piece of writing that illuminates a sense of loss and understands both the past and the future, read this."

What the Obama said: "With the recent passing of V.S. Naipaul, I reread A House for Mr Biswas, the Nobel Prize winner's first great novel about growing up in Trinidad and the challenge of post-colonial identity."

Why this book matters: This novel is the closest, most personal and funniest work of the Nobel Prize-winning British author.  Descendent of East Indians taken to Trinidad, the book's lead Mr Biswas toils away in sugarcane fields and looked upon with disdain by his wife. He buys a house in dire condition with the little money he has and then dies of heart disease at the age of 46, leaving his wife and kids broke and desperate. The book alludes to Naipaul's very own immigrant tale in Trinidad, which he describes as "full of malice".

What the Internet is saying: "Not much is known about the diaspora of ethnic South Asians in regions such as the Caribbean and Africa, so this is a cultural eye-opener." 

What the Obama said: "An American Marriage by Tayari Jones is a moving portrayal of the effects of a wrongful conviction on a young African-American couple."

Why this book matters: Much of the story is told through letters that the two protagonists write each other — Roy who is falsely incarcerated for 12 years and his wife Celestial. Besides its emotional cocktail of grief and despair, the book's racial context is undeniably current with the indiscriminate slaughter of black lives at the hands of police all over America. 

What the Internet is saying: "I don't know how many of you can relate to a black couple in America being ripped apart by a flawed justice system, but I personally got teary-eyed by the second letter — the first one was written by Roy. I'm only 22."

What the Obama said: "Factfulness by Hans Rosling, an outstanding international public health expert, is a hopeful book about the potential for human progress when we work off facts rather than our inherent biases." 

Why this book matters: Swedish statistician Hans Rosling passed away last year, but he leaves this remarkable book that he co-authored with his son and daughter-in-law. The book does a great deal in breaking down media bias and popular assumptions that first-world citizens tend to have about the world, particularly regarding disaster news, wealth and standard of living. Just a few chapters into the book, the world just seems so much fresher and hopeful through Rosling's crystal-clear analysis.

What the Internet is saying: "Unless you have watched Rosling's famous lectures that are available on TED and Youtube, this book will forever change the way you understand global health, demography and development."

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