POLITICS
01/16/2017 02:16 pm ET

Obama Reveals How The Power Of Fiction Was Important To His Presidency

“Fiction was useful as a reminder of the truths under the surface of what we argue about every day.”
President Obama said sometimes you read fiction "just because you want to be someplace else."
Carlos Barria/Reuters
President Obama said sometimes you read fiction "just because you want to be someplace else."

Reading fiction played a valuable role in his presidency, President Barack Obama said, both as a mental exercise and an escape to “someplace else.”

In an interview with The New York Times, published Monday, Obama explained how he sought to balance the kind of fact-based reading he had to do as president.

“[W]orking that very analytical side of the brain all the time sometimes meant you lost track of not just the poetry of fiction, but also the depth of fiction,” Obama said. “Fiction was useful as a reminder of the truths under the surface of what we argue about every day and was a way of seeing and hearing the voices, the multitudes of this country.”

The president, who has listed Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick among his favorite books, also admitted “there’s been the occasion where I just want to get out of my own head.”

“Sometimes you read fiction just because you want to be someplace else,” he said.

Novels have explicitly helped shape Obama’s thinking at times. In his recent farewell address to America, he quoted Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

Obama told the Times that the power of fiction would factor into his future work as well.

“[I]n my post-presidency, in addition to training the next generation of leaders to work on issues like climate change or gun violence or criminal justice reform, my hope is to link them up with their peers who see fiction or nonfiction as an important part of that process,” Obama said.

“When so much of our politics is trying to manage this clash of cultures brought about by globalization and technology and migration, the role of stories to unify — as opposed to divide, to engage rather than to marginalize — is more important than ever,” he added.

Obama will start his post-presidency work in a Washington, D.C., office at the downtown building that houses the World Wildlife Federation. He plans to reside in the city until at least 2019, when his younger daughter, Sasha, graduates from high school.

Read more of The New York Times’ interview with Obama here.

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