Barack Obama says he learned how to be a good citizen from reading novels

Reader in chief.
Reader in chief.
Image: AP/Susan Walsh
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Disillusioned by our fast-paced, cynical news cycle? Follow Barack Obama’s example: slow down, and crack open a novel. In the second of a two-part conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Marilynne Robinson, the US president tipped his hat to fiction, and its vital influence on his ability to connect with others:

When I think about how I understand my role as citizen, setting aside being president, and the most important set of understandings that I bring to that position of citizen, the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels.

It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that. And the notion that it’s possible to connect with some[one] else even though they’re very different from you.

The first half of the interview was published in The New York Review of Books on Oct. 12, and the second was published online yesterday (Oct. 26). Among other topics, the pair also discussed the importance of instilling Americans with a sense of history and the danger of overvaluing economic utility.