Obama’s Summer Reading: A Look Inside

categories: Cocktail Hour / Don't Talk About Politics


            I hope it’s a nice day up on Martha’s Vineyard.  Nice, but not too nice.  Actually a little rain would be good—good reading weather.  Enough time for the president to find a little corner of the house, away from the girls and Michelle, and, with some rain pattering on the roof, finally get a chance to through the books he bought the other day at Bunch of Grapes.

I imagine him picking them up, looking them over, skimming here and there, and then doing what we all do despite the famous admonition—judging them by their covers. He likes the novel he bought, and is looking forward to starting it, but it seems more of a nighttime book.  He dips into the one that’s gotten all the praise but the first sentences seem lifeless and dull.  He puts it down and stares out the window. One thing he has been noticing since landing on the Vineyard is how green everything is, the world full and bursting, but at the same time the salt winds nudging it toward fall. He likes those moments of noticing–moments when he remembers that a world exists outside of Debt Ceilings and Tea Parties and John Boehner—and they have become more precious since his Washington captivity began. Even better to remember that a world exists outside of human beings, a fact that, for all the crowds, this island sometimes helps you remember.

Maybe that’s what he leads him to pick up the next book, or maybe it’s not quite so romantic—maybe it’s as simple as the fact that it is the shortest book in the bunch and therefore can be whipped through. Of course he can’t bee seen in public reading a book with the word “manifesto” in it—imagine the field day on Fox News.  But there are no cameras around for the moment, so what the hell?  He reads about two men, men almost exactly his age, who paddle down a river not far from the island he is on.  They seem to be having a lot of fun as they paddle and maybe he starts having a little vicarious fun, too. He reads about Teddy Roosevelt, a man he has always admired despite their temperamental differences and the fact that some people like to use Teddy as a big stick to beat him with for not fighting hard enough for his beliefs.  Then he reads about a guy named Dan Driscoll, a fellow politician, who focuses in on his goals like a badger and doesn’t let go, bare the consequences.  Yes, he thinks, if only it were that simple in my job.

And because the guy is human–and deserves a break despite what Hannity says– let’s hope he laughs a little too.  For instance let’s hope he is amused by this passage on the book’s third page:


As Dan Driscoll paddles he describes what he calls his “radical idea” that being environmental isn’t about education or politics. It’s about what Thoreau called “contact.” About falling in love with something—a place, an animal– and then fighting for it.

“When I grew up in Newton we always had our butts dragged out to Lincoln to learn about ‘nature.’ Now a kid in Newton can just walk out his backdoor and down to the river. The way I look at it if I build these paths and one kid walks down here and has contact with nature, then maybe that will do something. Maybe he’ll be inspired to fight for the place. Maybe he’ll be the next John Muir.”

He pauses to correct himself, seeming to realize he has slightly overstated.

“Or at least maybe he’ll just be less of a dick.”


Let’s imagine the President laughs at the last word.  Let’s imagine he says to himself: “Dick.  Now that’s a funny word.  Why don’t I ever get to say a word like that?”

As he keeps reading two ideas bubble up in his head, one personal and one political.  The personal one is hard to describe but goes something like this: after the immediate vicarious pleasure of paddling along with these guys on the river he starts to feel dissatisfied.  Now that’s a vacation, he thinks.  Not sitting in some big house with guards all around on some rich folks’ island.  Could he rent a kayak tomorrow?  Or could he look silly and unpresidential, like John Kerry on that windsurfer thing?

The second idea is this.  This guy is right! I mean anyone with half a brain knows that the earth, our first and only home, is worth fighting for. It may be that in this imbecilic political climate we have to pretend that there is some debate about global warming, and that we have to humor the loony crew trying to eliminate the EPA. But anyone with even the slightest historical imagination can see that we are in the midst of a massive environmental crisis, the president thinks, and when I get back to Washington I will address this, despite the political fall-out. And then he thinks:

But first I’ve got to call this Gessner cat.

He skims ahead, trying to glean any personal information about the author.   Perhaps he is looking for the author’s cell phone number (910-512-7046) or his e-mail (Gessner52@hotmail.com), but why would these be in a book?  What he finds instead is that this Gessner guy has a daughter, about Sasha’s age, and he wonders if the author and his girl might be up for a presidential playdate.  (What he doesn’t find is the fact that the author’s daughter is a dog fanatic who knows everything there is to know about about Portuguese Water Dogs).

But, given what he is reading about Gessner, he wonders if a playdate is really the right theme. Maybe a beer instead, like the one he had with Joe The Plumber?  Either way, people are always criticizing him for being stiff, and he gets the feeling that maybe this Gessner can help him relax….could maybe play the Kirk to his Spock. Sure, why not?  I like the lilt of his jig, the president thinks. And from what he’s read he gathers that the man currently has money problems, and could use a high-paying job.  Why not bring him to the White House and make him Special Adviser in Charge of Loosening Me Up?

To which I can only add: Why not indeed, Mr. President?   Why not indeed?


My video address to the Prez

From Yesterday’s Boston Globe:

Obama keeps low profile on the Vineyard

EDGARTOWN — If his comings and goings yesterday are any indication, President Barack Obama will be keeping a very low profile during his Martha’s Vineyard vacati

On Day 1 of the first family’s nine-day stay on the island, Obama remained mostly out of sight, not emerging from Blue Heron Farm until 12:15 p.m., when his motorcade headed into Vineyard Haven and a visit to Bunch of Grapes Book Store. (Daughters Sasha and Malia walked out with a bag containing, among other books, David Gessner’s “My Green Manifesto: Down the Charles River in Pursuit of a New Environmentalism,” which we recommended Obama read in our column this week.)










  1. Peter Peteet writes:

    “Sure, why not?”reminds me of Virginia Lee Burtons’ classic tale of Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne.It was the Globe that carried the account of it’s conception wherein 12 year old Dick Berkenbush(there’s a boy’s name to sue after) “suggested that the author could solve the problem of having written Mike and Mary Anne into a literal corner” by having the steam shovel re-purposed as a furnace.In this world where “we all got holes to fill,and them holes are all that’s real”(T.V.Zant)Obama’s pit of up-tightness which he has dug by furious and incessant attempts to prove what his predecessor claimed was impossible(compromising w/fundamentalists)WAS possible he can re-purpose the outdated engine of fossil fuel addiction into a heart warming homage to our forefathers in the basement of the structure of the modern School of Sustainable Life we need to build for our kids.Hope your cell rings soon and the Man who has his finger on the button finds a way to loosen both himself and the 100+ folks who have gone from his front yard to real cells over the last three days.If so you’ll have done more in an hour than 100 men with shovels could do in a week and those crotch-ety old men muttering “he won’t get paid”will get what we all know they really need-a little loosening too.Hang loose,and together,and perhaps even old Leroi will remember to exhale and crack a smile.Why not indeed?

    • LeRoi writes:

      A few sentences dashed off half in jest, halfer in seriousness foments the far left environmentalist wackos into a sea of frothing, barely sentient free association, I mean ‘prose.’ God, it’s sooooooo easy to get their hackles up.

      They’ve gladly used every modern contrivance, witness Obama’s 9 SUV motorcade at 5:15 p.m. last evening to drive about a 1/2 mile to West Tisbury.

      Yet, they begrudge the average working man the few gallons of gas it takes to get to work every day.

      Go jump, the whole lot of you.

  2. LeRoi writes:

    There is no ‘massive environmental crisis.’ Only loons believe that ‘global warming’ should NOT be up for debate. And isn’t it ‘climate change’ now? Get your PC language correct, would ya?

    Oh, and because you’ve been stuck in English/CW departments for so long, your History department brethren could tell you that ‘imbecilic political debates’ have been around for 235 years in this country, thousands of years in others.

    Lastly, you’ve only got 16 months to get this playdate thing going. Unless of course, you want to have a much more impassioned Republican playdate thereafter.

    • dave writes:

      Thanks for your input, LeRoi. It was getting a little boring around here with everyone agreeing all the time.

    • Bill writes:

      You’re right, LeRoi–Dave’s like a one-man Superfund site, you know what I’m saying? Guy goes to Harvard and still doesn’t know enough to disagree with 100 percent of climate scientists (as opposed to Fox meteorologists) on the subject of Global Climate change! Gosh! Just because all the models created in the 1970s by these scientist guys are coming true (and then some) doesn’t mean we should trust them. And it hardly makes any difference anyway, what with the Mayan Calendar ending and all my neighbors’ clothes falling on my roof (won’t it be embarrassing getting to heaven naked? Well, God knows it’s warm enough up there what with, um, never mind). And even if we can agree that global temperatures have rising dramatically in the last several decades (the most recent being the hottest since records have been kept, just numbers, no opinions attached, imbecilic or otherwise), the smart, non-scientist people know that it’s not PEOPLE that cause things to get so hot. I mean, face it, people aren’t that hot. It’s Co2 that causes it. And Co2 is not a person. Just saying. Or do I have to spell it out: Co2’s a gas. So ha-ha, Dave. You’ve been stuck in your Kayak so long you don’t know what a playdate with Michele Bachmann will even look like! It will be super fun, though, and probably with a snack!

      • LeRoi writes:

        Inhale some more Co2, Bill. It does ya good.

        • LeRoi writes:

          I like to mix it up every now and then Dave, keep things humming, and get Bill out of his cave and onto his soapbox.

          • dave writes:


            While I disagree with your conclusions, I like the instinct to poke us with a stick. All I would suggest is to remember the name of the site, which suggests, not the shrill yelling of the news shows, but banter and irreverence and, hopefully, mutual respect. I don’t write this glibly. I am actually working on a long piece called “The Red and the Blue,” about, in part, my friend Griff. Griff is about as right as you can get but he is also very funny. We seemed to have kept a dialogue over the years without killing each other and I think humor has plenty to do with it. For instance his reaction to Obama buying my book was this: “Haven’t read the book yet and can’t view the video from my phone, but very impressive reference. “\Beginning to understand better the state of his presidency, knowing now his influences.” To which I can only say “Good one.” Dave Dave

            • LeRoi writes:

              Though the Griff story is a pleasant one, I’ll stick to the matter at hand, thank you.

              “It may be that in this imbecilic political climate we have to pretend that there is some debate about global warming, and that we have to humor the loony crew trying to eliminate the EPA.”

              Pray tell, where under the ‘mutual respect’ category do ‘imbecilic political climate,’ ‘loony crew,’ and the implication that one (your) side of the ‘debate’ is the correct one and that opposition to same is oh such trite ‘pretense’ fall?

              Is it because of your Presidential importunations that you now hoist the flag of faux civility and fly the banner of ‘mutual respect?’

              Were you or were you not implying that the imbeciles reside on the other side of the debate from you?

              If yes, then I would expect you to give no quarter and that ‘far left environmentalist wacko’ and ‘loon’ do not sum up to the notion of a Frederic Wiseman-esque drooling imbecile so you may expect one final quarter from me.

              If no, then do forgive my irritability at not being able to decipher your intent.

              I await your reply.

              • dave writes:

                Touche. I do think they are a bunch of idiots. But I will mention something Griff-like that I was doing in that graph that you don’t seem to have considered. From a writerly point of view it is the most wrought-up, rhetorical and “standard argument” sort of my paragraphs. Which sets up:
                “But first I’ve got to call this Gessner cat.”
                The idea there was to go all high hat/rhetoric before I brought in the silly/personal/selfish.
                Or at least that’s what I thought I was doing…

      • Tommy writes:

        There was a story in yesterday’s Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) stating that 2011 was the 3rd hottest summer on record in Atlanta, which, as anyone with half a brain could see, means there still have been 2 years hotter. Statistics are fun, there’s so much you can do with absolute fact, so much gray area to play with, so much room for interpretation, and spin. Some say the power of prayer is real, Diane K., others, that it’s chance. (and we decide which is real, and which is illusion – Knights in White Satin, Moody Blues)

        • Bill writes:

          But summer doesn’t end till September 20… C’mon everyone! We can do it! Drive around a little and crank up that AC and vote Republican, or actually most Democrats, including Obama, it looks like, very sadly, and make 2011 one for the record books!

  3. George de Gramont writes:

    You deserve the fun you are having w/your Presidential connection. How about an Oprah connection! GdG.