The Dumbledore Effect in ‘A Promised Land’ by Barack Obama

It’s no secret that Barack Obama is cool. His annual reading and listening lists show he has his finger on the pulse of culture in a way that rivals the most hipster of hipsters. So, I was a bit apprehensive about creating a Perfect Book Experience for the first volume of his memoir, but here it goes.

You know how at the end of most Harry Potter books Harry has a thoughtful and revealing conversation with Dumbledore? The reader is usually given one more clue to the mystery behind Harry’s scar. Reading ‘A Promised Land’, and especially if you get the audio version, is a little like having Dumbledore explain to you how and why everything happened during his tenure the way it did.

You’ll find yourself remembering things you had no idea were lodged in the recesses of your brain. And if you’re not one for following the news, you might find there are several events you’re hearing about for the first time. Obama’s account of his (roughly) first four years in office is, in this Unsanctioned Book Influencer’s opinion, thorough.

What It Tastes Like

While I’d love to recommend his favorite campaign meal of steak, potatoes, and vegetables as the food that represents the book best, this book needs ice cream. For its objectivity I’d go with something invigorating like mint and add chocolate chip for the moments of tenderness. I mean, after his presidency, I think some comfort food was in order.

What It Sounds Like

Trying not to be too on the nose, but I’d sincerely compare this book to Miles Davis’ album ‘Kind of Blue.’ Because he is so cool, Obama beat me to it, as he added ‘Freddie Freeloader’ to his ‘A Promised Land’ playlist (of course he has a playlist for the book) but to me, this book feels like the entire Davis album: moody yet dynamic, heady yet conversational.

This Book Might Be Your Next Read If:

  • You’re ready to wade back into the practice of following current events, but you need some hand-holding
  • If you’ve got a ‘Crush on Obama’
  • If you want a glimpse behind the scenes of major legislation during the late ’00s and early ’10s.
  • If you miss hearing Obama’s idiosyncratic voice and speech patterns

Photo credit: Published by Crown, Penguin Random House

How Putting Fruit on Salad is Like ‘After the Blast’ by Eric Wagner

Try to remember the first time you had a salad with fruit in it. If you’re like me, you were probably in your twenties and were just discovering the culinary world beyond top ramen and frozen burritos. Usually, salads are for vegetables, and dressing and cheese are for hiding the taste of all those vegetables. When you put fruit on a salad, you’re showing your taste buds that hiding the “healthy” stuff behind the “good stuff” isn’t necessary because fruit is both the healthy stuff and the good stuff. Reading ‘After the Blast: The Ecological Recovery of Mt. St. Helens’ by Eric Wagner is both the healthy stuff and the good stuff. It is the fruit in a book salad.

You might fear that fruit on a salad is pretentious and to this I say nay. What could be more pedestrian than an apple or a pear? And similarly if you think science writing is also pretentious, or at a minimum, out of your wheel house, fear not. What’s really satisfying about fruit on a salad is the way the fruit’s juice hydrates the whole dish. The juice is the joie de vivre of a salad. And there’s so much juice in Wagner’s scientific observations, the writing is downright refreshing.

Whether he’s interviewing scientists or describing the surprising ways that Mt. St. Helen’s landscape recovered after the volcanic eruption of 1980, you’ll appreciate the curiosity he displays that’s also tempered by the reverence he has for his subject matter. Sprinkled throughout, like a few walnuts on our book salad, Wagner incorporates self deprecating humor that keeps the writing from being too serious. These moments will also make you feel like he’s invited you to be a part of his special club of scientist friends.

The refreshing and reverent take on the subject matter evokes Kishi Bashi’s soaring song ‘Marigolds.’ While marigolds don’t make a prominent appearance in the book, this song definitely captures Wagner’s earnestness, one that’s transferred to the reader, in the lyrics “I want to see the world the way you do.”

This Book Might Be Your Next Read:

  • If you’re a nature lover/national parks lover/science lover
  • If you appreciate subtle surprises and humor
  • If you’ve ever marveled at the resilience of nature
  • If you subscribe to ‘The Atlantic’ and that long read just wasn’t long enough

photo credit: University of Washington Press (purchase the book here)

H/T: In Defense of Plants Podcast