President Obama's vacation plans on Martha's Vineyard included time to read four works of fiction and one of nonfiction. In a sign of our partisan times, his leisure-reading list ruffled feathers. At the National Review, Tevi Troy wondered whether the president's interest in fiction sent a signal that he's "out of touch with reality." At Salon, Robin Black wished the summer reading list had included more women authors.
I'd hate to have my reading choices picked apart by people with agendas and biases, wouldn't you? If I read Veronica Roth's DIVERGENT, a young adult novel, it doesn't mean I want to relive my childhood, especially when childhood's set in a dystopian society. I do, however, remember how important certain choices seemed at age sixteen, especially the right-for-me college and career.
If I pick up Mary Higgins Clark's I'LL WALK ALONE, it's not because I'm flirting with paranoia but because I want to see how the woman-next-door type, someone a lot like me, copes with the fear someone has stolen her identity and is trying to destroy her sanity.
"I read because one life isn't enough," wrote author Richard Peck. Fiction helps us slip into another person's shoes and understand his/her viewpoint. Surely the ability to do so puts us more in touch with others, not less.
Robert Gray, a contributing editor at Shelf Awareness, responded to the hoopla over the president's fiction-heavy list with this: "Fiction is not all make-believe; nonfiction is not the same as truth. But we can learn from all of these variations what it means to be human."