On Obama’s reading habits and preferences:
To this day, reading has remained an essential part of his daily life. He recently gave his daughter Malia a Kindle filled with books he wanted to share with her (including “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” “The Golden Notebook” and “The Woman Warrior”). And most every night in the White House, he would read for an hour or so late at night — reading that was deep and ecumenical, ranging from contemporary literary fiction (the last novel he read was Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad”) to classic novels to groundbreaking works of nonfiction like Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The Sixth Extinction.”
On reading to escape and to develop empathy:
Such books were a way for the president to shift mental gears from the briefs and policy papers he studied during the day, a way “to get out of my own head,” a way to escape the White House bubble. Some novels helped him to better “imagine what’s going on in the lives of people” across the country — for instance, he found that Marilynne Robinson’s novels connected him emotionally to the people he was meeting in Iowa during the 2008 campaign, and to his own grandparents, who were from the Midwest, and the small town values of hard work and honesty and humility.
Mr. Obama taught himself to write as a young man by keeping a journal and writing short stories when he was a community organizer in Chicago — working on them after he came home from work and drawing upon the stories of the people he met.