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What Is Obama Reading?

abstract:Isn't it nice that the USA has a President who openly admits to reading? And isn't it nice that his choice of books matters to the reading public. That is the conclusion that the publisher of Vintage/Anchor Books announced Monday when they tallied—the Obama effect—on a book they released last June as compared to sales this Thursday May 7th. There has been double-digit increase in sales since Obama revealed he was reading Joseph O'Neill's novel, Netherland (a highly praised novel about cricket, marriage and living in a post 9/11 world.) It all came about in a New York Times interview (article is free when you register) written by David Leonhardt, who spent 50 minutes in a one-on-one conversation with Obama. The whole article is worth reading because it encapsulates Obama's daily agenda since taking office, and it is both candid and intimate. When the president disclosed how much he was enjoying the book, sales hit the roof.

Learn more about the plot, the author (a dashing barrister-cricket player) and the celebrity effect on book sales historically. Then click to purchase this book as you'll be seeing the cover frequently in hands of your fellow commuters on the buses, subways and airplanes. It is sure to be a popular book group pick, and the topic of discussion around the office water cooler. Below is a synopsis of the book, a copy of the transcript posted on Amazon with the author and a bit of biographical background—your primer for many conversations to come! Hurry, the first printing was only 70,000 copies.


May 06, 2009

NYT Quote

"This was our third interview about the economy, the first two occurring during last year’s campaign. And while the setting was decidedly more formal this time — the Oval Office — the interview felt as conversational as those earlier ones. We sat at the far end of the office from his desk and spoke for 50 minutes. None of his economic advisers were there. As the conversation progressed, Obama spoke in increasingly personal terms. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of that interview."

"At the end of our conversation, when I asked him if he was reading anything good, he said he had become sick enough of briefing books to begin reading a novel in the evenings — “Netherland,” by Joseph O’Neill."—David Leonhardt, NYT

Joseph O'Neill

"O'Neill, who has half-Irish and half-Turkish ancestry, was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1964, and grew up in The Netherlands, where he attended boarding school at The Hague. He read law at Girton College, Cambridge, preferring it over English because "literature was too precious" and he wanted it to remain a hobby. After a year off to write his first novel, O'Neill became a barrister at the English Bar, where he practised for ten years at The Temple, principally in the field of business law." He is a member of chambers at 3 Hare Court. He moved to NYC in 1998.

"He writes regularly for The Atlantic Monthly and is the author of two previous novels, This Is the Life and The Breezes, and of a family history, Blood-Dark Track, which was a New York Times Notable Book. O'Neill received the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for his third novel, Netherland. He has lived with his family in New York City since 1998 and is married to Vogue editor Sally Singer, who rejected his second novel when she was working as an editor at Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. They live in the Chelsea Hotel in New York with their three sons." The NYT called Netherlands, "the wittiest, angriest, most exacting and most desolate work of fiction we’ve yet had about life in New York and London after the World Trade Center fell". It was also included in New York Times, list of 10 Best Books of 2008. More information atWikipedia (Photo Credit: O'Neill dashingly sporting his cricket bat, shah.

Amazon Transcript of Author Interview

Question: President Obama mentioned in a New York Times Magazine profile that he’s reading Netherland. How do you feel about the President reading your book?

Joseph O'Neill: I'm very honored, of course.

Question: How is the world of Netherland particular to the United States after 9/11? Joseph O'Neill: The story takes place in the aftermath of 9/11. One of the things it does is try to evoke the disorientation and darkness of that time, which we only emerged from with the election of President Obama.

Question: What is the importance of the sport of cricket in this book? Do you play?

Joseph O'Neill: I love sport and play cricket and golf myself. Sport is a wonderful way to bring together people who would otherwise have no connection to each other.

Question: One of your reviewers calls Netherland an answer to The Great Gatsby. Were you influenced by Fitzgerald’s book, and was your book written with that book in mind?

Joseph O'Neill: Halfway through the book I realized with a slightly sinking feeling that the plot of Netherland was eerily reminiscent of the Gatsby plot: dreamer drowns, bystander remembers. But there are only about 5 plots in existence, so I didn't let it bother me too much. Fitzgerald thankfully steered clear of cricket.

Question: Many reviewers have commented on the “voice” of this novel. How it is more a novel of voice than of plot? Do you agree with this?

Joseph O'Neill: Yes, I would agree with that comment. This is not a novel of eventful twists and turns. It is more like a long-form international cricket match (which can last for 5 days without a winner emerging), about nuance and ambiguity and small slippages of insight. And about language, of course.

The Celebrity Effect on Book Sales talks about "the paparazi effect"... In January, one edition of Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robins sold 1,000 copies in the U.S. That’s about the same number it sold the week after Drew Barrymore was photographed with the novel in February. Elf on the Shelf (The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition) by Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell Sales spiked 300 percent, to 4,000 copies, in the month after Jennifer Garner was photographed carrying this children’s book. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle The week after the photos of Paris Hilton holding this guide first appeared, one edition sold 3,000 copies—a 50 percent increase over the previous week. Of course the mother of all celebrity endorsors to effect book sales is Oprah, who routinely increases the sale of copies of her featured "Oprah Book Club Pick" by 1 Million. But the difference between a person mentioning what they're reading or being photographed with a copy of a book and the sales effect of an established book sales engineare really two different things.

Way to go Obama!



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