Friday, February 20, 2009

Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

I started reading Barack Obama's memoir this week. It wasn't a book I set out to read, but I'd read some good reviews (Bending Bookshelf) and it became an impulse Target purchase on Monday. (This is why I shouldn't walk past the book/movie section, or the home section, or the clothing section, of Target. Just get the toothpaste and get out.)

I like Obama and I'm glad he's in the position he's in currently. But, I'm not someone who thinks he's God's gift, a rock star or our country's saving grace. I think he's a start, though. I've always liked the way he speaks, and how he speaks - like he's sitting across the table from you. And I appreciate his views on race, youth, the middle class, etc. But, when someone gets to level that he's at, you can never quite know if his words are his real words. Is this really what he thinks? Or, is this just rhetoric from the Obama "machine"? I think it's fair to say that politicians, no matter what side they're on, are hard to believe full stop.

With that being said, I am loving Dreams From My Father, for the following reasons:

1. Obama wrote this some 15 years ago, in his early 30s. What does this mean to me? It means he actually wrote it. At that point he didn't have speech writers, he didn't have a staff. He took a year off to write this on his own. And it's good writing. Excellent writing. I'm very impressed. It's engaging, it's funny, it's logical, it feels true, and his voice rings from it. The same voice I've been hearing nearly every day for the past two years. It proves to me that our president is smart and eloquent all on his own.

2. This is a book that discusses race to a great extent (obviously). Can you imagine being a black boy being raised by white grandparents and a white mother? Can you imagine being a white mother trying to raise a black son? Where do you find the influences he needs in his life? Where does little Barry look for guidance when he has all these questions about who he is? His grandparents were lovely people, who believed from day one that you should just treat people, all people, decently. (Go figure.) But in the end, it was his struggle to deal with, and boy, does he mentally struggle. It's quite the peek inside his head, and you better understand how he got where he is today.

3. It's honest. 15 years ago, I don't know if Obama had aspirations for the presidency, but I think if he really did, he wouldn't have written down some of the things he writes here. He's truthful about some of the harsh things he was thinking and feeling. He's truthful about the experiences he had. And the fact that he hasn't denied these things now, is pretty cool, too. (Though it's hard to deny things you wrote in your own memoir, we all know people try and do it anyway...)

Where I'm at in the book, Obama has only just graduated from college. But I'm pleased that through good writing and an honest voice, I can see the same passion for change in the 20-something Obama that I see in our president. I also think that if this book was written by any other person, and I read a good review in my EW or something, that I would still want to read it. He's an interesting man with interesting experiences to share.


Charley said...

I'm glad you're enjoying this so far. I appreciated his honesty, too, even though he admits in the introduction that some of the book's passages have proved politically inconvenient.

willikat said...

i just bought this last night! i can't wait to start it.

Lindsey said...

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Lindsey (&