As I finished reading Barack Obama’s 768-page memoir, I was reminded of how I’ve always told my students that what you get from a text depends on what you bring to it. So here’s a funny, true story of what I brought to this text…
In the school year of 1990-91, if I am honest, although I worked really hard on my graduate studies (I was at Harvard, getting an M.Ed.), I spent many afternoons in the Malkin Athletic Center, playing pickup basketball with the guys. I was the only woman on the court, and although I was short and not fast, I knew how to play. I hustled, boxed out, played tough defense, and when I was wide open, my jump shot was deadly. Most importantly, I simply loved to play, and I loved to play with these guys because like me, they were also addicted to the game. We had other things we should have been doing, but we couldn’t help ourselves. After a bruising battle, someone would say, “One more,” and we would shrug, wipe our brows, and go again.
One afternoon as we shot free throws to pick teams, this weird thing happened. The first five to make a shot would be the first team. I lined up, hit mine, and slapped hands with my friend Milton, and waited for three others to join us. The next guy swished his and came over to introduce himself. He was tall and skinny, with ears that stuck out, and a wide smile. He shook my hand.
“I’m Barack Obama,” he said.
“I’ll vote for you,” I blurted. This strange deja-vu sensation rang in my ears, and I thought, Why did I just say that? Who is this guy?
I don’t know how he reacted because I was so befuddled by what I’d said. Then the game began, and all was forgotten. Our team played like we’d known one another for years, and we stayed on through several rounds. It was a fabulous afternoon.
Fast-forward 26 years, and I saw this man on TV, running for president. And, full disclosure: I did vote for him; in fact, I volunteered on his campaign. Twice.
It was with this unusual lens that I opened his new book. By this point I’d read his two previous books and countless newspaper articles about him. I knew plenty about him. I wondered if this long, long book would hold my attention.
Turns out, it did. A Promised Land, like Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope, is beautifully written. Obama pulls back the curtain to reveal what it was like to be President of the United States, and gives historical context to explain the decisions he faced on a daily—or more like hourly—basis. It is a fascinating, deeply reflective look into the complexity of the job, and it made me appreciate how much time and effort he and the people around him put into trying to solve a relentless barrage of global and domestic problems—from the Great Recession to the push for the Affordable Care Act, to the Deepwater Horizon explosion, to various crises in the Middle East, and on and on. Like that guy I played hoops with so many years ago, they definitely gave a hundred percent.