Even while maintaining a packed schedule, Michelle Obama turns to books to open up new worlds — and she believe we should all be doing the same.
"We need to learn each other’s stories so we can humanize each other," the former First Lady said at a New York Public Library press event. "There are people who do bad things but we are all just trying to work things out; empathy, openness and speaking to each other are vital."
Well before the days of promoting her own best-selling memoir, "Becoming," Obama was always vocal about the books and authors she particularly enjoys reading. Below, we've rounded up every title that Obama has publicly recommended (that we could find!). Add these to your summer reading list, stat.
1. "Educated" — Tara Westover
“It’s an engrossing read, a fresh perspective on the power of an education, and it’s also a testament to the way grit and resilience can shape our lives," Obama told the New York Times. "Also, since I’ve just finished a memoir of my own, I love to see how people choose to tell their own story — the small moments that tell larger truths, the character development, the courage it takes to tell a story fully.”
2. "An American Marriage" — Tayari Jones
This Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 pick has been top-of-stack on Obama's nightstand. NPR calls it a seminal work that's "redefining the American love story."
3. "Exit West" — Moshin Hamid
This New York Times bestselling novel, centering on two refugees escaping a country on the brink of civil war, has received high praise, including the 2018 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction and The Aspen Words Literary Prize.
4. "White Teeth" — Zadie Smith
“I love the way the story weaves together so many complex and powerful forces that affect our lives and our relationships — family and parenting, religion and politics, and so much more," Obama told the Times. "Plus, it’s just plain funny. I love books that make me laugh every now and then.”
5. "Commonwealth" — Ann Patchett
This humorous, engaging family portrait, named a Notable Book of 2016 by the New York Times Book Review, is another novel Obama has referred to as sitting atop her nightstand.
6. "Conversations With Myself" — Nelson Mandela
“It’s a collection of his writings and speeches, an extension of sorts to 'Long Walk to Freedom,'" Obama told the Times. "I like to flip through it from time to time because it always seems to give me an extra boost when I need it.”
7. "Song of Solomon" — Toni Morrison
“One of the first books that I loved and read cover to cover in one day, not because anybody made me read it but because the book was good, was 'Song of Solomon'" Obama said at a Take Your Child to Work Day event in 2011. "That book helped me love reading, because before then reading was kind of like something you did when you had to do it. But that book, it like grabbed me and pulled me and I just kept reading and kept reading.”
8. "The Snowy Day" — Ezra Jack Keats
Obama told the Times that this children’s book was a favorite of Sasha and Malia's, explaining why she herself loved it. “It’s a simple story about the adventures of a boy on a snowy day. He makes snow angels, slides down a snow pile and gets smacked by a snowball. It’s a boy who happened to be black and who happened to live in the city. He’s a kid just being a kid, and that’s enough.”
9. "Life of Pi" — Yann Martel
In an interview with People in 2012, Obama and her husband, then-President Barack, said they'd read and enjoyed this book together.
10. "Where the Wild Things Are" — Maurice Sendak
At the 2016 White House Easter Egg Roll, Obama and her family acted out this classic children’s book on the South Lawn.
11. "The Light of the World" — Elizabeth Alexander
This Pulitzer Prize-nominated memoir was among Obama’s favorite reads of 2015.
12. "Goodnight Moon" — Margaret Wise Brown
At the aforementioned Take Your Child to Work Day event, Obama also listed this classic story as one of her and her children's bedtime favorites.
13. "Pippi Longstocking" — Astrid Lindgren
“I loved her strength — not just her physical power, but the idea that she wouldn’t allow her voice to be diminished by anyone," Obama told the Times. "She’s independent, clever and adventurous, and she’s clearly a good person, someone who always does right by her friends. What I loved most was that she was a girl, and she was a little different, and she was still the most powerful character in those books.”
Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia University, and her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology.