President Obama made headlines when he steered clear of the Vineyard Haven bookstore Bunch of Grapes during his recent visit to the island. Maybe his absence wasn't a political statement – it could be that he just wanted to keep his reading preferences quiet.
President Obama has just returned from summer vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, a trip that apparently didn’t include a visit to the Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Vineyard Haven. Visits to the store in previous summers became media events as journalists eagerly reported the president’s purchases for clues about his thinking.
Obama’s absence from Bunch of Grapes this summer prompted Zach Schonfeld of The Atlantic Wire to wonder aloud if the president had dissed independent bookstore owners once again. Obama recently ruffled the feathers of the independent bookstore industry by visiting an Amazon warehouse in Tennessee.
Schonfeld quotes a critic of the president who asked, after the president skipped his Bunch of Grapes visit, if Obama had ordered his books online instead.
Here’s another possible reason why the president didn’t make public book shopping a part of his most recent summer vacation: Maybe Obama didn’t relish the prospect of picking out books with the rest of the world looking over his shoulder. Does that seem like much fun to anyone else?
As an avid reader as well as a professional journalist, I have mixed feelings about the tradition of reporting what a president reads during the summer or any other time of the year.
I’m a firm believer in government transparency, generally assuming that a government leader’s life should be, to pardon the pun, an open book.
I’ve also been heartened by the possibility that in sharing their literary tastes, our commanders-in-chief can be influential readers-in-chief, inspiring other Americans to read for pleasure. I said as much in a Monitor piece last year urging Americans to watch closely what presidential candidates were reading.