To Obama: With Love, Joy, Hate and Despair

book review

to obama: with love, joy, hate and despair

by Jeanne Marie Laskas

Remember when politics was motivated by hope and empathy? I challenge anyone, even the most hardened Republicans, to not feel a pang of loss when reading this fabulous book.

Obama received 10,000 letters a day. Having earned the reputation for corresponding personally wherever possible whilst on the campaign trail, Americans wanted to write to Barack Obama. They wanted him to know their story. They felt he would want to know. They were right.

Obama assembled a dedicated and committed team to sift this volume down to the 10 he would take home to read every single day. This team of staff and interns would settle on the 10 as the letters were categorised and sampled through the hierarchy of the mail office.

Laskas’ book contains many, many of these letters, reproduced in the form in which they arrived, and also the replies they received from Obama himself. My tired eyes took a while on some of the smaller print but it is well worth the effort.

The 10lads (letters of the day), as they became known were intended to give a flavour, a refelection of the mood of America. Ranging from simple thank you notes to heart rending pleas from desperate veterans, victims of the economic crisis that marked the early Obama years, migrants and so minorities.

I finished this book as the current incumbent is shouting at anyone daring to question his increasingly worrying moves to bypass democracy. On folding the beautiful, simple, hardback cover closed, I was too emotional to speak. The passage describing the mood in the mail room team (“team little people” as they referred to themselves) after election night 2016 is numbing and humbling.

To Obama isn’t just about the letters though. There are chapters devoted to a selection of those who received replies. A window into America through the eyes and words of the people that live there.

And then there’s the staff, the interns, people that grew up with the Obama years. The tales of having to walk away from letters, letters pinned to walls (including the President’s), letters being walked around and around the building.

An operation which deals with pushing 4 million pieces of correspondence a year is delicately crafted into a tale of people through the guile and sensitivity of Laskas.

Wonderful

As Barack Obama put it himself:

“It was a way for me to, every day, remember that what I was doing was not about me, it wasn’t about the Washington calculus … It was about the people who were out there living their lives, who were either looking for some help or angry about how I was screwing something up.”

I received this book as a gift from my wonderful wife – go and buy it for someone you love too x

BOOKS OF THE YEAR

OOO, we do love a good book – not all of these books were published in 2018, they’re my favourites that I’ve read during the year.

My top 3 Non-Fiction reads of the year were…..

THE SALT PATH by Raynor Winn, THE PRISON LETTERS OF NELSON MANDELA & RUNNING FOR MY LIFE BY Rachel Ann Cullen

My top 3 Fiction reads of the year were…..

WHITE TEARS by Hari Kunzru, THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ by Heather Morris and THE CHALK MAN by C. J. Tudor

In no particular order, the 32 books I’ve read this year are:-

NON-FICTION

Adults In The Room by Yanis Varoufakis

Running For My Life by Rachel Ann Cullen

Corbyn by Richard Seymore

On Writing by Stephen King

Chavs by Owen Jones

The People by Selina Todd

Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People (About Race) by Renni Eddo-Lodge

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

The Wrong Way Home by Peter Moore

The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela

FICTION

Conclave by Robert Harris

Fool Me Once by Harlen Coben

White Tears by Hari Kunzru

Magpie Murders by Anthony Harowitz

Two Sketches Of Disjointed Happiness by Simon Kinch

Don’t Let Go by Michel Bussi

Man And Boy by Tony Parsons

A Natural by Ross Raisin

Waterline by Ross Raisin

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

Serious Sweet by A.L. Kennedy

White Crocodile by K.T. Medina

Exit West by Mosin Hamid

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

The Tattooist Of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

The Librarian by Sally Vickers

Never Coming Back by Tim Weaver

God’s Own Country by Ross Raisin

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

No Safe House by Linwood Barclay

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

Anatomy Of A Scandal by Sarah Vaughan