On Dec. 31, 2017, former President Barack Obama shared his book list of the year, once again demonstrating that reading (fiction and nonfiction alike) holds an important place in his life, as it should more often for us, too. Obama’s love of books has been public knowledge for some time—The New York Times published an article about Obama’s reading habits while he was in the White House, and his sharing of the years’ book lists has also become a tradition.This prompts the thought that if a man with the life and career of President Obama can afford the time to read—and not just nonfiction works but novels—then we should be able to do the same.
Reading novels is often done for the sake of enjoyment or to fill spare time, but it also can serve another purpose, a purpose which former President Obama no doubt realized, which is to give us more personal insights into human emotions and decisions than we might find anywhere else. Novels explore how we think and feel, what motivates our decisions and what changes our beliefs of morality. Sometimes it can even be easier to understand the perspective of a certain kind of person through the inner dialogue of a book character than through more guarded real-life interactions. The more we read, the more bits of knowledge we have to piece together to try to understand the people around us.
Reading novels throughout the year is seen as a valuable activity, but one for which students or adults don’t have the time. Books have the capacity to make us better people, but they are also worth the time because they make us better in our work. Business and the social sciences are the most popular majors at DU, and these are subjects that hinge on human behavior, decisions and reasoning. Understanding various perspectives (of clients, superiors, program recipients) is essential if you aim to be a good businessperson, economist, public servant or diplomat. Studying history and theory and data about how people behave is largely how these subjects are taught. But novels offer a missing piece—studying voter behavior, for example, can say a lot about Americans’ preferences, but books reveal values and backgrounds in a more patient, personal light. A social scientist who reads novels is a social scientist who examines more carefully the lives of those they impact.
Book recommendations are not hard to come across. Sources like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and NPR have just put out their 2017 lists, and we should all make an effort to read more this year. President Obama called books “a reminder of the truths under the surface of what we argue about every day.” Being reminded of these truths makes us more compassionate and open-minded people, the kinds of people of which the world always needs more.