President’s reading list a hefty one — USA TODAY, 8/25/2009

OAK BLUFFS, Mass. — President Obama spent nearly five hours on the golf course here Monday. He’ll need a lot more time to get through his reading list.

From the relatively short Plainsong (301 pages) to the heftier John Adams (752 pages), the president has come to Martha’s Vineyard with five books destined to challenge his time-management skills.

Taken together, they are a smart collection for “someone who really appreciates the written word,” says Susan Mercier, manager of Edgartown Books here.

“I would not classify any of those as light fiction. They’re pretty meaty works,” Mercier said. “I hope he has time to sit and read them, because he’s a busy guy.”

Obama worked out and played tennis with his wife, Michelle, on his first morning here. Then it was off to Farm Neck Golf Club for 18 holes with aide Marvin Nicholson, friend Eric Whitaker, a Chicago physician, and Robert Wolf, president of UBS Investment Bank.

Add the time Obama has said he wants to spend with daughters, Malia, 11, and Sasha, 8, and Obama “isn’t going to have a lot of time for golf,” said Linda Fairstein, an author based in Chilmark, where the president is staying this week on a 28-acre farm. “They’re all smart books for somebody very intelligent.”

They’re mostly older books, showing Obama to be someone “catching up on books he has heard about but not had time to get to,” says Carol Fitzgerald, president of The Book Report Network, which publishes several websites on books. She called Obama’s list “a mixed bag of high-end beach reading.”

Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said the list shows that Obama “has exquisite taste. All five of his picks are classics.”

The complete list, according to White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton:

Hot, Flat, and Crowded, by Thomas Friedman, which urges a “green revolution.”

John Adams, by David McCullough, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2002.

Lush Life, by Richard Price, a murder novel set in New York City.

Plainsong, by Kent Haruf, a novel set in Colorado that became a TV special.

The Way Home, a crime thriller set in Washington by George Pelecanos.

Sara Nelson, former editor in chief of Publisher’s Weekly, described the crime books as “upscale thrillers — they’re not shoot-em-ups.” Getting through all five, she said, could be all but impossible.

“If he’s like the rest of us, he will read some of all of them and will finish one or, at most, two of them,” she said.