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Obama booklet captures his “elegance and essence”

June 4, 2010

Guest post by Sharon O’Malley, freelance journalist

I’m up in the mountains for a few days by myself, and I finally had an hour to sit down and read Obama: The President’s Historic First Year in Quotes from cover to cover. I enjoyed reading it so much–I knew I would, because I find him so inspirational–that I jotted down a few notes about it.

Although the book is about his first year in office, it brought to mind his emergence on the “scene” at the 2004 Democratic Convention. The rapture of his speech that night is something I’ll never forget. Starting then, it was his words that made America notice him; his words that made so many of us fall in love with him and place our hope and trust in him.

Your book is an homage to his words–and so vividly and in a beautifully balanced way, shows his progression (or maybe I should say regression) from Inspirational Obama to Practical Obama to Come ON, People! Obama–from candidate/beacon of hope to down-to-business president to stymied-by-politics-but-still-in-charge potential one-termer.

The quotes you chose to include reveal the breadth of the man: inspirational, tough-as-nails, full of common sense, a little bit funny, a dad, powerful, humble, hopeful and above all, clearly honored to hold the office of president. I’m not sure I “got” that last bit until I read your book. The book captures his elegance and his essence. I think I like him a little better than I did before I started reading it.

Here are my two favorite quotes from the book. Both resonate with me personally:

“I come to embrace the notion that I haven’t done enough in my life; I heartily concur. I come to affirm that one’s title, even a title like president of the United States, says very little about how well one’s life has been led–that no matter how much you’ve done, or how successful you’ve been, there’s always more to do, always more to learn, and always more to achieve.”

I absolutely feel that way about myself (except for the being president part!!!) and how amazing that an icon of world history feels that way, too.

The other one I love:

“One of the things that I think is most valuable about sports is that you can play a great game and still not win.”

I’m reading Tom Peters’ new book, the Little Big Things, and one of his things is to “celebrate failures.” Obama’s quote put that in perspective for me.

Speaking of perspective, I appreciated so much having your notes under the quotations. A quote like the one about his new dog was readable and memorable on its own, but in the context of Truman’s prior comments about his own dog, made so much more sense–and was much funnier.

The other “editing” victory in this book is this: Although the quotations are tiny snippets of speeches and statements, you didn’t stop at the obvious “sound bite.”

In many cases, you continued the quotation to give it context and follow-up. So often as reporters, we stop at the cool part of the quote, which serves our purpose but doesn’t always reveal the speaker’s purpose. That you allowed Obama to ramble just a little added texture and background that really helped engage me as a reader.

The layout and photos are beautiful as well. I know you got stock photos from the White House so they are, of course, all flattering and somewhat staged, but they piece together like a scrapbook of anyone’s special year. We always choose our best photos–and the ones that tell the story the best.

“Scrapbook” probably isn’t a word that you kept in mind when compiling the book, but I mean it as a compliment.

It’s a warm and positive look back at a year in the life. (My favorite photo is the one of Obama saluting with the soldiers. He’s smaller than they are and dressed differently, and it brought to mind the stark reality that he’s the commander in chief of a military that he never served in.)

Thanks for giving me this lovely book. I’m going to save it and offer it to others to read. I hope they’ll leave it, as I did, feeling about Obama a little more like I did when he was using his gift of language to win my vote.

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