Read Across America Day is happening across the country on Dr. Seuss’s Day of all Days. What’s that, you say? His Birthday.
A good day to think and wonder, wonder and think.
Do Presidents read more?
President Trump says he doesn’t have time for books, prompting a movement called “Bury the White House in Books on Valentine’s Day.”
Lyndon B. Johnson wasn’t keen on reading, while Barack Obama said reading books was his secret to surviving the White House.
Dwight D. Eisenhower liked Western novels and Harry Truman preferred reading history.
Do you know which president read a book a day, which got into debt from reading and which made grateful authors famous?
Teddy Roosevelt was an extraordinary reader, who read a book a day, sometimes more than one.
He not only read, he wrote: A biography of Oliver Cromwell, books on hunting, gaming, and naval battles, plus nearly 150,000 letters.
If a book particularly moved him, Roosevelt would befriend the author. Authors he befriended included Alfred Thayer Mahan, Upton Sinclair, Israel Zangwill and Jacob Riis.
If a person failed to move him, however, Roosevelt had no problem picking up a book and starting to read.
Though George W. Bush publicly declared his favorite book was The Very Hungry Caterpillar, he not only read history, he even made a point of meeting with authors he liked.
During his second term, an offhand comment by adviser Karl Rove led to annual competitions to see which of the two would tally the most books.
Even though the books were usually quite serious — mainly histories (“A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900”), cultural works (“Nine Parts of Desire”) and biographies (the titanic “Mao”) — when the public found out, Bush was mocked.
“George Bush reading a French Existentialist is like Obama reading a Cabela’s catalog,” sniffed Slate’s John Dickerson.
Bush was well aware of this contempt, once telling a White House colleague that he was enjoying Juan Williams’s book “Enough,” on the plight of black America, but preferred to keep it quiet!
Harry Truman was the last American president not to have completed college. However, he was a voracious reader, once musing that “the only thing new in this world is the history that you don’t know.”
In fact, his support for Israel is credited to Truman’s reading “Great Men and Famous Women”, especially its profile of Cyrus the Great, who allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem. When discussing his support for Israel, Truman said, “I am Cyrus.”
When asked by an editor of his memoirs if he liked to read himself to sleep at night, Mr. Truman answered, “No, young man, I like to read myself awake.”
Jimmy Carter took a speed-reading class with his 9-year-old daughter, Amy in February 1977.
This skill helped him read a reported two books a week as president and three to four books weekly in his post-presidency.
He has also written 24 books, a record for former presidents.
Thomas Jefferson’s volumes, many acquired during his European travels, served as the basis for the Library of Congress.
Here are his reading recommendations, based on his letters.
Jefferson even fell into debt due to his love of books. “I cannot live without books,” he confessed to John Adams.
Books were quite expensive in the Colonies. In 1776, a first edition of Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” would have cost about the same as an iPad today.
Despite having been called an “amiable dunce” by longtime White House adviser Clark Gifford, Ronald Reagan loved books.
Reagan was the first president to use the works of conservative intellectuals, citing Milton Friedman’s “Free To Choose” and George Gilder’s “Wealth and Poverty” to advance his economic policy agenda.
Reagan’s fiction reading helped transform the life of obscure insurance salesman Tom Clancy.
After Reagan called Clancy’s Cold War techno-thriller The Hunt for Red October “a perfect yarn” in 1985, the book skyrocketed up the best-seller list. As Clancy admitted, “President Reagan made The Hunt for Red October a best-seller.”
Richard Nixon’s farewell speech to his staff on Aug. 9, 1974, included this Nixonian line: “I am not educated, but I do read books.”
According to Conrad Black, he would often retreat to a secret room in the Old Executive Office to read and nap.
In his memoirs he noted that he read Tolstoy extensively in his youth, even calling himself a “Tolstoyan”.
Nixon sought out books about the big issues of the day. After a summit with the Soviets, for instance, he reread Winston Churchill’s “Triumph and Tragedy” for Churchill’s recollections of the Yalta conference.
A biography of British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli inspired Nixon to call for the resignation of his own White House staff and Cabinet, a move he later described as a mistake.
Bill Clinton loves to read mysteries, calling them a “little cheap-thrills outlet.”
He is as famous for racing through the latest thriller as making Robert Wright’s Nonzero required reading in the West Wing.
There was a definite commercial advantage for mystery writers who made it onto Clinton’s reading list.
In February 1994, Clinton was spotted leaving Washington’s MysteryBooks holding Michael Connelly’s Concrete Blonde. Connelly has been a mainstay on the best-seller list ever since.
According to Trump, he has mastered the world of books. Working with co-writers, he has published more than a dozen, most of them autobiographical or in the business-advice genre.
Asked to name the last book he read, Trump said: “I read passages, I read areas, chapters, I don’t have the time,” Trump said. “When was the last time I watched a baseball game? I’m watching you all the time.”
On Read Across America Day, experts say that children’s reading habits are driven by parents, not presidents. While what a president says about books may not have a direct impact on children, surely there is a message that needs to be read? And not with eyes shut.
Happy reading on Read Across America Day!
Siobhan is a freelance writer, research addict and lover of twisted history. If you like horrible but amazing history, check out her website www.interesly.com or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/interesly. Or you can reach her through www.siobhanoshea.com.