New York Times:
Mr. Obama’s first book, Dreams From My Father (which surely stands as the most evocative, lyrical and candid autobiography written by a future president), suggests that throughout his life he has turned to books as a way of acquiring insights and information from others — as a means of breaking out of the bubble of self-hood and, more recently, the bubble of power and fame. He recalls that he read James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright and W. E. B. Du Bois when he was an adolescent in an effort to come to terms with his racial identity and that later, during an ascetic phase in college, he immersed himself in the works of thinkers like Nietzsche and St. Augustine in a spiritual-intellectual search to figure out what he truly believed.
Like Dreams From My Father, many of the novels Mr. Obama reportedly admires deal with the question of identity: Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon” concerns a man’s efforts to discover his origins and come to terms with his roots; Doris Lessing’s “Golden Notebook” recounts a woman’s struggles to articulate her own sense of self; and Ellison’s “Invisible Man” grapples with the difficulty of self-definition in a race-conscious America and the possibility of transcendence. The poems of Elizabeth Alexander, whom Mr. Obama chose as his inaugural poet, probe the intersection between the private and the political, time present and time past, while the verse of Derek Walcott (a copy of whose collected poems was recently glimpsed in Mr. Obama’s hands) explores what it means to be a “divided child,” caught on the margins of different cultures, dislocated and rootless perhaps, but free to invent a new self.