First off, I love how self-deprecating he is. In describing a reading-heavy phase of his twenties he says:
I was hermetic -- it really is true. I had one plate, one towel, and I'd buy clothes from thrift shops. And I was very intense, and sort of humorless.
I picture him scowling in his dad jeans, ten paperbacks of Nietzsche under his arm.
And when she asks about his writing during his Presidency, "But did you keep some form of a journal?" he says:
I've kept some, but not with the sort of discipline that I would have hoped for.
Yeah, remember that next time you're moaning about how you don't "journal" as much as you used to...
But onto actual books. I just couldn't agree more when he says:
Fiction was useful as a reminder of the truths under the surface of what we argue about every day and was a way of seeing and hearing the voices, the multitudes of this country... And so I think that I found myself better able to imagine what's going on in the lives of people throughout my presidency because of just a specific novel but the act of reading fiction. It exercises those muscles, and I think that has been helpful.
"The act of reading fiction." Ah, he gives such grace and elegance to my favorite pastime, haha! And because he's no longer just a "humorless" guy of course he adds:
And then there's the occasion where I just want to get out of my own head. [Laughter] ... [Liu's Xixin's book] was fun to read, partly because my day-today problems with Congress seem fairly petty -- not something to worry about. Aliens are about to invade!
And in a time that can feel so scattered, bitter, fast-based, shallow, and hopeless, Kakutani says, "We're bombarded with information. Technology is moving so rapidly" and he says, I imagine, without missing a beat:
Look, I don’t worry about the survival of the novel. We’re a storytelling species.
And then I cried.