Wednesday, January 26, 2011

January 25th: The Day of Virginia Woolf and Barack Obama

This week I’ve been thinking about Virginia Woolf and President Obama. Woolf, born in 1882, had the anniversary of her birth yesterday. President Obama, more obviously, because of his recent State of the Union Address. But aside from this coincidence of dates, what does an English author from the early 20th Century have in common with the 44th President of the United States of America?

Books! To start, they are both prolific readers and writers.

Virginia Woolf has nine published novels, countless short stories and essays, a pair of biographies, and at least three book-length essays. Her most lauded works include: Mrs. Dalloway, A Room of One’s Own, The Voyage Out, and To the Lighthouse.

Obama's works stay primarily in the Non-Fiction category: Dreams of My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaims the American Dream, and the children’s book Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters (this last one, I will admit, made me tear up). Obama is slightly behind in numbers but perhaps he can catch up when he retires.

What I find more interesting than their own work (if I can find anything more interesting than Woolf’s prose) is the amount of literature written about these authors. They each have a kind of mystique that attracts people to write about them.

In our catalog we have nearly fifty items about Obama, his life, and work that were published in the last year alone. Books on the election (Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, The Year of Obama: How Barack Obama Won the White House); books on his family (The Obamas: The Untold Story of an African Family, Homeland: An Extraordinary Story of Hope and Survival); and books, of course, on his policies (The Promise: President Obama, Year One and The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s). Additionally, yesterday was the publication date for O: a presidential novel – a quasi-fictional account of the 2012 election. This one promises to be rather controversial as the author has chosen – at least for the time being – to remain anonymous

Woolf has inspired quite a bit more fiction than our President but Hermione Lee has written an amazing biography on the author. Additionally, Woolf’s life has inspired Michael Cunningham's book (and subsequent movie version) The Hours, Jacqueline Harpman’s Orlanda, Susan Seller’s Vanessa and Virginia and Stephanie Barron’s The White Garden.

We’ve got a little bit of everything here at the library!

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