There were a few years when I lived with my grandparents in Hawaii while
my mother continued her work in Indonesia and raised my younger sister, Maya.
Without my mother around to nag me, I didn’t learn as much, as my grades
readily attested. Then, around tenth grade, that changed. I still remember going
with my grandparents to a rummage sale at the Central Union Church, across the
street from our apartment, and finding myself in front of a bin of old hardcover
books. For some reason, I started pulling out titles that appealed to me, or
sounded vaguely familiar—books by Ralph Ellison and Langston Hughes, Robert
Penn Warren and Dostoyevsky, D. H. Lawrence and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Gramps, who was eyeing a set of used golf clubs, gave me a confused look when
I walked up with my box of books.
A Promised Land by Barack Obama
I ended up reading all those books, sometimes late, after I got home fromA Promised Land by Barack Obama
basketball practice and a six-pack with my friends, sometimes after bodysurfing
on a Saturday afternoon, sitting alone in Gramps’s rickety old Ford Granada with
a towel around my waist to avoid getting the upholstery wet. When I finished
with the first set of books, I went to other rummage sales, looking for more.
Much of what I read I only dimly understood; I took to circling unfamiliar words
to look up in the dictionary, although I was less scrupulous about decoding
pronunciations—deep into my twenties I would know the meaning of words I
couldn’t pronounce. There was no system to this, no rhyme or pattern. I was like
a young tinkerer in my parents’ garage, gathering up old cathode-ray tubes and
bolts and loose wires, not sure what I’d do with any of it, but convinced it would
prove handy once I figured out the nature of my calling.
For those who want to know why Obama was so good, almost a genius, in speaking to the public, one who can sell poison to a rat and the rat will willingly buy it, here in his own words, are what made Obama, Obama.