President Obama And Marilynne Robinson Had A Super-Interesting Conversation For The 'New York Review Of Books'

We've long had reason to admire President Obama's taste in books, but now we all have reason to be jealous as well. President Obama and author Marilynne Robinson got to have a conversation for the New York Review Of Books, which is pretty far up there as far as "conversations between faves" goes. The two talk about everything from books to religion to politics, and best of all the transcript can be found in the New York Review of Books and the recording is available on iTunes.

Marilynne Robinson, for those who are unfamiliar, is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of four novels and five essay collections. And as one would expect given the excellent taste he's shown so far, President Obama is a big fan of hers — in fact, he quoted her in his eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pickney, who was killed in the shootings at Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina. In the interview, he also reveals that he was reading her book Gilead, about an aging Iowa preacher, while campaigning in Iowa for the 2008 campaign.

Robinson, for her part, seems very much to admire Obama and the difficult political situation he has to navigate. Both are clearly deep thinkers, and their conversation is fascinating. Here are seven of the best quotes to take away:

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Marilynne Robinson On Fear Shaping Politics

I think that the basis of democracy is the willingness to assume well about other people. You have to assume that basically people want to do the right thing. I think that you can look around society and see that basically people do the right thing. But when people begin to make these conspiracy theories and so on, that make it seem as if what is apparently good is in fact sinister, they never accept the argument that is made for a position that they don’t agree with ... Because [of] the idea of the “sinister other.” And I mean, that’s bad under all circumstances. But when it’s brought home, when it becomes part of our own political conversation about ourselves, I think that that really is about as dangerous a development as there could be in terms of whether we continue to be a democracy.

Barack Obama On Campaigning in Iowa

It’s interesting, because we’re talking in Iowa; people always, I think, were surprised about me connecting with folks in small-town Iowa. And the reason I did was, first of all, I had the benefit that at the time nobody expected me to win. And so I wasn’t viewed through this prism of Fox News and conservative media, and making me scary. At the time, I didn’t seem scary, other than just having a funny name. I seemed young. Sometimes I look at my pictures from then and I say, I can’t believe anybody voted for me because I look like I’m twenty-five.

Marilynne Robinson On Her Parents

[My] parents were not particularly bookish people. ... But if they noticed we were doing something—drawing or painting or whatever we were doing—then they would get us what we needed to do that, and silently go on with it. One of the things that I think is very liberating is that if I had lived any honest life, my parents would have been equally happy. I was under no pressure.

President Obama On America

But that’s part of what makes America wonderful, is we always had this nagging dissatisfaction that spurs us on .... that restlessness and that dissatisfaction which has helped us go to the moon and create the Internet and build the Transcontinental Railroad and build our land-grant colleges, that those things, born of dissatisfaction, we can very rapidly then take for granted and not tend to and not defend, and not understand how precious these things are.

Robinson On Democracy And Faith

Well, I believe that people are images of God. There’s no alternative that is theologically respectable to treating people in terms of that understanding. What can I say? It seems to me as if democracy is the logical, the inevitable consequence of this kind of religious humanism at its highest level. And it [applies] to everyone. It’s the human image. It’s not any loyalty or tradition or anything else; it’s being human that enlists the respect, the love of God being implied in it.

President Obama On Politics And Values

And the thing I’ve been struggling with throughout my political career is how do you close the gap. There’s all this goodness and decency and common sense on the ground, and somehow it gets translated into rigid, dogmatic, often mean-spirited politics.

Marilynne Robinson On The Idea For Gilead

I was in Massachusetts, actually, just [waiting to spend] Christmas with my son[s]. They were late coming to wherever we were going to meet, and I was in this hotel with a pen and blank paper, and I started writing from this voice. The first sentence in that book is the first sentence that came to my mind. I have no idea how that happens. I was surprised that I was writing from a male point of view. But there he was.

You can (and should) read the whole conversation at The New York Review Of Books . The transcript is the first part of the conversation, the second half to be released in the next issue.