10 Romance Recs for Barack Obama

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Annika Barranti Klein

Staff Writer

Annika Barranti Klein likes books, obviously.   Twitter: @noirbettie

Former President Barack Obama released his 2022 Summer Reading List last month, and as usual it’s a fascinating list. He reads diversely in author, genre, and topic, and chooses a variety of well-known and lesser-known books. One thing he does not seem to read (or at least to recommend) is romance.

Now, I get it. The man is still recovering from once wearing a beige suit; there’s no way he’s going to recommend “smut;” but let’s just say he was willing to read some romance titles. What books would he read? Well, I have no idea, but I do have some suggestions for him. Romance is my most-read genre, so I feel supremely qualified to make these recommendations. (I feel like a fraud, and am grateful that the President will probably never see this.)

I didn’t try to match the romances to his reading list one-to-one , but I did make an effort to find a commonality, so I started with his list and thought about elements of each book that appear in romances, and then chose a romance to match those elements. Ultimately, some ended up being one-to-one recs, while others are a bit more general.

One Last Stop cover

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

Listen, it would be easy for me to recommend Red, White & Royal Blue to a former White House resident, but Obama’s recommendation of Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel got me thinking about time travel and genre-bending romance, which led me straight here. Well, gay here. Just trust me, okay, Mr. President?

Black Love Matters: Real Talk on Romance, Being Seen, and Happily Ever Afters Cover

Black Love Matters Edited by Book Riot Contributing Editor Jessica P. Pryde

As shown in his selections of Ezra Klein’s Why We’re Polarized and Yascha Mounk’s The Great Experiment, President Obama loves meaty nonfiction. This collection of essays on Black love in romance will give him exactly that, with a variety of Black voices on topics ranging from the history of Black romance to interracial romance. I recommend that the former president start with “Romance Has Broken My Dichotomous Key” by Sarah Hannah Gomez to ease himself into the idea of reading romance.

The Right Swipe cover

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai

Jennifer Egan’s The Candy House is a novel about memory and technology. Rai’s Modern Love series tackles technology, and the first entry features a second-chance romance between two people whose memory of each other is at odds with their current situation. Also it’s just fun and sexy.


Syncopation by Anna Zabo

President Obama loves music, releasing yearly song lists in addition to his reading lists. This year he also recommended A Little Devil in America, which is medium-blending nonfiction about Black performance, particularly music, utilizing essay, poetry, and more. Zabo’s Twisted Wishes series follows a band, with a novel for each member of the group; while the band is not Black, the romances run the gamut of sexuality and gender.

cover of Hither Page by Cat Sebastian

Hither, Page by Cat Sebastian

John le Carré’s last book, Silverview (published posthumously), is a complex novella about (former) spies. For something simpler, but still full of mystery, try Sebastian’s Page & Sommers series, a.k.a. Agatha Christie but make it gay.

cover of You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi

You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi

Beyond the Caribbean settings of this book and Charmaine Wilkerson’s Black Cake, both books deal with grief, family, and the self in unique ways. This book also has a lot to say about art, both visual and otherwise, which may appeal to Obama’s choice of Mouth to Mouth.

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole book cover

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

Obama recommended multiple crime novels, including Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby. Why not try a thriller with a romance subplot as a way to cross the genre aisle? Alyssa Cole also has quiiiite a few political romances, both historical and modern, if Barack likes this book.

cover of Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins

Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins

Miss Bev’s book has two things in common with Antoine Wilson’s Mouth to Mouth (at least, two that I can think of): it opens with one character rescuing another, and as the story unfolds, secrets are revealed. That’s about where the similarities end, but I think Obama will appreciate the depiction of American history and the commentary on race and passing.

cover of The Bride Test by Helen Hoang: a brunette woman with her hair in a bun looking down at a stack of paper with a pencil in her hand

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

In Jessamine Chan’s The School for Good Mothers, a dystopian novel about a controlling government, the treatment of women, especially mothers, is front and center. The Bride Test is something of a sideways rec, a book that takes place in a non-dystopia (as much as the USA can be described as such) and addresses single motherhood, immigration, grief, and more.

Long Shot book cover

Long Shot by Kennedy Ryan

Obama also loves hoops, as shown in his choice of Blood in the Garden. Long Shot is not a novel for everyone, as it digs deep into domestic abuse including forced pregnancy (not by the hero), but the former president has never shied away from difficult material, and this book comes highly rated.

Mr. President, I hope you enjoy these smut romance recs!