A photograph of Barack Obama and Marcus Rashford side-by-side

Barack Obama and Marcus Rashford. Image: Penguin

President Barack Obama and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford have spoken about campaigning, food poverty and the role that reading has played in their lives in an exclusive conversation hosted by Penguin Books.

During the 30-minute conversation, President Obama revealed that it was discovering a box of books at a Church rummage sale that sparked his interest in reading. “I just saw this big bin of books and I don't know what prompted me but I started picking them out,” he explained. “I took a big box full of them home and they cost five cents each, and, and started diving in in my free time.”

The author of A Promised Land also spoke about the encouragement he received from his mother, who woke him up at 5am to fit in extra reading time, and his parents-in-law, neither of whom finished college but nevertheless taught the value of reading to his wife Michelle.

“They instilled in her that sense that entire worlds are possible in books, and that you can grow and discover and make connections that you might not otherwise have made just by the simple act of picking up and opening a book,” President Obama said. “That's how I ended up being able to get into college despite not always turning in my homework on time! That curiosity had been planted in me and it got me through those rockier years until I grown up a little bit.”

Rashford, meanwhile, is a relative newcomer to reading, having started reading aged 17, when he was given a bookby a psychologist. “From then I just started learning that through books you can you can grow yourself in whichever way you want,” he said, adding that books allowed him to see that he could find his own way of doing things.

“Once I learned that about myself I just never really stopped. I always enjoy reading, as long as I feel like I'm learning and I'm taking my mind somewhere where it's not quite been before.” When asked how he fitted it alongside training, Rashford replied that reading was a perfect antidote to life on the pitch: “your body gets quite tired throughout the year, and for me when your body is tired it's important to keep mentally ticking. Books are definitely a way of doing that.”

While President Obama’s most recent book, A Promised Land, remains an international bestseller after its release last year, Rashford's first book, You Are A Champion, was released this week. The two men found similarities in their intentions behind their writing. “It was designed for getting books in the hands of kids that otherwise wouldn't be able to [access them], and almost, in a sense, just allowing them to dream,” says Rashford of his book. “I don't want the book to be only read by people that want to become footballers or people that grew up in places where I grew up, I feel like it's got messages in there for everyone.”

President Obama, meanwhile, said one of the motivations behind writing A Promised Land was to show the rocky path to becoming President. “A lot of times progress is two steps forward and one step back,” he said. “I tried to write not just my successes but also shortcomings and failures so that people recognise that it's not always a smooth path forward.”

Watch the full video above, or listen to it as a special episode of the Penguin Podcast.

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