December is the time of the year when I feel most frustrated by the fact that I’m not enjoying myself enough. This is the season of winter wonderlands, Christmas fantasies and recreating the magic of childhood holidays. I should be gazing up at the tree in front of Rockefeller Center instead of rushing around looking for cute stamps for my holiday cards. I should be serving meals to the homeless not wondering if the three hundred dollar bikini I bought my sister is “enough.” I should be savoring quality time with my beautiful two year old instead of strapping him into a jogging stroller and handing him an iPad so I can go power shopping. I should be walking around with the spirit of Christmas coursing through my veins; not the sickening mixture of caffeine and sugar from too many eggnog lattes.
The one thing that has provided an escape this season is the abundance of extraordinary novels and non-fiction books on my nightstand and loaded in my iPad. As a seasonal “splurge” I decided that I would buy the hardcover and e-book versions of the books that I love the most. Now, I am never far away from the lyrical and captivating chapters of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, or Charles Krauthammer’s Things that Matter. I’ve re-read several of his columns so many times that I’m starting to know them by heart. (I’m partial to his pieces on dogs and the post-September Eleventh world.)
Other books that I felt particularly blessed to have read this year include Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink; Days of Fire by Peter Baker, Thank you for Your Service by David Finkel, House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout, This Town by Mark Leibovich and The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, by Jake Tapper (this one was published in November 2012 but with a toddler in my house, it took me a long time to read it).
A quick word on all of the above because each one is a treasure trove of the finest reporting and most gifted writing I’ve ever seen combined on a page. These books prove my theory that the best books you ever read are written by some of the best people you ever get to meet.
Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink is a masterpiece. She combines a novelist’s knack for “character development,” with an investigative journalist’s gift for precision. Add to that Fink’s storytelling expertise and what you have is a book that you will not soon forget.
I’ve said so much about Days of Fire by my friend Peter Baker, but I’ll say it again because this one is personal. On each page, there are stories that I remember well from my days in the Bush White House; stories that I’m surprised Peter discovered, and revelations that I read about for the first time.
This Town by Mark Leibovich is simply the best book ever written about this moment in time in D.C. Like Ward Just’s Echo House, this book is mandatory reading for anyone with any interest in the comical tragedy that is today’s Washington, D.C. This was a “single sitting” read for me. I could not put it down, and I was sad when I was done. I’m hopeful that someone will make a movie so I can see who will play Kurt Bardella.
Thank you for your Service is another book that has haunted me since I read the first page. This one is in a category that I call “the instant classic.” Read it. You will be glad that you did.
House in the Sky is in the same category. It’s devastating and inspirational all at once, and you have to read it to understand the human spirit and just how much it can endure. Amanda Lindout deserves all of the praise she has earned, not just for the perfection of this book, but for her courage and grace.
Jake Tapper’s The Outpost is the book that future generations will read to understand the war in Afghanistan and the men and women who fought it. You get the impression as the reader that the process of reporting, writing and sharing The Outpost changed its author. That feeling makes you want to delve as deep as Jake has done to understand how things were put in motion that in hindsight seem so very clear.
Double Down by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, Obsessed by Mika Brezinski, and The Right Path by Joe Scarborough are three more treasures on my nightstand. Give Double Down to the political junkies in your life. Slip Obsessed into the stocking of every girlfriend, sister, mother or daughter who has ever struggled with body image or food (by my count, that’s just about everyone I know.) And gift-wrap The Right Path for all of the despondent Republicans in your life.
This has been a magical year for books—and I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s out there, but these are ones worth stuffing into your carry-on or loading onto your Kindle or iPad before you head into the elements for shopping, traveling or family gathering. Merry Reading!