From early childhood on, I have found enormous solace in books. When I was lonely or hurting or confused, I read. When I was curious about the Civil War, baseball, and outer space, books transported me to battlefields, playing fields, and Mars. When in midlife I searched for answers, or even just clues, I found them in books. Books were my allies, my passageway to thoughts, ideas, and experiences other than my own. As writer Will Schwalbe puts it in his paean to books (see The Last Word), reading “is one of the few things you can do alone that can make you feel less alone.” Though it’s a 600-year-old technology, the printed book has lost none of its magic, and in this last issue of the year, we celebrate 10 of the best novels and nonfiction books published this year. (Yep: See Books.)
For my job, I read from dawn to nightfall—hundreds of news stories and acres of political commentary, and the content of these pages. Yet at day’s end, I eagerly fall into the pages of a book. Pillars of novels and nonfiction works—and one infrequently used Kindle—rise from my nightstand, which is close to collapsing under the weight of millions of well-chosen words. (I recently finished Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, am halfway through Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth, and up next is J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy.) At day’s end, these books provide ballast in a world that often seems chaotic and savage. The benefits of reading are even scientifically quantifiab le: A recent Yale study that tracked 3,635 people over 12 years found that book readers lived an average of two years longer than non–book readers; the more time spent reading books, the study found, the better. (See Health & Science.) So, my friends, no matter what fresh madness the New Year brings, armor yourselves with a pile of good books. Our lives, and our sanity, may depend on it.