Book Talk: Winter Reading Roundup

by Erica Moody

Give the gift of a great story. Here are stocking stuffers to delight any book lover. 

By Erica Moody

Winter reading (Photo via

Winter reading (Photo via

by Ted Koppel
You can’t say he didn’t warn us. Investigative journalist Ted Koppel’s “Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath” would seem at first glance to be apocalyptic fiction, but the longtime “Nightline” anchor insists it’s all too real. Koppel imagines a scenario in which America’s power grid is compromised by a major cyberattack, leading to panic and mass chaos. He insists the U.S. government is unprepared for such an “inevitable” attack. Similar to his approach as a newscaster, Koppel succeeds in making a complex issue accessible, and entertaining, to a wide reading audience. (Penguin Random House, $26)

by Patti Smith
If you loved her National Book Award winning memoir “Just Kids” as much as we did, it’s time to read legendary musician Patti Smith’s latest book, “M Train.” Just as she’s done before, Smith vividly transports you to New York City in the ’70s and all the other places she’s lived, people she’s loved and lessons learned along the way in a book she calls “a roadmap of my life.” Filled with ruminations on craft and creation, it’s the perfect gift for the artist in your life. (Knopf Doubleday, $25)

by Amy Ellis Nutt
“What does it feel like to be a problem?” Washington Post science reporter Amy Ellis Nutt asks in the prologue to this national bestseller. The fascinating true story she proceeds to tell attempts to answer this heartbreaking question by following Nicole, a transgender teen, her identical twin brother and their family in their journey to understand and come to terms with Nicole’s identity and transition. Nutt’s four years of reporting pays off in this extraordinary, timely work of nonfiction. (Penguin Random House, $27)

by Sara Benincasa
A fun read with substance, comedian Sara Benincasa’s novel will appeal to teens and adults alike. A new teacher is in over her head when chaperoning a class trip to Washington. Moments of hilarity ensue. “DC Trip” is a good read when you want to laugh or bond with the teenager in your life. (Adaptive Books, $24.99)

by Virginia Pye
Richmond novelist Virginia Pye takes you to 1937 China in a story inspired by the life of her grandmother. Historical fiction at its best, “Dreams of the Red Phoenix” will entertain, make you think and give a history lesson at the same time. Author Gish Jen says the Virginia Literary Awards finalist is “Gripping, convincing and heartbreaking…powerfully evocative of the complexities of life in 1930’s China.” (Unbridled Books, $16)

by Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem delivers her first full-length book in more than 20 years, a memoir that takes us on a journey from her early days of activist organizing to more recent travels around the world. Speaking recently at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, Steinem said that for her, traveling is “a form of meditation.” With this sharp, witty read, the 81-year-old feminist shows us that, as she famously said, “Women may be the one group that grows more radical with age.” (Penguin Random House,$28)

by Kristen Green
A central Virginia newspaper reporter blends memoir and history in a tale that hits close to home. After hearing of the story of an epic walkout by white students at the local public school in 1951, Green interviews friends and family to get to the bottom of her damaged hometown’s racial history, including a Virginia school system that shut down after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision rather than integrate the schools, and the brave community leaders who worked to gain quality education for all. (HarperCollins, $13.99)

by Cheryl Strayed
As an anonymous columnist for The Rumpus, author Cheryl Strayed delivered sage nuggets of wisdom that helped many beyond the advice-seekers. Her columns were previously compiled into a book called “Tiny Beautiful Things” and now, along with memorable lines from her bestselling memoir “Wild,” have been collected into a worthy book of quotes. Sample: “You can’t ride to the fair if you don’t get on the pony.” Buy this one for your BFF, or that person in your life who’s always asking what they need to do. (Penguin Random House, $16.95)

by Shonda Rhimes
Every new year offers a chance for new beginnings, and Shonda Rhimes’ memoir will inspire readers to keep those resolutions. In “Year of Yes,” one of the most powerful women in Hollywood (and a self-professed introvert) reveals how she overcame anxiety by saying “Yes” to everything for an entire year, including a nerve-wracking appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” (Simon & Schuster, $24.99)

by Newt Gingrich and Pete Earley
Yes, Newt Gingrich writes novels. The former Speaker of the House teamed up with former Washington Post reporter Pete Earley on a political thriller that will be your guilty pleasure this holiday season. If you miss the drama on “House of Cards,” this book will sate your appetite for Frank Underwood-style shenanigans as told by someone who knows a few things about the inner-workings of Washington politics. (Hachette Book Group, $26)

by Ari Berman
Fifty years after the Voting Rights Act was passed, political correspondent Ari Berman relates the history of this groundbreaking civil rights achievement, bringing us up to date on voting rights and representation issues that still influence major elections. With plenty of research to back him up, Berman makes the case that current barriers to voting, such as cutting early ballot casting and eliminating same-day registration, are in place to discriminate against the poor and people of color. A must-read for anyone interested in American history and the 2016 election. (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, $28)

by Atticus Lish
The surprise winner of this year’s PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction has everyone talking about indie publisher Tyrant Books and the talent of Atticus Lish, son of famous literary editor Gordon Lish. His debut novel tells the unlikely love story of a Chinese Muslim immigrant and a traumatized Iraq War veteran. (Tyrant Books, $16.95)

by Hanya Yanagihara
This National Book Award finalist is one of those great big absorbing novels (à la Jonathan Franzen) to take with you on a long vacation. It follows four male friends who met in college through their years living in New York and into middle age, told with beautiful language as a meditation on trauma and the power of friendship.(Knopf Doubleday, $18.30)

by Mia Alvar
One of the most talked about short story collections of the year, Mia Alvar’s debut tells nine tales of men and women of the Filipino diaspora as they uproot their families in the search to find a new home. (Knopf Doubleday, $16)

by Margaret O’Mara
Revolution and the American presidency aren’t just reserved for Washington and Lincoln. The modern American presidency has influenced, and has been influenced by, socio-economic revolutions from the industrial revolution to the digital age. Using the lens of presidential elections, historian Margaret O’Mara explores how technology and politics are intertwined. A fitting book as our country embarks on a new technological age and a new president. (Penn Press, $34.95)

A version of this article, including a guide to local bookstores, appeared in the Holiday 2015 issue of Washington Life.

Related Articles