I've never been able to make my mind a blank—I try to sit still, but the thoughts about work and home, deadlines and dinner plans, tumble back in. I've found that reading allows me to turn off what's happening in my life. When I pick up a book, I replace all those crowded thoughts with a whole new thing, a different set of parameters. I sink into an unknown place and give myself over to the author's vision. When I finish a really good book, my mind is rested. I've given it a break and taken it away from the nitty-gritty details of everyday life.
I'm very impatient with a book that doesn't deliver on its promise of introducing me to a new world. Fortunately, I've been exposed to a number of amazing stories through my work. We interview many authors on the News Hour
program, and I have been lucky enough to talk to a few of the people behind the selections on my list, including David McCullough and David Levering Lewis.
In some of the works I've chosen, I found an author who articulated a point that I couldn't have given words to myself. I find myself thinking, "Yes, that's it exactly." Other authors made me think about a certain set of facts or a historical figure in a new light. These writers are always willing to ask another question, hear another point of view, or seek out a contrary opinion. Maybe I'm drawn to their work because that's what good journalists do.
Looking back over my list, I realize there's one other thing that these books have done: They've shown me how much I have yet to learn.
Gwen Ifill is senior correspondent at The News Hour with Jim Lehrer
and host of Washington Week
What's on Gwen Ifill's Bookshelf? Read more!