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    Carlos Lozada Thinks You Should Care About Political Memoirs

    Why would anyone want to read reviews of books that most of us have already forgotten? Do we really need to be reminded of, say, A Warning, that momentarily big-deal book by “Anonymous,” or Josh Hawley’s Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs? In The Washington Book, New York Times opinion columnist Carlos Lozada makes the case that there’s a lot to be learned from books written by political figures.

    Though The Washington Book is based on reviews and columns Lozada published in the Washington Post and the Times, it’s more than a rehash. It organizes Lozada’s work non-­chronologically, placing it under categories like “Leading,” “Fighting,” and “Posing,” to create an intriguing portrait of Washington by examining something often overlooked: the words politicians use in print, where, he writes, they “almost always end up revealing themselves.”

    Lozada, who emigrated here from Peru as a kid, lives in Bethesda. For this interview, however, we met up at a coffee shop across the street from the White House, where the authors of so many Washington books hope to live or work one day.

    To start, what is “Washington” in the way you think about it?

    I’ve never been a traditional Washington reporter—like, chasing a House member down the hallway. Even though I edited teams of reporters, I always felt like a total poseur because I’ve never done it myself. So the way I started interpreting Washington was through reading. It became the way that I felt most comfortable trying to understand this place where we live. I’m still doing it, in part because I don’t think anyone else has picked up that beat in a similar way. So I feel like I’m a political reporter masquerading as a critic or a columnist.

    You don’t cover Washington the physical place–you cover the Washington of the mind?

    That’s an elevated way of putting it. At its best, I hope [so]. Some of it is the big intellectual debates that happen in Washington. A lot of it is also just trying to understand some of the political figures who we think we know from television or speeches but who revealed themselves in a whole other way through books. I don’t think that reading Mike Pence’s memoir, So Help Me God, is covering the Washington of the mind—it’s trying to get inside his mind. There were a couple of moments in that book that, for me, completely define him.

    You wrote about the ellipsis he inserted when quoting Trump on January 6. He removed the part of the quote where Trump said, “We had an election that was stolen from us.” Is that one of the moments?

    The ellipsis is one. The other is that at every moment when Trump asks him to do something, he says, “I’m here to serve.” And so the question is: Who are you serving? It’s not a great book. It’s not beautifully written. It doesn’t feel entirely honest at times. But it’s so revealing. No one else seems to read political books in as dedicated a manner, in part because they just don’t want to. There’s other books to read! But I’m going to keep at it, because I keep learning from it.

    I appreciate you doing that, because I sure don’t want to read any books by people running for office.

    I get that all the time. People say, “You read those books so we don’t have to.”

    How do you feel about that?

    I think people will read, say, fiction criticism in part to decide whether they want to read that author. But in nonfiction, people often read it as a substitute. If people use the stuff that I write as a kind of informative excuse to not read the book, I have no problem with that. But I think it’s a little unfortunate if they think there’s nothing in these books. You know, “Why wouldn’t you read the great works of literature”—which I try to on the side—“as opposed to wallowing in Ron DeSantis’s book or Kamala Harris’s memoir?” I think folks are missing out, because there’s plenty there.

    What’s the Lozada method for reading?

    I try to go through each book three times. Once, just a straight read, taking lots of notes in the margins. Then I put it aside, if I have time, for a day or so and then come back at it with a highlighter and speed-read it a second time, focusing on the areas that clearly struck me the most. And the third read is with a file open on my computer. I just start dumping things into the file: notes and ideas and quotes and questions. And then I put the book aside entirely, and that becomes the raw material for a review. It works out usually to about 1,000 words per 100 pages of a book. Sometimes if a book is more dense, then it’s a lot more. Sometimes it’s a lot less, and that tells me, too, what I kind of thought of a book—how many notes I felt compelled to take down.

    Is that what happened with the Ben Sasse book that caused you to write, “The problems may be deep, but Sasse clings to the surface of things”?

    I think I mentioned in that piece that there were only three times that I’d read a book that I intended to write about and when I got to the end, I literally had nothing to say. One was Ben Sasse’s second book. There was just nothing there.

    I don’t have a problem with negative reviews, even very negative reviews. But they have to be interesting. The worst thing you can do is tell people, “Here’s a book you’ve never heard of, and it sucks.” There’s no point to that. But in this case, I got to the end and I told my editor, “I have nothing to say about this book.” It wasn’t bad. It just didn’t say much.

    You included that essay in a section you called “Posing.” What were you trying to do with how the book is organized into those kinds of sections?

    The origin of this book is: On February 9 of last year, I gave the Red Smith Lecture in journalism at Notre Dame. Every year, they ask a journalist to give a journalism speech. And when they asked me to do it, I started reading all my old stuff, which I’d never done. I started identifying some kind of recurring themes. I always look for a phrase a politician uses again and again, like Kamala Harris uses “false choice.”

    When I wrote that lecture for Notre Dame and delivered it, I knew [it could be] the introduction to a collection of these pieces. I pitched it to Simon & Schuster and they liked the idea. But my editor’s question was “How do you bring order to this?” I’m not a fan of gerunds, but I thought it could be interesting if I could build these clusters of pieces around things people do in Washington. I never wanted to say “leadership,” because it sounds like a Tony Robbins book. So I’m just like, okay, these are about “Leading.” I think that’s probably the largest section. I knew one was going to be “Posing,” because there’s so much posturing in Washington. Once I had that in my head, everything fell together.

    Books can show quite a lot about a time and place. One of the best courses I took in college was a history class where instead of a textbook about the aftermath of the French Revolution, we read the Émile Zola novel Germinal.

    Any piece that I’m writing, I try to write as if my audience is reading five years from now, removed from whatever the passions of the moment are. It’s useful just to imagine my kids, when they’re older, reading this, trying to understand what was happening. In a sense, it’s very relaxing to do it that way. Because I can kind of unplug from whatever people are screaming about right now.

    Was that what you were thinking about when you did your 20th-anniversary look back on how 9/11 changed Washington?

    I knew I wanted to do something for 9/11, because I had just moved to Washington when it happened. I’d read a lot of the 9/11 and Iraq and Afghanistan books, but there were a ton that I’d missed. The hardest part was finding which ones. I put together a spreadsheet and immediately I had a few hundred books, and I was like, “Okay, I can’t do that unless I want this to be an endless project.” That’s probably the hardest piece I ever did at the Post, in terms of not just how much time it took me but trying to figure out what I wanted to say.

    I appreciated two things about that essay. The first was that I just kept thinking, Wow, he read that many books about this?

    It took months.

    The second thing was all the quotes you wove together for your theory of the case: that 9/11 was a test and that the US failed it. You’re almost sampling, turning all of these books into something more.

    That’s very much what I was trying to do. I derive the most enjoyment from trying to draw from a lot of different texts, to tell a story that exists independent of any one of them. You know, I’m an immigrant to the United States. I’m always on a quest to just understand it better.

    Senior editor

    Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.



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