Susan Richards Shreve, George Mason University creative-writing professor whose novels include last year’s You Are the Love of My Life, suggests Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown—“a wild adventure and epicurean love story with pirates at sea, a kidnapped chef, and a company of strange crew.” Shreve calls it “a delightful, touching read.”
Tania James, author most recently of the story collection Aerogrammes, likes Nicola Keegan’s Swimming: “It’s a debut novel that shoots from small-town Kansas to Seoul, tracing the dizzying rise of an Olympic swimmer named Pip. The voice is exuberant, glowing with wit, and unlike anything I’ve read.”
Ron Charles, Washington Post fiction editor, admires Anthony Marra’s first novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena: “The most moving book I’ve read in years. By writing so beautifully about a tiny village in Chechnya, this 28-year-old Washington native has produced a timeless tragedy about the victims of war.”
Chloë Schama—the New Republic’s story editor and the author of the nonfiction book Wild Romance: A Victorian Story of a Marriage, a Trial, and a Self-Made Woman—says “the best bits of your feminist literary-theory classes come to life” in The Woman Upstairs, Claire Messud’s novel about a teacher who becomes absorbed by the lives of a pupil’s family. “The main character is a force—one of the most convincing female characters to appear recently in fiction—and the plot is propulsive.”
Allan Fallow, book editor at AARP Media, finds Stephen King’s new “ghost story, murder mystery, and coming-of-age tale,” Joyland, irresistible: “Settle into the sand with this page-turner about Devin Jones, an apprentice carny barker at an amusement park in a North Carolina beach town. The Doors soundtrack and Winston smokers make the novel a gritty but satisfying valentine to 1973.”
Eileen McGervey, owner of Arlington’s One More Page Books, says that in Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family Farm, Forrest Pritchard “shares his warm—and very funny—efforts to save his family’s seventh-generation farm in the Shenandoah Valley.” The book “reminds us of the importance of the family farm and how it ties into our local food supply.”
Dinaw Mengestu—Georgetown writing teacher, MacArthur “genius grant” winner, and author of The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears and How to Read the Air—recommends Philipp Meyer’s novel The Son, set in Texas from the mid-19th century onward: “It’s a massive, epic narrative across generations that’s both gripping and beautifully written.”
Vaddey Ratner, Potomac author of In the Shadow of the Banyan, counts Catherine Chung’s Forgotten Country among her recent favorite novels. The book “takes us from America to Korea, in an elegiac yet piercing exploration of the borderless and undemarcated landscapes of a family’s love, loss, and recovery.”
Dan Kois, editor of the Slate Book Review, says he’s pushing Hugh Howey’s Wool—a novel set in a postapocalyptic society living deep underground—on everyone he knows: “This self-published Kindle bestseller turned sci-fi paperback from Simon & Schuster is a great beach read: exciting, surprising, and just shallow enough that you don’t feel guilty about putting it down to go swimming.”
Arlington’s Bethanne Patrick, author of An Uncommon History of Common Courtesy, got a look at a book due in August: Marisha Pessl’s Night Film, “a smart literary thriller about artistic obsession—utterly absorbing, the kind of book that’ll carry you through a summer afternoon regardless of sun or rain.”
This article appears in the July 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.
As the anchorman of the top-rated CBS Evening News, and “the most trusted man in America,” Walter Cronkite grew into his name. But growing up in the Midwest, he envied the boys with nicknames. That’s why, when his son, Walter III, was born, he almost immediately started to call him “Chip.” Which brings us to Chip’s son, Walter Cronkite IV. He goes by “Walt,” which would no doubt make his grandfather proud. Something else that would make the elder Cronkite proud? The book Walt has produced, Cronkite’s War: His World War II Letters Home.
Walt is two years out of Hamilton College and, following in his grandfather’s footsteps, is beginning a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC, at CBS News. (Cronkite first joined CBS News at then-WTOP, now WUSA, in 1950, after starting his career as a wire service reporter and war correspondent.) Walt is an associate producer in the Washington bureau on M Street. His boss, bureau chief Christopher Isham, and Isham’s wife, Jennifer Maguire, hosted a book party for him Thursday evening at their Cleveland Park home.
Walt said the book was the result of a trip he made with his father to the University of Texas in Austin. That’s where the Cronkite papers are kept, spanning his early career as a newspaper reporter and war correspondent and through to his broadcasting career and retirement. Cronkite died in 2009.
Walt said that on this trip to Austin he began to read through his grandfather’s World War II letters, and simply got “pulled in.” They were principally addressed to Cronkite’s wife, Betsy, and were equal parts observations about the war, accounts of interesting people and derring-do, and love letters. In collaboration with his history professor, Maurice Isserman, Walt sifted through and edited the letters into book form. NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw, a onetime head-to-head Cronkite competitor, wrote the gracious forward.
The height of spring is a tough time to host a party, because on any given weeknight there are several competing events—meaning the competition for guests is similarly fierce. That was not a problem Tuesday night at the Renwick Gallery, where many of the city’s elite showed up to celebrate Richard Haass and his new book, Foreign Policy Begins at Home. Haass is the head of the also-elite Council on Foreign Relations. Add to that the influence and/or wealth of the party’s hosts: Katherine and David Bradley, Afsaneh and Michael Beschloss, Norma and Russ Ramsey, Alice and David Rubenstein, and Kristin Mannion and H.P. Goldfield.
The historic Renwick, next door to Blair House and across the street from the White House, is one of the city’s most impressive venues—especially the Grand Salon, with its sky-high ceilings and walls hung with 70 of the Smithsonian’s prized works by American artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including George Peter Alexander Healy, Romaine Brooks, Guy Wiggins, and George Inness.
Admiring the art, the gorgeous flowers, and the offerings of Veuve Cliquot Champagne, good Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and the two bountiful buffets, one guest remarked, “So this is what it looks like when billionaires host a book party.” Yes, indeed. There was the requisite book party wine and cheese, but also rare roast beef, lobster rolls, pasta, artichoke tart, mozzarella and tomato salad, salmon tartare, and Peking duck rolls, plus an assortment of passed canapés and a separate table for pastries and coffee.
In welcoming everyone, David Rubenstein, head of the Carlyle Group and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations board, commended Haass’s stewardship of the CFR, a job he began a decade ago after a high position at the State Department advising Colin Powell. “I see dramatic improvements; its influence is much greater than it was,” Rubenstein said. Haass, a Rhodes Scholar from Brooklyn, manages to find time for both Washington and New York (his base), and for engaging with both political parties. He is also a prolific author. “He has written a number of books. This is his 12th,” Rubenstein said. “You will all benefit from reading his insights about what we should do domestically to make sure we have good foreign policy.”
All that lofty stuff aside, Rubenstein said, “Richard’s influence is greater than ever before, and not just because of the books, or because the council is so great, but because of his new career at Morning Joe. He has more influence on foreign policy through that show than all the books, the career he’s had in Washington, and with the council, but I’m not supposed to say that.” Morning Joe is a popular daily breakfast program on MSNBC hosted by Joe Scarborough, Mika Brezinski, and Willie Geist.
People began lining up outside Politics & Prose at 8 on Tuesday morning, in the rain, to be among the fortunate 260 who got to buy a copy of American Grown and get it signed by its author, Michelle Obama.
“She’s a very lovely person,” says Lacey Dunham, a P&P staffer, about the First Lady. Her visit began at 11:15 AM and lasted about an hour an a half, according to Dunham, during which Obama posed for a group photo with the staff to mark the special occasion: It was the first time a sitting First Lady had appeared at the Connecticut Avenue bookstore, which is a mecca for the famous and powerful who are promoting their books.
“As many of you know, this is my very first book,” the First Lady said in her opening remarks. “But what a great first book to be able to tell the tale of the White House garden. And I hope you guys enjoy it. It’s not just the story of the White House kitchen garden; it’s the story of community gardens all across this country, because the truth is the idea of the White House garden is not unique. Community gardens are a mainstay in so many communities across this country.”
Noting that Mother’s Day is coming up, Obama said, “I would say I was going to give this as a gift to my mother, but she already has, like, ten copies. But I might buy her another one just for the heck of it.”
Expect traffic congestion both inside and outside Politics & Prose book store next Tuesday morning. That’s when First Lady Michelle Obama plans to visit to sign copies of her book, American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America.
The signing is scheduled to begin at 11:15 AM, according to the White House. “Mrs. Obama accepted no advance for American Grown, and all author proceeds will go to the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks,” her office noted in the announcement. “Funds will be used for programs that promote gardening and healthy eating and give young people the opportunity to experience the outdoors and lead more active lives, as well as for the continued care of the White House Kitchen Garden. Random House will also donate a portion of its profits to the National Park Foundation.”
If you plan to be there, here’s what you need to know, according to organizers of the signing:
- Books will go on sale at 9 AM at the store.
- One copy of American Grown may be signed per customer.
- No other books or memorabilia may be brought to the signing.
- Wristbands for entry to this event will be reserved on a first-come, first-served basis.
- Wristbands will be limited to one per customer.
- Customers must complete a security screening form in person.
- Customers may not provide security information for other participants.
Any questions can be directed to the store at 202-364-1919. As for parking, the lot in the back fills up fast. Street parking does not open up until after rush hour. The nearest Metro stop is Van Ness, about a 15-minute walk from the store.
Amazon has issued its third annual list of the most well-read cities in America. Alexandria, Virginia, wins top honors, which is commendable, but what got our attention was the information buried in the third paragraph of the release: “Gone Girl was the best-selling book overall in Alexandria, Va., followed by the three titles in the Fifty Shades trilogy.” Hmm. That’s a lot of steamy reading for the historic city, whose slogan is “the perfect escape.”
Amazon says the list counts sales on a per capita basis in cities of more than 100,000 residents, excluding New York, Los Angeles, and a few other cities that still have lots of bookstores. Listed last year but out of the top 20 this year is Washington, DC. No cities in Maryland made the list. Rounding out the top five are Knoxville, Tennessee, Miami, Florida, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Orlando, Florida.
We’ll leave it to the armchair psychiatrists to analyze what this means, but from now on when we notice a little steam rising on the Alexandria horizon, we will see it with new eyes.
Controversy, heat, and hatred may follow Lanny Davis wherever he goes, but for a book party he knows to stack the deck with friendlies—of both parties—and a camera from C-SPAN just in case. Tuesday night he crammed almost 300 wine-sipping and cheese-nibbling “friends” into a space for 150 at the Hamilton to officially launch his latest book, Crisis Tales. The book is his recollections of the ups and downs of his crisis management career, with the notable and the notorious appearing on the pages. A little Bill Clinton here, a little Martha Stewart there, some Dan Snyder, Trent Lott, and Charles Rangel, plus a misbegotten foray into the nasty business of an Ivory Coast tyrant.
The guests included former RNC chairman Michael Steele, who is a business partner of Davis; Republican congressman Darrell Issa of California, who is chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform; Ted Olson, who was solicitor general in the George W. Bush White House; conservatives Cal Thomas and Grover Norquist; author Ron Kessler; and Democratic congressmen Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania. Most of them took turns posing with their “good friend” Davis, singing his praises and making light of the mixed-bag nature of the guest list.
“It’s nice to see folks come out on a night like this and celebrate the idea that we can all find that opportunity to work together,” said Steele, addressing the crowd. Cummings concurred. “As I listen to you, Michael, you are absolutely right. We have one life to live. This is no dress rehearsal. This is it. We’ve got to find ways to come together, to work together to make a difference, because this is our watch.”
Thriller author Brad Meltzer—a former Washingtonian who now lives in Florida—is back this month with the second novel in his Beecher White series, The Fifth Assassin. White, an archivist at the National Archives, is on the heels of a Washington copycat killer who’s recreating, with striking historical accuracy, the four US presidential assassinations. And he’s not stopping there. Here’s a conversation with Meltzer.
Your novel proposes that the four successful assassins in US history were part of a secret brotherhood and that they’re about to welcome a fifth member. How did you come up with that?
I’ve been playing with the idea for years. Then a few years ago, a reader in DC told me I needed to come to a secret museum almost no one knew about [the National Museum of Health and Medicine]. I was suspicious, so I asked him what they had at this so-called museum. He told me, “Pieces of Abraham Lincoln’s skull, the bones of John Wilkes Booth, and the bullet that killed Lincoln. Wanna see them?” Yes, I wanted to see them. God bless the US government for having all this stuff.
As a country, we seem to be both horrified and fascinated by an assassination attempt on a President. Do you think there’s something particularly American about that?
We are obsessed with celebrity. And our democracy gives us a very personal tie to our Presidents—we picked them, we’re invested in them, we want to know what they eat and wear. So when one dies, we take it as a personal loss. And I have to say I’m glad we get the chance to be that tied to our leaders.
This Sunday afternoon, audience members packed into the Politics & Prose bookstore on Connecticut Avenue to hear a reading of Scoop, the memoir of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jack Nelson. Appearing to discuss the work were his wife, Barbara Matusow, a Washingtonian contributing editor and the editor of the book; Doyle McManus, who succeeded Nelson as the LA Times Washington bureau chief in 1996; and Gene Roberts, former executive editor of the Philadelphia Enquirer.*
The Very Best Care
*This post has been updated from a previous version.