FOR A SELF-DESCRIBED CYNIC, MURAD Kalam comes off as awfully optimistic–at least about juggling careers as a novelist and a lawyer.
Kalam's first book, Night Journey, is out next month, and the 2002 Harvard Law graduate is about to start work at the DC firm Covington & Burling.
"In college, I remember hearing that the poet Wallace Stevens was a corporate lawyer, and I was just sickened–I couldn't believe it," he says. "Now I think it's a great option because it offers a healthy balance between making a living and having a little time to write."
Kalam worked at Covington one summer during law school, so he should know about the long hours. It's probably a good thing he's using his free time before starting the new job to finish a draft of his second novel.
The cynicism comes in when he talks about Night Journey, the story of an African-American youth who tries to use boxing as a way out of the violence, drugs, and hustling of the inner city. He encounters corruption in the sport and ends up disillusioned by the Nation of Islam movement, which he joins in the days leading up to the Million Man March.
"The point of the novel," Kalam says, "is that everything that becomes available to you becomes ultimately disappointing. There's no institution that's safe from hypocrisy."
Kalam, 30, started the novel as an undergraduate creative-writing thesis at Harvard. He revised it over three years while working as an office manager in his father's oncology practice. He then went to law school and sold the book during his final year. A section published in Harper's magazine won an O. Henry Award.
Kalam calls his upbringing in several cities including Baltimore and Phoenix–the novel's setting–"relatively privileged." To help achieve the book's hard-edged authenticity, he picked up details through conversations with friends and others.
"There aren't so many degrees of separation in the black community between rich and poor," he says. "I guess that's true of any community."
Kalam expects some readers to be surprised that "this novel is not the life that I lived." And the second-most surprising thing?
"I really would like to be a lawyer."
The New Workout?
"MI LLIONS OF AMERICANS TOIL daily on boring treadmills and rowing machines in the name of fitness. Fencing is surely more fun than lifting weights, promoting grace and balance as well as muscle; let the gyms install fencing instructors. A population properly versed in the skill might find fresh outlets for hostility and new uses for the stubbornly lingering testosterone."
–from Gentlemen's Blood: A History of Dueling From Swords at Dawn to Pistols at Dusk, a book out this month by Loudoun County writer Barbara Holland.
What Else Is New
AN OTHER TV TALKING HEAD HAS A book: CNN's Tucker Carlson with Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites: My Adventures in Cable News.
Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose follow up Shrub, their caustic book on the President, with Bushwacked: Life in George W. Bush's America.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright looks back on her life in Madam Secretary: A Memoir.
W. Ralph Eubanks, director of publishing at the Library of Congress, has written Ever Is a Long Time: A Journey Into Mississippi's Dark Past, a memoir of his childhood in the civil-rights era.
Sarah Erdman's Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village is a memoir of the author's Peace Corps service in Ivory Coast. Erdman now works for the Peace Corps in DC.
The Known World by Arlington's Edward P. Jones is a novel about a black slave owner in antebellum Virginia. Jones's last book was the acclaimed 1992 story collection Lost in the City.
Military strategist turned novelist Brian Haig, son of former Secretary of State Alexander Haig, publishes his fourth thriller, Private Sector. Set in Washington, it features his first book's hero, an Army lawyer.
A self-published first novel now gets major-publisher treatment: Simon Says, a combination coming-of-age tale and thriller set in DC by Mitchellville writer Collen Dixon.
NE XT MONTH, LOOK FOR THE SECond volume of former First Lady Barbara Bush's memoirs, Reflections: Life After the White House.
Ralph E. Weber and his son, Ralph A. Weber, have compiled Dear Americans: Letters From the Desk of Ronald Reagan.
Former Washington Post reporter Kara Swisher–now a Wall Street Journal columnist–has written There Must Be a Pony in Here Somewhere: The AOL Time Warner Debacle and the Quest for the Digital Future.
Eva Cassidy: Songbird: Her Story by Those Who Knew Her by Rob Burley, Jonathan Maitland, and Elana Rhodes Byrd is a biography of the local singer who became a star after her death from cancer.
Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship is a psychological study of FDR and Churchill by Newsweek managing editor Jon Meacham.
Noah Adams–longtime cohost of National Public Radio's All Things Considered and now a correspondent–brings his familiar voice to The Flyers: In Search of Wilbur & Orville Wright.
Jefferson's Demons: Portrait of a Restless Mind by Michael Knox Beran reveals a Founding Father who struggled with depression.
Pulitzer Prize-winning retired Associated Press correspondent Walter Mears goes from 1960 to 2000 in Deadlines Past: Forty Years of Presidential Campaigning: A Reporter's Story.
The Washington Post has reason for three October publication parties:
In They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America: October 1967, David Maraniss, a Post editor, explores a single two-day period, interweaving the story of a misguided war battle and a student protest that turned violent.
Book World editor and writer Michael Dirda recalls his bibliophile youth in An Open Book: Coming of Age in the Heartland.
Film critic Stephen Hunter's Havana features Earl Swagger, the hero of his last two books, in a spy thriller set in 1953 Cuba.
Finding Homes for Used Books
MANY SECONDHAND STORES BUY used books, but owners are often choosy, leaving you to return home with books they don't want. Plenty of other places welcome book donations. They won't pay you, but your donation helps support a worthy organization and can be tax-deductible.
Most local public-library branches accept books in good condition for library-run bookstores or sales, sometimes for the libraries' own shelves. Call individual branches for information and drop-off sites.
The Stone Ridge Used-Book Sale–one of the largest in the area, benefiting the girls' school–accepts donations at its Book Barn, located at the corner of Rockville Pike and Cedar Lane in Bethesda. For more information, call 301-657-4322. Next year's sale takes place April 2 through 5.
The Writer's Center (4508 Walsh St., Bethesda; 301-654-8664) accepts donations for its used-book shelves.
Goodwill has drop-off locations in Arlington, Manassas, and Gaithersburg. For information, call 202-636-4232 or go to www.goodwill.org.
The Salvation Army has several area drop-off locations. Call 301-277-7878.
The Boys & Girls Club at 261 17th Street in Southeast DC accepts books and magazines for its library, projects, and fundraising sales. For information, call 202-546-0949. Call other clubs to find out their book needs; not all have libraries.
The Reading Connection–a literacy outreach program for children in Northern Virginia and DC shelters–accepts new and "gently used" children's books. Call Christian Dorsey at 703-528-8317 or visit www.thereadingconnection.org.
GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY'S FALL for the Book Festival takes place September 15 through 20. Authors appearing include novelists Richard Bausch and Sharyn McCrumb, and children's author and Washingtonian contributing editor Laura Elliott. The festival is inaugurating the $10,000 Fairfax Prize, which this year goes to Tobias Wolff, author of the memoir This Boy's Life and several novels and story collections. For information, call 703-993-3986 or go to www.fallforthebook.org.
The Library of Congress's National Book Festival returns Saturday, October 4, from 10 to 5 on the Mall between 7th and 14th streets. Among the scheduled writers are novelist Julia Glass (Three Junes), actress and children's author Julie Andrews, historians Robert Caro and Michael Beschloss, and Inn at Little Washington chef Patrick O'Connell. For information, call 888-714-4696 or go to www.loc.gov/bookfest.