We already know that Washington, DC, is our nation’s most literate city (and if you didn’t know that already, it’s because you’ve been ignoring my @TheBookMaven tweets). It makes sense, because our fair metro region kind of invented the “knowledge economy,” by which I mean the Founding Fathers were a bunch of policy wonks.
Given our reading proclivities, each month I plan to post a list of the books I think Washingtonians should know about. Cocktail party chatter and all that, folks. However, winnowing it down is and will remain difficult; I could easily list twice as many books. (See the last title on the Nonfiction list for why I will constrain my monthly list to ten titles.)
I’m always open to recommendations, too: email@example.com.
The New Mind of the South by Tracy Thompson
A Georgia native who now lives “just outside Washington, DC,” (we are sort of Southern city, y’all) journalist Thompson gets the American South. After years as a journalist covering the region, she decided to see how things are now—and was surprised, dismayed, and heartened, in equal measures.
Field Guide to the Natural World of Washington, D.C. by Howard Youth
The start of spring is a perfect time to contemplate the flora and fauna that share our cement and subdivisions, and this gorgeous illustrated book is a great way to do it. From bats to bluebells, you’ll find your own little bit of nature represented.
The “secret city” Oak Ridge, Tennessee appeared on no map during the Second World War, yet its population of 75,000—mostly young women from all around the US—were doing the kind of work that would have put it on the map if that had not been forbidden. Great, relevant, readable.
The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown by Paul Taylor/Pew Research Center
Forget about gender, race, and class. The real divide in America has arrived, and it’s going to get worse, as Baby Boomers seek to “age in place” and Millennials attempt to “get a life.” Might the fisticuffs be avoided? Research from other aging societies says a cautious “yes.”
Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte
Schulte knows whereof she speaks: After all, she lives in Alexandria, is married, has children, and works for the Washington Post. So listen to your fellow Washingtonian when she tells you that there are ways to find a balance—although it may involve giving up (gasp!) perfection.
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
An astonishing inversion/retelling of the Snow White tale in which a woman named Boy, her stepdaughter Snow, and her biological child Bird challenge the notions of race, identity, family, and community in a 1950s Massachusetts town. Nigerian author Oyeyemi has triumphed.
Falling Out of Time by David Grossman
A grieving father tells his wife he is off in search of their dead son; yet “Walking Man” (as he comes to be known) simply makes ever-larger circles around their town. Grossman, an Israeli novelist (To The End of the Land), makes storytelling a meditative act.
After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman
“Felix Brewer left five women behind. Now there are four. Does at least one of them know the truth?” The wondrous—and, lucky for us, Baltimore-based—Laura Lippman does it again, crafting a mystery with superb characterization, great atmosphere, and a sharp attitude.
The Man Who Walked Away by Maud Casey
Based on the true story of Albert Dadas, a 19th-century French psychiatric patient, DC’er Casey’s new novel charts a possible itinerary for the seemingly trance-bound man. Her writing takes what might have been a fanciful tale to the realm of art about alienation and homecoming.
All I Have in This World by Michael Parker
You’ve read novels about an object and its owners (think of Annie Proulx’s Accordion Crimes), but don’t pass by Michael Parker’s book about a “low-slung sky-blue 1984 Buick Electra” without kicking its tires, so to speak—it’s no lemon but a sweet, sinuous, and smart love story.