DC is among the country’s most well-read cities, so it’s no surprise that local authors delivered an abundance of new books to crack open—and gift—this past year. With Christmas around the corner, here are new, local books to give to the special bookworm in your life.
For the bookstore regular:
If you’ve ever wondered what goes on in the lives and minds of your favorite local booksellers, a former Politics and Prose employee takes you inside that world. Published in August, Bookish People by Susan Coll, is a “lightly fictionalized, highly exaggerated, and very entertaining look at the lives of beleaguered booksellers.” Set in August of 2017, in the fateful days between Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally and the solar eclipse, Coll’s screwball comedy follows the lives of an independent bookstore owner and a renowned poet.
For the armchair mathematician:
Silver Spring author Manil Suri is usually crafting stories set in India—his novel The Death of Vishnu was long-listed for the Booker Prize. But his latest book The Big Bang of Numbers, published in September, digs deep into his life’s other passion: mathematics. A math professor at the University of Maryland, Suri’s latest book is an attempt to “convince creative people to love math.” To do so, he uses “abstract, world-building brain games” that gets readers playing with numbers.
For the local-history buff:
Published in May, James Kirchick’s Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington quickly rose to the New York Times bestseller list, which dubbed it as “a sprawling and enthralling history of how the gay subculture in Washington, D.C., long in shadow, emerged into the klieg lights.” Kirchick, a journalist, nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, and a gay Washingtonian himself, traces the violence that often accompanied being in “the closet” while “making the case that Washingtonians were in the vanguard of organizing for equal rights.”
For the hopeless romantic:
Bowie writer Nikkie Payne, who works a day job at Meta, brings Pride and Prejudice to present day DC through her latest novel Pride and Protest, published in November. Rather than featuring the stormy proprietor of an English estate, her novel’s “single man in possession of a good fortune” is instead the CEO of a large corporation that’s threatening to gentrify the love interest’s DC neighborhood.
For the fan of fantasy:
Published in August, Leslye Penelope’s novel, The Monsters We Defy, tells the true story of Clara “Carrie” Johnson, a Black 17-year-old who was miraculously released from jail after being accused of killing a white police officer. Intermixing the real with the mystical, Penelope brings new characters to the fold—ghosts and spirits—who helped Carrie survive but stick around for years after. “In African American folk magic, there’s an idea of balance,” Penelope told Washingtonian. “The spirits can help you, but there’s always a cost.” In addition to grappling with classism and colorism, Penelope’s novel also paints a portrait of U Street when its jazz clubs and speakeasies were the seat of Black talent in DC.
For the neighborhood mom group:
Speaking from experience, Washington Post reporter Helena Andrews-Dyer takes readers on a “a deeply funny bumper-car ride” through the cultural differences between Black and white mothers in her new book, The Mamas: What I Learned About Kids, Class, and Race From Moms Not Like Me. “I’d never read a ‘mom book’ that captured my motherhood experience, so I wrote it,” Andrews-Dyer told Washingtonian in August, the same month it was published. “Really, it’s that simple. I knew if I was doing double-takes over all the foolishness of new mommyhood, then others were too, and I had to document it.”
For the true-crime junkie:
In Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders, journalist and outdoors expert Kathryn Miles digs into the 1996 murders of two women hikers, only to find “conflicting evidence, mismatched timelines, and details that just don’t add up.” Using what’s described as “unprecedented access to crucial crime-scene forensics and key witnesses,” Miles is convinced she’s found the person responsible: a known serial killer. Along the way, she also dissects the disproportionate danger women still face when hiking and pleas for safer trails.
For the visual reader:
Published in May, the graphic novel Smahtguy documents the story of one of America’s first openly gay members of Congress: Barney Frank. It’s written and illustrated by comic-strip artist Eric Orner, who previously worked in politics, including for Frank who requested he write his biography. “[Frank] said he had some reservations about the books about him,” Orner told Washingtonian. “He wished there was something that captured the humanity and the struggle.” The result is a “dazzling, irreverent” portrait of the LGBTQ pioneer.
For the FBI agent wannabe:
Author Shahan Mufti, a journalism professor at the University of Richmond, revisits a two-day terror incident that “brought downtown Washington to a standstill” in the 1970s through his book American Caliph: The True Story of a Muslim Mystic, a Hollywood Epic, and the 1977 Siege of Washington. Published in November, the book uses hundreds of declassified FBI files to detail the somewhat forgotten incident that involved 100 or so hostages and an armed Muslim group. “Combined with contemporaneous news accounts and the available court records (though many have been lost, frustratingly), Mufti’s efforts add up to the most complete picture yet of what happened—and why it mattered,” writes Andrew Beaujon.
For the humorist:
Funny Business, which was published in June, “captures the highs and lows of one of DC’s most vital personalities“: political satirist Art Buchwald, whose Pulitzer-Prize winning column appeared in papers nationwide. Written by the historical researcher Michael Hill, Funny Business revisits some of Buchwald’s most memorable columns while also revealing the life story that led the humorist to see comedy as a refuge from troubled times.
For the aspiring politico:
Danica Roem became the nation’s first openly trans person elected to a US state legislature when she won a Virginia seat in 2017. But, as her memoir Burn the Page will tell you, getting to office first involved revisiting her life before politics. Hiring an opposition researcher, Roem dug up all the stories from her past that her opponent, Republican Bob Marshall, could potentially use against her. “The whole premise of the book is about the importance of owning your narrative,” said Roem to Washingtonian last April, when the book was published. Whether you’re running for politics or trying to achieve another goal, the book, according to Penguin Random House, is ultimately about “how it’s possible to set fire to the stories you don’t want to be in anymore, whether written by you or about you by someone else–and rewrite your own future.”
For the go-go fan:
Lovers of the uniquely DC genre will appreciate DC Go-Go: Ten Years Backstage, a compendium of photos taken by Chip Py. Once Chuck Brown’s official photographer, Py captures the sounds of go-go in this “documentary celebration” that also includes information about the DC go-go scene and its musicians.