Local Libris’ Take on D.C. Fiction
Very simply, Local Libris encourages you to read ”books about where you are, where you’re going, or where you want to be.”
We asked one of its founder’s how the site came about:
The idea for the site came to us while on vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico back in 2011. I happened to be reading a collection of short stories and one of the characters made a trip to Puerto Vallarta. It was striking how much I enjoyed reading fiction set in the very place I was visiting.
We realized that for road warriors and armchair travelers and everyone in between, books tell more than the story of their characters; they tell the story of a place. As travelers redouble their efforts to explore what’s local – eating local, drinking local, etc. — we decided to take the opportunity to encourage folks to read what’s local.
It’s simply more fun when your beach read tells you something about the area where your particular beach is located rather than describing a place halfway around the world. We’ve curated books, including novels, memoirs, and books about the history and politics of a particular place. For some destinations we’ve included links to articles, podcasts, and popular TV shows that tell you something about the place.
Beyond geographical searches, you can also check out Authors’ Insights about why a writer chose a particular setting or Travel Pairings for recommendations about a book to take along when you’re headed to a given destination.
Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones
The nation’s capital that serves as the setting for the stories in Edward P. Jones’s prizewinning collection, Lost in the City, lies far from the city of historic monuments and national politicians. Jones takes the reader beyond that world into the lives of African American men and women who work against the constant threat of loss to maintain a sense of hope. From “The Girl Who Raised Pigeons” to the well-to-do career woman awakened in the night by a phone call that will take her on a journey back to the past, the characters in these stories forge bonds of community as they struggle against the limits of their city to stave off the loss of family, friends, memories, and, ultimately, themselves.
The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos
In 1985, the body of a 14-year-old girl turns up in a Washington, D.C., park, the latest in a series of murders by a killer the media dub “The Night Gardener.” T.C. Cook, the aging detective on the case, works with a quiet, almost monomaniacal, focus. Also involved are two young uniformed cops, Gus Ramone, who’s diligent, conscientious and unimpressed by heroics, and Dan “Doc” Holiday, an adrenaline junkie who’s decidedly less straight. Fast forward 20 years. Detective Ramone, now married with kids of his own, investigates the murder of one of his teenage son’s friends. The homicide closely resembles the earlier unsolved Night Gardener murders. Holiday, now an alcoholic chauffeur and bodyguard, follows the case on his own and tracks down Cook, long retired but still obsessed with the original murders. While the three work together toward a suspenseful ending, Pelecanos emphasizes the fallacy of “solving” a murder and explores the ripple effects of violent crime on society.
Dupont Circle: A Novel by Paul Kafka-Gibbons
Dupont Circle, one of the most vibrant and active communities in Washington, D.C., is a place where worlds often collide. Kafka-Gibbons sets his engaging comedy of manners there, amidst a wealthy old D.C. family, whose patriarch is aging appeals court judge Bailey Allard. Bailey’s son, Jon, and Jon’s partner, Peter, who are, for all practical purposes, married and raising the two children of Bailey’s mentally ill daughter, urge Bailey to take a young law-school student, Louisa, as a boarder in his nearly empty and cavernous old house. In the meanwhile, Bailey’s court takes a gay marriage case that could change the definition of marriage in America. Then Bailey and Louisa enter into an unlikely May-December romance that surprises them as much as it does their families.
Along Came a Spider (Alex Cross) by James Patterson
Alex Cross, a black Washington, D.C., police detective with a Ph.D. in psychology, and Jezzie Flanagan, a white motorcycling Secret Service agent, become lovers as they work together to apprehend a chilling psychopath who has kidnapped two children from a posh private school. The first in a long series of thrillers featuring Alex Cross and his adventures in DC.
The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
The Lost Symbol begins with an ancient ritual, a shadowy enclave, and of course, a secret. Readers know they are in Dan Brown territory when, by the end of the first chapter, a secret within a secret is revealed. To tell too much would ruin the fun of reading this delicious thriller, so you will find no spoilers here. Suffice it to say that as with many series featuring a recurring character, there is a bit of a formula at work (one that fans will love). Again, brilliant Harvard professor Robert Langdon finds himself in a predicament that requires his vast knowledge of symbology and superior problem-solving skills to save the day. The setting, unlike other Robert Langdon novels, is stateside, and in Brown’s hands Washington D.C. is as fascinating as Paris or Vatican City.
Eighteen Acres: A Novel by Nicolle Wallace
Eighteen Acres, a description used by political insiders when referring to the White House complex, follows the first female President of the United States, Charlotte Kramer, and her staff as they take on dangerous threats from abroad and within her very own cabinet.
Washington, D.C: A Novel (Narratives of Empire). by Gore Vidal
Widely regarded as Vidal’s ultimate comment on how the American political system degrades those who participate in it, Washington, D.C. is a stunning tale of corruption and diseased ambitions. It traces the fortunes of James Burden Day, a powerful conservative senator who is eyeing the presidency; Clay Overbury, a pragmatic young congressional aide with political aspirations of his own; and Blaise Sanford, a ruthless newspaper tycoon who understands the importance of money and image in modern politics. With characteristic wit and insight, Vidal chronicles life in the nation’s capital at a time when these men and others transformed America into “possibly the last empire on earth.”
Grief by Andrew Holleran
An understated, eloquent novel by Holleran (Dancer from the Dance) captures the pain of a generation of gay men who have survived the AIDS epidemic and reached middle age yearning for fidelity, tenderness and intimacy. The unnamed, silver-haired narrator has just relocated from Florida, where he cared for his recently deceased mother for the last 12 years, to Washington, D.C., to “start life over” and teach a college seminar on literature and AIDS. He rents a room in a townhouse near Dupont Circle, his solitude deepened by his awareness that he and his gay, celibate landlord, a “homosexual emeritus,” form only a semblance of a household. The narrator spends his days exploring the streets of the capital and his nights engrossed in the letters of Mary Todd Lincoln, who held onto her grief and guilt at her husband’s death much like the narrator hordes his guilt for never having come out of the closet to his mother—and for having survived the 1980s and ’90s. Holleran makes his coiled reticence speak volumes on attachment, aging, sex and love in small scenes as compelling as they are heartbreaking. Visiting with his friend Frank, whose willful pragmatism throws the narrator’s mourning in sharp relief, prove especially revealing.
Angela Sloan: A Novel by James Whorton
In his latest novel, universally acclaimed author James Whorton, Jr., delivers a curious Nixon-era caper of broken men and stoic runaways who learn just how much there is to gain, and lose, when you go undercover. Angela Sloan, a seemingly average teenager living in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., is left to lie low and fend for herself when her father, a retired CIA officer, skips town in the wake of the Watergate scandal.
Driving a Plymouth Scamp she has just learned to operate, Angela encounters strangers literally at every turn. A fugitive Chinese waitress won’t get out of the car. A jaded lady spy offers up free therapy and roadside assistance. A restless pair of hippies keeps preaching about the evils of monogamy. And an anteater lurks in the unlikeliest of places. But through all of her outlandish adventures, Angela keeps focused on one urgent wish: to reunite with her father.
No Way to Treat a First Lady: A Novel by Christopher Buckley
Christopher Buckley is not so much a novelist as a free-ranging satirist looking for targets. In Thank You for Smoking it was big tobacco and earnest reformers; in God Is My Broker it was business and religion; and in No Way to Treat a First Lady, it’s the entire legal profession, not to mention the Washington establishment. The novel opens with the President of the United States returning to the conjugal bed after an illicit Lincoln Bedroom romp with the Streisandesque Babette Van Anka. His wife, the long-suffering Beth McMann, promptly clocks him with a Paul Revere spittoon. Several hours later he dies. “Lady Bethmac,” as the First Lady is immediately dubbed by the media, is put on trial, and the resulting media circus gives Buckley lots of opportunity for nicely observed skewerings of legal culture. “Judge Dutch creaked forward in his chair. This is the source of the aura of judges: they have bigger chairs than anyone else. That and the fact that they can sentence people to sit in electrified ones. It’s all about chairs.” He gets in some neat neologisms–a lawyer performs a “credibilobotomy” on a witness–and sends up the pretensions of law TV: at a roundtable discussion, the guest from Harvard Law is invited “to provide gravitas and to shift uneasily in his seat when the other guests said something provocative.” Buckley’s Trial of the Millennium is so far-fetched that it seems entirely possible.
The Revisionists by Thomas Mullen
Zed is an agent from the future. A time when the world’s problems have been solved. No hunger. No war. No despair. His mission is to keep it that way. Even if it means ensuring every cataclysm throughout history runs its course-especially The Great Conflagration, an imminent disaster in our own time that Zed has been ordered to protect at all costs.
Zed’s mission will disrupt the lives of a disgraced former CIA agent; a young Washington lawyer grieving over the loss of her brother, a soldier in Iraq; the oppressed employee of a foreign diplomat; and countless others. But will he finish his final mission before the present takes precedence over a perfect future? One that may have more cracks than he realizes?
Thomas Mullen’s playlist for The Revisionist available here.
Any novels you’d add to the list? Please share them below!