Election day is quickly approaching and I, for one, am more than ready to leave this campaign season behind. As someone who works in Washington, D.C., I am accustomed to a constant hum of political talk, but the presidential race has crescendoed the hum into a rather unbearable din.
Yes, I realize this is to be expected, seeing as Washington is our nation’s capital, but I want the world to realize there’s more to the D.C. area than just politics.
So, I took it upon myself to find books that take place in the D.C. metro area that do not focus on politics. Admittedly, they were hard to come by, but I was able to find some that fit the bill.
Check them out and get a different taste of the District:
A Criminal Magic, by Lee Kelly
A Criminal Magic takes us back to Prohibition-era Washington, but in Kelly’s version of history, it isn’t alcohol that has been banned. It’s magic! And the black market for it is booming. Gangs hire sorcerers to make an addictive, euphoria-inducing elixir called Sorcerer’s Shine and to perform magic in secret venues throughout the city, including one called The Red Den in Georgetown. Sorcerer Joan and undercover Prohibition Unit officer Alex meet at The Red Den and fall head over heels for each other. Will their ill-fated love make it through the unforgiving circumstances?
I love how this book combined the magical and fantastical with an historic DC setting. I kept looking up the different streets mentioned in the story on Google maps and imagining how they would have looked in the 1920s. Lots of nerdy fun!
Ghosts of Georgetown, by Tim Krepp
Halloween’s almost here, so Ghosts of Georgetown seemed fitting. In this collection of ghost tales, Krepp provides a solid history lesson on the events surrounding each story, but doesn’t take away from the fun of reading a scary story for its spine-tingling effects. After reading this book, there are a few spots in Georgetown that I think I’ll just avoid from now on…
The Seventh Most Important Thing, by Shelley Pearsall
This middle-grade book tells a beautiful story of a child’s grief and the results of a terrible decision he makes. Set in Washington, D.C. in the 1960s, The Seventh Most Important Thing follows Arthur T. Owens as he works for the man he injured in a moment of rage. But it isn’t regular community service. He has to collect The Seven Most Important Things (glass bottles, foil, cardboard, pieces of wood, lightbulbs, coffee cans, and mirrors), but what is it all for? I’m not going to tell you! What I will say is the “thing” that’s created actually exists and is on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Click here if you really want to know what it is.
Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett
This one is a bit of a stretch, but I enjoyed Commonwealth enough that I wanted to include it. The story takes place in multiple cities, but part of it is set just outside the District in Arlington (my hometown). At the beginning of Commonwealth, one kiss sets in motion the breaking up of two marriages and follows messy aftermath for the couples and six children involved.
I’ll admit, I didn’t particularly like the scenes in Arlington because they didn’t ring true for me (Arlingtonians, let me know your thoughts if you read it), but there was something about Commonwealth and its depiction of family dysfunction that made it impossible to put down.
The Girl’s Guide to Love and Supper Clubs, by Dana Bate
This yummy story follows Hannah Sugarman, a twenty-something in the midst of a quarter-life crisis, as she tries to find happiness and meaning in her favorite past-time: cooking. She starts an underground supper club (a not-completely-legal venture) out of her landlord’s Dupont Circle home while he’s out of town. Hilarity, heartbreak, and scrumptious meals ensue. Bate is very detailed in her descriptions of the city and name-drops sites throughout the book. I particularly appreciated her mention of the Dupont Circle Krispy Kreme!
Along Came a Spider, James Patterson
Along Came a Spider is the first installment of James Patterson’s Alex Cross series. Through Cross, a police detective and forensic psychologist, we get a look at two very different sides of DC. We first glimpse the District’s poorer neighborhoods as Cross investigates the murders of two prostitutes and an infant in the Southeast quadrant of the city. Then, when Cross is assigned a seemingly unconnected case involving two children kidnapped from an elite private school, we see the more affluent part of town. The book was written in 1993, when D.C. was still considered the murder capital of the U.S. Many of the “bad” areas Cross describes have been cleaned up since then.
The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus, by Richard Preston
I remember reading this as a middle-schooler in the mid-90s and being completely fascinated and majorly freaked out. Monkeys in a primate quarantine facility in the D.C. suburb of Reston — only 30 minutes from where I lived — had been infected by the Ebola virus. Eek! Preston’s graphic descriptions of the virus’ effects aren’t for the faint-hearted, but I couldn’t put this one down and have had an interest in lethal viruses and global pandemics ever since!
Here are a few I haven’t read, but caught my eye:
Here I Am, by Jonathan Safran Foer
From the Follett Titlewave: “In Washington, D.C., after an earthquake in the Middle East which sets in motion a quickly escalating conflict, Jacob and Julia Bloch and their three sons are forced to look at the distances between the lives they think they want and the lives they are living.”
I’ve heard mixed things about Here I Am, but I really enjoyed Everything Is Illuminated, so I’ll give it a try.
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, by Dinaw Mengestu
From the Follett Titlewave: “Ethiopian refugee Sepha Stephanos, running a grocery store in an African-American neighborhood in Washington, D.C., finds hope for the future and a renewed sense of family when he is befriended by a white woman and her biracial daughter who move in next door, not realizing there are some who will not approve of his new relationship and do not welcome what marks the beginning of a wave of gentrification.”
Side-note: if you’re ever in D.C. and itching for some amazing Ethopian food, try Etete on U Street. It is sooo delicious!
The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown
From Follett Titlewave: “Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, at the U.S. Capitol Building to deliver a lecture, is drawn into a desperate search through the hidden tunnels and temples of Washington, D.C., when his mentor Peter Solomon, a prominent Mason and philanthropist, is kidnapped and the only clue to Solomon’s whereabouts lies in an ancient invitation to a long-lost world of esoteric wisdom.”
I OD’ed on Dan Brown in college, but maybe enough time has passed for me to give him another go. I am a sucker for his end-of-chapter cliffhangers!
What Washington, D.C. books without politics have I missed? Add them in the comments!