More than 10 years after it began, the National Book Festival has claimed an essential place in the national literary firmament, as supersized and attractive to big names as the well-established to-dos in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Brooklyn. Indeed, this year’s fest occupies the National Mall the same weekend as the Brooklyn Book Festival without any notable decline in celebrity wattage. The big headliner is Nobelist Mario Vargas Llosa, with an impressive undercard to boot: One tent on Sunday afternoon alone includes Laura Kasischke, a brilliant poet of everyday suburbia; Junot Díaz, whose highly anticipated story collection, This Is How You Lose Her, arrives this fall; and George Washington University creative writing professor Thomas Mallon, whose novel Watergate turned the break-in into a savvy study of power and gender.
Knowing its local audience well, the National Book Festival goes heavy on wonkery and children’s fare: YA heavyweights Lois Lowry, Maggie Stiefvater, and R.L. Stine are on the bill, as are Thomas Friedman, Jeffrey Toobin, and Robert A. Caro. But contemporary fiction is where it shines, and with the inclusion this year of Marilynne Robinson, Colson Whitehead, Steven Millhauser, and Jeffrey Eugenides, this is as good a chance to catch up on top-shelf writers as two days will allow. Free.