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“The pedestrians in every neighborhood all seemed to have taken the same dowdiness pills,” Jonathan Franzen writes of D.C. in his new novel, Freedom. “As if individual style were a volatile substance that evaporated in the vacuity of D.C.’s sidewalks and infernally wide squares.” Fighting words! If you’d like to take the matter up with Franzen directly, you’ll have three chances: Sept. 24 at Politics and Prose, Sept. 25 on the National Mall as part of the National Book Festival, and Feb. 18 as part of PEN/Faulkner’s reading series. Or, perhaps better, consider going Franzen-free this fall. There are plenty of local authors—authors full of individual style!—reading here well into the new year.
The National Book Festival is a good (if occasionally humid and/or rainy) place to start searching. Among the locals participating this year are critic and novelist Thomas Mallon, D.C.-raised Inauguration Day poet Elizabeth Alexander, celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn, and Russian emigrant Olga Grushin, whose new novel, The Line, is funnier and livelier than its subject—Soviet-era scarcity—might suggest. (She also reads at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Sept. 27.)
The Fall for the Book Festival, headquartered at George Mason University, also packs in a host of locals between Sept. 19 and 24, including The Crisis editor Jabari Asim, whose new book is a story collection, A Taste of Honey; Bethesda resident and rising chick-lit star Sarah Pekkanen (The Opposite of Me); much-decorated novelist Howard Norman (What Is Left the Daughter); and Frederick Reuss, whose new novel, A Geography of Secrets, brings some dignity and color to the lives of midlevel intelligence functionaries. (He also reads at Politics and Prose Sept. 25.) The National Press Club’s annual book fair, held Nov. 9, traditionally gathers some of the most prominent local nonfiction writers, though a full lineup wasn’t available at press time. D.C. historian Mark N. Ozer reads from Massachusetts Avenue in the Gilded Age at Politics and Prose Oct. 3. Sports-franchise hooverer Ted Leonsis talks up his career-advice book, The Business of Happiness, at Smithsonian Associates Sept. 23, and Catholic University professor Jerry Muller will speak on his new book, Capitalism and the Jews, at the Washington, D.C., Jewish Community Center Oct. 25 as part of the DCJCC’s annual Jewish Literary Festival.
Too heavy? Susan Coll reads from her latest novel, Beach Week, about D.C. teens’ post-high-school shenanigans, at the Writer’s Center Nov. 7, the same evening Politics and Prose hosts the winners of the annual Washington Writers’ Publishing House contest: poet Holly Karapetkova (Words We Might One Day Say) and short-story writer Andrew Wingfield (Right of Way). Perhaps the biggest local fall literary event comes Dec. 3, as Edward P. Jones attends a PEN/Faulkner ceremony awarding him and Australian-born author Nam Le the PEN/Malamud award. It’s among the most prestigious prizes given to short-story writers in America; the two will split a whopping $5,000, which goes to show what individual style gets you when you lack Franzen’s hype.