Zoe Heller
Zoe Heller

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In the past two years the publishing industry has tanked, the Washington Post has dismantled its standalone book-review section in the name of cost savings, and the D.C. region has lost at least three important independent booksellers (Olsson’s, Karibu, and Vertigo). But in the fall the area behaves as if literary culture isn’t on a ventilator. <1><1>


Until relatively recently it was an open question whether there’d still be a National Book Festival (loc.gov/bookfest), launched in 2001 by the Library of Congress with Laura Bush, then the first lady. Returning to the National Mall on Sept. 26, the fest is unapologetically populist, bringing in the likes of James Patterson, Judy Blume, Junot Diaz, John Irving, and Ken Burns. If you hope to see your favorite writer up close, claim a spot early in the tent where he or she will be speaking; regardless, expect oppressively long lines for the signings. Local pick: David A. Taylor, author of an excellent history of the WPA Writers’ Project, Soul of a People, the source for a new documentary of the same title.

Fall for the Book (fallforthebook.org), which runs from Sept. 21 to 26, centers around George Mason University’s Fairfax campus, but its events are spread out across Northern Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. Sherman Alexie and E.L. Doctorow are the destination authors (they’ll both be picking up awards here), but it’s a big undercard, including Yiyun Li, author of The Vagrants, a brutal, brilliant novel set during China’s Cultural Revolution; crime-novel veteran James Ellroy; and former New Yorker journalist Dan Baum, reading from his book on post-Katrina New Orleans, Nine Lives. Local picks: Historical novelist C.M. Mayo, author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, and former D.C. poet laureate E. Ethelbert Miller, whose new memoir is The Fifth Inning.

The Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival, running from Oct. 18 to 28 at the Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center, opens with a celebration of the works of Philip Roth, and though the fest lacks the wattage of Roth himself, it has some very good authors in tow, including novelists Dara Horn and Zoe Heller, cultural scholar Morris Dickstein, and conceptual artist Jonathon Keats, who sold shares in his brain’s neurons in 2003. Local pick: Melissa Ford, who covers infertility issues on her blog Stirrup Queens, reads from Navigating the Land of If.

Paid Events

Typically, the price of admission for a book reading is little more than agreeing to shut your trap and listen for a half-hour or so. But a rare few can demand you open your wallets. All four writers appearing at Lisner Auditorium this fall—David Sedaris (Oct. 7), Michael Chabon (Oct. 9), Margaret Atwood (Oct. 30), and Al Gore (Nov. 5)—charge for the privilege of hearing them. So does Francine Prose, who reads from her new book, Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife onSept. 29 at Smithsonian’s Ripley Center. Also: Joyce Carol Oates, whose latest novel at press time was Little Bird of Heaven, appearing Sept. 21 at the Freer Gallery of Art. PEN/Faulkner’s annual reading series includes Jonathan Lethem and Stacey D’Erasmo on Nov. 2 at the Folger Shakespeare Library. The Time Traveler’s Wife author Audrey Niffenegger appears Oct. 29 at a paid event at Smithsonian’s Ripley Center with book editor Nan Graham; cheapskates can see Niffenegger for free on Nov. 2 at Borders Baileys Crossroads in Falls Church.


D.C. nonfiction authors congregate at the National Press Club’s book fair, held Nov. 17. Maureen Dowd will help former New York Times food critic Frank Bruni talk up his memoir, Born Round, Sept. 29 at Politics & Prose. Georgetown linguistics professor Deborah Tannen, who’s scrutinized the chatter of men, women, and City Paper staffers, is at Politics & Prose on Sept. 17 discussing You Were Always Mom’s Favorite, her book about sisters. Northern Virginia–based thriller author David Baldacci reads from True Blue on Oct. 27 at Barnes & Noble Tysons Corner. William Littlejohn, whose novel Calvin won the Washington Writers’ Publishing House prize in fiction, reads Oct. 25 at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda. And a tribute to the work of the pioneering gay black author and onetime D.C. resident E. Lynn Harris, who died last July, will be held Sept. 25 at the Largo Borders.