Looking for a Farsi translation of "Cuba: The Evaporation of a Myth"? Revolution Books in Adams-Morgan has it. Among the shelves of books about gays and lesbians at Lambda Rising bookstore are cans of food donated for victims of acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
Pyramid Book Store stocks "The Negro in Northern Brazil," and the president's tax reform proposal is a best seller at the U.S. Government Printing Office.
A few years ago most Washington bookstores were the staid purveyors of best sellers, classics and general interest paperbacks. A specialty bookstore was one that sold only religious books.
No more. The increasing number of specialty bookstores has created a rich tapestry that weaves together the city's changing features.
David Marcuse, manager of the Common Concerns bookstore, one of the new breed of politically oriented bookstores, credited the "incredible explosion" in specialty publishing houses as the major reason for the growth in small specialty bookstores in the last 15 years.
"It's virtually impossible for a large, general bookstore to develop depth in every area that they cover, and a small bookstore can't compete with them on their turf . . . . If you're going to be like them, you're not going to win," he said.
Washington, which, according to Marcuse, enjoys one of the highest per capita spending rates for books, has approximately 100 bookstores.
Most are located west of Connecticut Avenue around Dupont Circle, in wealthier communities such as Georgetown and in changing neighborhoods such as Adams-Morgan. Of the six bookstores in Southeast Washington, five are within four blocks on Capitol Hill, another changing community. There are a handful of bookstores in Northeast and Southwest.
Revolution Books, 2438 18th St. NW, is one of the newest chapters among city's booksellers. One of several stores opened nationwide by the U.S. Revolutionary Communist Party, the Adams-Morgan outlet has eight shelves of books by Marx, Stalin, Lenin and Engels. Because the store serves the city's largest Hispanic community, much of its stock is in Spanish.
Chairs and a small table invite customers to sit and talk. Near the entrance is a poster of Bob Avakian, the party's chairman, that says, "Revolution in the '80's -- Go for it!"
"People from other countries can't easily find some of the things that we have," said Kaya, who, like other Revolution staff members, declined to give her last name.
The store's bookmark notes that Revolution is "open late after demonstrations."
Volunteers from the Socialist Workers Party and the Young Socialist Alliance run Militant Books, 3106 Mount Pleasant St. NW. The building also houses the partys' local headquarters.
The small store specializes in socialist books and periodicals, particularly those dealing with Central America and the Caribbean. A big seller is "Granma," weekly newspaper of the Cuban Communist party, said staff member Debbie Lazar.
Bookworks, 400 Seventh St. NW, is operated by the nonprofit Washington Project for The Arts, an umbrella cultural group. The store features original "artist-made books" many of which are hand-tinted, hand-printed, and hand-bound by their authors.
"Every time a local person brings in his book or record I take them on consignment . . . . I hardly ever turn anybody away." said manager Skuta Helgason. Ten percent of the store's books are produced by local artists, he said.
Hodari Ali, proprietor of Pyramid Book Store, 2849 Georgia Ave. NW, runs one of the city's few black-oriented book stores. "I've been here 12 years," Ali said, "and for the size of our black population, there should be a lot more business." His reference was to the city's 70 percent black population.
Pyramid specializes in books by and about blacks. About 25 percent of its customers are from from Howard University, two blocks away, the rest "from all over," Ali said.
The collection ranges from biographies of Lena Horne to one of Tina Turner, from "History Is a Weapon" by the Soledad prison poets to "Black Life in Corporate America." But Pyramid also stocks "Heartline Romances" -- yes, just like the popular Harlequin Romances. The one difference: Heartline has blacks on its covers.
Pyramid recently moved to the third floor of the building it has occupied since December 1981, to make way for a complex called the "House of Knowledge," which includes a fashion boutique, a children's clothing and toy store, Country Life Natural Foods and an African imports store.
Lambda Rising, 1625 Connecticut Ave. NW, sees itself as "a community-oriented bookstore -- not just gay community but also nongay community," said James M. Bennett, who owns the store with L. Page Maccubbin, who is known to regular customers as "Deacon."
"Being on Connecticut Avenue allows us to perform an educational function, exposing nongay people to gay literature, sometimes unwittingly," Maccubbin said. Past the books on gay studies and "history/herstory" is a community bulletin board covered with notices.
The Government Printing Office's main bookstore, on North Capitol Street between G and H Streets, is one of the city's oldest specialty bookstores. Founded in 1947, its specialty is government publications on topics ranging from sewing to the history of Washington's Anacostia neighborhood.
Unlike their traditional counterparts, specialty bookstores tend to invite customers to browse and read without buying.
"Part of the function of a bookstore is to provide information for people who can't afford to buy the books," Helgason said.