Forgetting to bring a good book to the beach is right up there with riptides and rainstorms — all of a sudden, things go from beachin’ to boring. Our favorite local authors, aghast at the idea of such a fate, stepped up to share the beach reads they plan to luxuriate over this summer. Grab one or a few of their suggested titles, and then hit that toasty sand.
Brian Jay Jones
Probably predictably, Jones says, his reading pile is heavy on nonfiction — and the book sitting on top is Robert A. Caro’s “Working,” a behind-the-scenes look at researching and writing biographies. It’s an appropriate pick for Jones, a Stafford County-based biographer whose “Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination” was released this month. Jones also plans to devour David McCullough’s “The Pioneers,” about the settling of the Northwest Territory, followed by a guilty-pleasure read: “Howard Stern Comes Again,” a collection of some of the (reformed?) shock jock’s most memorable interviews. So if you hear someone shouting, “Baba Booey!” on the beach, well, you might have located Jones.
Bethesda-based Heiny loves “Gone With the Wind” so much that her oldest child’s middle name is Mitchell — a nod to author Margaret Mitchell. Heiny used to read the 1930s novel every summer, “but now I try to limit myself to every three years so it doesn’t get stale.” Though it hasn’t been that long, Heiny — whose debut novel, the social satire “Standard Deviation,” was published in 2017 — is considering taking “Wind” to the beach anyway. Another favorite she enjoys pulling out in the summer is “The Silence of the Lambs.” When she recently told someone she was rereading it for comfort, “she told me I sounded like a budding serial killer. But Thomas Harris’ novel is so smart, so elegant — I return to it time and again.”
Langsdorf will be summer lovin’ — that is, returning to authors she loves this summer. She’s counting the days until the June release of Jean Kwok’s “Searching for Sylvie Lee” — she recently read, and adored, Kwok’s debut novel, “Girl in Translation.” And while she’s a serious Kate Atkinson fan, Langsdorf has yet to read “Behind the Scenes at the Museum,” a 1995 Atkinson book she found a copy of at her local Little Free Library and will turn to this summer. Langsdorf, who lives in Adams Morgan, is the author of “White Elephant,” a witty look at the fallout when a beloved red maple tree is cut down in a suburban town. Other high-priority titles on her summer reading list: Taylor Jenkins Reid’s “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” (she recently enjoyed the novelist’s “Daisy Jones & The Six”) and Susan Choi’s “Trust Exercise,” which has been compared to another of Langsdorf’s favorites: “The Interestings” by Meg Wolitzer.
A few summers ago, during a writing fellowship in Tuscany, Alexander read Percival Everett’s “I Am Not Sidney Poitier.” “I laughed so hard and so often that some of the other writers complained” — and then also bought Everett’s comic novel, Alexander recalls. He’s participating in another fellowship this summer, so he’ll read the book again. Alexander — the Herndon-based author of more than two dozen books, including “Solo” and “Rebound” — is known for his efforts to empower young readers and promote literacy. His imprint, Versify, for example, aims to publish books that will help kids strive for a better world. During a weeklong vacation in Folly Beach, S.C., Alexander will split his time reading manuscripts for Versify and works by the Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
Maslin is an elementary school teacher in the District, which means that summer promises long days ripe for reading. First on her list is “On Being Human,” a new memoir by fellow yogi Jennifer Pastiloff. Maslin’s debut memoir, “Love You Hard,” was published in March; in it, she describes what happened after her husband was attacked near Eastern Market, left with a traumatic brain injury that initially rendered him unable to speak or walk. In her first summer since becoming a published author, Maslin will get her YA fix via “With the Fire on High,” local author Elizabeth Acevedo’s latest, and aims to finally read “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. She’s also eyeing “City of Girls,” the new novel by “Eat Pray Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert that comes out on June 4.
Capitol Hill resident Bayard — author of the historical novels “Courting Mr. Lincoln” and “Lucky Strikes” — is, like Brian Jay Jones, impatiently awaiting the final installment of Robert A. Caro’s series on President Lyndon B. Johnson, so he plans to tide himself over with “Working.” He’s also looking forward to Colson Whitehead’s “The Nickel Boys,” a novel set in Jim Crow-era Florida that will hit shelves on July 16. “But really,” he says, “I’ll be spending the whole summer praying for an advance copy of "The Testaments,” Margaret Atwood’s long-overdue sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ ” The book’s release date is Sept. 10, so if Bayard doesn’t get an early copy, the students in his fiction-writing classes at George Washington University might not see him for a day or two.
Powers, whose novel “First Cosmic Velocity” will be published in August, jokes that he’s particularly qualified to make beach-reading suggestions: He grew up in a beach town — Georgia’s Tybee Island — which means he long ago reached elite reading-while-lounging status. These days, he lives in Arlington and teaches writing at Northern Virginia Community College. He’s a short-story connoisseur; his debut story collection, “Gravity Changes,” was published in 2017 and won the BOA Short Fiction Prize. This summer, he’s looking forward to the short fiction collection “Orange World and Other Stories” by Karen Russell, whose work he could read over and over: “the conjured prose, the folkloric storytelling, the super-weird conceits.” Also on the list: the debut novels “Mostly Dead Things” by Kristen Arnett (“Just look at the cover. Flamingo!”) and “A Particular Kind of Black Man” by fellow D.C.-based author Tope Folarin.
4 good reasons to put your book down
You can’t spend the entire summer lying on the beach, right? Here are four of the region’s sand-free literary events to bookmark in the coming months.
Books in Bloom Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy., Columbia, Md.; June 2, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., free.
Dozens of popular authors are the rock stars at this third annual event, a mashup of readings and panel discussions, live music and a rosé garden. Highlights include talks on graphic memoirs and POC voices, black feminism today and the birth and rise of hip-hop; another session will feature top chefs sharing their stories. Participants include local author Nicole Chung (“All You Can Ever Know”), Abby Maslin, Angie Kim (“Miracle Creek”) and Bob Yule (“Spirits, Sugar, Water, Bitters: How the Cocktail Conquered the World”).
DC Writers’ Homes Lecture Brooks Mansion, 901 Newton St. NE; July 20, 10-11:15 a.m., free.
The District has a rich literary history: Hundreds of novelists, poets, playwrights and memoirists lived in the city at some point in their lives. This talk, presented by Kim Roberts and Dan Vera — co-curators of the DC Writers’ Homes project — will highlight nine of those authors, including Betty Friedan, Sinclair Lewis and Gil Scott-Heron. Expect to learn about the writers’ lives, work and connection to D.C.’s architecture.
National Book Festival Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Place NW; Aug. 31, 8:30 a.m.-8 p.m., free.
The annual literary extravaganza — a who’s who of the book world — returns in August, promising dozens of talks by popular authors, poets and historians. Featured speakers at this year’s event include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, novelists Barbara Kingsolver and Joyce Carol Oates, New York Times columnist David Brooks and graphic novelist Raina Telgemeier. Start planning for the always-overwhelming festival now.
Washington Antiquarian Book Fair Holiday Inn Rosslyn, 1900 N. Fort Myer Drive, Arlington; Sept. 27, 4-8 p.m., Sept. 28, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., $5-$15.
Have a thing for old books? Peruse thousands of rare first editions, maps, manuscripts, drawings and more at this 44th annual festival, which offers a variety of price points (a couple of years ago, a signed copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird” had a $85,000 price tag). Programming for this year’s event has yet to be announced, but there are typically workshops, lectures and games to complement the browsing.