4 Patriotic Books in Honor of the Fourth

Celebrate America literarily with these made-in-the-USA titles


I went to the National Mall years ago for the Fourth of July, and it was the worst experience of my life (I’ve lived a sheltered life). We had to get there at 7 in the morning for a good spot, which meant sitting outside in the heat for an entire day with nothing to do but complain, and then we saw a 30-minute firework show (spoiler alert: It'll look exactly the same as this year's show).

I hated everything about that day. I hated the way people oohed at the stupid fireworks; I hated the fact that we spent the hottest day of the year sitting in a place that used to be a swamp; I hated the long lines for the metro home…I was so full of haterage that I vowed never to do it again.

Look, I rarely vote in local elections but still complain about national results. Doesn't that prove my Americanness enough? Do I have to get hot and sweaty, too?

Anyway, if you’re smartly avoiding DC’s awful humidity and stupid fireworks this year and would rather spend your time in the comforts of your air-conditioned house, then I have four book suggestions to make you feel American all over:

  1. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. If there's anything that shows the depth my citizenship, besides once taking a date to Red Lobster, then it was bringing American Psycho with me when I vacationed in Europe. My wife and I spent half a week in London, the other half in Venice, and I lugged Ellis’ serial-killer novel with me. Patrick Bateman, Ellis’ protagonist, is uniquely American in his misplaced admiration of avarice and his single-minded pursuit of perfection, a pursuit that leads him to utterly destroy anything he considers challenging or inferior. Donald Trump probably has a picture of Bateman taped to his bathroom mirror. Books rarely scare me, but American Psycho is terrifying.

  2. The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents by William A. DeGregorio. Nothing is more deliciously American than learning a little about something and promptly acting like you know a lot. I came across DeGregorio’s oft-updated study for a work project and fell in love with it. This book is perfect for those who want to know more about American history but aren’t sure where to start. Each chapter focuses on a different president and contains important events from that president’s life. It’s a fun read. Look at this excerpt about romantic sociopath Warren G. Harding and the affair he had with Nan Britton: “Harding obligingly got her a position as a stenographer at U.S. Steel Corporation. She expressed her gratitude on July 30, 1917, at a hotel in lower Manhattan.” I love U.S. history!

  3. Hometown Boy by Rafael Alvarez. Great American stories are often regional, and I’m obviously going to give some love to Baltimore. There are a lot of good writers to choose from, but I’m recommending Hometown Boy by former Baltimore Sun columnist Rafael Alvarez. He can write about the big stories, but he’s really drawn to the quiet details, and from those details comes an unapologetic reverence for his city and its people. My copy of the book is lovingly beaten and marked throughout with circled passages like this one, which speak to the mix of nostalgia and regional history Alvarez captures so (deceptively) simply: “One sad day, such contrivances may be the only vestige of crabs in Baltimore, a memory along with the Esskay slaughterhouse and the Schaefer Brewery. Ms. Anderson thinks the city may have already waited too long to start collecting.”

  4. A Front Page Affair by Radha Vatsal. I read this book for an interview with Vatsal for the Thrill Begins, and A Front Page Affair has stuck with me since then. Set in the early 1900s, Vatsal's mystery features a female reporter who ends up against a backdrop of sexism, anti-immigration, misunderstood sexuality, and murder. It's a first novel that refuses to be read like one, with a story that has obvious resonance today. Actually, it's pretty depressing that we're still struggling with the issues Vatsal depicts so well. But at least A Front Page Affair gives you a good read and a satisfying conclusion, and it damn sure beats watching fireworks in 104-degree hell.

In two short weeks, DC will be celebrating its THIRD Noir at the Bar, featuring readings by James Grady, Jen Michalski, Nik Korpon, Shawn Reilly Simmons, Adam Meyer, LynDee Walker, Eryk Pruitt, Sandra Ruttan, and Marietta Miles! Hosted by me and with noir-themed music by DJ Alkimist. July 16, 7 p.m., at the Wonderland Ballroom in Columbia Heights. Click here for more information. The first 20 attendees receive free beer (offer not valid upon reading this sentence).

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