A Book that Says “the DMV” to Me…

  • May 23, 2023

Take a peek at our favorite regional reads!

A Book that Says “the DMV” to Me…

Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia are often lumped together and shorthanded as “the capital region,” but each has its own singular literary feel. Here are several titles that uniquely capture the ethos of their particular corner of the DMV.


Washington, DC

Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies by J.B. West with Mary Lynn Kotz. “The chief White House usher from 1941-1969 recalls ‘his’ first ladies, Eleanor Roosevelt through Pat Nixon.” ~David Bruce Smith

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. “This explores sites in Washington as the intrepid Robert Langdon hunts down Masonic symbols in a way that lets you see DC differently than in most other thrillers. A 2021 series streams on Peacock, while the movie ‘National Treasure’ has similar settings and themes.” ~Darrell Delamaide

Washington Goes to War by David Brinkley. “The book describes the frenetic transformation of this sleepy Southern town into a burgeoning metropolis and the capital of the free world.” ~Paul D. Pearlstein

Spring in Washington by Louis J. Halle. “Nothing says Washington like spring, and no one ever wrote about it better than Mr. Halle in his journal. He’s an amateur naturalist and (natch) a foreign-policy expert. ‘Bravo the wood thrush! Oh immutable world that goes on and on in spite of all the disorder that man engenders.’” ~Ellen Prentiss Campbell

Murder in the Lincoln Bedroom by Elliott Roosevelt. “In a series that features Eleanor as the sleuth, Winston Churchill, George Marshall, and General Eisenhower confer about the planned invasion of France. While they are gathered, the corpse of a senior presidential advisor turns up in the Lincoln Bedroom.” ~David Bruce Smith

The Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelecanos. “This is the real DC, not Washington, the nation’s capital. It is the most recent of the books by the author, many of whose novels are set in and around the District.” ~Eugene L. Meyer

The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope. “When ghosts and curses threaten to overwhelm 1920s DC, Clara — a Black woman surprisingly exonerated after killing a white policeman in self-defense — reluctantly assembles a motley crew to take U Street back. This book is both fun and thoughtful, and a wonderful exploration of vibrant Black history in DC.” ~Carrie Callaghan

Murder in the White House by Margaret Truman. “Could there be a more ‘inside Washington’ insider than the child of a president? As Margaret Truman’s page-turner mystery (the first book in her Capital Crimes series) highlights, DC is a place where you always have to watch your back.” ~Heidi Mastrogiovanni

The Floating Island: A Tale of Washington by Garrett Epps. “A wicked, timeless satire of Washington strivers and climbers, where America gets the government it deserves, as we always do.” ~David O. Stewart

All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. “Yes, it’s a too-obvious choice, but for an Ohioan like me reading it in high school, this classic story of Watergate felt like a mythical tale of unprecedented corruption, malfeasance, and cynicism. It was only after I moved here that I discovered the corruption, malfeasance, and cynicism were, in fact, quite precedented. And ongoing.” ~Holly Smith



Kindred by Octavia E. Butler. “A novel that cleverly portrays Maryland’s history with slavery by transporting a Black writer from today’s California to a 19th-century plantation near Easton. This is also a TV series streaming on Hulu, though the book is better.” ~Darrell Delamaide

Chesapeake by James Michener. “I read this historical novel about the history of the Eastern Shore years ago.” ~Larry Matthews

Edgar Allan Poe. “I recommend the poetry of this UVA dropout. First place goes to ‘The Raven.’” ~Paul D. Pearlstein

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler. “Nothing says Maryland like Anne Tyler, and nothing says Anne Tyler more than this novel. Ezra’s oyster stew: Now, that’s Maryland.” ~Ellen Prentiss Campbell

Song Yet Sung by James McBride. “This beautiful novel conjures antebellum Maryland as an enslaved woman escapes her kidnappers and hides in the wilds of the Eastern Shore. The complex communities and historical figures come to vivid life in this moving, gripping story. It’s one of my favorites.” ~Carrie Callaghan

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler. “Like Baltimore, this novel is fueled by tragedy and redeemed by its abundant quirkiness. Even in the darkest times, hope prevails.” ~Chris Rutledge

The Right-Hand Shore by Christopher Tilghman. “An exploration of Maryland’s Eastern Shore aristocracy, first constructed on slavery, then frayed by pride and hypocrisy.” ~David O. Stewart

Laura Lippman. “Her increasingly well-crafted novels, notably Wilde Lake, which takes place in my current hometown, and Lady in the Lake, so wonderfully resonant of life in multiracial Baltimore.” ~Bob Duffy

Hidden Maryland: In Search of America in Miniature by Eugene L. Meyer. “It’s hard to imagine a more thorough introduction to the people and communities of the Free State than this compilation of the veteran journalist’s pieces from Maryland Life magazine. An earlier book of his, Maryland Lost and Found, is another winner that garnered a positive review in the Washington Post from iconic Baltimore novelist Anne Tyler.” ~Holly Smith



Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy. “The book covers the nationwide military recruitment of young ladies with a penchant for math. The bulk of the group worked at Arlington Hall in the Army, with a few in the Navy working in DC. They were successful beyond expectations, breaking the German Enigma machine and Japanese codes, which were constantly changing. The secrecy of their work was at the highest level, and many of the ‘girls’ went to their graves maintaining their oath of silence.” ~Paul D. Pearlstein

Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby. “Beauregard (Bug to his friends) is trying to be a good husband and father, but the bills keep piling up. And — fortunately or unfortunately — he has one really marketable skill: He’s the best getaway driver in southern Virginia. So, when a very bad man proposes a very good heist, Bug can’t resist getting back into the Life one last time.” ~Carrie Callaghan

Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry. “What is more classic than the children’s book about the wild ponies of Assateague and Chincoteague? I love it.” ~Laura Hazan

Patricia Cornwell. “Say what you want about her helter-skelter, whatever-feels-right pursuit of bestsellerdom, this talented craftswoman can build a propulsive tale steeped in Virginia local color. Pick one: The Body Farm, Livid, even the crazy-tight, techno-paranoid Quantum.” ~Bob Duffy

The Known World by Edward P. Jones. “The agonies of slavery are no less when the master is African American, just more fragile and complex.” ~David O. Stewart

All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby. “The author takes us into the psyche of the first Black sheriff in a rural Virginia county, who’s hunting a white serial killer. Cosby’s powerful prose and Southern vernacular skillfully transport us to the Deep South, where sometimes not even justice is color blind.” ~K.L. Romo

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