It’s impossible to be blasé about Lincoln Memorial. Not even I can joke about the lack of books (okay, there were books in the gift shop, but that’s not the point). As I stood there looking out over the water and the Washington Monument I could practically see the anti Vietnam-protest and the March on Washington before me. I looked at the plaque marking Martin Luther King’s I have a dream-speach and I read Lincoln’s Gettysburg address and felt that sense of history and ideals that so permeate the city of DC.
Or as Carina pointed out: “This is the place where Forrest Gump and Jenny ran towards each other.”
There are few better ways to get to know a city than to visit its independent bookshops. And nowhere is this more true than in Washington DC. Enter any of them right now and the big pile at the counter will be Bob Woodwards Fear. It’s not unusual to find Tmothy Snyders On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century next to it, or Cass Sunsteins Impeachment: A Citicen’s Guide. The section on politics will be bigger than the one for general fiction, and there will be at least ten different ways to categorize books on politics.
I need hardly add that the political scientist and booknerd within me was increadibly pleased with the bookshops of DC. I visited three on my very first day, and we began with Solid State Books, where I quickly bought On Tyranny and Cherry. Cherry is strictly speaking categorized as fiction, but only because it describes so many illegal acts that the author had to pretend that he made it all up. He’s also in prison.
Our next stop was Politics and Prose, and that name probably says all you need to know about bookshops in DC. T-shirts with quotes about books (Groucho Marx: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read) mingled with feminist activist party-kit (including, of course, a corkscrew). Knowledgeable booksellers answered customers questions over the phone or carried piles of Woodward’s Fear to be picked up by customers later, and next door is Comet Pizza, where crazy Republicans believed that Hilary Clinton ran a pedophile ring in the bazement.
I do not want to suggest that it’s tiring to visit bookshops, but at this point we’d also seen Congress and the Supreme Court, so I felt very much in need of a beer. Fortunately Kramers Books were next on our list, and they do have a café/bar with the wonderful name Afterword Café. If I ever write another bookshop-book I’m stealing that name. Carina and Simona strenghten themselves with food, I strenghten myself with a beer, and then we were ready for another bookshop.
Total number of books bought: eight. But in my defense I did give two of them away.
Every tour has to start somewhere, and preferably at a place where there’s books. And what better way to begin an intense day of sightseeing than with Library of Congress?
I have to be honest with you: in general I find grand and magnificent libraries a little … intimidating. I prefer cheap paperbacks to Gutenberg bibles, chaotic second hand bookshops to grand rooms with pillars and painted ceilings, and if a book has to be kept behind glass it ceases to be a book to me and becomes a historical artifact instead, which is interesting but not inspiring. So I came to Library of Congress prepared to pretend to admire it and feel guilty about not really feeling it.
And yet… it was amazing. There were inspiring quotes near the ceiling (“Too low they build who build beneath the stars”, “Words are also actions and actions are a kind of words”), The Main Reading Room was like a renaissance square with what looked like separate buildings that all contained books. The entire building was just an celebration of enlightment, the evolution of civilisation, the good old greeks and the best in mankind. And in these times we live in I found it impossible to resist the beauty of believing in the best in people.
Let me end this blog post by quoting their ceiling again: The chief glory of every people arises from its authors.
I am back in the US! How I love this crazy country. Our trip began, as it often does in the US, with a lovely talkative cab driver who gave us an improvized guided tour: he pointed out the national mall, several “federal buildings”, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Capitol Hill, the little house where a nine children-family once lived and where the father was responsible for watching the river. Nowadays it was by a road.
Interestingly enough, I have very few literary association of Washington DC. It doesn’t feel like a literary city. More movies and television series and non-fiction books about Trump. That being said, there are of course still several amazing bookshops. I’m here to visit the friend who first took me to the US and my Iowa. When she moved here for work she gave me a book that listed all the bookshops in the area, secure in the knowledge that nothing more was needed to make me visit. And here I am. She has selected the two best ones for us to visit.
She has also given me my very own coffee cup. With a cat, of course. Those of you who follows this blog knows our long history with cats (where it all began: http://katarinabivald.se/en/blog/dewey-readmore-books-2/)