Mark your calendars. October 10 at Politics and Prose, Richard Russo will be talking about his new book Bridge of Sighs, which is, surprise surprise, about a man growing up in upstate New York. Russo writes novels of what some might call small lives (a small college English professor in Straight Man, a diner owner/manager in a dying industrial town in Empire Falls, an ex-high school star athlete going nowhere in Mohawk, etc.), but from what I understand of Bridge of Sighs, his characters confront that notion head-on in reflections of what it means to live your entire life in one small town.
There are to my knowledge about two and a half bookstores worth the name in Washington, DC (excepting of course used bookstores and the local chain Olsson's, for which I have much respect). The first is Bridge Street Books (warning: absolutely horrendous "website" in your future if you click the link) in Georgetown, which has a extremely deep philosophy and cultural studies sections, as well as a very complete poetry selection. The owners and staff are first-rate and helpful and actually care about what's inside the books rather than just about moving them in and out the door. This store is easily my favorite bookstore in all of DC.
The half is Kramerbooks and Afterwards in Dupont Circle, which is in many ways more of a meat market than a bookstore, but you can't beat them on a late night in the cold of winter. I spent my first year in DC walking from Foggy Bottom to Woodley Park late at night, and it was very useful, although ultimately very expensive, to use Kramerbooks as a midway break.
The other good bookstore in Washington, DC, is Politics and Prose, located way up Connecticut Avenue at the intersection of Conn and Nebraska Avenues. It's big (a few years ago, maybe five, they knocked out a wall between the original store and the next door storefront, basically doubling their size), and their basement is half children's book shop (incredible selection: the biggest in the city outside the big box stores and guess what: the staff knows about the books), quarter cafe, and quarter discussion area, where they hold book groups. And they have tons of readings. Check out their calendar. Did I mention Richard Russo is coming on the tenth?
Sure, Russo is an aging white male writing primarily about aging white males, but Russo's characters aren't mean-spirited or completely selfish bastards like John Updike's tend to be. There's a quiet dignity and humor to their self-reflection, and more often than not the adult characters are trying to work out the vagaries of raising teenagers in the midst of the chaos of their own work lives. Graduate student types might get a kick out of Straight Man, since Russo's protagonist is a harried English department chair at a small college in Pennsylvania (I believe he actually taught for a time at Penn State's Altoona Campus), whose main concerns are dealing with his crazy department mates, his more successful and egotistical father, and his spend-thrift daughter. It's goddamn funny.