For someone who grew up in Washington, D.C., I am not very well read in the literature of the city—the political literature, that is. I haven’t read many of the political novels set here. That has been partly a deliberate choice, a desire to concentrate more on the extra-political creative possibilities of this town. A lot of Washington lives have very little to do with politics; not everyone moves here to be a Type A politico or lobbyist or lawyer or, heaven help us, journalist. Many of my neighbors are people whose families have been here for three, four, five generations and who have as little to do with what happens in government as if they lived 2,000 miles outside the Beltway.
Still, this town is a political town. Even I can’t deny that. I live almost in the shadow of the Capitol, after all. Out of local as well as creative interest, I want to get a better idea of the fiction the machinations and maneuverings of politics have inspired. A while back, my friend and fellow Washington-area resident Mark Athitakis and I were talking about the Washington novels—that’s “Washington novel” in the political sense—that we hadn’t read and wished we had. Henry Adams’s 1880 novel Democracy quickly found its way to the top of the list.
Beginning this week, Mark and I are going to host a discussion of Democracy on our blogs. I hope you’ll weigh in with comments and thoughts on both blogs. We’re working with the Library of America’s omnibus edition edition, which also includes the novel Esther as well as the nonfiction works Mont Saint Michel and Chartres and The Education of Henry Adams. But you can easily find a free copy of Democracy online to download. Join us!
Top: The U.S. Capitol under construction. From the collections of the Library of Congress, via Flickr Commons.