Washington DC – Part I: The Literary Edition

It is going to take me more than one post to cover all that I saw in the nation’s capital. So many museums, monuments, galleries, parks, libraries & bookstores, so little time… It is for this reason that I haven’t posted in a week. I have been feeling a little overwhelmed by the size, scale and sheer volume of this city’s impressive architectural achievements and national monuments.

I will try to post a longer entry before the weekend is through, but for now, a quick photographic array of some of the city’s literary offerings:

Wes (my friend from Knoxville) has a daughter (Carmel) in Washington who met up with me while I was in town and told me about this gem: one of the last independent bookstores in DC: Politics and Prose

This book was on a display table in Politics and Prose. I didn’t buy it, though I was tempted. I photographed it with the mental note to ask my friend Norma (who’s dissertating on Melville) whether she thought Bartleby could have saved himself a helluva lot of pain (and her several chapters of her thesis) if he’d just come out with this response once in a while instead of all that polite, dithering ‘preferring not to’ business. But then, where would have been the fun in that?! ๐Ÿ˜‰ I can’t help wondering if this is Per Peterson’s take on Bartleby the Scrivener for our current age of the limited attention span…

I did buy this quirky little number, a book called Textbook by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (geared to those with limited attention spans and/or limited time). It has been set up as an interactive experience, whereby you are prompted to text the author at regular intervals throughout the book. One of the things she asks you to do is to tear out a particular page, sign and date it (above her own printed signature and date), then give it to someone (the recipient can be someone you know or a complete stranger)

I happened to be meeting up with my friend Marta at the Eastern Market that day, so decided she could be my recipient. Marta is originally from Poland but is currently doing her PhD in Washington. We were at the Heidelberg Spring Academy together in 2014, so it was really lovely to catch up again. Here’s Marta with the torn out page from the book, as per the author’s instructions

Walking back to Marta’s flat, we came across this wall mural of Richard Wright, whose Native Son I am yet to read

This was also from a page in Textbook. I didn’t have to tear this one out, but I did send a photo to my friend Nadine, in Germany, who I met at a McCarthy conference in 2013, and who I’ve been in correspondence with ever since. We read books together and skype about them when we can, emailing when technology fails. She wrote back: “… I never really have Fernweh, but I often have Heimweh – which is the yearning for home, well it’s the english aquivalent to homesickness. But while it was so hot, I was dreaming of Scotland – fresh air and a lot of dark green. Have you ever been? I’ve only been to Edinburgh, but I also wanted to go hiking there and stay in a little house and meet no one.” I love our correspondence. It always brings a smile. I think I alternate a little between Fernweh and Heimweh. But I guess we all do to some extent. That pendulum swing speaks to some universal aspect of the human condition.


Now for a little game of ‘Guess that American author’! I have compiled a collage of 9 different authors’ portraits (all of which were on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington) along with a corresponding collage of 8 of their author bios (arranged in a different order). Who can tell me which painting corresponds to which author (including the mystery bio-less author)?! 

Numbering left to right for three rows of three

Here are the partial author bios


It was Carmel (Wes’s daughter) who showed me around the Portrait Gallery and who also recommended I visit the Library of Congress, which is awe-inspiring from every angle…But if you think that’s impressive, wait until you see the inside…

The Central Reading Room – only members of Congress (& their families) and approved researchers may enter the reading room. This photo was taken from an upstairs balcony, the viewer separated from the researcher by timed visits and thick perspex.

Just stunning. I also shot a 60 second video to try and capture the enormity of the endeavour:

โ€‹โ€‹There is a replica of Thomas Jefferson’s library in one of the exhibition spaces. That was something to see:

Panorama of Jefferson’s library

Detail of roof decoration

Look at his beautiful handwriting!

“I cannot live without books” – I hear you brother!

There were several other exhibitions occupying adjoining spaces, including: ‘The Civil Rights Act of 1964,’ Jacob Riis’s ‘How the Other Half Live,’ and ‘America Reads’The Civil Rights Act exhibition traced the history of civil rights negotiations from the beginnings of nationhood through to the present day, with a specific focus on race relations and the significance of the 1964 Act:Due to the fact that Jacob Riis was a photojournalist, I was unfortunately unable to take any pictures of his exhibition which displayed photographs and textual excerpts from his life and work, which sought to expose the poverty-stricken conditions of tenement housing in turn of the 20th century New York. 
The America Reads exhibition was essentially one of those lists of the ‘most influential books,’ but with large print editions of all forty books from 2016’s list on display.

The blurb


The list

More DC museums and monuments to come in my next post, including a game of ‘Whose quote is that anyway?’ I’ll leave you with one such quote. Who said the following?

2 thoughts on “Washington DC – Part I: The Literary Edition

    • Hi Trish and Danny, Great to hear from you. I’m so glad you’ve been enjoying the blog (even though the hike kind of took a backseat)! I have been having some difficulty with internet access but will hopefully get it up to date soon. I hope you are both doing well. Love Lou xo

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