For all you bookworms out there, ‘tis the season of reading. And since no one ever has enough books in their book stack, we asked a few of the better-known names in the Washington region what they’re reading.

These are their recommendations — and be warned: not all are light and breezy fare associated with a typical summer beach read.

When asked what he looks for in a great summer book, Washington Post Book Critic Ron Charles said: “I want it to be big and really engaging emotionally. And to have big ideas I can get lost in. I want it to be a book I can talk about with my friends.”

But, then, of course there are others who are just looking for escape.

“I like to take a little time in the summer to read something that’s shorter, but sweeter. Something that will give you that punch that Ron’s talking about, but ideally in under 400 pages,” Lelia Nebeker, a book buyer at One More Page Books in Arlington, said on the Kojo Show.

Local luminaries gave us a wide-range of recommendations. Agree, disagree, have your own suggestions? Leave them in the comments.

Read on.

Kojo Nnamdi, Host of the Kojo Nnamdi Show:

  • Number One Chinese Restaurant: A Novel

    By Lillian Li

    Henry Holt and Co.


  • Despite frequenting Chinese restaurants in this region for decades, I never understood the backroom culture of these restaurants and ownership ties that often hark back to China. This novel was something of a revelation in that regard.

  • The Man Who Came Uptown

    By George Pelecanos

    Mulholland Books


  • Pelecanos informs me more about local Washington neighborhoods than any other writer I know and, at the same time, weaves an intriguing tale about the dark underbelly of the city.

  • If God Invented Baseball: Poems

    By E. Ethelbert Miller

    City Point Press


  • I’m not a huge baseball fan, but I know Ethelbert is and his poetry not only makes poetry accessible. It makes just about everything he writes about accessible.

  • Walter Rodney was my early mentor and he’s been deceased for almost four decades. But this work reveals his early thinking at a time when many of my colleagues and I were grappling with the same issues.

    Muriel Bowser, D.C. Mayor

  • What to Expect the First Year

    By Heidi Murkoff

    Workman Publishing Company


  • Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters

    By Barack Obama

    Knopf Books for Young Readers


  • One for mom and one for [my daughter] Miranda.

    Larry Hogan, Maryland Govenor

  • Good Night Maryland (Good Night Our World)

    By Adam Gamble and Mark Jasper

    Good Night Books


  • Jose Andres, Chef and Philanthropist

  • I am reading all about Italy’s amazing food and culture. This project was very close to the heart of my friend Tony Bourdain, and you can feel that in the pages of this book.

  • A Heart So White

    By Javier Marías

    New Directions


  • Some say he’s the best novelist alive … I don’t know, but this is a very good book.

    Mary Louise Kelly, Co-Host of All Things Considered:

    Lord, can Hilary Mantel write. I never have time to reread books, but in June I carved out time for “Wolf Hall.” Her portrait of Thomas Cromwell captures so elegantly the ways in which both men and women wield power. It’s set in 16th century England and yet feels utterly relevant in 21st century Washington. And the language: I kept pausing to admire the silky flow of her sentences, how one tiny detail can illuminate the character of a man.

  • How Hard Can It Be?

    By Allison Pearson (author)



  • Confession: I haven’t actually read “How Hard Can It Be?” by Allison Pearson yet. This is because I’ve been hoarding it, biding my time, savoring the sweet pleasure to come. Pearson’s debut novel, “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” was laugh-out-loud funny and honest and sweet — and now, sixteen years later, she has resurrected her protagonist for a sequel. I bought it weeks ago and am packing it next to sundresses and flip-flops it for my upcoming beach holiday. I can almost taste it: margarita in hand, sand between my toes, beach umbrella fluttering in the salty breeze, this book in hand… My idea of PEAK SUMMER.

    Richard Reyes-Gavilan, D.C. Public Library Executive Director

  • Mary of Kivu

    By Gary Barker

    World Editions


  • I’m also reading tons of New Yorker magazines that have been piling up in my bedroom and Spanish kids books to prepare my daughter Maggie for her dual language school in the fall.

    Sally Quinn, Author and Founding Editor, “On Faith”

  • The Magus: A Revised Version

    By John Fowles

    Little Brown & Company


  • The Song of Achilles: A Novel

    By Madeline Miller



  • E. Ethelbert Miller, D.C. Poet and Literary Activist

  • I’ve been teaching memoir classes the last few years and looking at how successful writers change genre. I like how Painter and Pardlo bring a considerable amount of honesty to the page.

    Steve Inskeep, Co-Host of Morning Edition

  • Florida

    By Lauren Groff

    Riverhead Books


  • A Floridian once told me: “Everyone here is crazy.” Don’t know if that is true, but every Floridian in this Lauren Gross’s book of interconnected short stories has a crazy story. “Florida” has wonderful characters, wit, sense of place and one amazing sentence after another.

  • Three Daughters of Eve

    By Elif Shafak

    Bloomsbury USA


  • In “Three Daughters Of Eve,” Turkish writer Elif Shafak tells the story of a woman going to an elite dinner party. That’s the whole story – except she is robbed and sexually assaulted on the way, and still goes to the party, where the conversation centers on the loss of civility and democracy. Wonderful sentences by a writer who creates her novels in both English and Turkish.

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life

    By Robert Dallek

    Penguin Audio


  • “Franklin D. Roosevelt” by Robert Dallek is a riveting read on the political style of a man who reinforced democracy in a time of crisis, and who is the architect of so much of the world’s economic and security systems that are under pressure today.

    Diane Rehm, Host of Diane Rehm: On My Mind

    I’ve been reading books for relevance and fun. “The Appeal” by John Grisham is all about the selection of a State Supreme Court Judge, the use of dirty money and the influence of behind the scenes actors. Not only is it fun, but totally relevant to today’s debate over a new Supreme Court Justice.

  • Then David Lagercrantz, who follows on with the Lisbeth Salander mysteries, is out with a new book titled “The Girl in the Spider’s Web.”

    Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals Pitcher

  • I’m reading “Ward No. 6 and Other Stories” by Anton Chekhov. I’ve always really liked Russian literature because I’m fascinated by its dark themes that challenge you to contemplate your very existence. It’s philosophical. I really enjoy reading fiction and my wife, who is much smarter than I am, makes sure I’ve read the classics that I probably should have read by now.

  • The Grapes of Wrath

    By John Steinbeck

    Penguin Classics


  • “The Ghost of Tom Joad” is my favorite Springsteen song so I figured I should actually read the “Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck.

  • The Jungle

    By Upton Sinclair

    CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform


  • We live in Chicago in the offseason so [my wife] recommended “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair so I can learn more about the city’s history.

    Michel Martin, Weekend Host of All Things Considered

  • I’m reading “Hunger” by Roxane Gay and “I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, And Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith In Beyonce” by Michael Arcenaux. They are very different. Roxane’s is solemn meditative reflection on her struggle with excess weight and the horrible event at the root of it; Michael’s is laugh-out-loud funny. But they are both reflections on race, sexuality , faith and the hard work of finding out how to live your truth. As a straight person I also appreciated the insight into how the acceptance I take for granted is so painfully elusive for others.

  • I also recommend “The Cooking Gene” by Michael Twitty about the history and meaning of so-called soul food, something I’ve eaten all my life. To read it is to see the food with fresh eyes and new appreciation for the ingenuity behind it. Like all good food writing, it’s really the story of worlds colliding.

    Andy Shallal, Owner of Busboys and Poets

  • Why Poetry

    By Matthew Zapruder



  • “Why Poetry” by Matthew Zapruder gave me a better understanding of the significance of poetry as an art form.

  • “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho is a perennial read for me [and] the best entrepreneurship book written. It is rich and layered and hopeful and each time I read it (about six or seven times so far) I learn something new about myself!

  • The Incendiaries: A Novel

    By R. O. Kwon

    Riverhead Books


  • “The Incendiaries” by R.O. Kwon is on my list because Ron Charles told me that I should read it!

  • As a CEO of a growing company I need to stay on top of my game. “The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations” by Barry Posner and James M. Kouzes and “The Ideal Team Player” by Patrick Lencioni are essentials and they are on my list to read in the next couple of weeks.

    Ari Shapiro, Co-Host of All Things Considered

  • Fight No More: Stories

    By Lydia Millet

    W. W. Norton & Company


  • This summer, three collections of short stories grabbed my attention. Each one has a unifying theme, and each gives a different perspective on life in America today. In Lydia Millet’s “Fight No More,” the stories are so tightly connected that you could almost describe the book as a novel. The author takes us into people’s homes in and around Los Angeles, and the houses provide a window into characters’ internal lives. A real estate agent ties the book together, and the stories run the emotional spectrum from comedy to tragedy to magical realism.

  • Come West and See: Stories

    By Maxim Loskutoff

    W. W. Norton & Company


  • The first story in Maxim Loskutoff’s debut collection, “Come West and See,” gives you a sense of what’s in store. It involves sex, blood and a grizzly bear. Loskutoff lives in Montana, and these stories paint a dark and violent picture of the rural American West that feels far from urban coastal cities.

  • Florida

    By Lauren Groff

    Riverhead Books


  • In Lauren Groff’s “Florida,” there is an alligator in every swamp and a snake in every tree. Her Florida is not the land of Disney and South Beach. These stories explore the swampy, steamy, wild side of the state.

    Amanda Alexander, Interim D.C. Public Schools Chancellor

  • Ish (Creatrilogy)

    By Peter H. Reynolds



  • I included “Ish” by Peter H. Reynolds as part of DCPS’ Summer Book Club, because it encourages us to be in a continuous state of learning. Whether you are a teacher or a doctor, there is always a need to continue to grow and explore new things to perfect your craft…I’ll be discussing this book and others as part of our book club series on August 7 at Benning Library.

  • They Knew Lincoln

    By John E. Washington

    Oxford University Press


  • I am falling in love with “They Knew Lincoln” by John E. Washington ––a classic account written by former Cardozo High School teacher John E. Washington. “They Knew Lincoln” tells the stories of many African Americans who knew or encountered Abraham Lincoln.


    What are your suggestions? We’ve also curated a list of what our listeners are reading. Update us on your summer reads!

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