HarperCollins Facebook Live Event

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Hello Book Friends!

You may have seen a video of the Old Town Books team floating around the internet last week as part of the #HarperCollinsLovesIndies campaign on Facebook Live. HarperCollins Publishers highlights one independent bookstore every Thursday for a behind-the-scenes look into the indie bookselling world, and we were honored to be featured on February 21st. Matt, Ally, and I had a blast talking shop. Ally described the genesis of the store, gave an overview of our charming Old Town neighborhood, showed off some of our fabulous new swag, and gave a brief history of our building. Did you know that Old Town Books is housed in the oldest commercial building in Old Town? Then, of course, we delved into our favorite topic: Books! Ally presented some of her favorites, past and present, Matt gave the inside scoop on a selection of nonfiction titles, and I featured some of our book club gems. Oh, and our resident greeter—Scout—even attempted a few tricks. (He may have stolen the show.) I’ll be honest, we were a little nervous to go on camera, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. If you’re interested in checking out the video, head over to the Old Town Books Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/oldtownbooksalx/

Happy reading (watching?), and hope to see you in the shop soon!


March Newsletter: UPCOMing Events

Hello Book Friends!

First things first: We're throwing a party! We're excited to invite you to our upcoming Open House taking place this week on Wednesday, February 27th. Join us for a special announcement about exciting new summer programming, as well as tasty treats and a cookbook signing by authors Cathy Barrow and Domenica Marchetti. Festivities begin at 6:30PM, with our special announcement at 7PM. No need to RSVP - just pop on by the shop, say hello, and meet your fellow book-loving neighbors! 


Celebrating our first big event! 

We hosted out first off-site event! Thank you to everyone who came out for our event with award winning authors Carmen Maria Machado and Nicole Chung. We're so grateful to the folks at NVFAA and the Atheneum for hosting. Matt wrote a wrap up blog post about the event, check it out on the blog, here.

What's new around the shop: 

In other *very important* shop news: The tote bags have landed! Our totes are custom made on the East Coast and are the perfect size for books. I love the long-but-not-too-long handle, the sturdy thick cotton canvas, and our bright Old Town Books logo, of course! 

Upcoming Spring Events

Saturday, March 23rd at 7PM - Kyshona Armstrong 

Our long-awaited second installment of Shop Tunes IRL is going to be a special one: We're thrilled to welcome Nashville-based singer-songwriter Kyshona Armstrong to the shop for an intimate acoustic show this month. Check out her interview on NPR's World Cafe: Essential and Emerging Artists. Come hear this exciting, compassionate, and powerful performer - in a bookstore! Tickets are $10. 100% of all Shop Tunes IRL ticket sales go to the performing artist. 


Buy your Shop Tunes IRL ticket here.

Saturday, March 30th at 6:30 PM - Read Write Now with Abby Maslin 

We're also celebrating our third installment of Read Write Now, a series of skill-building talks for readers and writers, on Saturday, March 30 at 5:00pm. Memoirist Abby Maslin will share her writing journey from starting a blog to publishing a book.

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In 2012 Maslin's life changed forever when her husband was mugged and suffered a traumatic brain injury. She shared her family's story, blog post by blog post, to help face her new reality. Her debut memoir Love You Hard: A Memoir of Marriage, Brain Injury, and Reinventing Love will be published by Dutton in March 2019. This event will include a publishing talk, a group writing exercise, and audience Q+A. Attendees will leave with renewed inspiration and practical steps to take towards crafting personal stories to share online and in print. This is a ticketed event- click here to purchase. Admission price includes a signed copy of Maslin's book.

More Upcoming Author Events 

Tuesday, April 2nd at 6:30 PM - The Art of the Essay with Randon Noble and Xu Xi 

Essayist Randon Noble is a master of the form, a Pushcart nominated writer with bylines in the NY Times and Creative Nonfiction Magazine, among many others. She’s also my former creative writing professor from American University, and a huge influence on my own journey as a writer and thinker. Join us in celebrating her new collection Be With Me Always from University of Nebraska Press. Randon will be in conversation with novelist Xu Xi, who will also read from her new collection, The Fish is Fowl. This is a free event, but save your seat with an RSVP.

Thursday, April 4th at  6:30 PM - Meander, Sprial Explode with Jane Allison 

Call it the week of the essay because just two days later we’re hosting Jane Allison for her exciting new book on narrative forms. Here's literary criticism at its best – searching, smart, and incredibly fun to read. In Meander, Spiral, Explode Allison considers shapes and patterns from nature – waves, fractals, cells – and seeks them out in novel forms. Pre-order and RSVP for the author talk here.

Book Club Updates


Our March book club meeting is full, but there's still time to snag a copy of The Library Book by Susan Orlean for April's meeting on 4/6 at 10AM. RSVP today to save your spot. 

Looking for the next book for your own club? Check out our latest blog post on forthcoming spring releases from book buyer Laura Chasen. 

We love hosting book clubs in the shop and offer a 15% discount on your club pick when you register your group with the store. Just reach out to laura@oldtownbooks.com for more information.

Happy reading, and hope to see you in the shop soon! 

-Ally + Team OTB

Laura's New and Upcoming Spring Book Club Recs!

Hello Book Friends!

Though many of us are still bundled up, consuming our stacks of holiday books under down blankets with mugs of hot tea, there are glimmers of spring upon us! (Was that asparagus I spotted at the farmer’s market the other day?). And for book lovers spring isn’t just about flowers and warmth and . . . well . . . allergies, it also marks a turn in our reading habits. It’s a time to shed that blanket, emerge from the solo perch on the couch, and get out of the house. A time to commune with others. A time to converse. Time to get those book club meetings going again!

And lucky for us, a bounty of good reading awaits. While it’s hard to narrow down the many wonderful books publishing this spring, there are a few standouts that we think are particularly ripe for discussion:


A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum (releases 3/5) Rum, who grew up in a community very much like the one that populates her debut novel, writes of what she knows. She lifts the curtain on the nuances of gender in a rich family story about several generations of a Palestinian-American family in Brooklyn. Both searing and hopeful.


Leading Men by Christopher Castellani (released 2/12) Castellani is a masterful novelist who turns his pen toward one of the most compelling figures in the literary imagination—Tennessee Williams. Leading Men provides a glimpse at Williams’ tumultuous love affairs, as well as an intimate look at the cost of fame. The perfect marriage of entertaining love story, historical romp (a star-studded party at Truman Capote’s Italian villa—any takers?), and deeply probing character study.


Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams (releases 3/19) Like Castellani, Carty-Williams embeds a rich love story at the core of her debut about Queenie Jenkins, a young Jamaican-British woman living in London, but imbues it with a sharp look at race, politics, class, and culture. Billed as a cross between Bridget Jones’ Diary and Americanah—an intriguing combination.

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The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray (released 2/19) This novel follows the trajectory of three black sisters who grow up in a largely white Michigan town with an abusive clergyman father. Gray’s book is expansive, spanning decades of the girls’ lives and a dynamic rotating cast of narrators. With its beautiful writing, dark edges, and penetrating look at religion, eating disorders, and sisterly dynamics, there’s much to talk about in this debut.  

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A Good Enough Mother by Bev Thomas (releases 4/30) If you’re a fan of suspense elements and incisive psychological analysis, A Good Enough Mother will be right up your alley. Ruth Hartland is a psychotherapist working with trauma survivors. She is also a mother who has recently experienced a traumatic loss of her own. She’s managed to hold herself together until a new patient upends her world and challenges her judgment with shocking consequences. Thomas is both a skilled writer and a seasoned clinical psychologist. Perfect for fans of literary suspense and family stories, as well as those interested in gaining an incisive view of psycho-therapeutic practices.

There are so many fabulous books publishing in the next few months, but these few are particularly primed for fruitful book club discussion. And if you’re interested in taking your book club on a field trip, consider hosting an Old Town Books “book club” in our shop. We’ll set the store up for a cozy get-together (candles and all!). We can even order books at a 15% discount for your group. Just shoot us an email at laura@oldtownbooks.com if you’re interested.

Happy spring reading, and hope to see you in the shop soon!


We Love Maps!

One of our friend Todd Healey’s beautifully hand-painted maps here at the shop

One of our friend Todd Healey’s beautifully hand-painted maps here at the shop

Hello Book Friends!

Among the first things people notice in our shop (other than the books of course) are the lovely maps of the Northern Virginia/DC area hanging on our walls, courtesy of local artist and framer Todd Healey (whose shop, Gallery Lafayette, is at the corner of Prince and Royal--tell him we sent you!). I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen poring over those maps, looking for their address, pointing out landmarks, noting how the lay of the land has changed since the originals were drawn, or just admiring Todd’s exquisite handiwork. I can’t say as I’m surprised; not only are the maps beautiful, but Old Town’s also full of people who (like me) love history and geography, at the intersection of which lie those maps. So, it’s for you, fellow map lover, that we’ve chosen to highlight the following books in our store, all of which have to do in some way with maps, mapmaking, or exploring!

First off, we have Adam Dant’s Living Maps: An Atlas of Cities Personified, in which cities literally take on the human characteristics which writers, residents, and travelers so often ascribe to them. Dant’s maps might not be perfect if you want to learn how to get from point A to point B in London or Paris, but they’re beautiful renderings of those (and many other) cities’ “personalities”. A city is a living organism, and Dant’s beautiful illustrations bring that life to the forefront on the page.

Next, here are a couple of books about exploring, getting lost, and finding your way. Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost is a collection of personal essays which deals with a variety of themes, including trust, loss, and love. The thread that binds them, however, is how wonderful it can be to wander and lose oneself: in place, in time, in one’s experiences. On the other hand, if you’ve been finding yourself too often lost in your wanderings, Tristan Gooley’s The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs might be the book for you. Gooley teaches you how to be a better hiker and outdoorsperson, including using rocks, trees, and the sun to navigate your way. You’ll find yourself mapping out new routes through the woods and parklands that are always nearby here in Virginia.

If you’re more the globetrotting sort than the local explorer, then look no further than Ina Caro’s Paris to the Past for inspiration for your next trip. Part history, part travelogue, Caro’s book exists in that happy medium between history and geography that I love to inhabit. Caro takes you in her footsteps as she takes several day trips from paris by rail to various sites of historical importance in France’s history: St. Denis, Versailles, Chartres, Reims, and so on. She gives you tours of their historic sites as well as restaurant and hotel recommendations. Almost magical, though, is how she weaves in the histories of these places themselves, as though she herself was transported through time while touring those places. That’s a sensory experience that I seek out voraciously in my own travels, and if you want some more of it in your life, Paris to the Past is the book for you.

Last up is Ken Jennings (yes, the Jeopardy! champion) and his book Maphead, which is a love letter to maps and the people who love them. Ken, like I and many others, grew up poring over his parents’ atlas, learning all the countries and geographical features. Jennings engagingly conveys the fascination that maps hold for many of us. He then takes the reader on a world tour of map people and the places they can be found, from the Library of Congress to the London Map Fair to the offices of Google Earth.

No matter where you are, you’re never far from people who love maps; that’s certainly true here in Old Town, where you can come by the shop any time I’m in, maybe pick up one of these books, and chat about maps with me!

Happy reading, and hope to see you in the shop soon!


P.S.: As an extra special bonus, we’re looking forward to getting in some more copies of Thomas Reinertsen Berg’s Theater of the World: The Maps that Made History soon! We had it in around the holidays, but ran out faster than we could keep it in stock; the book’s been in reprints since then, but we’ve heard it should be out soon, and we’ll absolutely have it on our shelves again. Berg’s book is an exquisitely illustrated and wonderfully written guide to the history of cartography and exploration from the stone age to the present. This book is a must-own for any map lover.

Washington's birthday at Old Town Books!

Photo Credit: Ben Noble, Unsplash.com

Photo Credit: Ben Noble, Unsplash.com

Hello Book Friends!

This coming week marks a big event for us here in northern Virginia--namely, Washington’s Birthday! Our first president made his home just a silver dollar’s throw down the road at Mount Vernon, and of course that city across the river bears his name (though it wasn’t yet built when he was president; he governed from Philadelphia and New York). Old Town isn’t without its washington lore either: he owned several properties in town, as my fellow plaque-readers will know; he spent many a Sunday at Christ Church over on Cameron street; he’s memorialized at the Masonic Memorial that dominates our skyline; and every February we have the cherry challenge at our local restaurants and a parade on President’s Day to honor his legacy. So, naturally, here at Old Town Books, we’re celebrating the father of our country as well! We’ve got a great selection of books about Washington in stock, ranging from the classic to the unexpected.

If you’re interested in learning about some sides of Washington with which you might not be familiar, one book to check out is Andrea Wulf’s Founding Gardeners.  While much has been written about Washington’s public life as a surveyor, soldier, and president, and understandably so, this book touches on his less-seen private life at Mount Vernon. Wulf expertly captures Washington (and some of his contemporaries, like Thomas Jefferson) in his daily life as farmer and gardener, in the process describing how some of our greatest statesmen also defined the role and practice of agriculture in the early republic. Another book about a less-seen side of Washington is Peter Stark’s Young Washington, which gives insight into how the young man’s experiences in the French & Indian War shaped him into the leader he would become. Continuing on that theme, Colin G. Calloway’s The Indian World of George Washington is an insightful look into our first president’s career through the prism of his interactions with Native Americans. Calloway makes sure to give the Native leaders their due, making them as human and complex on the page as Washington.

If, however, you’re interested in learning more about Washington as Revolutionary General, we have just the books for that, too! Brad Meltzer’s The First Conspiracy details a plot to assassinate Washington while he and the Continental Army were stationed in New York City in the earliest days of the war. It’s a rarely-told story and one that in Meltzer’s hands unfolds thrillingly, as the plan was only narrowly foiled; needless to say, the fate of the revolution hung in the balance. Valley Forge by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin captures a more well-known defining moment in the revolution, putting the reader in the frostbitten footsteps of Washington and his men at their bitterly cold encampment for the winter of 1776-7. Likewise, In the Hurricane’s Eye by Nathaniel Philbrick brings to life in its pages the story of Yorktown and the naval struggles which ensured Washington’s siege of Cornwallis’ army would succeed. Philbrick is one of the world’s preeminent naval historians, and he makes this 230-plus-year-old conflict as fresh and relevant as if it were happening now. Lastly but certainly not least, if there’s a young person in your life who loves learning about the presidents, Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager have adapted their New York Times best-selling book George Washington’s Secret Six for middle-grade readers. It’s a fascinating story of the spies that helped Washington win the revolution, available for the first time for young readers, and it would make a perfect gift for any budding historian (I’d have asked for it for my birthday back then!).

So there you have it: in time for our national holiday celebrating his birthday, an exceptional septet of books about George Washington, all of which are sure to be first in war, first in peace, and first on your TBR shelf. Happy reading, and hope to see you in the shop soon!


Matt's New and Upcoming History Recommendations for 2019


As the resident history enthusiast here at Old Town Books, I’ve had to exercise a degree of restraint over my book buying mania, lest I spend my entire paycheck on our own history section. Nonetheless, here are two books from the past few months that I picked up in the store, read, and loved, plus two more which will tempt me from our shelves over the next few months. I know I’m not the only history buff here in Old Town, so hopefully these titles will spark your curiosity, too!

Released in June 2018 from W.W. Norton, Victoria Johnson’s American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic is a fascinating look into the life of a man who, among other things, was the personal physician of both Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.  In his day, Hosack’s work in botany and medicine earned the praise of such luminaries as Thomas Jefferson and Alexander von Humboldt. The young America was a treasure trove of previously undiscovered plants, and Johnson tells the story of its first botanical garden, setting a new benchmark for history of science writing in the process.

In September 2018, The New Press put out Erik Loomis’ A History of America in Ten Strikes. Recently, some politicians have severely curtailed the power of labor unions. Loomis exposes the danger in this enterprise, demonstrating in an engaging and accessible way how organized labor and its concerns have helped shape American society as we know it. From the fight for an eight-hour workday in 1886 to the Air Traffic Controllers’ strike of 1981 and beyond, Loomis’ book provides a fresh perspective on many key moments in American history through the lens of labor relations.

Coming on March 15 from Oxford University Press is Elizabeth R. Varon’s Armies of Deliverance: A New History of the Civil War.  While it’s true that a seemingly infinite number of books have been written about the defining event in our country’s history, Varon’s work takes great care to tell the story from the greatest number of perspectives: rich and poor; black and white; male and female; political, military, and social; northern and southern. It’s enough to make this avid devourer of Civil War history and repeat watcher of Ken Burns’ documentary look forward to picking this one up.

Lastly, but certainly not least, coming from Simon & Schuster on March 12 is Edward Wilson-Lee’s The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Young Columbus and the Quest for a Universal Library. Columbus is one of the most recognizable (and most reviled) names in the history of the world. Ah, but this book isn’t about Christopher at all, but rather his bastard son Hernando, who tried to eclipse his famous father by amassing the greatest collection of books the world had ever seen. Hernando also rubbed shoulders with Erasmus and Thomas More and collected the specimens for the first truly global botanical garden, with time to spare to mythologize his father. This is a story which has never been told in English before, and one that seems too fantastical to be true—and yet it is.

And there you have it: four fascinating titles which ought to be more than enough to keep you reading history well into 2019. Happy reading, and hope to see you in the shop soon!