Washington, DC

Capitol Hill Books: A Look Back to 2012

Claire Handscombe

Capitol Hill Books is a DC landmark of sorts, unmissable for visitors according to various tourist guide books. I first saw it back in 2012, not long after I'd moved here. It's changed owners since then, and survived a pandemic, through a combination of sidewalk sales at weekends, private browsing for up to 4 people in exchange for a deposit, and grab bags, where you could let them know your favourite genre and how much you want spend, and they'll put together a pile of books for you. They also now stock a small selection of new books, and they've tidied up the window -- though personally, I kind of miss the old one.

Here's what I thought of Capitol Hill Books back on my first visit in 2012. Photos are mine, and taken with, probably, an iPhone 4, so forgive their blurriness.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=3ocYud_0bE7mWTk00
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Around the corner from Capitol Hill’s Eastern Market is another DC institution: Capitol Hill Books. If you think the window gives the impression of a somewhat packed, somewhat ramshackle bookshop, you’d be right. The ground floor is the non-fiction section, and you can forget about swinging any cats in there – particularly on a finally-not-hot-anymore Sunday afternoon when local residents venture out to wander round the market and pop in to browse the large selection of political books. To my great delight, I even found this:

author's own

… and seriously considered buying it, until I saw it was $12, which is a lot for a book that I will probably – let’s face it – never read. I might still be tempted though, particularly because it’s not impossible that Josh and Donna live on Capitol Hill, so it could actually be their copy: perhaps Donna has finally convinced Josh to make space on their shelves for parenting books and the like. Although doubtless if it were, it would have their names in it. Anyway.

Upstairs was distinctly less crowded, and I was getting fed up with saying “sorry” to everyone as I squeezed past them, so it was a bit of a relief to escape to there. And there are thousands and thousands of books up there, and yes, it’s ramshackle (a word that bears repeating in this case), but it is also organised, in its own way: thematically and in alphabetical order. If I hadn’t felt the Sunday afternoon slump kicking in, and if I weren’t worried about accidentally spending lots of money on books I would never read, I could easily have spent hours up there. As for downstairs, it’s best left for a day when all the Hill staffers will be in their offices, hard at work putting into practice the theory in the books.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=38PiZ9_0bE7mWTk00
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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

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