Maureen Dowd Party Trashed on Twitter

The dust-up concerned the New York Times columnist’s July 24 party at her N Street home for Times colleague Carl Hulse and his new book.

New President at D.C.’s Junior League: Time-Tested Volunteer Organization Stays Involved, Keeps Evolving

Tycely Williams is the new president of the Junior League of Washington, a 106-year-old branch of the Junior League — now the Association of...

‘Jackie, Janet and Lee’

Reviewed by Kitty Kelley Nothing sells like books on sex, diets and the Kennedys. If you wrote “How JFK made love to Marilyn Monroe on...

 Harper Lee of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and Southern Literature

When the news came that Harper Lee, the author of the enduring American classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” had died in an assisted living home in Monroeville,  Alabama, it excited talk and discussion about all sorts of things,  including such topics as the impact of one-hit literary wonders, Southern culture and literature, the importance of the lives of authors and the fate and future of books and particularly novels themselves. Lee’s death on Feb. 19 came not too long after the somewhat mysterious and controversial publication of what was probably an unpolished and ultimately unwanted sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird,” in which the heroic, gentle figure of the gentlemanly small town Southern lawyer Atticus Finch, who stood up to defend a wrongly accused black man in a segregation-seared Jim Crow South, is seen years later as a somewhat embittered segregationist. There's little doubt that this development in the oddly-titled book “Go Set a Watchman” disappointed the huge multi-generational number of fans who saw in Finch a role model, an affirmation of American hopes and values such as fairness, moral courage, even in the face of ultimate failure, the good, strong, brave man as an example to others, as seen through the coming-of-age eyes of his young daughter Scout. The mixed reviews and even expressions of outrage did not prevent “Go Set a Watchman” from becoming a best-seller, just as its predecessor had been, although without the impact and the enduring print runs that have made “To Kill a Mockingbird” a literary phenomena. That book, published in 1960, at the raw and powerful beginnings of the civil right movement in the south (Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream" speech was only three years away).  The novel, written with a gentle style that had its poetic elements, begat a film starring a glasses-wearing, slow-speaking Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch — and you could not have asked for a more embodying actor to play the part.  Peck’s sometimes awkward manner made  him a heroic figure on the screen, and in his white jacket, glasses and carefully worded speaking, he pinned the liberal and human values of the book to the screen. Both the book and the film—the book continued and continues to be a requirement in schools ever since and the film won an Oscar for Peck—had an impact on public acceptance of the rightness of many aspects of the civil rights struggles at that time. Whether this came from reading Lee’s words or seeing the film is hard to measure. As there are millions of people who insist they were at Woodstock, so there are probably millions of people who believe they read “To Kill a Mockingbird” — when they “only” saw the movie. The success of the book and film excited a good deal of interest in Lee herself, a woman who was born in the same little Alabama town in which she died.  She had a literary bent and interest and literary friends — most notably Truman Capote, who advised her and whom, in turn, she helped research his best-selling “In Cold Blood.” Lee gained a reputation for reclusiveness because any conversations with her in print were rare, and she gave few interviews. Indeed, after “Mockingbird”, which won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, she produced nothing much in terms of a follow-up to the influential book. “Mockingbird” is one of those books that seems like a solitary flame that burned and at the same time destroyed the gift from which it came. There are plenty of those in the annals of literature, both high-brow and pop.  It is also an example of a product of Southern culture , certainly in literature, which is so haunted by its past. Because the book became something beyond its own reputation in terms of its impact  in schools and culture,  it still has something to say about race, about books themselves and the lives of its authors. Lots of writers have been one-book wonders. Critics point to the Bronte sisters, Emily and Charlotte, and their forever feverish novels of obsessive love “Wuthering Heights” and “Jane Eyre,” respectively, but in fact, they did write other books, which were not successful. (Emily died at age 30.) J.D. Salinger bears a resemblance to Lee in the sense that “The Catcher in the Rye” was and probably remains a favorite of disaffected adolescents. Salinger himself was a thorough recluse around whom intense curiosity never abated, even though he continued to write slim volumes about the Glass family. “Catch 22” was such a popular war novel (actually anti-war) that the title itself became a description of bureaucratic cruelty (that’s some catch, that catch 22) for its author Joseph Heller, who wrote other, very fine novels, but none that had such an impact.  The same was true for Mario Puzo, an aspiring writer of failed literary novels, who wrote “The Godfather” and was set for life. He wrote more novels, but never anything that matched the success of the mafia book and films that came after.  Margaret Mitchell, a true lady of the South, won a Pulitzer  Prize for “Gone With the Wind,” saw the movie become a legend and never accomplished much of anything else. The great American novel, as always, remains not just a goal but a curse, while James Patterson laughs all the way to all the banks. Lee was a Southerner in the truest sense of the word in the sense that she inhaled small town Southern life, with all its richness and terrible ghosts, much of which found its way into “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  She is also part of a literary Southern tradition that no doubt came from living in a geography, where history is in the DNA — and nothing is black and white, and everything is black and white. Not all Southern literature, or art, or architecture or popular music is about race or injustice or climate, but some part of living in it is. Southern artists have responded to it on some level or another, beginning most foremost with Nobel Prize-winning novelist William Faulkner, whose fiction is a kind of and sometimes difficult-to-decipher blueprint of the geography.  They vary — whether in the art of people like William Christenberry, for instance, or William  R. Dunlap, in the poetry of Allan Tate and his famous (or not) “Ode to the Confederate Dead” or the stories of Alabama native Zora Neale Hurston. Compare and contrast Thomas (not Tom) Wolfe, whose soul burst into his profusive, all engaging-novels (like “Look Homeward Angel), out of Asheville, North Carolina, or novelist William Styron, from Hilton Village, Virginia, two of whose major novels, “Lie Down in Darkness” and the controversial “The Confessions of Nat Turner,” were Southern to their core. Faulkner addressed the larger issues of the book, the novel, fiction itself, which echo mightily in the digital world, where the death of books and literature is often predicted.  In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he said, “Man is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.” It’s fair to say that Lee with her “To Kill a Mockingbird” fulfilled both duty and privilege — and more.      [gallery ids="102251,128873" nav="thumbs"]

‘Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography’

UNSUNG OR UNWELL? REEVALUATING THE FIRST LADY THROUGH A FEMINIST LENS “Mary Todd Lincoln remains America’s most provocative First Lady,” writes Jean H. Baker in...

‘Swing Kings: The Inside Story of Baseball’s Home Run Revolution’

THE OLD-SCHOOL STYLE OF BATTING HAS BEEN TURNED ON ITS HEAD From the title, “Swing Kings,” readers might think Jared Diamond is writing about Duke...

‘Studio 54 Forever’ at House of Sweden

Hasse Persson spent more than 100 nights at Studio 54 as the only photographer allowed inside by co-owner Steve Rubell after press hours. An exhibition of his photographs is on view from Sept. 22 to Dec. 9.

‘A Very Stable Genius’ Authors Tell All

For her monthly “Q&A Cafe” at the George Town Club, TV journalist Carol Joynt interviewed Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker of the Washington Post.

Review: “The Double Game” by Dan Fesperman

This book, by a veteran novelist and author of seven books, is not for everyone. It’s full of shades of grey but not the kind that are on the best-seller list right now. It requires more patience than any typical reader of the novels of the promiscuously prolific James Patterson, and it absolutely helps if you love John LeCarre, worry about the CIA, and like a little history—diplomatic, political, and literary—with your fictional servings. Mostly, if you love spy novels, you’ll love “The Double Game”, and I say this with a major proviso: this is not a great spy novel, but it’s a great novel about spy novels. The book is the kind of celebration and homage that only a writer and reader besotten with spy novels and their authors could write. Fesperman already has good street cred as an author of spy novels and/or thrillers with “Lie in the Dark” (Winner of the Crime Writer’s Association of Britain’s John Creasey Memorial Dagger Award), “The Small Boat of Great Sorrows”, winner of the Ian Fleming Dagger Award for best thriller, and “The Prisoner of Guantanamo”, winner of the Dashiell Hammett Award from the International Association of Crime Writers. What he’s done in “The Double Game” echoes a lot of latter-day spy fiction and the rumors of the work of real spies—in particular the CIA’s greatly paranoid spymaster and counter-intelligence chief James Angleton, who went, Ahab-like, searching for a mole in the CIA. In “The Double Game”, Fesperman has as his hero, or anti-hero, a former journalist and public relations man named Bill Cage, experiencing a later-mid-life crisis after a promising career with the Washington Post was squashed years ago. He’s divorced, has a grown son, and pondering the turn his life took after he had written a story about Edwin Lemaster, a top CIA spy and spy novelist, in which he printed a wistful remark by the writer that he once considered going over to the other side during the cold war. Nothing good came of the revelation, but now a mysterious and cryptic message sends Cage, whose father is an experienced retired diplomat living in Vienna, after the truth about Lemaster, who may have been a double agent, or something even more complicated and sinister. Cage, following a Hansel and Gretel trail of messages in pages torn from (original) editions of famous spy novels, goes to Vienna, Prague and Budapest, where he’s accompanied by a girlfriend from 30 years ago. He’s shadowed by sometimes dangerous spies, encounters book sellers with double lives, and leaves a train wreck of tragedy behind him, all the while led on by his mysterious handler, whose identity isn’t revealed until the very end of the book. As some of the people Cage encounters along the way meet unfortunate ends, he begins to question the trustworthiness of his father and the crafty and competent old flame Litzi Strauss. Cage’s world is turned upside down, and danger lurks at every turn. Things, as they say, get complicated, and sometimes so murky, that you lose the thread of who’s who and who was who, while trying to keep up with the genre references at every turn. For Cage, this is a journey into his own past—he spent his youth living with his father at dad’s postings in Prague, Budapest, Vienna and Berlin, and unknowingly played a part in the delivery of clandestine messages. Festerman displays an obvious affection and love not only for spy novels, but also the tradecraft and lore of spies in the cold war eras, and something else: old books. Cage spends a lot of time in old and rare bookshops talking with old and rare birds and collectors, some of whom have spent a lifetime doubling as and dabbling with spies. If it’s flavor and atmosphere you want, you can’t get much better than Cage’s forays into the capitols of the old Austro-Hungarian empire—you can practically hear the zither music from “The Third Man” begin to swell and expect to meet a grandson of Harry Lime, the great, cynical, mysterious character played by Orson Welles in Carol Reed’s wonderful film about Brits, Americans, Russians and black marketers clashing in the ruins of Vienna. If you want clarity of plot and heroic figures, “The Double Game” (it’s the fictional title of one of LeMaster’s novels), is a little short of these. One of the problems is that Cage is a decidedly un-heroic figure who is lucky just to survive his adventures. On top of that, he’s a bit of a whiner. On the other hand, the steady statesman that is Cage’s father (with a surprise secret to hide) and the swashbuckling Litzi, not to mention all the old spies and book collectors that populate then novel, are immensely satisfying creations. Festerman has also provided a handy and downright pungent appendix of all the authors and novels he’s referenced in the book, by date and by author. He includes, of course, the fictional Edgar Lemaster and his works, but also the novels of the late J. Burke Wilkinson, a long-time Georgetown resident and state department official (“Night of the Short Knives” and “The Adventures of Geoffrey Mildmay”). That’s going the extra mile, which is something you should do for “The Double Game”, too. My favorite spy writers in no particular order. John LeCarre— “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “Smiley’s People” are in many fans’ estimation the finest spy-counter spy novels ever written, complex, ornate, with George Smiley at the center, trying to find the mole in the British spy establishment. “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold”, a shorter, earlier effort gets to the cold, unromantic heart of the cold war and its spies. He adapted well to modern times and settings like “The Constant Gardener”. Aaron Latham—“Orchids for Mother”, a sharp, crisp thriller with an Angelton-type character at its center. Eric Ambler—The first hugely popular writer of spy fiction, whose theater of operations included pre-war, wartime and post-war Europe in such books as “The Levanter” (his last), “Epitaph for a Spy” and “The Mask of Demetrios”. William Buckley—For his charming Blackford Oakes series, a hero with panache, American style, with a conservative edge. Len Deighton—For his spy series, “Berlin Game”, “Mexico Set” and “London Match”, and “The Ipcress File” cold as a silencer against your neck. Ian Fleming—Without Fleming, there would be no Bond, and without Bond, well, we shudder to think. Alan Furst—Still going strong, this writer created a series of books set just before the start of World War II and after, books so saturated with the atmosphere of places like Paris, Warsaw, Istanbul, that you wanted to light up a non post-coital cigarette. “The Spies of Warsaw”, “Night Soldiers” and many others. Graham Greene—He put the literary in novels that had intrigue and the works of very human spies at their center like the haunting “The Quiet American”, “The Human Factor” and “The Confidential Agent.” James Grady—For “Three Days of the Condor”, paranoia and conspiracy perfectly presented. Robert Littell—For the grandiose and epic “The Company” and “The Defection of A.J. Lewinter” Charles McCarry—“The Tears of Autumn”, a plausible plot centering around the Kennedy Assassination as well as “The Secret Lovers” and “The Last Supper”, the latter a novel on the theme of expediency. In Washington, where the world’s largest intelligence agencies reside, there’s no shortage of fans and readers.

Kitty Kelley Book Club: ‘Lost in Ghost Town’

Author Carder Stout’s name will resonate with Georgetowners who remember his family from when they lived in a mansion at 31st and P Streets.