In our December issue, we published "75 Things Every Richmonder Should Do," a mix of old reliables and new standards that every Richmonder ought to experience at least once. As part of our list, we presented nine books that are emblematic of our city, as selected by senior writer Harry Kollatz Jr. It's not an exhaustive list by any means — Kollatz authored a pair of books himself ( True Richmond Stories and Richmond in Ragtime ) that we'd include in an expanded version, for example — but we think that together they provide a good snapshot of our town. And for the complete list of "75 Things Every Richmonder Should Do," check out the December issue of Richmond magazine.
Obviously this list could be a lot longer, but these books will provide an overview of the city, its history and its people.
- Richmond: The Story of a City , by Virginius Dabney. A just-the-facts-ma'am tome by the late Pulitzer Prize-winning Richmond Times-Dispatch editor, this is the standard text about Richmond, though his closeness to later subjects kept him from too much analysis.
- At the Falls: Richmond, Virginia, and Its People , by Marie Tyler McGraw. This 1994 effort can be viewed as a kind of answer to Dabney's book, as it delves more into the whys and wherefores of the city's various cultural movements.
- Nonesuch Place: A History of the Richmond Landscape , by Tyler Potterfield. This recent release describes the topographical, cultural and economic factors behind Richmond's development.
- The Unboxing of Henry Brown, by Jeffrey Ruggles. An amazing true story about a slave's escape to freedom, achieved by mailing himself to Philadelphia.
- Richmond in By-Gone Days , by Samuel Mordecai. The official 19th-century word-train of a title is Virginia, Especially Richmond, in By-gone Days: With a Glance at the Present, Being Reminiscences and Last Words of an Old Citizen . Mordecai is The Most Interesting Man in the Room, and he'll chat with you a long while about Richmond.
- Experiment in Rebellion , by Clifford Dowdey. A Richmond novelist and historian who learned his craft in pulp fiction, Dowdey wrote page-turners. This 1946 narrative history is a Southern West Wing focused on the difficulties of trying to govern a civil war. It features a colorful cast of characters, plus Richmond as herself.
- The Nightmare Has Triplets: Smirt , by Branch Cabell. Late in his career, Richmond fabulist James Branch Cabell dropped his first name and sought to write a Lewis Carroll dream story in James Joyce fashion, of which 1934's Smirt was the first installment. Partially set in a twilight fantastic "Richmond-in-Virginia," Smirt begins with a talking wooden dog.
- Even Cowgirls Get the Blues , by Tom Robbins. Robbins came to his creative realization in Richmond before leaving for Seattle. In this 1976 novel, big-thumbed teenager Sissy Hankshaw hitchhikes on a Monument Avenue "so dotted with enshrined cannon and heroic statuary that it is known throughout the geography of the dead as a banana belt for stuffed generals."
- Built by Blacks: African-American Architecture and Neighborhoods in Richmond, Virginia , by Selden Richardson. This 2008 assessment of houses and commercial structures is also a history of black life in the city, from slavery to the city's first black architect, the early 20th century's Charles T. Russell, and beyond.