Archive for February, 2009


Novelist Jayne Anne Phillips in North Carolina; More Than A Dozen Authors in D.C.

February 27, 2009

33491468Among the big literary events in North Carolina this weekend is a visit by Jayne Anne Phillips, discussing her highly acclaimed new novel, Lark & Termite, which tells twin stories: the first set in the Korean War; the second in a small West Virginia community. In his review for the Washington Post, critic Ron Charles said, “With her striking mixture of hallucinatory poetry and gritty realism, Phillips is trying to articulate the transcendence of love, the sort of unity among deeply devoted people that reverberates beneath the rational world. As the novel moves toward a crescendo of harrowing revelations and brutal confrontations, Phillips surprises us again with another disorienting touch of mysticism and a finale that mingles despair and triumph, naiveté and spiritual insight, a startling demonstration of ‘how lightning fast things can go right or wrong.'” 

Phillips reads from the new novel tonight (Friday, February 27) at 7:30 p.m. at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh

In and Around D.C.

Meanwhile, I’ll be attending two events in the D.C. area over the next few days. 

First, on Saturday, February 28, American Independent Writers and George Mason University’s MFA Program host a Fiction Writing Seminar on Mason’s Fairfax, Virginia campus, with headliners Jeffrey Deaver and Marita Golden and featuring a wide array of writers, including yours truly. A full schedule was published earlier on my website here.

Then, on Monday evening, March 2, PEN/Faulkner is hosting a fundraiser for its Writers in Schools Program. The event, at Comet Ping Pong in Northwest D.C., features George Pelecanos , Matthew Klam, Mary Kay Zuravleff, Helon Habila, and others. A donation of $25 gets you free pizza, beer, and more writers than you can shake a stick at. (Not that I would advise shaking a stick at George Pelecanos, of course.)  

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Love It? Hate It? Either Way, It’s Tough To Forget “The Night of the Hunter”

February 26, 2009

night-of-the-hunterOn the drive to campus this morning, I read Tara parts of Michael Dirda’s review of Jeffrey Couchman’s new study, The Night of the Hunter: A Biography of a Film. The film “failed miserably when it opened in 1955,” writes Dirda. “But since then it has come to be recognized as one of American cinema’s greater masterpieces.” Tara turned her nose up at that a little, and then showed even more incredulity when Dirda noted that the famed French film journal Cahiers du Cinema ranked The Night of the Hunter the “second most beautiful film of all time (after Citizen Kane and just above The Rules of the Game.)” (That full list is here, in French.)

Tara’s verdict on the film: “Interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying.”

I’m more generous toward the movie — engaged not just by its odd mix of religion and sensuality, of innocence and near-demonic evil, but also by its unique stylistic approach. What stands out best to me isn’t the good versus evil plot — sometimes a little corny, a little over-the-top, a little too black-and-white  — but that  gorgeous cinematography, also black-and-white, of course, but more richly toned. Dirda too comments on the

quality of light that makes each scene of the movie so striking: the sharp clarity of the open-air picnic, the hideous chiaroscuro of a torch-lit revival meeting, the swirling mist that gathers outside the ice cream parlor when the now spiritually “clean” Willa says goodnight, the soft moon shining through a window into the altarlike bedroom, the bright stars speckling the night sky as the children escape down the river.

immortal114I would certainly add to that list the haunting image of a woman’s corpse floating underwater, her hair fanning out, the drifting stillness. It’s the lyricism of such images that stands out and helps to elevate the film above others. I don’t know that I agree with Dirda that the film is “endlessly rewatchable,” but it’s a fine and memorable movie for sure, and I’m intrigued to find out more about its making from the new book. 

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Metro Magazine’s Growing Online Coverage

February 25, 2009

issue_109Metro Magazine, based in North Carolina, has recently been beefing up its online coverage, with extended film commentary by Godfrey Cheshire, music reviews by Philip Van Vleck, and — courtesy of the blog you’re reading now — more expansive coverage of the state’s literary scene. 

Today, in conjunction with Metro (where I serve as contributing editor), I’m introducing an online literary calendar of upcoming events in the Triangle region and throughout Eastern North Carolina. A link to these listings will be a permanent feature of the column to your right, and the MetroBooks Calendar currently features events through the end of March for selected bookstores. Additionally, individual links have been provided within the calendar where an author has been interviewed, reviewed or discussed elsewhere on this site. 

North Carolina bookstores and other literary venues interested in being included on the calendar should contact me at

Weekly previews of particularly noteworthy events will continue to be presented on this site, usually on Thursday of each week. 

Check back often for information and updates!

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Book World’s New Format

February 24, 2009

Because I’m a semi-regular reviewer for the Washington Post, I’ve had a number of people ask me recently about Book World‘s new format: Sunday’s three-page layout in Outlook, for instance, and the plans for a similarly expansive section in Wednesday’s Style section — a fiction-focussed batch in that case, anchored by Ron Charles’ reviews.

I’ll admit that I miss the standalone section, but I also thought that the new format turned out well on Sunday — especially the layering of larger and smaller reviews — and I anticipate that tomorrow’s will be equally impressive. It’s likely been a tough transition to make in many ways; having worked at a paper for many years myself, I know that such shifts in design, layout, and scheduling can be trying if not torturous. But the good news is that none of that shows in the final product.

ph2009022302766And while this is in no way related to the changeover, I have to admit being personally interested in this week’s reviews so far. Patrick Anderson’s take on Spade & Archer let the Post weigh in on one of the most-talked-about recent mystery titles, and Mark Athitakis’ review on Under Their Thumb, a new book on the Rolling Stones, was far from laudatory but still offered an interesting commentary both on the book, the group and their fans, and the music industry itself.

The title of Athitakis’ review, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” looks back to the old Stones’ hit, of course, but maybe it also provides some small commentary on the publishing changes themselves? If so, the new Book World may not be all many of us have wanted, but at least it’s still filling — more than adequately — a need for book coverage on a national level.

Looking forward to what tomorrow brings….

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Lunch with Charles Todd

February 20, 2009
Caroline and Charles Todd

Caroline and Charles Todd

A quick update here on Charles Todd’s visit to North Carolina on Wednesday, February 25. The mother and son team, Caroline and Charles, will be part of an “author luncheon” at McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village (instead of a reading, as I’d mentioned earlier this week). The event — beginning at 2:30 p.m. in the Old Granary Restaurant — offers a chance for more extensive time with the bestselling authors, who will discuss their new book, A Matter of Justice. (See my interview with Caroline and Charles Todd here.) 

Tickets for the luncheon are $40 per person, but that price does include a signed hardcover copy of the new book. To sign-up, contact McIntyre’s at (919) 542-3030 or at 

The Todds will also appear later that evening at Quail Ridge Books at 7:30 p.m. for a more conventional reading and signing. 

Additional events on the calendar for the coming week include:

  • Leonard Todd, author of Carolina Clay: The Life and Legend of the Slave Potter Dave, on Friday, February 20, at 7:30 p.m. at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh.
  • The monthly North Carolina Poetry Society Reading with Bill Griffin and Maureen Sherbondy, on Thursday, February 26, at 7 p.m. at McIntyre’s. 
  • And Jayne Anne Phillips, author of Lark & Termite, on Friday, February 27, at 7:30 p.m. at Quail Ridge Books.

In & Around D.C.

A couple of interesting events on the schedule for the coming week in the D.C. area.

First up, on Sunday afternoon, the Writer’s Center in Bethesda is hosting a talk with literary agent Paige Wheeler, founder of Folio Literary Management. The free event begins at 2 p.m. (and comes in the midst of a very, very busy weekend for the Writer’s Center; check out a full schedule of events here.)

On Thursday, February 26, at 8 p.m., the Cheryl’s Gone Reading Series kicks off its first reading of the new year, featuring fiction by Sara Hov, poetry by Ryan Walker and Zein El-Amine, and music by Spoonboy (of the Max Levine Ensemble). It all takes place at Big Bear Cafe in D.C.

And don’t forget, NEXT Saturday, February 28, brings a Fiction Seminar at George Mason University, co-presented by Mason’s MFA program and American Independent Writers.

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