Archive for October, 2009

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N.C. Events: A Preseason Bonus

October 30, 2009

Can’t wait for basketball season to begin? Well, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill has good news in store for you: Hard Work: A Life On and Off the Court, a just-released memoir by Tar Heels coach Roy Williams, co-written by former Sports Illustrated writer Tim Crothers. The book features a foreword by John Grisham and a nice front-cover blurb by Michael Jordan. Bring out the big guns, why don’t you?

At this point, I’ve only been able to sample sections of the book, but I gotta tell you, I’m already drawn in. While the memoir stretches back to Williams’ difficult childhood — an abusive, alcoholic father, a mother struggling to make ends meet — the book itself is framed by the 2009 basketball season. The opening pages find Williams walking down the middle of the road at 4 a.m., worrying about star player Tyler Hansbrough’s injuries and about the demands of the season ahead — how the prospects and expectations were raising the stakes for the entire team. Even knowing about the NCAA tournament win that ultimately ended the season doesn’t lessen the conflict of that nighttime walk or the sense of suspense about the longer path ahead. By the end of the book, when he reflects back on that season as the sweetest because of all the adversity, you really get a sense of what this book is about. The title doesn’t draw solely from that team cheer at the end of each huddle.

As anyone who’s followed his career knows, Williams has made some controversial and much-publicized  decisions in his lifetime, not the least of which were his decisions to stay in Kansas and then to leave Kansas. In the book, he reflects on these decisions and offers some behind-the-scenes reasons for them, much of it related to his family and his past: his mother, his father, his sister, each depicted in gripping, poignant scenes and with often surprising candor.

In advance of the season ahead, Williams will be touring several North Carolina bookstores to discuss the book — surely a must for Tar Heels fans everywhere. Catch him on Tuesday, November 3, at McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village; on Thursday, November 5, at the Bull’s Head Bookshop in Chapel Hill; on Tuesday, November 10, at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books; and on Friday, November 13, at Durham’s Regulator Bookshop.

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N.C. Events: Mysteries Through Monday

October 23, 2009

Mysteries take the mainstage at Triangle-area bookstores this weekend, with two appearances by The Deadly Divas, “nice woman who write about murder.” Marcia Talley, newly elected president of Sisters in Crime, leads the group’s outing with her new book, Without a Grave, and she’s joined by Elizabeth Lynn Casey, author of Sew Deadly; Denise Swanson, author of Murder of a Royal PainHeather Webber, author of Weeding Out Murder (and of the Lucy Valentine romance series); and Sara Rosett, author of Magnolias, Moonlight and Murder. The group has just begun their swing through North Carolina, and here’s where you can catch them over the next few days:

Friday, October 23

  • 10:30 a.m., Coffee with the Divas, The Cary Library, Cary
  • 2 p.m., Tea at the Eva Perry Library, Apex
  • 7 p.m., The Regulator Bookshop, Durham

Saturday, October 24

  • 11 a.m., McIntyre’s at Fearrington Village, Pittsboro
  • 2 p.m., West Regional Library, Cary

Sunday, October 25

  • 3 p.m., Friendly Center Barnes & Noble, Greensboro

Additionally, don’t miss another bright new name on the mystery scene, Derek Nikitas, with his second novel The Long Division. A graduate of UNC-Wilmington’s MFA program, he’ll be appearing at Wilmington’s Pomegranate Books on Monday, October 26, at 7 p.m.

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N.C. Events: New Stories From Jill McCorkle

October 14, 2009

A.S. Byatt may be the big-name literary celebrity in the Triangle this week, but it’s a homegrown talent that’s really cause for celebration. Algonquin Books has recently published Jill McCorkle‘s first short story collection in eight years, Going Away Shoes, and she’s once again proven herself a master of the form. I’ve long been a follower and a fan of McCorkle’s work, and while her novels are undoubtedly impressive, I’ll admit that I take the most joy out of her richly textured, densely packed shorter work — it’s simply a marvel how much life she’s able to pack into such a short amount of space. Even the briefest of the stories here, “View-master” (barely five pages), marks the intersection of several complete lives, and another  of my favorites, “Intervention,” seamlessly weaves past and present — the weight of a lifetime of relationships — into the story of a single momentous evening, one that marks both a turning point and a reaffirmation. That story is also one of the most highly lauded in this collection, having appeared in Ploughshares before being selected both for the Best American Short Stories anthology and for New Stories from the South, and a second story, “Magic Words,” has recently been selected for the upcoming Best American Short Stories.

After reading “Intervention” myself a couple of years back, I had the opportunity to encounter it again when McCorkle read it aloud one evening — and it was just as fascinating that second go-around, maybe even more so since I knew where the story was going and could focus on the small moves that she made to get us there, the layering of information, the small asides that seemed extraneous on the first read but ultimately integral, indispensable. Let that be encouragement for others to check out the new collection and to catch one of the author’s upcoming events: Thursday, October 15, at The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines and again on Saturday, October 17, at McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village.

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N.C. Events: A.S. Byatt at Duke and at National Humanities Center

October 13, 2009
A.S. Byatt

A.S. Byatt

Even in recognizing both the widespread popularity of A.S. Byatt and the persistent critical acclaim for her work, I have to admit I’m of two minds about her novels, much of my ambivalence stemming from experiences with her best-known book, Possession, but also from discussions with friends and fellow writers about her writing in general. On the one hand, I can respect her achievement in that big, sprawling novel — the various voices and textures, the imagination needed to create that world and the determination to put it on the page in extensive, comprehensive detail — but I’ve also always felt the weighty self-indulgence of it as well: the sheer and often unnecessary wordiness of it all, for example, and the need for a firm hand on the editing side. When I read the book in a graduate class at George Mason, students were completely divided in their reactions — love it, hate it, with little in-between — and I have one friend who so intensely dislikes her work that he has read aloud passages from her novels just so he can point out all those indulgences: the overflowery, overobfuscated prose.

Still, Byatt’s literary celebrity can hardly be dimmed, and it’s a coup for North Carolina that Byatt has chosen the Triangle for a pair of stops on the brief U.S. tour for her new novel, The Children’s Book. It’s no surprise that the novel has been welcomed on these shores with mostly great enthusiasm. The Washington Post review wrote that “Bristling with life and invention, [The Children’s Book] is a seductive work by an extraordinarily gifted writer.” The Wall Street Journal noted that “In a dumbed-down world, what a pleasure it is to dive into the dense, allusive, uncompromisingly erudite novels of A.S. Byatt.” But some dissenters persist, like The New York Times, which touches on that “on the other hand” I alluded to above:

While Byatt’s engagement with the period’s overlapping circles of artists and reformers is serious and deep, so much is stuffed into The Children’s Book that it can be hard to see the magic forest for all the historical lumber — let alone the light at the end of the narrative tunnel. The action is sometimes cut off at awkward moments by ponderous newsreel-style voice-over or potted lectures in cultural history. Startling revelations are dropped in almost nonchalantly and not picked up again until dozens or even hundreds of pages later. Byatt’s coda on the Great War, dispatched in scarcely more pages than the Exposition Universelle, is devastating in its restraint. But too often readers may feel as if they’re marooned in the back galleries of a museum with a frighteningly energetic docent.

For those N.C. readers who think of Byatt not as “frighteningly energetic” but as “seductive” and “gifted” and “uncompromising erudite” (in a good way, that is), then check out her upcoming visits: Thursday, October 15, at 7:30 p.m. at Perkins Library at Duke University and then Friday, October 16, at 8 p.m. at the National Humanities Center (online registration required).

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Free Book Friday: Blood’s a Rover

October 9, 2009

A copy of James Ellroy’s Blood’s A Rover appeared on my doorstep this afternoon, as if by magic. I already have a copy myself, so…. Anyone want this one? Free to a good home. Just be the 7th emailer to MetroBooksNC@gmail.com! (…he said in his best radio announcer voice.)

Seriously: If you’re the 7th person to email me, it’s yours.

UPDATE: The book has been claimed.

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N.C. Events: “The Wordy Shipmates” with Sarah Vowell

October 7, 2009

This week’s top draw in North Carolina literary circles is certainly an appearance by Sarah Vowell, who will discuss her most recent novel, The Wordy Shipmates, at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books on Thursday, October 8, at 7:30 p.m. When it was first published last year, Vowell earned scads of publicity. Check out, for example, Bob Thompson’s terrific profile in the Washington Post as well as admiring reviews in that same publication and in the Christian Science Monitor, the Seattle Times and the Austin Chronicle, among others.  Even the New York Times review, which keeps calling Vowell “annoying,” has a certain begrudging admiration for her. Now that the book is being released in paperback, Vowell is mounting another major publicity campaign. She chatted briefly with The News and Observer on Tuesday, and also appeared earlier this week on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. If you missed that interview, be sure to check it out below:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

And better yet, see Vowell in person on Thursday evening at Quail Ridge as she rides once more into bestsellerdom.

While we’re on the topic… This week Quail Ridge Books celebrates its Silver Anniversary! On Sunday, October 11, the store marks its 25th year with a full set of programs, including music, refreshments, anniversary discounts, and an appearance by Mike Farrell, with his new book Of Mule and Men.

Also noteworthy on the calendar over the coming week: Ron Rash reads from and discusses his award-winning novel Serena (recently released in paperback) at two locations. He’ll be at Durham’s Regulator Bookshop on Wednesday, October 7, at 7 p.m. and at Quail Ridge Books on Tuesday, October 13, at 7:30 p.m.

For more literary events, check out the MetroBooks calendar here.

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New Mystery Scene: More Ellroy, Plus Nevada Barr, Nero Wolfe & More

October 5, 2009

Over the weekend, I received the new issue of Mystery Scene — always a welcome arrival. No real surprise to see James Ellroy‘s mug on the cover (“Unleashed”!), since he’s been a publicity juggernaut with the publication of his grand new novel, Blood’s A Rover. (See, again, my own interview here.) But even if most folks, myself included, may have already succumbed to Ellroy overload, there’s plenty more to enjoy here, including a interesting look back at a movie I’d never heard of, The Last of Sheila (just added it to my Netflix queue), a celebration of Nero Wolfe (I always love those surveys of classic detectives), and a couple of nice interviews beyond that cover story, including chats with Nancy Pickard and Nevada Barr, the latter my own contribution to this issue.

Talking with Nevada Barr about her new book, the standalone thriller 13 1/2, set in New Orleans, was a real pleasure. Here’s a quick excerpt from our talk, and be sure to pick up the issue for the full story.

Mystery Scene: Was New Orleans an inspiration here or did it prove difficult to depict on the page?

Barr: I’ve lived here for years. In fact, I’m setting the next Anna Pigeon here. But I didn’t set anything here for years and years. New Orleanians are very proud of their city and idiosyncratic about it, and it’s a very complicated city, and then Katrina came and really complicated us. But I moved here because I fell in love with the city, and that love of the city, I think, came through in the sense of Katrina having crushed it. I started this book during our evacuation from the hurricane, and then Katrina blew it out of the water for several years, so I think it was more of a challenge than an inspiration in the beginning. But I got to know my city by writing about it.

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