Posts Tagged ‘Ron Charles’


Review: Carolyn Parkhurst’s The Nobodies Album

June 16, 2010

Today, the Washington Post published my review of Carolyn Parkhurst’s new novel, The Nobodies Album — a book that charmed and impressed me from beginning to end. Here’s the opening of the review:

A number of ambitious and winning novels have been written about novelists themselves, from Margaret Atwood‘s “The Blind Assassin” to Ian McEwan‘s “Atonement” and Carol Shields’s “Unless.” Add to the list now D.C. author Carolyn Parkhurst’s “The Nobodies Album.” Not just a book about a novelist in action, it’s also a meditation on writing itself and on the curious intersections between the imagined world and the real one.

Read the rest of the review here. While you’re at the Post, don’t miss Ron Charles’ take on Jennifer Egan’s new book, A Visit From the Goon Squad — another one that headed straight for my t0-read list. (And watch Fall for the Book’s website too, which may soon — shh! — have an announcement about Egan as well!)

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The Book Studio at WETA

January 4, 2010

I’ve just recently (and belatedly) discovered The Book Studio, an online review and interview site hosted by WETA, Washington, DC’s PBS affiliate. Among the recent additions to the site is managing editor Bethanne Patrick‘s interview with Alan Cheuse about his recent books A Trance Before Breakfast and To Catch The Lightning and another interview with cultural commentator Kevin Smokler of (who appeared last September at the Fall for the Book Festival as well). Also of note: In early December, my fellow Washington Post critics Ron Charles, Louis Bayard and Maureen Corrigan talked about the best books of 2009 — a don’t-miss discussion. The Book Studio has now surpassed 100 interviews in all, so there’s plenty to enjoy. If you haven’t already done it, check it out!

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Charmed by Rivka Galchen

May 20, 2009

Several things drew me to the Rivka Galchen event last night, hosted by Nextbook at the Washington DCJCC — not the least of which was winning a free ticket in a trivia contest. (Answer: Where The Wild Things Are; and thank you to Margalit Rosenthal for hosting the contest.) But I’d also remembered that Ron Charles’ review of Galchen’s debut novel, Atmospheric Disturbances, and I’d been mightily intrigued by the premise, and while I hadn’t yet had time to read the book itself, the event promised the opportunity for a preview. And with Charles himself hosting a post-reading chat with the author… well, it was a perfect confluence of circumstances to convince me this was a must-see event.

And I was far from disappointed. 

While the reading itself from the book’s opening was a tad overlong, it was nonetheless a marvelous sample, introducing us to the novel’s 51-year-old psychiatrist protagonist and to his heart-wrenching dilemma: He believes that his wife has been replaced by a simulacrum, and he begins a quest to find the woman he’s lost. 

Galchen has an odd presence behind the podium, a high-pitched, even squeaky voice combined with striking good looks (Charles quoted Papermag’s Beautiful People 2009 feature, which called her “the pinup for every Pynchon fan who… went to engineering school”) and a surprising shyness, explained by an admission later in the evening that it was awkward, awkward, awkward to get up in front of people and read — and really that she had trouble imagining people reading her work at all when she was in the process of writing it.   

Still, she proved both engaging and illuminating, speaking with equal authority on both the medical aspects of the book and the artistic choices, both explaining (for example) some of other incidents of the real medical condition that her protagonist may be going through — Capgras  Syndrome, also labeled “delusional misidentity syndrome” — and explaining why she resisted ever using the phrase in the book. Diagnosing him, it seemed, would explain him away somehow, when really what she was trying to tap into what many of us experience, the moments when “people exceed what you know about them,” whether it’s a suddenly surprising and alienating perspective on a parent or a spouse or, as she explained, that moment when you go to the pool and “see your history teacher in swimming trunks.”

Add this one to my summer reading list — a more and more ambitious pile of books each day, but this one seems to demand attention.

Postscript: Here’s Ron Charles’ own take on the night, from today’s “Short Stack.”

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Ron Charles’ NBCC Awards Speech

March 17, 2009

Ron Charles, a gifted book critic and one of my editors at the Washington Post Book World, recently won the 2008 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle, an award that was announced earlier this year but presented formally at an awards ceremony on March 12. Charles’ acceptance speech is a marvel — not just laugh-out-loud funny but also provocative and persuasive and indicative of the passion for books that his reviews regularly display. I wasn’t at the ceremony and was slow to see the clip below after the fact, but I’m eager to share it now.

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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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