Posts Tagged ‘Washington Post’


Review: Matthew Dunn’s Spycatcher

September 3, 2011

Former MI6 agent Matthew Dunn‘s debut spy thriller, Spycatcher, gets off to a rough start both in its style (clumsy dialogue, laden with exposition) and its substance (some cartoonish strokes about main character Will Cochrane). But the balance of the novel is notably stronger, and Dunn promises better things to come as the series continues. Here’s a quick glimpse at the novel’s plot from my review in the Washington Post:

When Spycatcher opens, messages intercepted by the National Security Agency reveal an imminent assault against Western interests. A joint endeavor between the CIA and MI6 pits British agent Will Cochrane against the plan’s mastermind, the shadowy Megiddo, a top-ranked officer in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Cochrane sets out to lure Megiddo into the open or else be captured himself and likely tortured — whatever it takes to get closer to his prey. Cat-and-mouse games ensue, with no certainty as to who’s playing whom. Cochrane’s chief asset is a Paris-based journalist who was Megiddo’s lover during the Bosnian War. Cochrane is also joined by a quartet of American operatives whose collective résumé includes stints with the Navy SEALs, the Green Berets and Delta Force — providing the jaws of a ferocious mousetrap.

Read my full review here. — Art Taylor


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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Long Week, No Posts… Until Now, Of Course…. On Book World, George Mason University, The N.C. Writers Network, Public/Private & More

January 30, 2009

What a week.

In the midst of many doom-and-gloom predictions, the Washington Post made an announcement this week about dropping Book World as an independent section and redistributing book coverage throughout the paper. (Book World‘s own blog, “Short Stack,” has already featured two pieces related to the reorganization: one by Rachel Hartigan Shea and another by Alan Cooperman. And as usual, one of the best commentaries on the news comes from Sarah Weinman.)

At George Mason University, the first full week of classes (and first week of grading) brought some small turmoil my way: A snow day that didn’t quite reach my own classes; mistakes on my syllabus (student: “Um, Professor Taylor, none of the readings are in our book” — a revised edition) and then revisions to try to tidy those mistakes; several students who can’t stop texting in class; and then both one dry-erase marker and a back-up marker that both ran out of ink mid-lesson.

And on a more personal note: Honeymoon planning took some twists and turns, but seems to be working out. Ireland, here we come!

Now, back to business.


logowThe North Carolina Writers’ Network has recently announced a couple of new projects/programs. This past week, the organization launched “Writing the New South,” a program “offering its members a platform to record and share their experiences and interpretations of living in North Carolina as North Carolina changes dramatically.” Also on the horizon: On Sunday evening, February 15, the Network is hosting “Talking at the Table: Food Writing in the New South,” a panel discussion featuring John Shelton Reed, Dale Volberg Reed, Bill Smith, Debbie Moose, and other food writers talking about their work. Refreshments will, of course, be served — how could they not?! — and proceeds from the ticket sales ($50 per person) go toward the Network.

With regard to the Writers’ Network: This coming Monday’s interview on this site is with NCWN executive director Ed Southern. Don’t miss it!

Also on the schedule in the immediate week: 

  • Carl Hiaasen visits Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books on Monday, February 2, at 7:30 p.m. with his new kids book, Scat. There will be a ticketed signing line, and a book purchase is required to get a ticket. (Get there early.)
  • The Royal Bean Coffee House on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh (across from Meredith College) hosts an Open Mic Night on Thursday, February 5, beginning at 7 p.m. To sign-up, contact Maureen Sherbondy at (if you plan on reading). The event is cosponsored by Main Street Rag Publishing Company.

In And Around D.C.

I’m teaching a creative nonfiction course this semester at George Mason, and a couple of events I’m encouraging in this area are tangentially related to that.

First up, The Writer’s Center welcomes Philip Lopate — essayist, memoirist, novelist, poet, even film critic — to its 32nd birthday celebration on Saturday night, January 31, at 7:30 p.m. I’m teaching one of Lopate’s essays in my class next week, and I’m pleased to be seeing him in person on Saturday. Tickets are still available — $25 a person — if anyone still wants to join in. I’ll hope to report on it here afterwards.


Satomi Shirai, "cleaning," c-print, 2008. Borrowed from the Arlington Arts Center website without permission but with a nice link.

Next: Tara and I went last night to a preview of the Arlington Arts Center‘s new show, “Public/Private” — and I would highly recommend it. I actually found myself thinking of creative nonfiction as we examined some of the artwork: photographer Satomi Shirai’s seemingly intimate but intricately staged glimpses into her private life; Anissa Mack’s “My Sister’s Diary,” which posts excerpts from that diary on a kiosk of the Arts Center’s front lawn; Mandy Burrow’s altar pieces constructed from ordinary people’s personal belongings; and a couple of Philadelphia artists who’ve created a news network, “Everyone That We Know News,” that broadcasts everyday events in a TV newscast format: what someone had for dessert, who has a new girlfriend, etc. etc. These pieces and others offer some interesting and provocative insights into that wall between the public and the private and the way that today’s world (and particularly today’s technologies, perhaps) are increasingly breaking that wall down. (Coincidentally enough, our reception last night was “private” and the opening tonight (Friday, January 30) is “public.” Stop by if you get the chance. The show runs through April 4.)

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Allan Gurganus Reads “A Fool For Christmas” — Plus Other Upcoming Events

December 3, 2008

As part of my various jobs, I serve two large communities.

In my home state of North Carolina, for example, I write regularly on books and literary events as a contributing editor for Metro Magazine; I’ve long been involved with the North Carolina Writers’ Network; and I’ve build some great relationships with several authors and booksellers throughout the region.

In my current home in Virginia — and specifically at George Mason University, where I teach — I work closely with the annual Fall for the Book Festival; I have friends and contacts at several other organizations, most particularly The Writer’s Center in Bethesda; and I’ve become a regular reviewer for The Washington Post (hardly a local paper, I know, but still an integral part of the regional community in addition to serving a national audience). 

As part of my connections to these two communities — and specifically as part of a new coordinated effort with Metro — I’d like to offer a weekly post that’s more local in scope, highlighting upcoming events that seem of particular interest to me and, I hope, to readers of this blog who call either of those two regions home. Here then are some suggestions from Wednesday, December 3, through Wednesday, December 10.

North Carolina

Allan Gurganus

Allan Gurganus

Among the top literary events in the Triangle area this weekend is an appearance by Allan Gurganus at The Regulator Bookshop in Durham. Gurganus will be reading “A Fool for Christmas,” an unpublished short story which was originally presented on NPR’s All Things Considered back on Christmas Eve, 2004. The story centers on a pet store manager named Vernon Ricketts and the pregnant teen he hires to do some part-time work around the holidays. Gurganus will be reprise the story at the Regulator on Friday, December 5, at 7 p.m. (And for those who can’t make it, NPR offers the original broadcast online.)

Other events this week in the Triangle and across Eastern North Carolina include:

  • John Shelton Reed & Dale Volberg Reed, authors of Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue, on Wednesday afternoon, December 3, at The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, and again on Friday evening, December 5, at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh.
  • Chapel Hill author Kate Betterton, author of Where the Lake Becomes the River, on Thursday evening, December 4, at Quail Ridge Books.
  • Dr. Mardy Grothe, Raleigh-based psychologist, management consultant, and author of I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like: A Comprehensive Compilation of History’s Greatest Analogies, Metaphors, and Similes, on Thursday afternoon, December 4, at The Country Bookshop
  • Bruce Roberts, former director of photography for Southern Living and author of Just Yesterday: N.C. People and Places, on Saturday afternoon, December 6, at Quail Ridge Books
  • Paul Austin, author of Something for the Pain: One Doctor’s Account of Life and Death in the ER, on Tuesday evening, December 9, at Pomegranate Books in Wilmington.

Northern Virginia, D.C., and Maryland

Two of the biggest events in D.C. over the next week — Toni Morrison discussing A Mercy on Thursday, December 4, and photographer Annie Leibovitz on Tuesday, December 9 — are both sold-out, but the events’ bookstore host, Politics and Prose, are still taking orders for signed copies of each author’s latest book; for information, call 202-364-1919. 

Cynthia Ozick

Cynthia Ozick

Another big event is the presentation of this year’s PEN/Malamud Awards, honoring excellence in short fiction. Peter Ho Davies and Cynthia Ozick are the 2008 recipients, and the two authors will read from their works at the Folger Shakespeare Library on Friday, December 5, at 8 p.m. The event is presented by the PEN/Faulkner Foundation. Tickets are $12. 

In other news:

  • Writers in the MFA program at George Mason University offer a free reading on Friday, December 5, at 7 p.m. at The Firehouse Grille in Old Town Fairfax, VA. Slated to present new works are fiction writer Tim Rowe and nonfiction writer Valerie Lambros.
  • On the same evening, poets Reed Whittemore, Cicely Angleton, and Elaine Magarrell appear at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, at 7:30 p.m. to read from the recent anthology Inventory.
  • Finally, DC Poets Against the War host readings on Saturday and Sunday, December 6-7, in conjunction with the Peace Mural Exhibit. Readings take place at 3 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. on Saturday, and at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Sunday at 3336 M Street, NW. 

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