Monday, December 15, 2014

UNCC prof's audio book wins 'best audio book of the year'

A few weeks ago, I was introduced to a young man at a banquet who confided that he might have some book news for me in a couple of weeks. Little did A.J. Hartley realize what great news was heading his way.
Hartley, the Robinson distinguished professor of Shakespeare at UNCC, is the author with David Hewson of their  second re-imagined audio classic, "Hamlet, Prince of Denmark: A Novel," which has won the Best of the Year from Audible Studios.
Richard Armitage (Thoren Oakenshield in the trilogy of films based on "The Hobbit), draws on his experience with the Royal Shakespeare Company to bring the tale of ghosts, madness and revenge to life.
Hartley is the bestselling New York Times author of the Will Hawthorne fantasy series and several thrillers, as well as Darwen Arkwright books for younger readers.
Hewson is the bestselling author of more than 20 novels, including the Nic Costa crime series and a trilogy of books based on the hit Danish TV show "The Killing."
Here's what the  London Times says about Hartley and Hewson's "Hamlet":
"English literature teachers worried about getting their pupils entranced by Shakespeare, should plug them in to this imaginative gloss on Hamlet before starting on the real thing."

To listen:

Friday, December 12, 2014

New memoir by UNC's Kenan Writer-in-Residence

Daisy Hernandez

I didn't mean to, honestly.
But the books kept piling in, and Daisy Hernandez's "A Cup of Water Under My Bed" (Beacon Press, $24.95), kept getting pushed -- no, not quite under my bed --but in the looming stack next to it.
This evening, tired from carpooling my middle-school granddaughter home after basketball practice, I tucked myself in said bed and began reading.
Oh, my! Such a treat.
Hernandez is the Kenan writer-in-residence at UNC-Chapel Hill, and she has quite a story to tell.
She was born into a Cuban-Colombian family with plenty of warnings from the women in her family about men who seduce with pastries and about expectations that she would thrive in a white world but remain loyal to her roots.
Not as easy as it sounds.
Hernandez, a bi-sexual, allows us into her life with the kind of bravery that's become essential for the best of memoirists.
One of my favorite sections is about her rather unhappy tenure at the New York Times, which probably mirrors any new reporter's or intern's experience at any newspaper, no matter the size.
The meetings take place in a conference room. Inside are a long wooden table, large heavy chairs, and a television in a cabinet. Men show up in stiff white shirts with cups of coffee in hand, notepads and pens, and the day's paper. The women show up in slacks and button-down shirts with notepads and pens and the paper. They file in one by one, welcome me, make jokes about this and that, and it begins to dawn on me that they are regular white people.
I'm not sure what I expected them to look like, but I figured that writing for the New York Times would turn a person into something close to God, or at least Oprah Winfrey. I expected that they would look different somehow, more beautiful, more pristine, that they wouldn't have to read the day's paper because they would have a secret telephone they could pick up and hear about what was happening in the world.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Gone Girl's Gillian Flynn: 'even in death, women need packaging'

Rolling Stone writer James Rocci asks bestselling "Gone Girl" author Gillian Flynn:


Well, I think when we turn on the TV or watching a movie — whether it's true-crime reporting or maybe a [fictional] crime show, the only women that we want to watch die are the beautiful ones. Even in death, there seems to be this demand that women need packaging in a certain way, and certainly those are the ones that get the most attention from these true-crime shows. The characters in Gone Girl, I think, are certainly aware of that trope, too, from the start: Here's this attractive couple that has the added pathos that she's gone missing on her anniversary. From there, it almost seems inevitable that they're going to be in the media cross-hairs.
I think, more and more, the media has become very facile; we get the coverage we deserve. I tune into these shows too, and I think that idea of packaging ourselves as a personality is something that Gone Girl plays with throughout. Nick and Amy play these sort of persona roles for each other in the early days, and the media then comes in and immediately wants to cast one person as America's Sweetheart and her husband as the villain. We put that lens on them because that's what we do, and that's what's expected. You can only cover so much truth in that 15 second sound-bite. You can only project so much information when all you have is footage of a guy walking from his car to his house.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

'Light' in novel title adds shimmer and mystery -- please add to the list

There's a shimmery quality to novels with the word "Light" in the title.

The title of Anthony Doerr's recent, "All the Light We Cannot See," a World War II love story, captured my imagination and ran through my head for weeks after its stunning debut.

I look forward to North Carolinian David Joy's 2015 novel with another mysterious title: "Where All Light Tends to Go." Where does all light tend to go?

A few more titles of novels with the word Light:

1. "Light in August," William Faulkner's 1932 novel,
the 7th of his 19, sometimes called his Great American Novel.

2. "The Light in the Piazza," Chapel Hill resident Elizabeth Spencer's 1960 novella about a mother and daughter on a lark-turns-dark vacation in Italy. Later made into a 1962 film.

3. "Light Years," James Salter's 1975 portrait of a marriage, hailed as his masterpiece.

4. "How the Light Gets In," Louise Penny's 2013 novel, the ninth in a series starring inspector Armand Gamache, is a counterpoint to David Joy's title. (Penny's title is from Leonard Cohen's "Anthem" -- "There's a crack in everything / that's how the light gets in."

5. "The Light and the Dark," by Russia's most celebrated writer Mikhail Shishkin, is a series of letters between a man at war and a woman on the home front.

6. "Claire of the Sea Light," by Edwidge Danticat, is narrated by a 7-year-old Haitian girl whose mother dies giving birth to her.

7. "The Light Between Oceans," a 2013 debut novel by London lawyer M.L. Stedman, is about a childless couple in an Australian outpost.

8. "Mirror and the Light" is Hilary Mantel's sequel to "Wolf Hall" and "Bringing up the Bodies," due in 2015.
So tell me: What titles have I overlooked?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Joseph Bathanti reflects on his years as our state's Poet Laureate

Rumor has it that Gov. Pat McCrory will be announcing the state's new Poet Laureate next week. So I asked the amazing Joseph Bathanti about his recent laureateship. Bathanti, as most of you know, is a poet, novelist and memoirist and was recently awarded the prestigious Roanoke-Chowan Award for his 2014 poetry collection, "Concertina." 

What did you enjoy most about being Poet Laureate?

I especially loved getting in the car and scouring North Carolina. I had made these criss-crossing treks across the state, with some intensity, back when I was in the astonishing, one-of-a-kind North Carolina Visiting Artists Program in 1985-87, and in 1998-90, so I found it invigorating to tour the state again and see, up close, not only what a beautiful piece of geography North Carolina is -- from proverbial Murphy to Manteo -- but also the rich diversity of cultures and people and sensibilities across the state. I'm habitually in the larger metropolitan areas of our state, which I love visiting, but I found so romantic, so enthralling, all those little places it was my great privilege to visit as Poet Laureate. The surprises those places and communities everywhere -- large and small -- yielded are truly the kinds of materials writers dream of stumbling upon. It was my humble version of "On the Road." What's more, instead of having Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady) riding shotgun, I was so much luckier than Sal Paradise (Jack Kerouac). I was accompanied by the Muse Laureate, my wife Joan. What's more, we were welcomed so graciously, so affectionately, by the citizens in every community we visited.

What surprised you during your tenure?

The biggest surprise was, I suppose, what I already knew; but I was nevertheless surprised by what I have always found so amazing about writing and literature in North Carolina. As Poet Laureate, I officially visited 45 of our state's 100 counties (a number of them more than once) -- though I traveled and stopped in so many other counties along my route. No matter where I went, the big places and the small places, I found poets; novelists; playwrights; essayists, genealogists; historians; and dedicated, often pathological, readers -- in libraries, schools, shelters, hospitals, you-name-it. People enthralled with the places they lived, people tithed to the land, or the architecture, or the history of their various towns and counties. North Carolina is indeed the best place in the country to be a writer and reader.

What advice do you have for the next Laureate?

The new Laureate will show up with his or her own agenda and undoubtedly the talent and wherewithal to put into a play a brand new agenda. About that I'm completely confident. I would hope the new Laureate spends a great deal of time in schools K-12, cheerleading and not only for the children, but for those embattled, dedicated, hard-working teachers. Teachers across our state ensure that the word endures, that kids learn not only to read and write, but to develop hearts and souls around their own inimitable stories. And, above all, I would encourage the new Poet Laureate to have fun.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

'Dixie Dew' author Ruth Moose on UNC-TV 'Book Watch' today at 5 p.m.

'Doing It at the Dixie Dew' is one of the catchiest titles of 2014, and the praise goes to former Charlottean Ruth Moose, an Albemarle native who lives in Fearrington Village near Pittsboro.

You can hear her this afternoon at 5 on D.G. Martin's "Book Watch" (UNC-TV.) She'll tell you how she first wrote this cozy mystery and entered it into a contest. She didn't win, but she got good advice from one of the contest judges.And unlike many other writers, Moose has the perseverance of a hound dog. She re-wrote the mystery and years later re-entered the Malice Domestic Competition for Best First Traditional Mystery contest with her  revised manuscript. This time, she won, and her prize was publication and a nice check.

Novelist Lee Smith calls "Dixie Dew" a "fast-paced romp through small-town (Southern) society -- mayhem and maybe even murder lurk behind those frilly lace curtains at the Dixie Dew B&B. This entertaining novel is just as rich and delicious as inn keeper Beth McKenzie's lemon creme cake."   

Moose, who taught for 15 years in the creative program at UNC Chapel Hill, is now writing a sequel to "Dixie Dew."

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ron Rash Reads at Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby on Friday

I recently interviewed Ron Rash, and I asked him what three contemporary short stories he would recommend to folks wanting to read the very best in short fiction. (Of course, he was too modest to name his own, but I would say pick any of his recent stories in "Something Rich and Strange.")
Here are his recommendations:

William Trevor's "The Distant Past"
Edna O'Brien's "The Connor Girls"
Alice Munro's "Corrie"

You can ask Rash for recommendations yourself if you attend his reading on Friday at the Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby where he'll read from this latest collection, "Something Rich and Strange" and autograph your book.

Ron Rash Reads: 5-7 p.m., Friday at the Earl Scruggs Center, 103 S. LaFayette St., Shelby. 
Free program but registration is recommended: 704-487-6233.