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Ron Charles on new job (kind of) and new books (definitely)

Ron Charles on new job (kind of) and new books (definitely)

I returned from a two-week vacation to a redefined job here at The Washington Post: No more editing! From now on, I just get to write about books for the paper. After assigning and editing reviews every day for more than 20 years, I feel like that old tiger finally released from his cage who just keeps walking back and forth where the bars used to be. ... Friends tell me I'll get the hang of it. But one of the immediate benefits of my newish job has been more time to read. (BEGIN ITAL)Much more(END ITAL). This week, I was even able to read a couple of books that I decided not to review. (Such a luxury!) The first was "Early Work" (FSG, July 10), by Andrew Martin. It's a mildly amusing story about a lazy, dissipated young writer who drinks a lot, cheats on his hard-working girlfriend and doesn't do much writing. Ultimately, I wasn't convinced that we needed another novel like this one - or that I had anything interesting to say about it, which, admittedly, is more a reviewer's problem than a reader's concern. (Still, Adelle Waldman's 2013 novel, "The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.," is a sharper and wittier treatment of this subject.) The other debut novel I read and passed on was "Ghosted" (Pamela Dorman, July 24), a romantic thriller by Rosie Walsh. This Book of the Month Club selection is about a woman who falls head over heels in love with the perfect guy, who then - (BEGIN ITAL)poof! - (END ITAL)vanishes. I had expected the story to be about "ghosting," the cruel social practice of cutting off former friends and lovers with no explanation. But Walsh's story is really about culpability, grief and forgiveness - worthy subjects, to be sure - though I found the novel overwritten and melodramatic. So now I'm reading Kate Christensen's "The Last Cruise" (Doubleday, July 10), R.O. Kwon's "The Incendiaries" (Riverhead, July 31) and Maria Dahvana Headley's "The Mere Wife" (MCD, July 17), a modern-day retelling of "Beowulf" set in an American suburb (which gave me an excuse to reread Seamus Heaney's terrific 1999 translation and watch a bizarre 2007 animated version written by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, starring Angelina Jolie as the least convincing incarnation of Grendel's mother). Stay-tuned for full reviews of these novels later in July. Anne Tyler's 22nd novel, "Clock Dance" (Knopf, July 10), is B&N's next book club pick. I generally adore Tyler's work, but I wasn't so impressed by this one, which seems minor and derivative. The New York Times recently posted a profile of Tyler, which suggests the same thing, though in far gentler terms. Once again, "The President Is Missing," by Bill Clinton and James Patterson, tops our fiction best-seller list, with more than 50,000 copies sold in hardback last week. Maureen Corrigan, one of the most entertaining (and knowledgeable) experts on thrillers and mysteries, calls it "a pure page-turner." And Tom Beer, the books editor at Newsday, lists "The President Is Missing" as the No. 1 book to read this summer. (I thought it was alternately silly and dull, though I was fascinated by its window on the former president's fantasy version of himself.) Reading around in literary journals this week, I enjoyed a fiery essay by Jason Linkins in The Baffler about how the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the media's incompetent coverage of the group damaged American journalism and seeded the field for Trump's daily assaults on reality. (Some of my former and current colleagues are mentioned in this piece, not always positively.) And the Virginia Quarterly Review has just published a fantastic summer fiction issue. I was particularly struck by Elliott Holt's "Geometry," a sharp tale of sex and sibling rivalry. If you've got any recommendations or comments, I'd love to hear them. After all, nowadays, I'm just sitting around reading.

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