Parnassus Books

Jon Ronson to Read at Parnassus April 14

shamedThis is the moment I’ve been waiting for all year. Parnassus Books announced today that they will welcome author Jon Ronson for a reading on April 14 at 6:30. Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed will be released tomorrow, March 31, and I can’t wait.

Everyone was re-posting this NYT Magazine piece Ronson published in February that’s an excerpt from the new book. The piece is about Justine Sacco, a woman whose life was literally ruined after she posted the kind of racist tweet that a lot of white people think is too ironic to be racist. Sacco got off a plane to find her life in shambles. Ronson identifies himself as a shamer and gets inside the shame spiral that many observe from the outside. But public shaming wasn’t invented with the Internet, of course, and I’m hoping the new book will examine how it has been enacted in other times and cultures and what it does to shamers psychologically. (FYI, I just shamed a stranger on Twitter for being racist. I shamed another stranger on Facebook five hours ago for supporting the Indiana Religious Bullshit bill. I will probably shame again before bed. What is it about exercising moral superiority that is so goddamn gratifying? And how close is this to Ronson’s research for The Psychopath Test?)

Ronson has a way of diving into a subject and letting it lead him. It might take him to a Bilderberg meeting, on a road trip with a terse Northern Ireland politician, or into the open arms of many (possible) psychopaths. He follows the story and the people he meets in often riotous escapades that leave us simply enamored with the human race, even as it disappoints us. He relays these experiences through sharp journalistic prose that’s infused with his curiosity and wry wit. Ronson is a perfectly delightful writer.

If you’ve never been a fan of audio books, he will change your mind. He reads The Psychopath Test, Them: Adventures with Extremists, Lost at Sea, and Frank. (I’m hoping he does The Men Who Stare at Goats because that narrator is horrible.) Hearing Ronson read his work is such a treat. He’s a hoot to follow on Twitter and his blog sometimes follows up with people we get to know in his books. Get there early and buy his book. Hell, but ALL his books.

Here he is on the Daily Show the other day talking about So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.

Parnassus is located at 3900 Hillsboro Pike in the Hillsboro Plaza Shopping Center.

John Darnielle Reads to a Packed House at Parnassus

John Darnielle reads at Parnassus Books.

John Darnielle reads at Parnassus Books.

By my count, over 150 people packed into Parnassus books Thursday evening for a reading of Wolf in White Van, a new novel by Mountain Goats leading man John Darnielle. I’ve only read the first chapter, having just bought it, but I’m already hooked on the narrative voice that is both inviting and lonesome–a characterization that I suspect will apply to the protagonist, Sean Phillips, as well.

Here’s what I gather from the reading: the narrator, Sean, who was disfigured in his youth, creates a correspondence role playing game that blurs the edges of fiction into the landscape of his isolated reality. The game is successful on different levels–in popularity and in the solace it provides Sean. But the confluence of fantasy and reality doesn’t stop in the imagination of its creator. It becomes real to two of its players, with dire consequences.

I’ll issue a brief disclaimer: I’m not familiar with Darnielle as a musician. Perhaps because of it, I didn’t have high expectations. I find a lot of contemporary prose to be self-congratulatory, repeating its best phrases and metaphors until they lose their significance and sacrificing complexity for style. Darnielle read from two sections of the book. While it’s usually quite difficult to follow a reading that begins in the middle of a novel and is not preceded by an introduction, I found myself quite drawn into the prose. Sometimes tangential, it occupies the whole of Sean Phillips’ mind, but not at the expense of the plot. Darnielle knows how to withhold information and how to dole out the lines that make you pause.

In the Q&A that followed his reading, he showed an ease interacting with the audience that reminded me that he’s used to being in front of a crowd. Admitting that “being a writer was my first real dream,” Darneille shared that he was “freaked out” when he received the news that Wolf in White Van is on the long list for the National Book Award. Based on the questions asked, fans seemed to want to draw a connection between Darnielle the songwriter and Darnielle the novel writer, but the artist said that he puts up walls between the two: “I want the two things to be discreet,” he said. It’s interesting that he wrote the last chapter first and then worked backwards to figure out how it got to that place. “The book is a tracing back to a moment,” he said, “which is something I do a lot.” When writing songs, the artist said he always works from beginning to end. Where a finishing a song packs an “immediate punch,” writing a novel is more like sculpting, he said.

Wolf in White Van is already receiving rave reviews. All 17 copies have been checked out at the Nashville Public Library, and 16 more have been ordered. Read an excerpt published in Vice. Listen to his intense interview with Mark Maron on WTF.