Between traveling, plunging into a lot of writing by students in my classes, and trying to do at least a little of my own writing, my reading has been haphazard at best this fall. Still, sometimes that’s the most fun. One thing I picked up over the summer and only got to a couple of weeks ago was MY BRILLIANT CAREER by the Australian feminist, Miles Franklin. She published this in 1901, having written it when she was just sixteen or seventeen. It is wonderfully scattered and mercurial: sensually alive, changeable, and enthusiastically despairing. I kept wanting to give her a big hug. The character is endlessly saying outrageous things, stumbling when she doesn’t have to, getting in scrapes, refusing to take what is offered to her. I also was fascinated by the inside look at rural 19th century Australia: lots of practical jokes and casual racism. I recently read Jared Diamond’s COLLAPSE, which includes a section on the misuse of the thin Australian soil by the settlers, and the lives of the farmers and itinerant workers here sheds light on that. All this, of course, ignores the people who were there first. It’s a worthy little book, and in spite of all the Sybylla’s troubles, full of energy.
I also pulled an American classic of my shelf, after hearing it discussed in a taped lecture on literature and the law (from The Teaching Company ). Nathaniel Hawthorne’s THE SCARLET LETTER is a vivid tale, and Hawthorne was a quintessential teller, not a shower. That is to say, for all the drama in the novel, much of it is narrated like a fairy tale. The relationship of Roger Chillingworth and Arthur Dimmesdale is told in evocative prose that never quite demonstrates how the revenge-seeking Chillingworth actually works his way into Dimmesdale’s heart. It is made very clear that Chillingworth is making his enemy ill, but you never see it happening directly. Little Pearl, on the other hand– the fruit of the Adultery that Hester Prynne wears symbolized on her dress– has her actions and words dramatized thoroughly and well: she is an interesting little character, treated with some sentimentality but also with an astringent other-worldliness. The indirection often works brilliantly, too: it is never exactly said what Arthur has been doing to his “breast.” The horror is left to our imagination– although we have a pretty definite idea that it’s some kind of capital “A” in blood. I was gripped by the story, and this time I understood how Hester actually becomes a mature and constructive woman out of all this, while Arthur’s pride in his place and skills dooms him. You have to wonder, though, whoever thought this is a book that ought to be taught in American high schools.
Then I read THE UNTOUCHABLE by John Banville. Banville has that enviable British conviction that words and fiction still matter deeply. Pat Barker and Sarah Water, whose work I also like a lot, have the same assumption– that the novel is the best lens for getting a clear understanding of the world. I believe it too, but I’m not sure most American readers and writers do: we people being artists, and we have lots of members of the cult of originality. We certainly have great literary entertainers, and we have people with raw and gripping stories to tell. But Banville offers the complete experience, lots of scenes, lots of words, lots of action, and lots of rumination. Victor Maskell is part of the Oxbridge spy rings of the twentieth century, and however factual it is, it feels very real. The secret gay sex stuff is well done and since I believe Banville is a hetero himself, the depiction of the illicit illegal upper class British homo-sex is something of a tour de force. Some of my favorite characters were the ones with a touch of mystery about them like Victor’s wife Vivienne and the “handlers” from Russia and Europe. I’m looking forward to reading more of his work.
Finally, a novel that just blew me away with its poignancy. I liked Kaszuo Ishiguro’s REMAINS OF THE DAY, but this one, NEVER LET ME GO, the one set in an alternative world where clones are raised for organ donations, is one of the saddest stories I’ve ever read. You keep wanting to say to the characters, Leave! Run away! Rebel! But they accept who they are with the same complete belief that we have about knowing we will die someday. You could say that it’s different, we really do have to die, but the point is that these young people think it is also a fact that their time will come for their “donations,” and that too is a fact. I suppose this is what makes it all so sad– we may not have been raised to be body parts, but we won’t get out of this alive either. The science fiction part isn’t worked out in any great detail (who finances their lives as young adults, who runs things and sends them their “donation” notices, how they are cared for as infants). Probably the weakest part of the whole novel– maybe the only weak part– is also the most explicit part, which is when one of the people who ran the school for the children, Miss Emily, makes a speech from her wheelchair about her motivations in running their school. I guess I would have been disappointed if there hadn’t been even this partial explanation, but it feels alien and unlike the rest of the book. Maybe that’s the point? To make the protagonists finally know there is nothing outside for them? Anyhow, a wonderful book.
P.S. Scarlet Letter image is of the 1926 film directed by Victor Sjöström with Lillian Gish as Hester Prynne
CONGRATULATIONS TO US
Carol Brodtrick writes to say, “Penning 100 newsletters merits a good bit of admiration and respect, plus, your newsletters have given this reader/writer a trunkful of book suggestions I might never have uncovered. I look forward to newsletter #101, and hope you reach #200 and beyond. Congratulations, and thanks.”
Cat Pleska writes: “Congratulations to you on your one hundreth newsletter! I enjoy reading it and thank you for providing interesting topics and inviting us to discuss. I must get back to updating my blog--it's been a busy, busy summer. I did hear today from someone in Austrailia writing to say he enjoyed my blog on Loretta Lynn's home place (http://www.rednecromancer.typepad.com/mouth_of_the_holler/). He says that where he lives in Victoria is very similar to Appalachia. He loves all things bluegrass and has been to eastern KY twice. It's always fun hearing from people about something you've written about. I can imagine that has been quite satisfying to you to correspond with your readers through your newsletter. Keep up the good work. I'll keep tuning in!”
MORE ON THE POISONWOOD BIBLE
Norman Julian writes to say, “I read THE POISONWOOD BIBLE a couple of years ago and that established [Kingsolver] at the forefront of American novelists I like. Wondering, has she published anything since? I feel she may be hard at work on another good one - at least I hope so.”
Fran Osten suggests, “A good companion piece to POISONWOOD BIBLE is KING LEOPOLD'S GHOST, by Adam Hochschild, which came out about the same time as POISONWOOD BIBLE and is a non-fiction horror tale of events in the Congo. On another note, or perhaps a segue on the issues of cultural misunderstanding/understanding. I have been seeking out books on the immigrant experience recently, with all the issues around our current immigration policy and thinking about my own parents and the experience of my Kenyan son-in-law......the nuances, the misunderstandings, all the losses and gains in the immigration experience and the struggle to make a place your own. I really enjoyed Wayson Choy's novel, ALL THAT MATTERS, about a Chinese family in Vancouver in the 1930's and 40's. It is a sequel to THE JADE PEONY, which I still want to read.”
“Looking for a memoir about teaching to teach this semester,” writes Ingrid Hughes, “I came across TEACHER: THE ONE WHO MADE THE DIFFERENCE, a high school memoir by Mark Edmundson, a scholar with a reputation for literary and cultural criticism. It’s a terrific description of the people in his life, and the culture of his high school during his senior year in the working class suburb of Boston, Medford in 1969. It focuses especially on one teacher, Franklin Lears, whom he credits with turning him from a jock, a thoughtless supporter of the Vietnam War, and a weak student at a weak school, into a reader and thinker. The writing is good, the characters memorable.”
From Carol Brodtrick: “I want to tell you about a book I just found at the library and loved reading. It's called LAST DAYS OF SUMMER, written by Steve Kluger. It was first published in 1998, and if it made a splash when it came out, I was unaware of it. The 1940's story is that of twelve-year old Joseph Charles Margolis, the only Jewish kid living in an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn, whose bedroom overlooks Ebbets Field, home of the hated Brooklyn Dodgers. Yes, it's about baseball, and Joey's love for the NY Giants, but it's not about a game. It's about relationships; a father who divorced his family, a gentile third baseman who learns to love this kid in spite of himself, a mother, an aunt, a teacher and a principal who care, a Rabbi who bends, an interested psychologist, and even FDR, President of the United States. This book is for adults, and is that rare mixture of humor, pathos, and contradictions of human nature that has you laughing one second and crying the next. It's a bit of history, too, about the war years, and a delightful read.”
John Birch recommends a book for writers. He says, “Sol Stein, author of nine novels, publisher, teacher and editor (he’s edited the work of James Baldwin, Jack Higgins, Lionel Trilling, W.H.Auden and Dylan Tomas), knows more than a thing or two about writing fiction. His 320-page book STEIN ON WRITING (ISBN 0312136080) has invaluable advice on every aspect of writing a novel.”
The NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW gave a good review to West Virginia novelist Ann Pancake’s BURIED ALIVE.
Grace Paley’s Glad Day Books is reissuing EDGES: O ISRAEL O PALESTINE by Leora Skolkin-Smith. After selling out of two successive print runs, Leora Skolkin-Smith’s intoxicating novel about a young girl’s personal and political discovery in 1960’s Israel and Palestine is being re-released in a new edition by Glad Day Books. This new incarnation will include the author’s afterword and dedication to her mentor, Publisher and Editor of Glad Day Books, Grace Paley.
(Image to the left is of Grace Paley)
NEBRASKA PRESENCE, a new anthology from The Backwaters Press, is now out, and Marilyn Coffey is one of dozens of poets included.
Nathan Leslie's sixth book of short fiction, MADRE, has just been published by Main Street Rag Books. Visit Main Street Rag for more information on this collection.
Bob Heman reports that some of his "information" series of prose poems just went up on the site of a new e-mag called Clockwise Cat - if you follow the link below you can find them at: http://clockwisecat.blogspot.com/2007/09/five-poems-by-bob-heman.html
Also recently, a group of 20 information pieces titled "Recent Information" was published as a special issue of Joel Dailey's long running New Orleans magazine FELL SWOOP
Theodore Rutkowski has a new prose poetry chapbook from BoneWorld Publishing, 3700 County Route 24, Russell, NY 13684. $6.
Send one or two unpublished poems celebrating William Carlos Williams and North Jersey, no longer than two manuscript pages, to Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Executive Director, Poetry Center, Passaic County Community College, One College Boulevard, Paterson, New Jersey 07505-1179 or see www.pccc.edu/poetry Poems should have something to do with North Jersey and be written in the poets own style and not imitate the poetry of William Carlos Williams. Send two copies of each poem, one with and one without contact information. DEADLINE January 1, 2008. Include short third-person bio.
ONLINE GROUPS AND CLASSES
Do you want a poetry workshop without leaving home? Try try Neopoet! at www.neopoet.com, an online poetry workshop and community where you can meet poets from around the world, share critiques, and improve as a poet. Neopoet hosts a monthly newsletter, frequent contests, and an active forum.
"Finishing Touches" will begin on Monday evening, Nov. 5, at the Writer's Voice of the West Side YMCA. The course will encourage writers of fiction and creative nonfiction to complete works in progress. Substantial class time will be provided for individual critiques. Eight meetings. Open to all. Almost free for YMCA members. Contact Glenn Raucher at 212 875-4124, or email@example.com.
Bob Heman’s next CLWN WR reading will be Thursday, November 8, 7-10 pm, once again at the SAFE-T Gallery in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn, featuring John M. Bennett (from Columbus, Ohio), Craig Czury (from Reading, Pennsylvania), and Brooklyn's own Elizabeth Smith - along with "special guests" Sheila E. Murphy (from Phoenix, Arizona), Jean Lehrman, Nathan Whiting, Liza Wolsky and a few others yet to be announced - so mark it on your calendar.
Thaddeus Rutkowski will be reading November 9, Friday, 7 p.m., Memoir Reading, Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, 980 Briarcliff Road N.E., Atlanta, Info: firstname.lastname@example.org ; November 17, Saturday, 8 p.m. Berlin Poetry Hearings. Salon Rosa, Sophienstrasse 18, Berlin-Mitte, Germany. www.myspace.com/poetryhearings ; November 28, Wednesday, evening. Green Pavilion Restaurant, 4307 18th Ave., Brooklyn (F train to 18th Avenue); December 10, Monday, 7 p.m.; his story "Before the Move" will be read by an actor in Writing Aloud. InterAct Theater, 2030 Sansom St., Philadelphia. www.interacttheatre.org; January 4, 2008, Friday, 9:30-11:30 p.m.; Panel discussion: "Polish American Writing: From Polish Tradition to the American Identity." Polish American Historical Association, Washington, D.C.
Fall 2007 issue of theBLRnow available in bookstores, by subscription,
or at www.BLReview.org . It is published by NYU's Department of Medicine twice a
Phyllis Moore draws our attention to SURREAL SOUTH, twenty-seven stories and poems edited by Laura & Pinckney Benedict. It contains work by, among many others, Ann Pancake, Chris Offutt, Joyce Carol Oates, Laura Benedict, Lee K. Abbott, Robert Olen Butler, and Ron Rash.
Newsletter # 102
December 9. 2007
I write often about how many good books are going unpublished, unpublicized and thus unpurchased and unread. I probably don’t always praise highly enough the books that are getting published. My most recent discovery– hardly much of a discovery, since the Portuguese author won the Nobel Prize for Literature in the late 90's– is BLINDNESS by José Saramago. I’ve read a couple of Saramago’s books in the past, and am particularly fond of BALTAZAR AND BLIMUNDA. This novel falls in the general category of speculative fiction, which means that it’s a novel set more or less in this world we live in, but some premise is put forth that is not actually happening, as far as we know. Generally, speculative fiction is less full of magic and myth than, say, Magical Realism, but on a continuum would be tucked in near Magical Realism. I wrote recently about NEVER LET ME GO, also probably speculative fiction as well as high literature. In BLINDNESS the premise is that a mysterious disease is suddenly, catastrophically, making the entire population of a city go blind. There is apparently one exception.
As the disease strikes rapidly but not simultaneously, the early cases are quarantined in a deserted mental hospital, where blind thugs take over the food distribution and everyone defecates wherever they feel like it– after all, no one can see. The prominence of feces in this novel is particularly striking: wherever people walk, it is underfoot, and the smell assaults everyone all the time. There are some ugly rapes, but they actually lead to a solidarity among the women, whereas the defecation calls up no unity.
It’s a remarkable novel, in a wonderful way a kind of old man’s novel. This is not to suggest that young people wouldn’t get anything out of it, and certainly not to suggest it lacks any vigor or invention. Rather, I mean that where novels by young people often rage between flares of hope and depths of despair, this one moves forward focused sparely on survival, which demands co-operation. The spareness includes not using proper names, for example, and a dry practical conviction about what is likely to happen to people when they don’t have their ususal props and rules. Even the emphasis on the scatological is oddly moving: an elder’s recognition that bodily functions are not to be taken for granted in any way.
I’m still not sure after three books what Saramago gets out his quirky punctuation, which is half page paragraphs with nothing but commas for separation. Speakers run from one into the next in a polyphony that is remarkable among other things for how quickly you get used to it. Saramago is famously a leftist, of course, and this is a group novel. The one person who can see has a great deal of strength and kindness, but it is clear that she is no different from the others, except that she can see. There is no hero of supreme egotism and daring. There is enormous individuation and plenty of human dignity, and even some heroic actions , but it is all shared among many, which is, when you think about it, how the real world is.
So I recommend this book highly, in spite of how intimidating the pages look. You find yourself loving the girl with sunglasses; the first blind man; the little boy with a squint; the doctor, the doctor’s wife, and rooting for their tiny, hard-won victories. I’m so glad Saramago is still writing, and that there are more of his books I haven’t read yet.
Many of us are still struggling in and on the fringes of the New York commercial book scene. There are many other literary worlds, however, some regional, some based on regions, ethnic groups, and other affinities. These smaller circles are essential to the richness of literature, to the self-exploration of individuals and groups– plus they produce lots of wonderful things to read that are often never seen by wider audiences. One such circle I know a little is the northern West Virginia writing community that centers around Morgantown, the home of West Virginia University. I’m not speaking here, however, of the Univeristy’s writing programs and internationally known literary artists, but rather the people who socialize, read, and sing in small groups or at local bars. Sometimes they work in groups, sometimes all alone. George Lies’s obituary of one of these writers, Joe Gratski, is at the bottom of this page.
MORE ON ISHIGURO
Rebecca Kavaler writes, “Thanks for reminding me of Ishiguro's wonderful novel, NEVER LET ME GO. Every review at the time, whether misjudging this as science fiction or understanding it as a metaphor for the human condition, used the adjective "disturbing." And disturbing it is to think of how "completion" is inevitably our fate, how we lose one by one our faculties, how we are reduced to hoping for immortality in art (Madame and the Gallery, and yet this does not fully explain the emotional impact of this novel. It is impossible (for me, at least) to weep for the human race--but only for Kathy and Tommy and Ruth, and, attesting to the skill of this writer, weep I did. It was the hopelessness that was so sad. For even the pale satisfaction of surviving in our descendants is denied these childless clones. And how clever of Ishiguro to refuse to explain the workings of this world--making it clear this is not science fiction, merely fiction--of the highest kind.”
MORE RECENT READING
MY LOVE, MY LOVE: OR, THE PEASANT GIRL by Rosa Guy is a tale that charmed me in the end. They made a musical out of it a long time ago. It has voudoun gods and class barriers and a tragic ending, but is also somehow light and delightful: broad emotional storkes, but precise details of landscape, conflcts, fruit.
Noah Lukeman’s A DASH OF STYLE: THE ART AND MASTERY OF PUNCTUATION has some interesting and very quotable passages, but in the end it is a monograph padded into being a book. Each chapter ends with a sort of “Your Personality As Shown Through Your Writing Style.” I don’t recommend paying full price for it, but it’s not a bad work to have around for reference.
Kent Haruf’s justly praised PLAINSONG is big popular book from a couple of years ago that I had meant to read and finally did. It is Midwestern laconic and very touching, managing to be a gripping story without a lot of pyrotechnics. Haruf has a quirk of not using quotation marks and also very few tags or descriptors of how things are said. This seems to work, especially for his particular characters. It also creates a sameness in the voices so that you have a feeling of a large silence even when the people talk. The pattern is landscape and events with his sad but sympathetic characters, and then there will be a few unadorned lines of dialogue. It had a flat quality that was totally inappropriate, but occasionally annoying. There is a lot of white space in the novel anyhow, so there are a couple of scenes that felt like they had too much to me, especially a scene in which two old brothers decide to take a pregnant girl in to live with them. I believe they would do it, but this is one of those cases where I prefer mystery or elision rather than a dramatized scebe. He leaves the mother’s leathing a mystery, so why not also a mystery about this thing? Mostly, though, it’s just a solid, moving story.
I also read ISTANBUL: MEMORIES AND THE CITY by Orhan Pamuk. I wanted to like this more than I did. I adored the black and white photos that Pamuk loves too, and a lot of the thoughts and considerations about the sadness of a post empire-city. The book has a powerful ending and a fair amount of humor, but for some reason, I didn’t really like Orhan the little kid much. This is unusual, as I’m ordinarily a sucker for little kids. But there is some tone in this book that I think is meant to feel hard nosed and unsentimental toward his little self from the past, but it ends up by creating (again, to my taste) an unpleasant little kid. I liked the teenage parts best and the adult mullings. Pamuks’ family didn’t seem very attractive. I don’t know whether the effort to be honest did away with affection or what. But oh those pictures and stories about Istanbul!
Rochelle Ratner has a new book out, SPEAKING IN TONGUES: A STUDY OF PERSONA IN AMERICAN, CANADIAN, AND BRITISH POETRY . This was written back in 1984, a critical study never before published. Now “Galatea Resurrects” will be publishing selected chapters: It examines the work of Bill Knott, Andrei Codrescu, Armand Schwerner, and Jack Spicer as well as the writings of HD, Diane DiPrima, and Margaret Atwood.
Cat Pleska has an interesting online article on West Virginia woodworking in the magazine WONDERFUL WEST VIRGINIA. It is featured on their website, so you can click on the link. At the top, you'll see a photo of a man working on cradles, and the title is "Hearts and Hands at Work." Click on that and it'll take you to the article. Her husband, Dan, is a member of this group and one of the toymakers. See www.wonderfulwv.com .
Chris Grabenstein has a new holiday thriller: HELL FOR THE HOLIDAYS, which PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY says “has a spectacular finish...sure to please his fans." Chris offers autographed bookplates to personalize your gift– Just e-mail Chris at Author@ChrisGrabenstein.com and he'll mail as many as you need back to you!
Roberta Allen has stories coming up in THE BROOKLYN RAIL; THE SAINT ANN’S REVIEW; THE VESTAL REVIEW; KGB Bar Lit Online; the anthology UP IS UP BUT SO IS DOWN; RIVERINE: An Anthology of Hudson Valley Writers; CREATIVE WRITING IN FOUR GENRES; and GARGOYLE MAGAZINE.
Here is the latest issue of WORDRIOT at http://www.wordriot.org
In this month's issue: Fiction by Chuck Augello, Randall Brown, Lawrence Buentello, Andrew Coburn, Maria Deira, David Gianatasio, Drew Lackovic, Mathias Nelson, John Nyman, Mitch Omar, Nick Ostdick, Philip Oyok, Sean Ruane and Corey Zeller plus poetry and more.
WEST VIRGINIA LOST ANOTHER WRITER.
By George Lies
Poet Joe Gatski, a mountain wanderer, ginseng and mushroom hunter, a man with a bow and arrow, and more - a minstrel, and songwriter-singer.He passed away in his apartment last night. He was born on April 5, 1956 in Fairmont. West Virginia.
He had just visited me this past Sunday, coming in through the backyard, asking, *Am I welcome? I*ll just take the coffee black and a little sugar. Can you get me some copies of *Promontory** that you published. I need a sample or two for the road. I thank you much.*
He left. He was wearing two different gloves, two different boots, a back pack (his Bowie knife likely inside) - most of his friends would recognize him like that . . . and knew that he could strum a tune and narrate poetry, filled with lore and history and guts. He knew the mountains, the patches of ginseng and where to hide his cache.
We met many years ago, in a place called, Flo*s Diner, in Morgantown, which served pancakes. We drank Detroit wide-mouth beers. He seemed odd at that time. He had picked me, I thought. We lasted in spite of rough spots for a long time. He left me a bamboo flute that he had carved, and a backyard patch of bamboo, and one painting, which I call, *Almost Spring.*
On that last day, he said he had venison and that he*d come over next week, and cook again at the house for Lucia and me. I laughed, since I*m still waiting for smoke to clear from the last time he cooked in our kitchen. But I know I*ll always wake up when I hear a quiet
tap, tap, tap . . . knocking at my back door. . . Am I welcome . . . ?
* *Promontory* was his collection of poetry, which I helped him with, but he had other chapbooks, like *Annie*s Stick* which other writers, like Greg Leatherman and Candace Jordan, helped produce. He also had a CD with some 20 songs. I*ve given copies of his poetry to scores of international visitors I have welcomed to WV over the years, and *Promontory* is now in place at various locations in Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Canada, Italy, Mali, Japan, China, and other places in between..
I pasted two of his poems below from *The Highlands Voice*, Feb. 5, 2005, published by the WV Highlands Conservancy. His words almost seem to suggest that he*s on another road now, ready and packing for the end of the trail . . .
By Joe Gatski
a many rough wilderness
I may travel
I know that somewhere,
at the end of the trail,
there are folks who will welcome me with kindness and grace.
Wine is on the table
and the parlor is filled with song.
In the kitchen the women are eagerly preparing
to serve up warm helpings of love.
By Joe Gatski
Up the valley
through the rain shadow
climbing reaching sky
features finely cut
in white stone of medina sand
with all but one of seven suitors left
see now, how proudly she stands
for tonight the stars are her crown
Joe Gatski, a West Virginia Highlands Conservancy member wrote this comment, upon submission of his poetry - “I am a firm believer in your cause. Here is a poem I have written that I hope you may enjoy. Hearthstone is about the Allegheny Mountains, the land and its people. Snowbird is about the legend of princess snowbird and her famous climb up Seneca rocks.”
Joe Gatski attended High School in Grafton, WV. He was an avid outdoorsman and spent a lot of time in the Appalachian Mountains. His activities were hunting, fishing, canoeing, horseback riding, gathering and growing wild herbs, edible plants and mushrooms. He was also an artist, singer-songwriter, and musician.
This issue has a guest editor, Shelley Ettinger, who calls her piece a “ranting spew” that was prompted by the NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW’s 2007 best books picks. This, says Shelley, got her “stewing over the general awfulness of the NYTBR, which is unsurprising but still continually frustrating to me since this weekly rag is one of the few places I know of to hear about new books.” Well, I always enjoy what Shelley calls her rants. She has a distinct political point of view, but she also reads vastly more than I do. –MSW
BEST BOOKS OF 2007:
BY GUEST EDITOR SHELLEY ETTINGER
A few years ago when THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW hired a new editor, Sam Tanenhaus, to much acclaim, I knew things were going to go from bad to worse. The guy’s resumé had highlights like service at the NATIONAL REVIEW, the ultra-reactionary magazine founded by William F. Buckley. And sure enough, he hasn’t disappointed. In fact, last week he made it explicit; in an interview, he spoke of his vision of the NYBTR as a “conservative” literary voice.
You can see it partly in their choice of reviewers, who regularly include right-wing commentators chosen to skewer progressive books, but mostly in their choice of which books they review. The particular trend that I find most interesting is which fiction writers from other countries, in particular the Third World, they champion. With few exceptions, it’s those whose work tells stories that highlight government corruption, inter-group violence, patriarchal excess and so on, without putting these stories in the context of the European colonialism and U.S./European neocolonialism that, as Walter Rodney so memorably phrased it, “underdeveloped” Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Or it’s anticommunist fiction that tells tales of the supposed horrors of People’s China or the USSR or revolutionary Cuba. The irony here, of course, is that it is gospel in the U.S. that good literature cannot be political, when in fact the books that the NYBTR and other such organs champion are for the most part extremely political; it’s just that their politics jibe with those of the U.S. bourgeois class. No surprise there. As Marx long ago pointed out, the culture of any country is determined by its ruling class. In this country, they do their darnedest to mask this, and probably many commentators and critics don’t even realize how thoroughly imbued with bourgeois ideology their work is, but there is a thoroughgoing chokehold in force here perhaps more than anywhere else.
For example, one of the “classics” that I’ve read in recent years (I’ll get to this nutty quest of mine in a minute) is HOWARD’S END by E.M. Forster. This is the novel that includes the famous exhortation “Only connect,” which you’ll find quoted all over the place, especially in literary commentary. It is pointed to as a sweet, pithy call to human beings to connect with each other emotionally and socially, to touch, to love, to be vulnerable, to communicate and so on. I was shocked when I came upon it in its actual context in the book, because, by my read, at least, this is not what it means at all. It is spoken scoldingly by one prosperous but progressive-minded character to another, and it is a remonstrance that they, the well-off, have a moral obligation not to shut their eyes to the world around them and the reality of the terrible conditions in which most people live, to recognize that there are poor people all around them, and, most of all– and here’s where the “connect” comes in– to see that what people of their class do has a direct, concrete, material effect on the lives of the working class. Only connect, that is, only connect your decision to lay off workers or close a factory or sell stock with this fellow’s unpleasantly raggedy clothes, that woman’s skeletal, screaming baby, this child’s dirty face and dull eyes.
Whether the misreading of “only connect” is conscious and purposeful or not, it certainly works for the literary establishment, and I include here both outright reactionaries like Tanenhaus and those of a more liberal bent.
So. Anyway. Fuming and grunting, I read through the NYTBR’s list of 2007’s best books. Of the novels I’ve read, there’s Thomas Mallon’s FELLOW TRAVELERS, which can only have been chosen for its liberal anticommunism embedded in its homophile critique of 1950s McCarthyite excess, because the writing is clunky and pedestrian to say the least.
I’m mystified by the acclaim for THEN WE CAME TO THE END by Joshua Ferris. It’s not a bad book, but definitely not a great one. And, as a longtime clerical worker, once I read it I had a bitter little laugh about its hype as a book about workers in offices; it is a book about people who work in offices, but not workers – the characters are marketing executives, that is, middle-class salaried employees, not wage workers. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t have some interesting things to say about offices, and the horrors of the salaried life; it does have some nice moments, and the writing is okay, I just didn’t find it especially memorable, and it definitely didn’t reflect anything about the work life I know.
REMAINDER by Tom McCarthy? Oh. My. God. This is a weird book, and I liked its weirdness, but really that’s all it has going for it. I can’t provide a one- or two-sentence description of the plot because its oddness precludes that, so I’ll just say that I found it ultimately to be profoundly anti-social, repugnant in fact; I’m guessing that its appeal for the NYTBR is its overlay of alienation and hopelessness.
What to say about Roberto Bolaño’s THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES and the wild enthusiasm it’s garnered since finally being published in English? I came to this one with great excitement since the author was a Chilean exile of the Pinochet years and supposedly some sort of leftist, but I had to force myself to keep reading all through its 576 pages, hoping throughout that it would take some turn, provide some spark of characterization, plot, or political insight that would enliven the plod and justify the read, but no it did not happen. I keep meaning to ask some of our Chilean friends, actual revolutionaries– including one who the U.S. government is now trying to deport back to Chile after he’s lived here since fleeing in 1973– what their take on Bolaño is, but until I get their perspective I’m left to conclude that this is yet another case of the U.S. literary establishment championing a foreign-language author who is safe (and in this case safely dead), non-threatening, with a “radical” patina covering decidedly unradical content.
Miraculously, I did like four of the NYTBR’s 2007 picks. THE INDIAN CLERK by David Leavitt, an always very fine writer, about the early-20th-century Indian mathematics genius Ramanujan and his British sponsor Hardy; the book is a subtle and moving examination that does, in my opinion, incorporate the context of their relationship – the context, that is, of colonialism, gay oppression, racism and class – effectively.
I was blown away by Mohsin Hamid’s searing indictment of the U.S. in THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST, which tells the story of a middle-class Pakistani Princeton graduate and high-rolling Wall Street up-and-comer who is confronted with the moral and political contradictions of the work he’s being groomed for and makes another choice. MAN GONE DOWN by Michael Thomas is a bitter, clear-eyed story about being a Black man in this country, in this case a writer trying to survive, keep his family together, keep his wits about him, keep out of jail, keep a roof over his head, and somehow keep writing. This book was not, for me at least, a fast or easy read. It is in a certain way old-fashioned, with its many digressions of plot and social commentary. All of which I appreciated, and made it that much more remarkable that it got published.
Finally, there’s THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO by the brilliant, extravagantly talented Junot Diaz. This is an amazing, virtuoso novel that weaves together so much historical and political material with such a gripping story and unforgettable protagonist, all through the most stunningly original language imaginable, that it left me breathless. That said, there’s a caveat. Several Latino friends of mine who’ve read it were very unhappy with Diaz’s treatment of the very real issue of Dominican racism toward Haitians, and also with his overuse almost to the point of celebration of the “N” word. None of which, of course, bothers the mainstream reviewers.
Nobody’s clamoring to read the SHELLEY ETTINGER BEST BOOKS OF 2007 but I want to list them anyway, so here goes. (I read them in 2007, though I think some may have been published in 2006.) This was not a great fiction year for me. I started and stopped more books than I can remember. In addition to the four listed above, the only novels I can remember liking a lot this year were, in no order: ARLINGTON PARK by Rachel Cusk, MY DREAM OF YOU by Nuala O’Faolain, FLIGHT by Sherman Alexie, THE GRAVEDIGGER’S DAUGHTER by Joyce Carol Oates, MY LATEST GRIEVANCE by Elinor Lipman.
And, not new by a longshot (more on this below): MOBY DICK by Herman Melville and JUDE THE OBSCURE by Thomas Hardy.
I did much better with non-fiction this year, though it often takes me longer to get to a non-fiction book, so some of these are a year or two (or in one case much much) older. Again in no order, my non-fiction best books read this year are: 1491 by Charles Mann, FIELD NOTES FROM A CATASTROPHE by Elizabeth Kolbert, WHEN AFFIRMATIVE ACTION WAS WHITE by Ira Katznelson, ECOLOGY OF FEAR by Mike Davis, THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA by Michael Pollan, ORIGIN OF SPECIES by Charles Darwin, BIG BANG by Simon Singh, THE ANCESTOR’S TALE by Richard Dawkins, MARXISM, REPARATIONS AND THE BLACK FREEDOM STRUGGLE by various Workers World writers, AMERICAN PROMETHEUS: THE TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY OF J. ROBERT OPPENHEIMER by Bird and Sherwin, THE SHAME OF THE NATION by Jonathan Kozol, A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF SCIENCE by Clifford Conner.
Now, as threatened, a note on old books. I have for some time been engaged on an occasional self-education project of reading “classic” fiction that I’d never read because I had a hippie college education and at that time wasn’t interested in reading what seemed to me to be tired old crap. Nowadays when I read, which as I’ve confessed repeatedly is what I’d rather do than anything, I find that I frequently come across allusions to various of these “classics,” and, frustrated at not getting what the references are about, I’ve been trying to fill the gaps bit by bit. So here’s the thing about the results: they’re spotty. Some of the tomes that hold high spots in the literary pantheon I’ve tried and failed to make it through and do indeed seem to me to be tired old crap. Some have surprised me by enthralling. Others not so much but I’ve soldiered on.
For the last two weeks I’ve been reading WAR AND PEACE by Tolstoy. It falls in the happy surprise category. The copy of WAR AND PEACE I'm reading isn't the new translation that's on display at all the bookstores. It's an ancient paperback version that I took from the bookshelf of a friend who died of AIDS 20 years ago, and it's crumbling in my hands day by day So the race is also to finish it before it disintegrates. Is there a metaphor of some sort here?
It’s going to take a lot of thought for me to figure out why I like it, why it works for me, but having rounded the halfway point yesterday, I can safely say that I do and it does. I’ve been gripped from the first pages. I find myself dreaming about it. It’s rambling, discursive, repetitious; it’s peopled almost entirely by the serf-owning rotten czarist aristocracy that was so righteously overthrown a century after the time of the story; and yet it is a revelation. I think it’s something about the grand sweep, the interweave of global events and domestic doings, but I also think it’s something else, something more, which I’m not yet able to put my finger on. The key, I suspect, is somehow in the writing itself, word by word, sentence by sentence.
I suspect that because word by word, sentence by sentence, my reaction to some others of my dead white (mostly) men syllabus has been so varied, and I’m not sure how else to account for it. I’ve loved all of the Shakespeare I’ve read (five or six of the major dramas). Loved SWANN’S WAY by Proust. Liked HOWARD’S END. I adored JUDE THE OBSCURE, as mentioned above, and also GERMINAL by Zola, though in both these cases the political content weighed heavily too. In fact, I think there’s something of a trend here. If the writing is great and so are the politics, of course I love it.
It’s still a little mysterious what it is about the writing that turns me off in other cases – it’s not length, because I’ve loved some monsters – but something does and I feel like if I don’t let myself stop reading I’ll have to shoot myself. For example, although I’d be drummed out of any English Department, not to mention most book clubs, for this, I could not force myself to get past the first 80 or so pages of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen. Ditto for PORTRAIT OF A LADY by Henry James, which I gave over 100 till I cried uncle. I felt pretty much the same about MADAME BOVARY by Flaubert, but I was able to force myself to finish it. I started out enjoying DON QUIXOTE by Cervantes, but after 200 pages of chapter after nearly exactly the same chapter, I gave up. Dostoevsky’s CRIME AND PUNISHMENT should have grabbed me but for some reason it did not, and though I read it through to the end it was an endurance test, not a pleasure.
One monster that I’m still grappling with is ULYSSES by James Joyce. Mostly I love it. It has surprised me from the start for how hilarious it is, and I find the language absolutely exhilarating. That said, I confess that I had to go online and print out a chapter-by-chapter summary of the plot and refer to it as I read in order to be sure that I’m actually getting what’s happening. Also, reading it is a great deal of work. It feels worth it but I don’t always have it in me. So, about one-third of the way through, I set it aside with plans to tackle it again during a summer vacation one of these years.
There is one great work of literature that is often referred to but had always intimidated me. I had tried to read it in my early 20s and couldn’t make head or tail of. I returned to it a few years ago to entirely different effect. This is MRS. DALLOWAY by Virginia Woolf. To my mind, of all that I’ve read, this is the masterwork, the one that stands above all others (okay, maybe TO THE LIGHTHOUSE comes close). I’m sure I don’t have anything original to add to everything that’s been written about why this is a work of genius, so I’ll just say that it is my answer to the one-book-if-you’re-stranded-on-a-desert-island question. Although it’s primarily about upper-class characters, it has a much broader political sweep, it seems to me, so that somehow, as if by magic, in a very few pages of exquisite artistry, Woolf manages to illuminate the experience of being human.
– Shelley Ettinger
YOUR BEST BOOKS?
Shelley Ettinger gave us hers. What are yours? I’d love to publish some more best books of 2007 lists– meaning the best books you read in 2007, not necessarily ones published in 2007. With the digitalizing of classics and all the small press activity, I think that the top best sellers or most popular books of the immediate past will become less important because everything is going to be available, and none of us have time to read it all. Send just your list, or your list with lots of annotation to email@example.com .
My best reading for 2007 included Ishiguro’s NEVER LET ME GO; Saramago’s BLINDNESS; Sigrid Undset’s KRISTIN LAVRANSDATTER; rereads of two of my favorite long stories, Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Illych” and Joyce’s “The Dead;” Pamela Erens’ THE UNDERSTORY; Barbara Kingsolver’s THE POISONWOOD BIBLE; Momaday’s HOUSE MADE OF DAWN; and Hardy’s THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE..
Jeremy Osner writes to say, after reading my notes on Orhan Pamuk’s ISTANBUL, “By the way if you are ‘a sucker for little kids,’ you should by all means take a look at Pamuk's latest book of essays, OTHER COLORS, for its wonderful descriptions of life with his daughter Ruya.”
John Birch recommends the following reference books: Margaret Shertzer, THE ELEMENTS PF GRAMMAR (ISBN 0-02-015440-2, Collier Books) and J.I. Rodale’s THE SYNONYM FINDER ( ISBN: 0-446-37029-0, Warner Books).
Ellen Bass recommends poetry for gifts: “It's perfect for people who love poetry and also a wonderful choice for those who don't usually read much poetry– if you choose a book well matched to the recipient. If someone isn't familiar with contemporary poetry it's likely that there are books they'd really enjoy, but without your gift they'd never know it. I can't think of any present that costs as little as a poetry book and can give so much pleasure and sustenance.” Ellen particularly recommends Roger Housden’s anthology, TEN POEMS TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE AGAIN AND AGAIN; Dorianne Laux's first book, AWAKE, which has been out of print and has just been made available again; and Joe Millar's new book, FORTUNE, now in paperback. Ellen’s own latest book is THE HUMAN LINE.
THE THADDEUS RUTKOWSKI REPORT
Thad has a workshop upcoming called "Generating Fiction" (including memoir), which begins on Monday evening, Jan. 7, at the Writer's Voice of the West Side YMCA, 5 West 63rd St. The course will encourage writers of fiction and creative nonfiction to produce new work. Substantial class time will be given to individual critiques. Seven meetings. Open to all. Big discount for YMCA members. Contact Glenn Raucher at 212 875-4124, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Among his new publications and performances are a video clip of him reading at Cornelia Street Café.
For more of his publications and upcoming readings, see his website .
READING IN NEW YORK CITY
Myra Shapiro reads from her memoir with others celebrating the 20th anniversary of Chicory Blue Press on January 14, 2008 at 7:00 PM at McNally Robinson Booksellers at 52 Prince Street (between Lafayette and Mulberry). Call 212-274-1160.
READ IT ONLINE
Reading and traveling with kids? Here's a blog by children's writer and reading specialist Ellen Kahaner who is interested in reading and travelling with children (and also going to museums and theatre). Take a look at Teddy Bear in a suitcase at http://teddybearinasuitcase.blogspot.com/
This issue, the first of 2008, includes more best books of 2007 plus an exchange in response to Shelley Ettinger’s literrant in Issue # 103.
First, Pat Arnow wrote, “Thanks for Shelley's article about the NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW. It was refreshing to read a political analysis, to take note of the attitudes that inform the Book editor's choices of reviewers and that inform the reviewers' opinions. I hadn't realized how consistently reactionary the reviews are. I did notice that I cringe with negative anticipation when a review of a book by a feminist appears. It's going to get a bad review. Look at Katha Pollitt's LEARNING TO DRIVE, which recently received a notice dripping with sarcasm. Elsewhere, the book has been received well, and my friends who are reading it are liking it.”
Carole Rosenthal said, “I really enjoyed Shelley's ‘rant’ issue. Sharp and to the point, I find. I share some similar tastes and takes with Shelley, particularly her enjoyment of JUDE THE OBSCURE and THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST and Joyce's ULYSSES.”
We also heard from Ysabel de Leon who directs us to some of Junot Diaz’s own statements on issues Shelley brought up. Ysabel de Leon writes: “Thank you for your excellent list of books on your blog. Complete, generous and inspiring. I was troubled by one small point: regarding THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO. I'm wondering how much these ‘Latino’ readers know about Diaz's activism. The writer, both in his writing and in his community work, has consistently high-lighted the plight of Haitians and Haitian Dominicans in the Dominican Republic. I will attach an op/ed piece he wrote with his friend Edwidge Danticat on the same topic for the New York Times . And also regarding the use of the N-word in the book. Diaz has repeatedly reminded readers that HE is not the narrator of this novel. It is the narrator, not Diaz, who uses the N-word and it is the narrator's usage of this word, among other words, that makes him so dangerous. I will also attach a very interesting comment that Diaz made on Amazon regarding the use of the N-word in the novel.”
Ysabel de Leon then quotes a discussion from Amazon from November 15, 2007 in which Joanna Bethencourt said, “I read DROWN by Junot Diaz & loved it. When my husband saw this book, he immediately bought it for me and I was delighted. As talented as I think Junot is, his liberal use of the n-word I find to be unnecessary and degrading. As a Dominican American myself who has grown up in the ghettos of NYC, I NEVER used that word in reference to myself or other dominicans and it just sounds IGNORANT and CHILDISH for an educator and writer to use a word with such painful history to put down ANOTHER ethnic group. It was bad enough to hear it used and still being used against and among African Americans but now we, Dominican Americans, want to adopt that word for ourselves? That is a depressing statement.”
To this, Junot Diaz responded: “As the author of the book I feel compelled to reply. a student of mine sent me this link, they were also troubled by your response, ms bethencourt. ms bethencourt, you seem to confuse the author of the book with the narrator(s). we're not one and the same. I’m not endorsing the N-word in this book, no more than I am endorsing child rape and child enslavement (two other terrible oppressions that occur in the novel repeatedly.) I cannot say this enough: REPRESENTATION is not ENDORSEMENT. as an artist I’m trying to represent and critique a world which I don't always agree with and I’m writing about characters who are problematic and difficult. they are flawed and human and some, like Yunior, use the N-word but in your rush you might not have noticed that Oscar never uses the word himself and Lola doesn't either, if I'm not mistaken. This is a book about a community and about a diverse group of people and I agree that child rape and torture and child enslavement (and yes, the N-word) are not good things but as an artist who seeks to blow open the silences that many of us create and endorse I would be a coward and dishonest if refused to acknowledge their ubiquity in our culture. I’m trying to draw a map, Ms Bethencourt, of the world as I lived it. It's a beautiful world and also dark and as an artist I know one doesn't exist without the other.”
To complete this discussion (unless some of you want to add more!), Shelley Ettinger responded: “I've read this and several other articles about and interviews with Diaz, and Diaz and Danticat. And I do know of course that Diaz is politically progressive, though it's a stretch to call him an activist except in comparison to other prominent writers. Regarding the issue of Dominican racism toward Haitians, the critique I've heard (and this is from extremely political Latino activists, in this case Argentinian, Costa Rican and Mexican, not from people in the literary world) is that it's not enough to simply portray it, as Diaz does. If a novel is to be a progressive contribution to literature -- and of course, in this country novels are not supposed to have any such responsibility, they're supposed to be somehow politically neutral, but Diaz does position himself as a political writer -- then the novel itself has to take a stand that is somehow clear. And, in my view, it should also offer some hope. A skilled artist, which Diaz certainly is, can portray the truth, ugly as it is, as with Dominicans vs. Haitians, but can also find a way to shine some forward-looking light, to also portray the truth that there are instances of solidarity. Broadly speaking, he doesn't do this in the novel, wonderful as it is. Even at the ultimate point, right toward the end of Oscar's story, there's a moment when some Dominican characters could do a good thing toward some Haitian characters and it would be a small redemptive, hopeful moment, but instead Diaz has them once again do the wrong, racist thing.
“Similarly, with the N word, it's not that I'm confusing the main narrator Yunior with the author. And it's not that Yunior shouldn't be written as a real character, someone who probably would use that word. It's that the author has a choice to make about how, when, how often Yunior -- who, while he is not the author nor his stand-in, is our guide to the story and, despite his many faults and fuck-ups, is a sympathetic character in his own right -- uses the N word. Yunior the character does develop and grow and learn in the course of the novel, so why doesn't he grow out of using this word? Or struggle with it, at least, the way he struggles with his sexism? He is our guide to the story and I do think that given the way the novel is structured, Diaz could easily have taken a different route in this regard, and it would still have been as true, as real.”
My guess is that the most controversial statement above for many readers will be Shelley Ettinger’s statement that a contribution to progressive literature should have some redemptive or hopeful touch in it. Many people will bristle at the very word “should.” My own belief is that the wonder of novels is that they can include just about anything– politics, dreams, stainless steel kitchen sinks, lists of lingerie manufacturers, even a little hope. But I also know that many writers and certainly the Ph.D.s in literature that I studied with back in Olden Days would find the idea of asking for something as ideological as a scrap of hope in a work of art to be anathema.
Shelley is making the point that there is a real world to which our writing has a relationship, and that we have many choices about what to use and what to ignore. One of our present fashions is to slather our literature richly with blood. Cormac McCarthy does make art of this, in, for example, BLOOD MERIDIAN, but a lot of writers seem to slop around blood and intestines from a lack of any other ideas. Explosions are popular, too.
I just finished reading Zola’s GERMINAL, which is about as depressing in many aspects as a book can get, and yet it ends with the burgeoning of spring. I haven’t decided if this burgeoning is earned or not, but whether a writer’s ideas make or break a book is a different question from whether or not ideas are “allowed” to be part of the work. I would maintain that an ideology-- a world view-- underlies and is embedded in our writing. Can we really separate our art from our lives from the ideas that guide our lives?
Pat Arnow’s: “This year, my favorite book was a novel, THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION by Michael Chabon. On the eve of World War II, apparently there really was talk of settling refugee Jews in Alaska. This book imagines it happened and creates an entire society with vivid details and engaging anecdotes about minor characters. The form is a traditional detective story, at its center a weary policeman, Meyer Landsman. What a storyteller Chabon is, what a creator of worlds.”
Jeremy Osner says, “My two best books of 2007 without a doubt were SNOW and MY NAME IS RED, both by Pamuk. Just dazzlingly good, the kind of experience I haven't had with a novel since... not sure, a long time anyway. They were riveting reads, each one kept me totally engrossed for about a month and a half, reading an hour or so a day and thinking the rest of the time about what I was reading. Also very good, and similarly engrossing, was Pynchon's AGAINST THE DAY. I found it much looser and more relaxed than his previous MASON & DIXON, and more fun to read. Elements of all of his previous novels were present, most notably GRAVITY'S RAINBOW and VINELAND.
Carole Rosenthal says, “I'm sending you a high recommendation of a book I read this summer in both gulps and sips, Robert Roth's HEALTH PROXY. It's not a long book, but I found myself often putting it down while I thought about its ideas, even as I was gripped by its urgent self-questioning voice. Roth's observations about life and death, social and economic hierarchies, and the nature of our responsibilities to each other, form a jittery, loving, and conscience-ridden record of his fierce engagement with the lives of friends and family from the 1980's to the present. ‘In ways deep and often constant, I engage other people's pain, their panic. Never letting myself fully be touched,’ Roth writes. ‘What at once shields me, simultaneously allows me to be open. But my openness also creates a constant state of low-level trauma that further creates . . . distancing in myself from myself.’
“Creating its own form, halfway between a memoir and a chronicle, this is a book of tremendous immediacy that begins with Roth's appointment as the ‘health proxy’ for a friend dying of AIDS, a role he also assumes for his gravely ill aunt. A sixty year-old socialist/anarchist who consciously defies the limits of convenient labeling, Roth narrows the space between narrator and self--a space which can only be narrowed, never eliminated. For this narrator, all issues are intimate and personal; all issues are moral questions. Yet HEALTH PROXY is playful in part, or at least ironic, in its examination of what we see and how we are seen in large and small scale. The author discusses his low-status job delivering the largely unread New York University student newspaper, the hearty unrecognized condescension of academics reassuring themselves of their own good will towards laborers, the tacit institutional scams furthered by the printer and the distributors. He introduces his own bemused reaction to his waning good looks, his health fears, his lusts for women, his identification with socially and sexually disavowed segments of society. Despite the gravity of Roth's central material, lives dwindling (‘I watch myself age/before my friends very eyes,’) while ‘friends socialize each other into old old age,’ the real subject matter of this honest, unpretentious, freely associative book turns out to be an affirmation of life ongoing. In this more celebratory vein, HEALTH PROXY concludes with a section called ‘Wild Berries Singing,’ which is about the writing and performing of an exhilarating children's opera in Great Britain. (HEALTH PROXY is available from Yuganta Press, 6 Rushmore Circle, Stamford CT 07905-1029 or email@example.com).”
NEW BOOKS/GOOD NEWS
JOHN J TRAUSE's new poetry chapbook SERIOUSLY SERIAL from Poets Wear Prada Books was released December 3rd at Jimmy's No. 43 Stage in New York City.
GEORGE HELD's new chapbook PHASED coming out February 2008 from Poets Wear Prada Books. The title poem was recently accepted by BEST POEM: A LITERARY JOURNAL and
was posted on the e-zine December 16th at http://bestpoem.wordpress.com/category/george-held/
Also coming out in 2008 from PWP are new chapbooks by Gil Fagiani, Richard Marx Weinraub, Eric La Prade, Richard Kostelanetz, Mary Orovan, Dorothy Friedman
August, Miriam Stanley and more TBA.
T&WC RADIO UPDATE/ 2008. "TEACHER AS HISTORIAN" ON WNYE-FM/91.5
WEEKDAYS, 6--6:30 PM . Learn new insights about American history & culture--talks, discussions, radio dramas--featuring teachers, historians, editors-- from coast to coast. (rebroadcasts).
"EVERYTHING GOES?" ON WNYE-FM/91.5 WEEKDAYS, 6:30--7 PM. Literary readings & discussions, history, radio drama festivals, music-- with the famous and not so famous. (rebroadcasts). Tues., Jan.22: "Long Time No Spree" by Stan Davis--illustrated by Dick Maccabe-- humorous poems and cartoons about losing weight-- discussed by Joan Davis and Grace Babakhanian. Wed., Jan.23: "Blessings and Curses"-- a collection of poems-- read by the author Anne Whitehouse. . Thurs., Jan.24-- "Long Time No Spree" by Stan Davis (rebroadcast). Fri. Jan.25 -- "Blessings and Curses" by Anne Whitehouse (rebroadcast).
For more informatoin, contact: Irwin Gonshak, T&WC Radio Producer firstname.lastname@example.org.
WRITING WORKSHOPS IN THE NEW YORK AREA
Roberta Allen has two spaces left in her next writing workshop, which starts Wed. Jan. 23,
7:30-10:30 PM. 8 sessions. Every 2 weeks. Fee: $500. She also does ne-on-one classes in person & by email & phone. Http://www.robertaallen.com Phone 646.241.4648
Nahid Rachlin is teaching Advanced Fiction Workshop at the New School, 15 sessions. Mon., 6:00–7:50 p.m., beg. Jan. 28. Her website: http://www.nahidrachlin.com .
Registration PHONE: 212 229 5620
Meredith Sue Willis will be teaching Making Your Novel Happen (starts 2-11-08) and Fiction One (starts 2-6-08) at NYU in Spring 2008 at New York University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies. She is also offering a one day special workshop at NYU on called "Jump-Start Your Novel" on Saturday, February 9, 2008 1:00 PM till 5:00 PM.. NYU’s SCPS Writing Classes are at http://www.scps.nyu.edu/index/continuingEducation.htm?sid=209&durl=WRSP
READ IT ONLINE
Reading and traveling with kids? Here's a blog by children's writer and reading specialist Ellen Kahaner who is interested in reading and travelling with children (and also going to museums and theatre). Take a look at Teddy Bear in a suitcase at http://teddybearinasuitcase.blogspot.com/
I have a few short notes on books I’ve read recently. First, David Weinberger’s latest book, EVERYTHING IS MISCELLANEOUS, is about how the Internet has changed how we organize what we know. He gives an entertaining history of how knowledge has been categorized in the past– Melvil Dewey of the Dewey Decimal System, for example, had a fetish for tenths, and this has severely limited the major categories libraries can set up. He discusses at length the profound difference between an old fashioned encyclopedia written by experts (think Britannica) versus Wikipedia, which is created by its users. EVERYTHING IS MISCELLANEOUS isn’t meant to be a how-to book, but I did pick up some practical ideas, especially about http://del.icio.us/ for bookmarking and the concept of organizing via “include” and “postpone”. Since there is so much information available, especially on the Web, and since it costs nothing to link to things, it is generally better to include everything in the beginning, and to postpone classifying and cutting as long as possible. This is the principle I use in this newsletter, for example. As announcements come into my inbox, I cut and paste lots of them into my draft for the next issue. Only when I get close to sending it out do I reduce the number of announcements and the amount of information in each announcement. There’s a lot more, all of it entertaining and important for our thinking about how we use the Internet to organize and get access to the immense resources around us.
And now, for something completely different, I finished a wonderful poem sequence called KETTLE BOTTOM by Diane Gilliam Fisher. This is a book of poetic monologues in the voices of miners and mine families during the unionization and mine wars of the 1920's in West Virginia. This was the period of the Battle of Blair Mountain, when the American air force was called out to bomb striking miners. That was just above ground. In the mines, there was real danger:
When I first come in the mine
Daddy told me, Them rats
can hear a branch crack
up on top of the mountain.
They hear the earth start to give
when the roof’s about to fall.
Them rats makes a run for the drift mouth,
you drop what you’re doing, son,
From “Raven Light,” (47)
I also reread HOWARD’S END for the umpteenth time, after Shelley Ettinger’s discussion in Issue #104. I was struck this time by how funny it was: Aunt Juley meets the Wilcoxes alone is worth the price of the book. The only comparatively weak parts (and this is compared to the best parts which are incomparable) are some of the descriptions of poor gentleman-wannabe Leonard Bast, who is so pathetic with his aspirations without learning and wealth that you can't help cringing. The conclusion also had more coincidences than I remembered, but the people were unfailingly believable and real, and the effects of class and wealth are created without instructing, using rich human exemplars.
One more quintessentially British book– my first John Banville–was THE UNTOUCHABLE. This is the story of Victor Maskell, a fictional member of the Oxbridge spy rings of the twentieth century (Anthony Blunt et alia). Banville has that enviable conviction that you can use fiction to understand anything in our world. Americans do a lot of things with fiction– some of us vogue around in the Role of Writer; some of us experiment with with language and voice. We have great entertainers and story tellers and people with raw and gripping stories to tell. But living British writers like Pat Barker and Sarah Water and Banville allow themselves the whole hog in fiction: history, passion, sex, ideas, and they do it with verve and grace.
Some of my favorite parts of THE UNTOUCHABLE may be the set pieces and tangents, along with Maskell’s world weary intelligent voice. Banville does a great job with the secret gay sex life, and there is also the suspense of finding out in the end who turned on the others. I loved all the minor characters, too: Victor’s wife Vivienne, Oleg and the other “handlers” from Russia and Europe. I’m looking forward to reading more Banville soon.
Idelis Sotomayor writes to say, “ I see Junot Diaz's speech used in DROWN (whose narrative style reminds me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE) as a realistic representation of the colloquial language Dominicans use today. And I do not see that Diaz is endorsing it (in particular the use of the N word), as Joanna Bethencourt's disapproving statements (quoted by Ysabel de Leon) implied. I also agree with Shelley Ettinger (regarding the traditional segregation many Dominicans exhibit against Haitians, their neighbors in La Hispaniola, the island shared by both racially mixed nations) in the sense that, when touching racism, a fictional work -- within progressive literature -- ‘should have some redemptive or hopeful touch in it...’
“Thus racism is an issue that should be addressed ethically by any author representing this social reality, and never overlooked as something 'morally neutral' as a natural occurrence... It is interesting to note that serfdom & slavery (historical foundations of La Hispaniola and many other peoples around the world, and the genesis of racism) are institutions that degrade masters and servants or slaves, equally. This moral degradation affecting both groups (economically, ethically, educationally, and --consequently-- emotionally) generation after generation throughout centuries, even long beyond the legal termination of slavery or serfdom, is the trigger of all racial crimes.
“The abuser has been transmitted-- the criminal inability to see a human peer in the abused one, and the latter has been transmitted the traumatic feeling of inferiority and social outcast... Therefore, the heirs in both sides- -averagely and for centuries-- act individually and collectively below high moral standards and desirable expectations.
“Meredith Sue Willis, on her final view on Emile Zola's GERMINAL (about the exploited and pitiful life of French miners in the 19th century, depicted in a realistic and naturalist style), asks: ‘Can we really separate our art from our lives, or our lives from our underlying ideas?’ No, I must say! Everything there is connected in visible and invisible ways, ideas to art, and art to life. Because art, being the activity of creating beautiful and transcending things, has to communicate its message in order to exist and transform the world. Thus the communication of our creativity as a reflection of our emotional and intellectual life, will eventually produce an equivalent impact in the sensitive receiver. Any form of work of art has a message that the capable receiver will feel, assimilate as food for the soul, and keep for life. For instance, a song considered a work of art can last centuries due to its strong impact. It will not rust or deteriorate over time. It doesn't need to be maintained, cleaned, or put in a security box. A song can be far more powerful than any nuclear blast, because it carries an idea and emotion mighty enough to transform millions of individuals (e.g., in 1792 LA MARSEILLAISE, composed by Rouget de Lisle, was the emotional inspirer and leading beat of the French Revolution, and later was made France's national anthem; in 1971 IMAGINE by John Lennon changed America and the rest of the industrial nations on their approach on war, borders and religion). The same analogy can be made with a book or any other work of art. Consequently, art for the sake of communication would be that song, sculpture, painting, photograph, architecture, movie, or book that reaches an audience and produces a long lasting spiritual impact in the receivers. Let us keep in mind that a culture is only as great as its dreams and ideas, and its dreams and ideas are dreamed and thought by the free-spirited thinkers, the artists. So, reaffirming my response to Meredith's inquiry: No, no artist can really separate his art from his life, nor his life from his underlying ideas!”
MORE BEST BOOKS OF 2007
Magdalena Ball, (see http://www.compulsivereader.com/html) , sent us this note: “Hi Meredith, I enjoy your newsletter very much, and just wanted to mention -- just in case you're still publishing them -- that my two best books for 07 were THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy and APHELION by Emily Ballou. Two books couldn't be more different. McCarthy, as I know you know, is the spare king of desolation. No other writer could do what he did in that book and pull it off with the same sense of beauty and even renewal (but only the merest hint). Ballou, on the other hand, is almost baroque by comparison. Her writing is linguistically rich and upbeat always.”
Idelis Sotomayor’s best books of 2007 were: “(1) MYTHOLOGY -THE ILLUSTRATED ANTHOLOGY OF WORLD MYTH AND STORYTELLING- by C. Scott Littleton (General Editor), Barnes & Noble, New York, NY. I learned with this book how humanlike are all gods and goddesses (a lot of cultural clues there...). (2) HYPERSPACE: A SCIENTIFIC ODYSSEY THROUGH PARALLEL UNIVERSES, TIME WARPS, AND THE 10TH DIMENSION by Dr. Michio Kaku (theoretical physicist, CUNY), Anchor Books, New York, NY. This book taught me how 'thin,' almost invisible, matter -or baryonic substance- really is in the universe, just 0.4% of the known space. Being the remaining 99.6% an unknown element, 'cosmic or astrophysical plasma' for some analysts. Therefore, we are scientifically transparent and -most of us- we do not realize it yet... (3) THE GREAT COSMIC MOTHER: REDISCOVERING THE RELIGION OF THE EARTH by Monica Sjoo, HarperOne, New York, NY. This work let me acknowledge clearly, how politically suppressive have been all misogynists and its most known credit: institutionalized 'machismo.' (4) And, WHEN GOD WAS A WOMAN by Merlin Stone, Harvest Books, Fort Washington, PA. Here I grew a lot inside seeing all the biased disguises - knitted by machista-pseudo-historians - been taken away...”
Katie Munley says that WHY MEN MARRY BITCHES by Shelley Argov “challenges many notions women get brainwashed with.”
THE DIVING BELL, by Jean-Dominique Bauby, is recommended by Christine Willis who says, “Bauby was an editor of ELLE magazine who suffered a brain stem stroke resulting in ‘locked-in syndrome.’ It is a book he dictated through eye blinks -- quite interesting.’
GOOD NEWS/GOOD READING
John Birch has a funny/sad story online in the January/February 2008 issue of THE DUBLIN QUARTERLY at http://www.dublinquarterly.com/. The issue also has an interview with novelist Martin Roper.
Phyllis Moore writes to tell us that Ann Pancake's first novel, STRANGE AS THIS WEATHER HAS BEEN (Shoemaker &Hoard), was reviewed by Pam Houston on page 260 of the October 2007 issue of O: THE OPRAH MAGAZINE. Houston calls the novel a "fervent debut by a fierce new talent." West Virginia native Ann Pancake will be promoting her novel in WV this winter.
Contributor Shelley Ettinger has a really neat story in the current issue of AVERY: AN ANTHOLOGY OF NEW FICTION. Her story is about a woman with a very unusual appendage– find out how to get the anthology at http://www.averyanthology.org.
Michael Benedikt’s book God Is the Good We Do (www.godisthegoodwedo.com) came out from Bottino Books, NY, and is available through bookstores from Baker & Taylor,
ON THE AIR!
Writer, reviewer and interviewer Magdalena Ball (http://www.compulsivereader.com) is the host of COMPULSIVE READER talks which is live at www.blogtalkradio.com/compulsivereader the second Tuesday of the month 6pm or permanently available in podcast form.
Anne Whitehouse read from her poetry collection BLESSINGS AND CURSES on Everything Goes, WNYE 91.5 FM, January 23 and 25,. You may upload the reading from the Poetry page of Anne’s website, http://www.annewhitehouse.com .
Cat Pleska’s essay on West Virginia’s Nobel Prize winning writer Pearl Buck is online as an MP3 at WV’s public radio site at http://www.wvpubcast.org/news.html .
Once there, under headlines scroll down to Jan. 16. Click on the little speaker.
READINGS AND EVENTS
Bob Heman is featuring at Robert Dunn's Asbestos series at the Back Fence on Sunday, February 10 at 3 PM. This well known Village venue is located at 155 Bleecker St. at the corner of Thompson and can be reached by the A, C, E, B, D, F and V to West 4th St. Admission is $5 plus a $3 minimum at the bar. There'll be an open mic.
The next big CLWN WR reading is scheduled for March 20 at the SAFE-T-GALLERY in DUMBO. Pencilled in so far are feature Liza Wolsky and special guests R. Nemo Hill, Richard Loranger, Jane Ormerod, Joanne Pagano Weber and Francine Witte, with more features and guests still to be named.
PEDESTAL is hosting an event at Beyond Baroque (681 Venice Blvd) in Venice, CA on Sunday, April 27. For more info, email email@example.com.
Cocktail Reception and Book Signing for LAUGHTER IN THE CANYON by Laura Thompson on Thursday, January 31, 2008 6:30 - 8:30 pm at The Pen and Brush Gallery,
16 East 10th Street (Between 5th Ave. and University Place) New York City.
Tuesday, January 29 - 6:30-8:00 p.m - BOOK READING & SIGNING for THINKING OF MILLER PLACE: A MEMOIR OF SUMMER COMFORT. Caldwell Library- 268 Bloomfield Avenue Caldwell, 07006 Parking in Community Center lot behind library.
Phone: 973-226-2837. Free Event. Refreshments will be served.
GOODREADS--GOOD IDEA, OR NOT??
Do you belong to (and if you do, do you use) Goodreads.com? Shelley Ettinger writes, “I've been meaning to send you this link for a while. It's a website called Goodreads at http://www.goodreads.com/. People join, and they list the books they're reading and want to read, and list and review the books they've read; and they share this info with other people they list as their friends. A young friend of mine sent me an invitation to join it last fall, so I did, and now several folks I met at the Lambda retreat in L.A. have also joined and ‘friended’....it's an interesting phenomenon. It's the kind of thing the Facebook and Myspace generation does. They live their lives online. For me, the fun of it is having a place to keep a record of what I've been reading.”
WRITING WORKSHOPS IN THE NEW YORK AREA
I'll be teaching Making Your Novel Happen (starts 2-11-08) and Fiction One (starts 2-6-08) at NYU in Spring 2008 at New York University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies. She is also offering a one day special workshop at NYU on called "Jump-Start Your Novel" on Saturday, February 9, 2008 1:00 PM till 5:00 PM.. NYU’s SCPS Writing Classes are athttp://www.scps.nyu.edu/index/continuingEducation.htm?sid=209&durl=WRSP .
The Winter Issue of the ADIRONDACK REVIEW is now live at http://adirondackreview.homestead.com/Winter2007.html . The new issue features the artwork of Michael Usyk and celebrates the winner and finalists of The Fiddlehead Poetry Prize. Also, their The Fulton Prize for Short Fiction is currently open. Top prize is $400 and publication in The Adirondack Review.
West Virginia Writers, Inc., is now accepting submissions for its annual spring writing contest, offering a total of $6,300 in cash prizes in 14 categories. There is also an open competition for high school students as well as an elementary and middle school writing competition. Information on how to enter using WVW's official entry forms are at http://www.wvwriters.org/contest.html The writing contest, which has been held each year since 1982, makes 3 cash awards in each category of the competition: a first prize of $250, a second prize of $125 and a third prize of $75. Submissions are accepted from January 2 through March 15 (with a late deadline of March 31). If you have questions, contact WVW Contest Administrator, Patsy Pittman at firstname.lastname@example.org West Virginia Writers, Inc., with well over 370 members, is the largest non-profit writers' resource and service organization serving literary interests in West Virginia. WVW, Inc. celebrated its 30th anniversary in February of 2007. For categories and complete information, go to the website at http://www.wvwriters.org/contest.html The writing contest is open to ALL residents of West Virginia as well as to memberz of WVW residing outside of the state.
The Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize offers a cash award of $1,000.00 plus publication of the winning book. A poet of national stature judges the contest. The winner's name and title of the winning book are announced nationally. In addition to regular mail entries, this year they're inaugurating a new program of electronic uploads. By uploading your manuscript electronically you'll save time, paper and postage. For more information go to http://www.marshhawkpress.org/ .
The Pedestal Magazine is currently seeking to fill three positions:
1. Poetry Editor. Applicants should have prior publication in Pedestal, as well as other prominent journals, and previous editing experience. Applicants should have at least one published full-length collection currently available. Applicant would be asked to edit the poetry in 1-2 issues per year. Please send resume to email@example.com.
2. Reviewer. Applicants should have prior experience reviewing for various publications. Pedestal currently publishes 850-1000 word reviews. Reviewer would be asked to undertake 1-3 assigned reviews per issue, primarily poetry collections but possibly short fiction as well. Send resume and 2-3 sample reviews to firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Administrative Assistant. Applicants should be thoroughly familiar with MySpace.com: how to send friend requests, post bulletins, set up a blog, send event invitations, tailor/program a page aesthetically; i.e., all the ins and outs of setting up a compelling and effective MySpace page. Send resume, along with a link to a MySpace page you've designed, to email@example.com.
The largest unionized bookstore in America has a webstore at Powells Books. Some people prefer shopping online there to shopping at Amazon.com. An alternative way to reach Powell's site and support the union is via http://www.powellsunion.com. Prices are the same but 10% of your purchase will go to support the union benefit fund. For a discussion about Amazon and organized labor and small presses, see the comments of Jonathan Greene and others in Issues #97 and #98 .
WHERE TO FIND BOOKS MENTIONED IN THIS NEWSLETTER
If a book discussed in this newsletter has no source mentioned, don’t forget your public library and your local independent bookstore.
To buy books online, I often go first to Bookfinder or Alibris. Bookfinder has a feature that tells you the book price WITH shipping and handling, so you can compare what you’re really going to have to pay.
A lot of people whose political instincts I respect prefer the unionized bricks-and-mortar bookstore Powells (see "About Amazon.com" above) that sells online at http://powellsbooks.com. Another good source for used and out-of-print books is All Book Stores at http://www.allbookstores.com/ .
Take a look also at Paperback Book Swap, a low cost (postage only) way to get rid of your old books and get new ones by trading with other readers.
If you are using an electronic reader like Kindle, Nook, or Kobo, get free books at the Gutenberg Project-- most classics, and other things as well. Libraries now lend e-books too!
RESPONSES TO THIS NEWSLETTER
Please send responses and suggestions directly to Meredith Sue Willis at MeredithSueWillis@gmail.com. Unless you instruct otherwise, your responses may be edited for length and published in this newsletter.
#146 Henry Adams AGAIN! #145 Henry Adams, Darnell Arnoult, Jaimy Gordon, Charlotte Brontë #144 Carter Seaton, NancyKay Shapiro, Lady Murasaki Shikibu #143Little America; Guns,Germs, and Steel; The Trial #142 Blog Fiction, Leah by Seymour Epstein, Wolf Hall, etc. #141 Dreama Frisk on Hilary Spurling's Pearl Buck in China; Anita Desai; Cormac McCarthy #140 Valerie Nieman's Blood Clay, Dolly Withrow #139 My Kindle, The Prime Minister, Blood Meridian #138 Special on Publicity by Carter Seaton #137 Michael Harris's The Chieu Hoi Saloon;The Professor and the Madman; Game of Thrones; James Alexander Thom's Follow The River #136 James Boyle's The Creative Commons; Paola Corso, Joanne Greenberg, Monique Raphel High, Amos Oz #135 Reviews by Carole Rosenthal, Jeffrey Sokolow, and Wanchee Wang. #134Daniel Deronda, books with material on black and white relations in West Virginia #133 Susan Carpenter, Irene Nemirovsky, Jonathan Safran Foer, Kanafani, Joe Sacco #132 Karen Armstrong's A History of God; JCO's The Falls; The Eustace Diamonds again. #131The Help; J. McHenry Jones, Reamy Jansen, Jamie O'Neill, Michael Chabon.
#130 Lynda Schor, Ed Myers, Charles Bukowski, Terry Bisson, The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism #129Baltasar and Blimunda; the Underground Railroad; Navasky's Naming Names, new and recommended small press and indie books. #128 Jeffrey Sokolow on Histories and memoirs of the Civil Rights Movement #127Olive Kitteridge; Urban fiction; Shelley Ettinger on Joyce Carol Oates #126 Jack Hussey's Ghosts of Walden, The Leopard , Roger's Version, The Reluctanct Fundamentalist #125 Lee Maynard's The Pale Light of Sunset; Books on John Brown suggested by Jeffrey Sokolow #124Cloudsplitter, Founding Brothers, Obenzinger on Bradley's Harlem Vs. Columbia University #123 MSW's summer reading round-up; Olive Schreiner; more The Book Thief; more on the state of editing #122 Left-wing cowboy poetry; Jewish partisans during WW2; responses to "Hire a Book Doctor?" #121 Jane Lazarre's latest; Irving Howe's Leon Trotsky; Gringolandia; "Hire a Book Doctor?" #120 Dreama Frisk on The Book Thief; Mark Rudd; Thulani Davis's summer reading list #119 Two Histories of the Jews; small press books for Summer #118 Kasuo Ichiguro, Jeanette Winterson, The Carter Family! #117 Cat Pleska on Ann Pancake; Phyllis Moore on Jayne Anne Phillips; and Dolly Withrow on publicity #116 Ann Pancake, American Psycho, Marc Harshman on George Mackay Brown #115Adam Bede, Nietzsche, Johnny Sundstrom #114 Judith Moffett, high fantasy, Jared Diamond, Lily Tuck #113 Espionage--nonfiction and fiction: Orson Scott Card and homophobia #112 Marc Kaminsky, Nel Noddings, Orson Scott Card, Ed Myers #111 James Michener, Mary Lee Settle, Ardian Gill, BIll Higginson, Jeremy Osner, Carol Brodtick #110 Nahid Rachlin, Marion Cuba on self-publishing; Thulani Davis, The Road, memoirs #109 Books about the late nineteen-sixties: Busy Dying; Flying Close to the Sun; Looking Good; Trespassers #108The Animal Within; The Ground Under My Feet; King of Swords #107The Absentee; Gorky Park; Little Scarlet; Howl; Health Proxy #106Castle Rackrent; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; More on Drown; Blindness & more #105Everything is Miscellaneous, The Untouchable, Kettle Bottom by Diane Gilliam Fisher #104 Responses to Shelley on Junot Diaz and more; More best books of 2007 #103 Guest Editor: Shelley Ettinger and her best books of 2007
#102 Saramago's BLINDNESS; more on NEVER LET ME GO; George Lies on Joe Gatski #101My Brilliant Career, The Scarlet Letter, John Banville, Never Let Me Go #100 The Poisonwood Bible, Pamela Erens, More Harry P. #99 Jonathan Greene on Amazon.com; Molly Gilman on Dogs of Babel #98 Guest editor Pat Arnow; more on the Amazon.com debate #97 Using Thomas Hardy; Why I Write; more #96 Lucy Calkins, issue fiction for young adults #95 Collapse, Harry Potter, Steve Geng #94 Alice Robinson-Gilman, Maynard on Momaday #93Kristin Lavransdatter, House Made of Dawn, Leaving Atlanta #92Death of Ivan Ilych; Memoirs #91 Richard Powers discussion #90 William Zinsser, Memoir, Shakespeare #89 William Styron, Ellen Willis, Dune, Germinal, and much more #88 Sandra Cisneros's Caramelo #87Wings of the Dove, Forever After (9/11 Teachers) #86 Leora Skolkin-Smith, American Pastoral, and more #85 Wobblies, Winterson, West Virginia Encyclopedia #84 Karen Armstrong, Geraldine Brooks, Peter Taylor #83 3-Cornered World, Da Vinci Code #82 The Eustace Diamonds, Strapless, Empire Falls #81 Philip Roth's The Plot Against America , Paola Corso #80 Joanne Greenberg, Ed Davis, more Murdoch; Special Discussion on Memoir--Frey and J.T. Leroy #79 Adam Sexton, Iris Murdoch, Hemingway #78The Hills at Home; Tess of the D'Urbervilles; Jean Stafford #77 On children's books--guest editor Carol Brodtrick #76 Mary Lee Settle, Mary McCarthy #75 The Makioka Sisters #74In Our Hearts We Were Giants #73 Joyce Dyer #72 Bill Robinson WWII
story #71 Eva Kollisch on G.W. Sebald #70 On Reading #69 Nella Larsen, Romola #68 P.D. James #67The Medici #66Curious
Incident,Temple Grandin #65 Ingrid Hughes on Memoir #64 Boyle, Worlds of Fiction #63The Namesame #62Honorary Consul; The Idiot #61Lauren's
Line #60 Prince of Providence #59 The Mutual Friend, Red
Water #58 AkÉ, Season
of Delight #57 Screaming with
Cannibals #56 Benita Eisler's Byron #55Addie,
Hottentot Venus, Ake #54 Scott Oglesby, Jane Rule #53 Nafisi,Chesnutt, LeGuin #52 Keith Maillard, Lee Maynard #51 Gregory Michie, Carter Seaton #50Atonement, Victoria Woodhull biography #49Caucasia #48Richard Price, Phillip
Pullman #47 Mid-
East Islamic World Reader #46Invitation to
a Beheading #45The Princess of Cleves #44 Shelley Ettinger: A Few Not-so-Great Books #43 Woolf, The Terrorist Next Door #42 John Sanford #41 Isabelle
Allende #40Ed Myers on John Williams #39 Faulkner #38 Steven Bloom No
New Jokes #37 James Webb's Fields
of Fire #36 Middlemarch #35 Conrad, Furbee,
Silas House #34 Emshwiller #33 Pullman, Daughter
of the Elm #32 More Lesbian lit; Nostromo #31 Lesbian
fiction #30 Carol Shields, Colson Whitehead #29 More William Styron #28 William Styron #27 Daniel Gioseffi #26 Phyllis Moore
#25 On Libraries.... #24Tales of the
#23 Nonfiction, poetry, and fiction #22 More on Why This
Newsletter #21 Salinger, Sarah
Waters, Next of Kin #20 Jane Lazarre #19Artemisia Gentileschi #18 Ozick, Coetzee,
Joanna Torrey #17 Arthur Kinoy #16 Mrs. Gaskell and lots of other suggestions #15 George
Dennison, Pat Barker, George Eliot #14 Small
Creek, Crum #12 Reading after 9-11 #11 Political Novels #10 Summer Reading ideas #9 Shelley
Ettinger picks #8 Harriette
Arnow's Hunter's Horn #7 About this newsletter #6 Maria Edgeworth #5Tales of Good
and Evil; Moon Tiger #4 Homer Hickam
and The Chosen #3 J.T.
LeRoy and Tale of Genji #2 Chick Lit #1 About