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June 29, 2008

I’ve been reading less since my son was born twenty three years ago. In my hurry to waste no time and get just the books I want, I confess I have been using the Internet more and more to buy books. I also go back to books I already own like my Oxford complete Jane Austen or my set of Trollope’s Barchester novels, or Dickens or Eliot. But books accumulate alarmingly, and not always books I love. So I’m trying out a brand new service, a paid lending library. Or, to make it sound more 21st century, it’s like Netflix for Books. There are a couple of these services available, but I chose Paperspine because– okay, I’ll be honest– they had some of books available to borrow. The way it works is you pay $14.95 a month and keep a list of books you want to borrow-- a queue. You borrow as often as you want, one or two books at a time. Return postage is included in the fee. So far, the only thing I don’t like is not being able to dog ear corners of pages. Here’s some of what I’ve been reading from Paperspine.
Nahid Rachlin’s memoir of childhood and young womanhood, PERSIAN GIRLS, was wonderful and sad, probably more satisfying in the first two thirds, but gripping all the way through. It’s about Iran, of course, but also about the lives of all of us who left home and went far away. The heart of the memoir is the relationships among women, first the richness of the life of the hijab’d women in Rachlin’s very religious aunt’s house and then the passion between two sisters. It is also about the pain of daily life in an overtly patriarchal society. It’s hard to say sometimes, however, if the pain comes from family dynamics or from the stresses of living under totalitarian regimes.
Another very strong book I read is the extremely popular Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD. This is one book I envy him having written. I had been led to believe it was totally bleak, but maybe the reviewers haven’t read much post apocalyptic literature, of which it is in some ways typical of the genre. It doesn’t bother much with explanations of why things are as they are, and instead of a heroic loner Mad Max character, it’s about a man and a boy. It is also an old man’s book, by which I mean to compliment it: its hopefulness is not the biological optimism of a young animal but a measured, experienced hopefulness of long living and accumulated wisdom. It’s a book with beautiful spare writing, with nuclear winter or at least nuclear Autumn, with infants roasted on spits, with a theory that having beautiful dreams means you are giving up, that there is no god, that god is dead, that god is possibly present in human goodness. There are plenty of horrors, and lovely passages of dialogue between father and son: Are you okay? I’m okay. Are you talking? I’m talking. Are you sure. Yes. Do you want to tell me your dream? I’m scared. It’s okay. Are we going to die? Of course, but not necessarily now. The possibly hopeful ending is believable because every ending is in fact to die or to live a little longer.
I also borrowed a much-recommended memoir– I mean, everyone seems to love THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeannette Walls, and it is a real life page turner: it’s about a family in which the kids essentially raise themselves. I liked less Augusten Burroughs’ RUNNING WITH SCISSORS, another highly popular memoir of spectacularly bad parenting– but Burroughs seems a little more interested in cleverness than in the people– but you can’t stop reading this one either.
Thulani Davis’s MY CONFEDERATE KINFOLK: A TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY FREEDWOMAN DISCOVERS HER ROOTS is also nonfiction, but a very different reading experience. Davis makes something that is entertaining in the highest sense by taking her own genealogical studies and deeply serious topics (slavery, race in America) and turning them into a wonderful and painful story. It is set during the Civil War in the region of the South near the Mississippi River, and in the period of Reconstruction and the so-called Redemption that followed when the ugliness of Jim Crow and lynching and all the rest were experimented with and then institutionalized. You always knew, of course, that a lot of people were murdered in white supremacist terrorism, but you didn’t necessarily know how systematically the attacks were made on educated black men and women who had leadership potential– the ones who were taking on offices and legislative roles during that brief ten years when black people had the vote. The outstanding figure in this book is Davis’ great-grandmother Chloe Tarrant Curry, whose relationship with Will Campbell, a white planter, is fascinating, especially concerning “Chloe’s white child” (Davis’ grandmother) Georgia Campbell. When Will Campbell dies, he leaves everything he has to Chloe Curry who manages the farm, educates her children, and leaves money and property to them. She figures out how to make the system work so that she founds her own matriarchal dynasty of educated black people (not just the white man’s daughter, either, but her other children as well). There are other resourceful women in the book as well, like Will Campbell’s white mother, who apparently spent the Civil War in a wagon, following the troops and helping her soldier sons.
Finally– NOT from Paperspine– THE CROSSROADS by Chris Grabenstein is a fun, fast-moving young adult ghost story. The story has a lot of ghosts, all entertainingly human, and it has a touching ending when the main character’s ghost friend fades back into being dead.


                                                                                          -- Meredith Sue Willis




I was a participant in the student sit-ins at Columbia University in 1968, but never really understood what the experience of the Black students there was like until this spring, especially thanks to an excellent and moving DVD called !VALA! by Sherry Suttles. You can get a copy from her at
Sherry A. Suttles
250 Layne Blvd. #201
Hallandale Beach, FL 33009
Susan Kahn recommends Carl Oglesby’s RAVENS IN THE STORM . She says, “Oglesby takes the reader through a very personal ride through the late sixties. He became President of SDS in 1965, visited campuses across the country, then Hanoi and finally Cuba. His time in SDS came to an end with the split over Weatherman politics. It is a very well written book which gives the reader a real sense of spirit of protest and the political tensions within the movement.”
Katherine Brewster recommends Mary Gordon’s novel PEARL.
Also, see the list in Newsletter # 109



“SWEETNESS IN THE BELLY by Camilla Gibbs and ALL SOULS' RISING by Madison Smartt Bell... two very visual/anthropological novels I've read more than once. I found myself immersed in the cultures described and learned a lot in the process. Since a recent trip to Louisiana, I've developed an interest in both Cajun culture and that region. As a result, Gerald Swick recommended I read the ‘cop novel’ CADILLAC JUKEBOX by Louisiana's James Lee Burke. It certainly reveals the culture and world of the bayou. To my way of thinking, Cajun folks are the most like mountaineers. LEARNING TO FLY, the final memoir of Mary Lee Settle, is well worth reading. She pulls few punches in describing her personal struggles as well as her evolution as a writer.”


“...I mentioned the book I'd just started, and now I've finished it and must urge you to please abandon everything else in your life and read it immediately. STRANGE AS THIS WEATHER HAS BEEN by Ann Pancake. It's about a West Virginia family and how it's affected by the coal industry's latest atrocity, mountaintop removal. Politically it's very interesting but even aside from that, the writing is astounding. Breathtakingly original language. Just amazing writing. Also, the core of it is the main characters' relationship to the land, something no book I've ever before read has conveyed so powerfully.”



Marion Cuba offers us the following detailed detailed discussion of her experience. Take a look at her website. The book is about people who escaped Hitler and went to Shanghai. See Shanghai Legacy.
After doing research on self-publishing companies—almost going with one that clearly wasn’t going to give my book the time required—I read a book rating the various POD (print-on-demand) publishers. was the one most highly recommended on value, quality, an advantageous contract, and its own website (considered an asset). I went with and had—and continue to have—an excellent experience.
One thing that is different from other pod publishers is that rejects about 90% of the writers who apply. They wish to take authors who fill certain requirements. Why? Because they wish to have writers who will sell a good amount of books. Other pod’s take anyone, thus making their money with no investment in how many books an author will sell.
To be accepted at Booklocker, a writer DOES have to pledge to do a lot of work. And, it IS a lot of work.
First of all, your manuscript has to pass muster. You must also indicate your plans to market the book; Booklocker doesn’t try to “upsell” you on their own marketing services as other pod’s do.
You never communicate with them by phone! Everything is done via e-mail—including payment, corrections, orders, questions. Even, using their template, the manuscript. I for one had to learn all of this—broke my head over it, actually—but I got the product I wanted.
They would have provided an individual cover at a price, or a template cover (oft-used) for a bit less. I happened to have located an art director whose work I admired and got him to do the cover. I therefore paid less to Booklocker.
My book was completely professional looking. And, unlike the other pod publishers, I did not have to use Booklocker’s name, thus identifying me at once as a self-publisher. I was free to use a name I chose.
I was able to obtain many reviews, book readings, blurbs, and pr for my novel, SHANGHAI LEGACY. I do believe this was due to my hard work of marketing, outreach, and my subsequent website, But I am sure the production quality of the book and of Booklocker’s constant advice, support, and suggestions was a huge part of my success.



THE ADIRONDACK REVIEW Summer Issue is now online at The Summer Issue features great fiction, poetry, and book reviews. Furthermore, it showcases the winner and finalists of the 2007 Photography Prize. THE ADIRONDACK REVIEWis also pleased to announce that the 46er Prize for Poetry is now open to submissions. For more information, please see the website.



More Cat Pleska! Listen here: Cat Pleska.  Cat also writes to say she is in the process of creating a CD called THE LAST STORYTELLER of 8 of her radio essays for sale this summer. She reports that a workshop in Erie, PA is using mp3 files of them for inspiration and as examples of writing for radio.



Bill Zavatsky has won a Guggenheim fellowship this year to write his poetry.
Kathy Seal’s new book is out: PRESSURED PARENTS, STRESSED OUT KIDS. See
Cervena Barva Press is pleased to announce the publication of A CURE FOR SUICIDE by Larissa Shmailo. Shmailo writes (as the founder of Fulcrum Magazine Philip Nikolayev points out in his introduction) as if she is …” constitutionally predestined to sing out her lines…her eyes filled with life and love, pain and death, freedom and coercion, the real of the mind and the imagined of the heart.” Order online at
Anne Whitehouse has a new poem “The Refrain” in AMARILLO BAY, vol. 10, no. 2, May 2008. See
Anne’s web page is
Ed Lynskey’s third P.I. Frank Johnson mystery, PELHAM FELL HERE, is due out immediately from Mundania Press ( Set in West Virginia/Virginia, it has been called "a delight" by James Crumley, and has received positive reviews in the LANSING STATE JOURNAL and MIDWEST.

Listen to an interview with Suzanne McConnell about being a student of Kurt Vonnegut at the Iowa Workshops that includes a snippet of Vonnegut himself reading from his work: Vonnegut
Chris Grabenstein’s YA book described above has a great web site:



Launch party for Chris Grabenstein’s adult mystery HELL HOLE (Ceepak Mystery #4) at Captain Dave's Firehouse: Tuesday, July 22, 7 PM, The quarters of FDNY Engine 23, 215 West 58th Street. All proceeds will go to charity! See his website at



The Appalachian Writers Anthology is encouraging submissions of original works of poetry and fiction (up to 2500 words). The submission deadline is September 1, 2008. For information about the anthology and submission guidelines, please see

RATTLE seeks submissions by August 1. Next winter's issue, #30, will feature the work of cowboy/western poets. If you happen to be a rancher/cowboy/western poet, send your unpublished poems and essays by August 1st. They are always open to regular submissions—about 75% of the poems in every issue are open to any style, genre, or poet. Visit for guidelines.
CITY LORE has launched City of Memory, a grand repository for New York City's stories told in audio, video, images and text. They are seeking stories or poems that are associated with a particular NYC place, and photographs. Navigate to, click ADD STORY to have your story included on the map. Every story needs an address – although the address can also be an intersection. If you have video or audio, you would like to include, let us know and we will upload it for you. Let us know, too, if you encounter any problems entering your story.



Here’s something different: Take a look at



Saturn Series Poetry Reading @ Nightingale Lounge
213 2nd Avenue, 7:30 pm, $3, $6 minimum at the bar
7/7 - Roslyn Rabin
7/14- Elise Buchman
7/21 - Theda Detlor
7/28 - Larissa Shmailo



One of our finest and oldest small presses has a new catalog out–books by Tony Towle, Marie Carter, and Sharon Mesmer and Michael Cirelli and more– see their webpage at and, for readings and other upcoming events, see their blog at for information about readings and other upcoming events.



One of the oldest and best sources of books on getting writing and directories of small presses and little magazines is Dustbooks, at



May 19 , 2008



40 years ago, in April 1968, I was a transfer student just finishing my first year at Barnard College at Columbia University. I lived off campus with a couple of other transfer students, and I never felt fully a part of either Barnard or Columbia. Feeling alienated, however, seemed more or less appropriate at that time. My country was prosecuting a vicious war in Vietnam (it was the spring of the My Lai massacre and the Tet offensive); Martin Luther King had just been assassinated. It was a time when you felt a part of history, and that even ordinary people might have an impact. Lyndon Johnson had decided not to seek another term; it was Prague Spring in Central Europe.

I was one of hundreds who joined the Columbia University Sit-ins or the Columbia Rebellion or the Columbia Riots, depending on your point of view. The central issues we were protesting were the war and our university’s participation in war research and the University taking over part of a public park in Harlem to build a gymnasium. It was a resonant combination of local and global– and over 700 of us were arrested, most for criminal trespass (charges generally dropped soon after). Then even more people in the university community went on strike against police violence against students, against the war, against racism.

This year, 2008, I attended a series of panels and gatherings commemorating those events, and I’ve also been reading a few books about those times. Following this article is a short bibliography of more books, mostly about the Columbia Sit-ins, provided by Robert Feldman, one of the organizers of the Spring 2008 event.

I want to talk a little about two memoirs, and also about two novels. One novel is my own TRESPASSERS, which is set around Columbia University during the sit-ins and also at the old Bellevue Hospital where the main character works as a recreation therapist. I worked at Bellevue with rehab patients after I graduated college, but in the novel, the main character is torn between her work there and what the students are doing at Columbia. It’s the last book of my sixties trilogy about Blair Ellen Morgan.

The other novel is also part of a sixties series, Keith Maillard’s LOOKING GOOD, the final book of his tetraology, DIFFICULTY AT THE BEGINNING. I recommend all of his novels, but this one includes some vivid sixties set pieces as the main character flirts with street violence and then goes deep into drugs. Sometimes elderly people say of a book that it “leaves nothing to the imagination,” usually meaning that the work has too much explicit sex, and Maillard’s writing certainly includes sex, but mainly it creates such a fully imagined world that you are submerged to the point you feel you’ve been in the actual thing, not imagining it. He tells everything, every mood, every article of clothing, every dream and paranoid fantasy from every bad and good drug experience. The realism is profound and exhaustive, and it exhaustively details the ways in which one young man at that moment in time got caught up in enormous suffering.

Hilton Obenzinger’s memoir, BUSY DYING, is also about a young man in those exhilarating but rough times. Obenzinger, another of the organizers of the 2008 commemoration at Columbia Univesity, sets his memoir of the protests in the context of his growing up with an immigrant father’s powerful personality, with sad death of his brother and a friend, and the looming background of many relatives having died at Treblinka. Obenzinger was a junior at Columbia College at the time of the sit-ins, a member of the literary magazine circle, and one of the ones who appeared to me to be part of the in-crowd. His description of the events is carefully grounded in what he lived (he and his friends, for example, write some bad poetry while they’re sitting in, at the suggestion of their teacher, Kenneth Koch), but it also gives an excellent overview of what happened. The book, and Obenzinger’s growing up, go beyond the sit-ins to include a bizarre post-graduation road trip in a blue Thunderbird up the Alaskan highway with a crazy child molester. As they say, you can’t make this stuff up. The book is humorous, too, in a nicely twisted way– a clear a window into that time.

Obenzinger is a poet and a writer, and has been most of his life. Cathy Wilkerson, whose memoir FLYING CLOSE TO THE SUN came out in 2007, wanted from early in her life to sacrifice for others. Obenzinger’s memoir has multiple angles and an appreciation of complexity and ambiguity and irony. Wilkerson’s book is painfully sincere in its effort to tell the truth. She is one of the survivors of the iconic 1969 bomb-making explosion in the New York City townhouse that killed three people, including her lover and also one of our Columbia comrades, Ted Gold.

Wilkerson tried from girlhood to live a fully committed life in the light of truth. She was widely read, clearly intelligent, hard working– and determined to fix what is broken with righteous indignation. It is an amazing and depressing book, because Wilkerson was so determined to make a full commitment that in the end she badly damaged herself, as surely as someone strung out on drugs. Wilkerson went from community organizing to organizing for the Students for a Democratic Society and eventually to joining the spin-off of SDS known as Weatherman. As you read, you admire her dedication and appreciate her knowledge of what the US was doing overseas. You empathize with her rage, but you also feel increasing claustrophobia as she narrows her circle of friends and thinking.

She writes of how people moved within months from street fighting to collectivist self-criticism to bomb making. What came after– the next ten years of her life– is disappointingly thin. Was she reluctant to name names or describe personalities vividly enough that they might be recognized? I find myself wanting to know how she came back– and she did. She has been a mathematics instructor for twenty years.

The 2008 Commemoration at Columbia reminded me that the students who protested then are people who have been living full, rich, productive lives for forty years. Obenzinger writes and teaches at Stanford. People from the sit-ins are now judges and activist lawyers and filmmakers; founders of the second wave of feminism and of Black Studies programs at universities around the country; best-selling authors, lauded poets, Buddhist priests. These books, and many others, try to capture a moment in lives, try to analyze or reconstruct what we felt, why we acted, but of course our lives are bigger than any moment, however exciting and formative and historically significant it was.

I wonder if we will ever write as well about the next forty years of our lives.


                                                                            -- Meredith Sue Willis




(Also see CU Book List )

[Thanks to Robert Feldman, who has been archiving this material at: sundial-columbia-sds (Notes from Robert Feldman.)]
Avorn, Jerry L. UP AGAINST THE IVY WALL: A HISTORY OF THE COLUMBIA CRISIS, New York: Atheneum, 1969. Avorn was an editor of Spectator, and had others at the paper aid him in writing this. Very thorough, but with some errors of off-campus names and events.
COLUMBIA COLLEGE TODAY, "Six Weeks that Shook Morningside", Vol XV, No. 3 (Spring 1968). A quasi-official view from Columbia. Less detailed than most of the others listed here.
COLUMBIA DAILY SPECTATOR, Vol. CXII, Nos. 101-113 (April 24-May 10, 1968) Reprinted as a Supplement, much overlapping the Avorn piece above. Supplement's title is "Crisis at Columbia", not to be confused with the following:
F. W. Dupee, “The Uprising at Columbia", New York Review of Books, Vol. XI, No. 5 (September 26, 1968), pp 20 ff.
Grant, Joanne, CONFRONTATION ON CAMPUS: THE COLUMBIA PATTERN FOR THE NEW PROTEST, New York: Signet Books, 1969. Scattered factual errors such as three arrested when six were, and calling the Columbia owned apartment building on 114 Street a hotel on 112 Street, but an interesting take by a total outsider.
Kunen, James Simon, THE STRAWBERRY STATEMENT, Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated, 2006.
Liberation New Service, packets of April 30, May 1, May 18 and May 20 all 1968, plus a mimeographed brochure compiling the foregoing. (Robert Feldman wrote about half of this material).
New York Civil Liberties Union, POLICE ON CAMPUS: THE MASS POLICE ACTION AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY SPRING 1968, New York: Temco Press, 1969.
Keith Maillard, LOOKING GOOD. Alberta, Canada: Brindle & Glass, 2006
Hilton Obenzinger, BUSY DYING. Tuscon, Arizona: Chax Press, 2008.
Hilton Obenzinger, "Columbia Student Rebellion 1968-- 40 Years Later," online at (May 28, 2008).
Mark Rudd, UNDERGROUND: MY LIFE IN SDS AND THE WEATHERMEN (New York, HarperCollins, 2009).
Susan Stern, WITH THE WEATHERMEN. Rutgers University Press, 2007; first edition 1975.
Cathy Wilkerson, FLYING CLOSE TO THE SUN. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2007.
Meredith Sue Willis, TRESPASSERS. Maplewood, New Jersey: Hamilton Stone Editions 1997.




Here’s some reading for a total change of pace! Every once in a while I’m attracted by the reading list for a course or a writers’ conference like this one at They suggest the following books which regard “food as metaphor...arising from nourishment, abundance, gluttony, deprivation, and hunger:”

AMERICAN FLAMINGO (poetry) by Greg Pape;
FAT GIRL (memoir) by Judith Moore;
FUEL (poetry) by Naomi Shihab Nye;
HANSEL AND GRETEL from Grimm’s Fairy Tales;
HUNGER (fiction) by Elise Blackwell;
IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN, WHERE THE WILD THINGS RE, OUTSIDE OVER THERE (books for young readers) by Maurice Sendak;
SECRET INGREDIENTS; THE NEW YORKER BOOK OF FOOD AND DRINK (fiction, nonfiction, cartoons, poetry) edited by David Remnick;
YOU’RE NOT YOU (fiction) by Michelle Wildgen.



mostly older books by writers like by James Joyce and Truman Capote. Her own latest publication is a memoir, PERSIAN GIRLS, of which the BOSTON GLOBE says, "Persian Girls, reads like a novel -- suspenseful, vivid, heartbreaking,” and NPR: THE WORLD’s Christopher Merrill says, "If you want to know what it was like to grow up in Iran this is the book to read. Her portrait of the artist is filled with light." For upcoming workshops with Rachlin, see below.



There is a wonderful interview with Suzanne McConnell about being a student of Kurt Vonnegut at the Iowa Workshops that includes a snippet of Vonnegut himself reading from his work: Bookshelf
Cat Pleska has a new essay aired Friday, May 16 on West Virginia Public Radio at She writes, “This is based on a piece I wrote back in 1991, my first memoir piece.”
TEMPORARY PEOPLE by Steven Gillis has just been published by Black Lawrence Press. See their website at


You can help celebrate Chris Grabenstein's ( first Middle Grades (and beyond!) Ghost Story: THE CROSSROADS on Tuesday, June 3, 2008, at Bank Street Books, 610 West 112th Street, 5:30-7:00 P.M (reading at 6:15), Cupcakes by Magnolia Bakery!
There will be a Birthday Celebration and Poetry Reading with Naomi Replansky on Friday, May 23, 2008, 6-8 PM at Teachers & Writers Collaborative. For information, call 212-691-6590 or write




NAHID RACHLIN is offering two upcoming workshops. One, in France, is the PARIS WRITERS WORKSHOP,, a 5-day Fiction Workshop, July 6-11, 2008, 9:00 AM-12 PM Contact: 00 33 1 45 66 75 50 For more, go to their website, click on workshop 2008.
In the USA, she’s giving one in Provincetown, Massachusetts at the PROVINCETOWN WORK CENTER,, a 5-day Fiction/Memoir Workshop, August 10-15, 2008, 1:00 PM-4:00 PM. Contact: 508.487.9960, ext.103, or go to their website and click on summer program 2008.
“These courses,” writes Rachlin, “are about building full real reach readers it is important to develop believable, three-dimensional characters. How do you create complex, real people within the context of plot, dialogue, viewpoint, voice? This is the question we will try to answer. The class sessions will be mainly devoted to students' own work – chapters of novels, memoirs, novellas, short stories, which we will read and comment on (please bring 15 double-spaced pages to the first class). I will also give class exercises. In the first session we will devote some time to a general discussion of the craft of writing fiction and also cover some publishing aspects of writing-- how to go about getting an agent, writing a cover letter, what to expect from the publishing world today. The criticism will be constructive. We will point out strengths as well as weaknesses and make suggestions for improvement.” See her website at .



One of our finest and oldest small presses has a new catalog out–books by Tony Towle, Marie Carter, and Sharon Mesmer and Michael Cirelli and more– see their webpage at and, for readings and other upcoming events, see their blog at for information about readings and other upcoming events.



One of the oldest and best sources of books on getting writing and directories of small presses and little magazines is Dustbooks, at



Number 108
April 28, 2008



animal withinkingofswordsground under my feet




I just returned from the events marking the 40th anniversary of the 1968 Columbia University sit-ins, and I intend in the next issue of this newsletter to discuss some memoirs and other books that touch on this period. This issue, however, is going to be praise of three special books that you will have to search out rather than stumble over in a pile at your local Barnes & Noble.   The fact that these books are being published by extremely small presses is yet another sign of the importance of not depending on the big stores and the few big review outlets to guide your reading.

The books, which all happen to be by people I know and respect, are a memoir, THE GROUND UNDER MY FEET by Eva Kollisch; a collection of poems, THE ANIMAL WITHIN, by Rebecca Kavaler; and a novel, THE KING OF SWORDS, by Miguel Antonio Ortiz.

Eva Kollisch, who has been a guest columnist in this newsletter (see archive71-75 ) and whose first book I reviewed in the very first issue of this newsletter (archive1-5.html#1 ), has written a fascinating mix of fiction and memoir about her personal past and the past of Austria. The situation is that a middle-class, intellectual, secular Jewish family is living outside of Vienna just before the Second World War. The mother is a poet in the German language and a lover of German culture. After all, this is her native land. But Hitler annexes Austria, and all Jews are at terrible risk, and the family flees. Eva and her two brothers escape on the famous kindertransport  to England and then eventually to the U.S. Her mother is the last out, and comes very close to not making it.

Kollisch’s pieces are about the about casual anti-Semitism of pre-war Austria, about her parents, about her relationship to Austria– and about the girls she knew there, Jew and gentile. All her stories are offered up with élan and precision. One essay is about a group of Jews of her mother’s generation in the New York area who try to keep the culture and literature that inspired them alive, even after the horrors of Germany. One essay is about Kollisch’s reluctant reunion with her gentile Austrian schoolmates after sixty years. The Austrian women turned out to have had, in fact, more physical suffering during the war than she did, a teenager on Staten Island, New York.  At first, she is unable to remember these playmates, and she is initially not interested in forgiving and resuming relations, but in the end, she reaches out and returns for a visit to Austria.

Sometimes when Kollisch wants to engage deeply in the experience of the long-ago child, she writes the stories as fiction. There is one excellent meditative piece in which the adult and the young girl discuss the past together. I was delighted with the freedom Kollisch allows herself, as if she had considered all the memoir versus fiction discussions and simply tossed away the rule book to write what fit which story. In every mode, however, Kollisch writes with deep introspection and honesty: this is what I remember happened, here are some documents (especially letters between her parents in the wildly stressful time when her mother was still in Austria); this is what I think probably happened, but since I’m not sure, I’ll do it with a made-up version of the child I was.   (A sample from the book is available online in the HAMILTON STONE REVIEW at kollisch.)

The second book I want to recommend here is much-honored fiction writer Rebecca Kavaler’s collection of poems, THE ANIMAL WITHIN. Kavaler, who died this year, was a short story writer, novelist, and then, in her final years, a poet. She is a perfect example of the sort of under-rated writer who should be rediscovered and enjoyed. I recommend all of her work (see her website ) , but these new poems are an especial revelation with their pellucid explorations of language, form, and psychological states. For example:

The Animal Within

Homage to Sir Thomas Browne
We, who supposedly contain all Africa and her prodigies,
are revealed for what we are only in the dying
when this flesh, once apostrophized as too too solid,
has proven renderable as any carcass and in the process
manufactured hollows where hillocks of cheeks once smiled,
then weeded out the overgrowth of hair to uncover
a tenderness-evoking curve of skull,
a property we had thought
only of the newly born.
The mirror reflects no longer a unique face but the template
of the race: uncles, aunts, cousins far removed, some ancestor
who left no trace in family history yet surfaces now like
a species long thought extinct hauled up from the ocean’s depths
and when that dissolves what is left
but the animal within
which we made so much of.                                        



Finally, I want to tell you about Miguel Antonio Ortiz’s novel KING OF SWORDS. At first glance, this appears to be a family saga with the satisfactions of nineteenth century fiction: an omniscient viewpoint, philosophical ruminations, explorations of the levels of a particular society, early twentieth century Puerto Rico. The story-telling is formal and leisurely, and a single dramatic action has long-term fatal consequences. It is also a love story, or perhaps several love stories, and is rich with passion, violence, and insights into the time and place.
However– and here’s where things get really interesting– it is in no way an old-fashioned novel, but rather something new and extremely original. The revelation of the fatal action mentioned above, for example, comes at the end of the story, not as a solved mystery, but as a revelation. This at once solves the modern problem of how to end a novel (weddings no longer have the impact they once did) and throws brilliant light on all the events and dramatic moments that came before. It recasts everything that came before, which was engaging and gripping in its own right. The ending gives insight and meaning to the preceding pages, and also demonstrates one of the ideas the novel plays with– the impossibility of avoiding the past, which makes the present sometimes tragic but also precious.

The style contrasts leisurely description and narration with runs of crisp dialogue, almost minimalist in their untagged flow, and it is studded with surprising passages that are like extended metaphors grown into fables:


[It was as if] his mind were merely a tree standing in a forest where that thought, like a bird, arbitrarily chose to land. In the natural surroundings, several sequences of events are possible: the bird might merely fly off to find a more convenient place to rest for the moment and only occasionally return; or it might find that part of the forest totally inadequate and fly on, never to revisit; or indeed, it might feel totally at home in that particular place and build a nest, lay eggs, and raise offspring, spending a complete season in that one tree. Of course, the tree has no choice in the matter, and only the bird determines the course of action. The question then becomes whether Aurelio’s mind can be compared to such an object, for although it had the property of being able to provide a leafy home to a hovering thought, it also had the ability to transform itself at will into something totally uninhabitable by an intruder. At the moment, Don Aurelio wished for a breeze strong enough to shake the branches and cause the bird to take flight.... (pp. 269 - 270.)


The novel is the work of a writer with a great depth of literary understanding, enormous technical skill, and a determination to write in exactly the way his story needs to be told.


                                              -- Meredith Sue WIllis



I'm offering a four-session online creative writing class called Summer Stories during the month of July 2008 for writers of memoir and personal essay as well as short story and novel. The class is appropriate for beginning writers but will give ample stimulation to advanced writers who want to move forward with their projects. Students who have taken this class in the past will find new exercises included and, of course, new responses to new work. There will be exercises and individual feedback on up to 1000 words per week. Sessions will be posted online and emailed on July 7, 14, 21, and 28, 2008, with homework due a week later. The class will close as soon as it is full. For more information, see Summer Stories .


Allan Appel’s new novel THE MIDLAND KID: TALES OF THE PRESIDENTIAL GHOSTWRITER is now available at  The Midland Kid .  This novel is a pre-emptive strike on the Bush legacy in the form of a comic novel of a liberal ponytailed 60s ghostwriter of westerns who just happens to be a favorite author of a Bush-like president. When a presidential adviser sees the legacy tanking, he gets the idea to have the prez be the first ever to write a novel while in office. Our hero needs the money, and it zooms off from there. A little Tom Sharpe, some Swift, and shades of Barbara Garson's MacBird! The author reports that he also thinks that this may be “the only American novel that in the spirit of Mel Gibson contains a few paragraphs in Aramaic.”
Laura Thompson’s new website is now up at
Ethel Miller’s website has been updated: See .
Humor columnist Sharon O’Donnell in HOUSE OF TESTOSTERONE chronicles her adventures raising three sons and reigning in her über-male, forgetful husband, Kevin. She shares her stories of welcoming her third son into the world, resisting the gravitational pull of the “guy zone,” and running a household immersed in a world of sports, bathroom humor, and laundry. More details at .


BELLEVUE LITERARY REVIEW is sponsoring a Poetry & Prose Reading Sunday, May 4, 2008 at 5:00 PM with Maud Casey, Jessica Greenbaum, Leslie Jamison, and Elaine Sexton ad the Bellevue Hospital Rotunda 462 First Avenue at 28th St. NYC. For information, write to .


A new GINOSKO is up at
The April issue of WORD RIOT is up at with prose by Thomas Boulan, Mary Bowers, Jean-Gérald Charbonneau, Jon Chopan, Gabe Durham, Brian Foley, James Francis, Jack Harris, Melissa Ruby and James Terry and poetry by R. A. Allen, Joe Balaz, Jak Cardini, Richard Donnelly, Scott Drinkall, Kenneth Gurney, Lara Konesky, Janice Krasselt Tatter, Chris Major and Kirk Pinho
EPIPHANY has an upcoming Summer/Fall 2008 issue coming soon. SUBSCRIBE NOW at epiphanyzine.


Meredith Sue Willis’s one day “Jump-Start Your Novel” workshop at NYU will take place June 7, 2008. See NYU’s SCPS Writing Classes .



Number 107
April 6, 2008






I'm offering a four-session online creative writing class called Summer Stories during the month of July 2008 for writers of memoir and personal essay as well as short story and novel. The class is appropriate for beginning writers but will give ample stimulation to advanced writers who want to move forward with their projects. Students who have taken this class in the past will find new exercises included and, of course, new responses to new work. There will be exercises and individual feedback on up to 1000 words per week. Sessions will be posted online and emailed on July 7, 14, 21, and 28, 2008, with homework due a week later. The class will close as soon as it is full. For more information, see


....just a little more Maria Edgeworth! (Is this an addiction?) Last issue I wrote about CASTLE RACKRENT. Next I read THE ABSENTEE. Many people think this first of Edgeworth’s novels was her best, and I would agree that her novels of manners are more uneven, but she’s worth reading even when she’s sloppy. After reading THE ABSENTEE, I did an edit of the Wikipedia ( article about it as follows: “ Just before coming of age, Lord Colambre, the sensitive hero of the novel, finds that his mother Lady Clonbrony's attempts to buy her way into the high society of London are only ridiculed, while his father is in serious debt as a result of his wife's lifestyle. Colambre falls in love with his mother's companion, his supposed cousin, Grace Nugent. Colambre travels incognito to Ireland to see the country that he still considers his home. Along the way he is briefly ensnared by a cold hearted adventuress who wants him to marry her daughter and who informs him that his beloved Grace is not Mr. Nugent's daughter at all, but rather an illegitimate child! This is confirmed by letter by his mother, who, while a social climber and generally frivolous, is very loving to Grace and has never told her about her parentage. Colambre is heart broken and feels he can never love a woman with such a heritage.
“He visits his family estate and discovers that his father's agents are oppressing the local peasantry and probably cheating his father as well. He reveals himself to the evil agents, and there is a race back to London, Colambre trying to stop his father from signing documents that would ruin some of the good peasants, the agent's agent trying to get the papers signed. Colambre makes it back just in time to stop his father from ruining the people, and he then assists his father in paying off his debts, on condition that the Clonbrony family return to live in Ireland. The final section concerns Colambre's love for Grace and how it is discovered that she is– yes!– both legitimate and an heiress! There are many turns of plot and lots of information about Ireland as well as Irish dialect and details of shallow London fashionable life and the egregious results of the propertied classes treating their Irish lands as a resource to be exploited rather than as a relationship among classes and with the land.”
The things I dislike about the novel are the hero’s fastidiousness about legitimate birth, and the heroine’s apparently bottomless passivity. You have to remind yourself that the biggest argument against female passivity is Edgeworth herself, who ran an enormous family and their property and wrote books and traveled besides.
Then, just to complete my little Maria Edgeworth festival, I also read a purported biography, MARIA EDGEWORTH by the Hon. Emily Lawless– a funny old fashioned book published in 1905. I bought it used, online, and it turned out to be a reject from the Santa Cruz, California, Public Library– last checked out on March 24, 1923! The writer, an Anglo-Irishwoman like the author, loves CASTLE RACKRENT, but not Edgeworth’s other books. She also thoroughly disapproves of Edgeworth’s patriarchal papa. It wasn’t the biography I was looking for–although I did enjoy meeting Hon. Emily. Which seemed to have been the real subject of the book.
I also read HEALTH PROXY by Robert Roth, which was recommended here by Carole Rosenthal in Issue #104. It’s really pretty stunning– all about life in tiny gray apartments in the Village among people who were (and still are I suppose) cutting edge and political and full of talk. It is extremely gripping, that in-your-face quality of the ancient mariner stopping you and holding you with his extreme honesty. It’s the insistent scrupulousness with which he examines himself, his friends, and his failings that engaged me. I really couldn’t put it down. See Carol Rosenthal’s comments.
Final notes: I re-read Allen Ginsberg’s HOWL after my husband bought it for me and brought in home from the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. It is much funnier than I remembered, and I had totally forgotten some of the wonderful short poems.
And, for something completely different– I read the Phaidon COURBET by James H. Rubin after visiting the big Courbet Retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I didn’t know I liked Courbet particularly, and wasn’t all that overwhelmed by the melodramatic series of youthful self portraits in the beginning of the exhibit, but by the end, I really was overwhelmed by the hunting scenes, the landscapes, the dead fish, the bowls of wonderfully imperfect apples. The book is an excellent, reasonably priced introduction to him: to his democratic, anti-upper class approach to life and art, and to his self-publicizing. He has some of that quality of the Newly Discovered, Much-celebrated Self that you find in Whitman’s poetry. Good art book– I often go to the Met’s big exhibits and decide not to buy the enormous catalogs with their scholarly articles and large price tag. Also, I don’t want to have to carry them home on the train. Ten I buy the Phaidon introductions instead!
Finally, speaking of Wikipedia, I hope everyone is using it not just for the odd bit of information, but also to put in notes about your favorite writers and other subjects. It is especially important to put in short articles about writers who may be missed otherwise: overlooked or young writers, regional writers. You should also edit the articles on subjects you care about. I did a whole edit of the article on “The Death of Ivan Ilych,” which I thought was tendentious in a bad direction. Wikipedia is so often the first source that comes up on Google that it has become an important influence on human knowledge. So share what you know– it only succeeds when everyone’s information is shared.
                                                                                    --- Meredith Sue Willis




...says, “I found a just mind-blowing passage on blindness in Pamuk's "The Black Book" -- quoted most of it
(Did I mention to you what a wonderful book Saramago's "SEEING" is? It's set in the city of "BLINDNESS" four years later, a political fable. The both books in combination are, I think, hugely more than the two of them separately.)” Notes on SEEING:




Magdalena Ball of recommends her best 2007 books: Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD and Emily Ballou’s APHELION. She says “the 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.”


Pamela Erens’ novel THE UNDERSTORY (reviewed here in Issue #100 ) was named as a finalist for the LOS ANGELES TIMES Book Prize in First Fiction. Very exciting news!
Carter Seaton, author of FATHER’S TROUBLES, has been awarded the 2007 Denny C. Plattner award for Outstanding Non-Fiction for her piece “Those Who Came,” which appeared in the 2007 Spring Edition of APPALACHIAN HERITAGE, a literary journal published by Berea College.
Jennifer DeWitt reports that she has just an article published in the DAILY RECORD of Madison/Chatham, New Jersey in their special section called "Madison Chatham This Week". Looks like it will be a regular gig for me. She thinks this may be a regular column, too. See it at her article for Senior Citizens Guide magazine: She says that having two non-fiction articles published has also inspired her fiction writing.
Glad Day Books and Triboro Pictures have announced the official website for the film based on Leora Skolkin-Smith's EDGES, set to be shot on location in Jordan and Jerusalem:
Diane Lockwood’s book WHAT FEEDS US is one of two poetry collections featured
in the new e-issue of RATTLE. The feature includes 5 poems from the book. See
Penny Harter’s new collection of poems THE NIGHT MARSH is just out from WordTech. The publisher's web page for the book is, and Penny’s page for the book is . Here’s a sample poem:
Feeding the Horses in Texas
for my father
Dad kept yellow corn from the feed store
in a garbage can out behind the shed.
Dawn and dusk, he shoved a rusty scoop
deep into that can, dumping hard kernels
of boyhood memory on the family farm
into a galvanized pail.
Then he sniffed the wind and nickered
until two horses crossed the neighbor’s field
to rest their muzzles on the split-rail fence
and talk to him.
And he made more horse noises,
grinning back as they curled floppy lips
to bare big teeth and munch this ritual gift
from an old man lost in his yard,
who raised that steel bucket
as if to his own mouth.




TEMPORARY PEOPLE by Steven Gillis (Black Lawrence Press, April 2008) is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Gillis is the author of the novels Walter Falls and The Weight of Nothing, both finalists for the Independent Publishers Book of the Year and ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year 2003 and 2005.
Warren Adler’s NEW YORK ECHOES has just been published, to be followed shortly by FUNNY BOYS, a new novel. Adler is the author of THE WAR OF THE ROSES and many other books.
Judith Victoria Hensley ‘s TERRIBLE TINA has just been published. See the website at
A new book by Norman Jordan. Learn more .



Ed Myers writes to say he has found an interesting resource for writers, ( Ed says, “Someone described this to me as Facebook for writers. The site's goal is to provide writers with a networking site and a place for building a community of writers and readers. One has to apply and get screened, etc.....It looks promising to me in several different ways...Have a look.”


Thursday, April 10, 2008 at 9 p.m. is the broadcast date and time for Diane Gilliam Fisher's amazing volume of poetry, KETTLE BOTTOM. West Virginia Public Radio's version, produced by Kate Long, is sure to be a very special and long remembered program.
A new book review online: THE INTERNET REVIEW OF BOOKS, Carter Jefferson, Editor, . See the website at
Barbara Crooker recommends – which also has several of her new poems.
Magdalena Ball ( Is the host of Compulsive Reader talks which is live at the second Tuesday f the month at 6 p.m. It is permanently available in podcast form.
The HAMILTON STONE REVIEW’S Issue # 14 is up at featuring selections from Hamilton Stone Edition's 2008 Book List by Rebecca Kavaler, Jane Lazarre, Eva Kollisch, and Rochelle Ratner; and poetry by Bobbi Lurie, CL Bledsoe, David Thornbrugh, Alex Cigale, Georgios Tsangaris, John M. Bennett, Burt Kimmelman, Jamie Cooper, Cheyenne Nimes, and Laurie Price.


PARK SLOPE’S 440 GALLERY– Claudia Carlson and others read on Sunday, April 13th from 4:40-6:00 pm at 440 Gallery, 440 Sixth Avenue (at 9th St., F to 7th Ave.) CONTACT: Brooke Shaffner at Admission Free
Wednesday, April 16th at 6:00 PM
Miguel Ortiz
King of Swords
Miguel Ortiz's new novel is a sweeping historical work based on the life of his grandfather in Puerto Rico.
ROSARY O'NEILL, Award-winning New Orleans playwright, announces the representation of a two volume anthology set of her plays by Samuel French: A LOUISIANA GENTLEMAN and OTHER COMEDIES AND GHOSTS OF NEW ORLEANS. Friday, May 9th from 6:00 to 7:30 PM at the Marquis Room of The National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South, New York, NY 10003. Call (212) 475-3424 for more information. See her website at .
JOHN AMEN is reading 4/9 at PoetsWednesday, 582 Rahway Ave, Woodbridge, NJ; 4/10
NYC Pedestal Event at the West Side YMCA (The George Washington Lounge) 5 West 63rd Street (between Central Park West & Broadway) New York, NY 8pm. For more readings, around the country, see and



Meredith Sue Willis’s next one day “Jump-Start Your Novel” workshop at NYU will take place June 7, 2008. NYU’s SCPS Writing Classes are at




IMPORTANT NOTE: Meredith Sue Willis makes no claims and has no special knowledge about these contests– please check them out carefully! I just pass on things that look interesting.

WriterAdvice, is searching for flash fiction, memoir, and creative non-fiction that grabs, surprises, and mesmerizes readers in fewer than 750 words. If you have a complete story or memoir with a strong theme, sharp images, a solid structure, and an unexpected discovery, please submit. Visit the website,, for details about offering your pieces. Questions? Send an e-mail to SPECIAL PERK: All entries accompanied by an SASE will be returned with brief comments.
Deadline: April 30, 2008
First Prize: $1,000
and Publication of Book
Contest Judge: Thylias Moss
For full guidelines, see Website for more information.
MARSH HAWK PRESS Mail to: P.O. Box 206, East Rockaway, NY 11518. Entry fee.
THE INTERNET REVIEW OF BOOKS offers a $100 prize for the best entry in its "Lasting
Impressions" contest. Write a 600- to 900-word book review that includes the reason this book made a lasting impression on you. Send it as plain text in your e-mail message form to this address. Include a bio of 50 words or less. First place - $100 with publication in the May issue of IRB– Second place - $50 and possible publication– Third place - $25 and possible publication. Entry fee - $5.00. Entries and payment must be received by April 20, 2008 Learn more at:



A ROOM OF HER OWN FOUNDATION Invites Applications for Literary Gift of Freedom Award. Deadline: October 31, 2008 A Room Of Her Own Foundation ( is dedicated to helping women artists achieve the privacy and financial support necessary to pursue their art. To this end, the foundation annually provides an award of $50,000 to a woman writer. The foundation's 2009 Literary Gift of Freedom Award will be given to an American woman writer who is a U.S. citizen and will be living in the U.S. during the grant period. Acceptable genres for this grant are poetry, playwriting, creative nonfiction, and fiction. Visit the foundation's Web site for complete program guidelines:
2008-2009 Teachers &Writers Fellowships are now available online at . These fellowships are for people 30 and under who show exceptional artistic promise and are in the New York City area (or have their own place to stay there.) The Fellowship period is October 1, 2008, to May 31, 2009. During that time, T&W Fellows will receive a $10,000 stipend, Office space and resources (e.g., computer, supplies) at T&W, and much more. Applications for the 2008–2009 T&W Fellowships must be RECEIVED by 5:00 PM (Eastern), Monday, July 7, 2008 If you have questions after reviewing the guidelines and application form, please e-mail or call 212-691-6590.




Number 106

February 23, 2008



It’s been a rough winter for reading– lots of teaching and other paid work, events with my local integration organization, a new issue of the HAMILTON STONE REVIEW due up momentarily ( – and I’m the techie for that. Also my mother is visiting and needs to be shuttled to and from the airport as she visits my cousin in Ohio, then my sister in California, then my cousin again but in Florida this time– and next week I drive her home to West Virginia. I’m also going to be making a short appearance in Wheeling, West Virginia on March 4 at their Lunch With Books program . I follow one-time Hindman roommate Gretchen Laskas, whose book THE MIDWIFE’s TALE I’ve enjoyed and reviewed .
But all of that is, I remind myself, why I started this newsletter. I use it, as I hope others do, to figure out what to read in the limited time I have. You’ll see below that Sherry Chandler uses GOODREADS at least sometimes for her book ideas, but I’m mostly getting my ideas these days from what comes in here. I just read DROWN by Junot Diaz, which was under discussion in several recent issues. I especially liked his long story “Negocios” about a father who has two families at the same time. It’s a really good example of what I consider fiction’s major ethical project, which is to go inside and explore what is hard to understand in human behavior. In this case, the imaginative effort pays off in a hard-won love.
I also finished the Harry Potter series, reading HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS by J.K. Rowling. As I wrote to my 22 year old son Joel (who turned up his nose at Harry all through high school then got totally hooked as a college student), I like this one best of all. It's the most grown up of the books. I could imagine teens not liking it because (SPOILER ALERT!! SKIP TO NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK) this one has an epilogue in which Harry and his friends are settled, rather bland, bourgeois parents in their thirties. The big excitement in the epilogue is the next generation starting Hogwarts. I think Rowling’s decision to end this way is fine, but if I were reading it at the age of, say 18, I would think: That’s it? Then I turn into my parents? I’d been afraid Rowling was going to do something stupid like kill one of the REALLY important people ( I actually cared enough to put off reading it for this reason). She killed off some minor folks– even the Weasley who dies is one of a pair of twins. So she did a very nice of job of avoiding general destruction, yet managed an exciting Battle of Hogwarts. What I liked best here was the complexities: Dumbledore turned out have been seriously imperfect and Snapes wasn't really bad (I knew from the way things were left hanging in the previous book that he wasn't going to be). Anyhow, Rowling handled it all very well. And in the end, Harry’s success, while it certainly had some individual heroics– was a group endeavor, regular people working together. Harry could not possibly have succeeded without Ron and Hermione, and Voldemorte’s greatest failure was his refusal to admit of any equals.
And finally, I reread Maria Edgeworth’s CASTLE RACKRENT. Way back in Issue #6 in early 2001 I was reading Maria Edgeworth’s longer novels with their conventional Who Will She Marry plots. Edgeworth was a favorite of Jane Austen’s, and I like her a lot too: her novels are flawed but fascinating. She lived and wrote in the time of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, a time when women in the British isles, anyhow, seemed to have more independence than during Victorian times. Anyhow, CASTLE RACKRENT, a novella more than a novel (available online ) has a comic unreliable narrator, an Irish servant named Thady Quirk who is unwaveringly faithful to several generations of Rackrents, a race of drunken n’er-do-wells who are quickly running their property into the ground, enabled by Thady. The first time I read it, I thought Thady was a hypocrite– that he was enjoying their downfall, especially as his son profits from it, but this time I’ve decided that the fun is rather in how he is totally deluded that the best Master is a generous, good-hearted drunk who hands over all the management of his estate to underlings. There are all sorts of misadventures and sudden deaths to the squires of Rackrent and their ladies while the tenants suffer and the very roof collapses. One of the masters marries what Thady calls a “Jewish,” who gets locked up in her bedchamber for a long imprisonment but prevails in the end, when the husband dies. The story is a wonderful hard-edged mix of comedy and tragedy. Thady’s voice has a definite Irish accent without tedious transcription of pronunciation. He knows a tremendous amount about the law, which everyone seems to be involved in. The real tragedy of the story is not so much the downfall of the Rackrents as the amazingly oppressive system of squeezing money out of the farms and tenant farmers, who sometimes have to pay their rent twice, once to the actual landlord and once to his agents– even as they are required to offer tribute in the form of poultry and other farm products. Thady occasionally tries to patch up the castle, but every few pages there is another window broken out, a chimney burnt, an end to the supply of candles. It’s all very sad and awful and terribly funny.
And that’s why I read: for that exploration into what I would never experience otherwise.







Jeremy Osner writes to say he finished BLINDNESS. He says, “Thanks very much for the
recommendation, I just loved it! Last night I started on his 2004 book SEEING, which looks like it's going to be great (and features some of the same characters, at least the doctor's wife and the dog of tears are in it) -- it is also very timely to read in 2008 since it deals with elections.” See Jeremy’s notes on BLINDNESS at



Sherry Chandler writes to say, “I am subscribed to Good Reads and like Shelley Ettinger, I find it mostly a good place to keep track of the books I’ve read and to spout off a bit about them if I want to. Since I have a really bad relationship with the calendar, the site might be a good place to remind me what I actually did read in 2007 so I could tell you what my best books were. My list of friends is growing and I find it sort of a good way to network with some people I wouldn’t otherwise get into a book discussion with. You can list your own publications there and some people use it as a marketing tool, which I find a little bit annoying. Also some people go back and make a retro list of everything they ever read – or so it seems. This kind of thing can be fun, as for example, the time when practically everybody I know seems to have decided to rate ‘Metamorphosis.’ But it can also tend to clog your mailbox up. I find it work enough to list the books I’m currently reading. Oh – they also have some nice site widgets.
“As for my reading in 2007, I would list some really good poetry books and chapbooks, including
PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A WHITE PIG (LSU Press, 2006) by Jane Gentry. Jane is currently Kentucky’s poet laureate. She is a slow writer, having published only two full-length collections, but an exquisite craftsperson. UNBOUND & BRANDED (Finishing Line) by Christina Stewart-Nunez. This chapbooks presents a series of poems that are meditations on the social significance of Kate Moss. Lucid and thought-provoking. HERE BULLET (Alice James Books) by Brian Turner. Poems about Iraq by a veteran of the war. Powerful. LICKING THE SPOON (Finishing Line) by Joanie DiMartino A chapbook of poems on the social and sexual significance of cooking. Edgy and well-crafted. SUBJECT TO CHANGE (Wordtech) by Marilyn Taylor. Witty formal poetry on women and aging. A IS FOR ANNE (Wordtech) by Penelope Scambly Schott. A feminist poet takes on a biography-in-poetry of the Puritan preacher/dissident Anne Hutchinson. Written with feminist intent, much more approachable than you might think.
“In fiction, I discovered some older fantasists who rather blew me away including Angela Carter’s THE BLOODY CHAMBER (1979) and Hope Mirlees’s LUD-IN-THE-MIST (1926). And in non-fiction, I finally screwed up the courage to read Chris Hedges’ WAR IS A FORCE THAT GIVES US MEANING. Painful, appalling and inspiring. Thanks for doing the newsletter. I enjoy it immensely.”
See Sherry’s website at


Idelis Sotomayor comments: “WHY MEN MARRY BITCHES, hurray for the spirit of the independent woman, the savvy beauty of mankind! Reading KETTLE BOTTOM -a perfect title!- by Diane Gilliam Fisher, published by the energetic Perugia Press (Susan Kan), and brought in by Meredith, is like remembering what led to Sago Mine disaster, 12 killed, in January 2006, Sago, West Virginia. To Blue Creek #5 Mine disaster, 13 killed, in September 2001, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. To Consol #9 Mine disaster, 78 killed, in November 1968, Farmington, West Virginia. And to many, many more preventable tragedies going back in time.
“KETTLE BOTTOM is an impressive selection of poetry of social content, and I just loved it! The language used there sounds as true miners jargon revealing their life struggle. It pictures real people from the working rural segment of our nation speaking out for us -the indifferent urban world-. Folks talking from the soul on a sort of historical account. Getting sour stuff out of their chest and heart of selected witnesses of a reality that only a few Americans know. A reality that even has gone too far as to produce one of the most heinous episodes in American labor history. The Red Neck War or Battle of Blair Mountain in September 1921, Appalachia, West Virginia. With at least 30 American casualties, most of them miners. Which constitutes one of 20th century's unavoidable social bursts that confirms me, we did create a newly enslaved society after 1863. For that reason, there are still ahead more social changes waiting for us to make them happen. And doing so we will not let the vital ideas of democracy and social justice die.”
For the full text of Idelis’s comments, see below.


Barbara Crooker has work on these sites: "Artless" and "Angels" (rima dissoluta) at
and two from The Writer's Almanac,: "In the Middle"
(Scroll down to the12th) and "All That Is Glorious Around Us" (scroll waydown to the 10th.) See her website at




ONLY ONE NEIGHBORHOOD by Marc Harshman and Barbara Garrison is a beautiful hardcover picture book from Dutton, an urban story of peace and diversity.



Poetry Anthology of Work by Qomen over 60: Deadline: February 29, 2008 Looking for recent work giving full and honest voice to women’s lives. Submit up to 5 poems (33-line each maximum), a three-line bio, and SASE to Robin Chapman & Jeri McCormick, Editors, 205 N. Blackhawk Ave., Madison, WI 53705. Previously published poems ok if poet holds copyright.


Cat Pleska on Public Radio again– a prose poem on winter at


Jane Augustine, Burt Kimmelman, Sandy McIntosh, Stephen Paul Miller, Rochelle Ratner in “An Evening of Readings by Marsh Hawk Press Poets.” DATE: Monday, February 25, 2008 TIME: 8:00 PM LOCATION: The Living Theatre, 21 Clinton Street, New York City MORE: For more information 718-928-7682.
5th Big CLWN WR Event – Thursday, March 20, 2008 – 7:00 - 10:00 pm– SAFE-T-GALLERY, 111 Front Street, Gallery 214, DUMBO, Brooklyn Take the F train to York Street, walk downhill to Front and turn left under the Manhattan Bridge. For more information, maps, and directions from other subway lines please check the Gallery website at
Thad Rutkowski reads March 5, Wednesday, 8 p.m., Reading in Susan Scutti's round-robin Tone Poem. Bowery Poetry Club, 308 The Bowery (at Bleecker Street), Manhattan. $7. or (212) 614-0505. Also, March 9, Sunday, 10 p.m., Reading in Tsaurah Litzky's Charles Bukowski Praise Night, Bowery Poetry Club, 308 The Bowery (at Bleecker Street), Manhattan. $7. or (212) 614-0505. March 19, Wednesday, 8-10 p.m. Reading in the Fine and Dandy variety show. Under St. Mark's Theater, 94 St. Mark's Place (between First Avenue and Avenue A), Manhattan. Free. April 11, Friday, 7 p.m. Reading for Istanbul Literary Review, KGB Bar, 85 East 4th Street (at Second Avenue), Manhattan. With Susan Tepper, Eric Darton, Jamie Cat Callan. Free. April 27, Sunday, 7 p.m. Hosting ABC No Rio's NYSCA series in celebration of Hanging Loose Press. Readers are Robert Hershon, Jocelyn Lieu and Chuck Wachtel. 156 Rivington Street (between Suffolk and Clinton, one block above Delancey), Manhattan. $5. More at

PEDESTAL is hosting an event at Beyond Baroque (681 Venice Blvd) in Venice, CA on Sunday, April 27. For more info, email


Taught by Daniela Gioseffi March 15, 2008, Noon-5:00 PM The best writing from the workshop to be published on popular literary site: See: or email
VOICES CONFERENCE HOSTED BY THE INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S WRITING GUILD Friday, March 14 through Sunday, March 16, Santa Cruz, CA. This yearly event is hosted by the International Women's Writing Guild. In 2008, the focus is on the importance of "voice" in writing. Gayle Brandies will be teaching Embodied Voice, Rachel de Baer Poetic Voices, and Mary Reynolds Thompson Dangerous Voices: Writing to Change Lives.
Set amid the giant redwoods of Santa Cruz, this event inspires and nurtures both the novice and experienced writer. To learn more or to make reservations please go to
Meredith Sue Willis’s next one day “Jump-Start Your Novel” workshop at NYU will take place May 17, 2008. NYU’s SCPS Writing Classes are at
HEART AND CRAFT: A MEMOIR WORKSHOP FOR WOMEN, taught by author/journalist Anndee Hochman in La Barra de Potosi, Mexico. November 8-14, 2008. We'll spend six days together (classes in the morning, writing/exploring in the afternoon) in the small, vibrant fishing village of La Barra on Mexico's Pacific coast (near Zihuatanejo). For beginning and experienced writers; we'll write stunning prose about the lives we've lived in an atmosphere of safety, inspiration and challenge. Early-bird fee of $1000 ($400 deposit due by June 1) includes tuition, accommodations in the magical Casa del Encanto, six days' breakfast and dinner and all taxes/tips. More info about Casa del Encanto and La Barra at; learn about Anndee Hochman at, or e-mail for details and application.



Robert Nichol's and Grace Paley’s "Glad Day Books" and Triboro Pictures are happy to announce the official website for the film based on Leora Skolkin-Smith's EDGES, set to be shot on location in Jordan and Jerusalem:


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 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 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 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 .



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
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
3. Administrative Assistant. Applicants should be thoroughly familiar with 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

Idelis Sotomaayor writes to first about WHY MEN MARRY BITCHES: A Woman's Guide to Winning Her Man's Heart, by Shelley Argov. This book, she says, “sent me back in time when my first kiss was given to the man I thought I would stay 'happily married ever after.' Many kisses ensued and one day we decided to seal our lives together with the ‘I do’ kiss. But the magic of those kisses kindled-off when many transgressions perpetrated against love, family and life became the 'insidious agenda' of almost every day. ‘Get divorced, mommy, we want to be happy,’ said my little boy. ‘We are born to be happy,’ said my little girl. And, I learned from my children how important it is to understand there are ‘love mores' we should be aware of before trying to become a party in a relationship. So, I had an idea that needs to be worked on. My idea was about a plan of spiritual growth. Its first premise would propose that happiness is not just a beautiful word; neither is jewels, nor luxuries or properties, but a biophilic condition that lies within each human being ('biophilic' from 'biophilia,' ‘love for life or living systems,’ used by Erich Fromm). From there, it would enlighten the road that would create the ways for the couple helping each other in their 'biophilic' development. Including how both will help their children become happy and 'biophilic' thinkers.

“This plan of spiritual growth would be more than a legal marital covenant. It would be a communion of compatible intellects coupled with both parties' sense of happiness as reflection of the condition of sanity, where religion has nothing to do. If the man currently around the life of a woman looking for a partner in life, is not material for this plan (meaning that there is neither intellectual compatibility nor sense of happiness), she must leave him with no hesitation. And start searching for a happily oriented type of man. This man is beautiful; he knows that woman is the beauty of mankind since the beginning of time and forever (due to her 'genetic' inclination to a deeper spirituality in all of her relationships). This man would enjoy awakening reasoning together to a level capable of postulating a lasting love. Wouldn't we all agree on the need of intellectual compatibility and peer sanity (as the dynamics of happiness and biophilia) for a loving spiritual growth?

“I truly believe that woman and man can be benefitted with this plan of spiritual growth; where the evolution of the individual -at any stage of life- is a top priority whose achievement will bring success to the marriage and family...And, as a chain reaction, to the whole human race. Let us remember that ...Henry David Thoreau stated: ‘All that a man has to say or do that can possibly concern mankind, is in some shape or other to tell the story of love in his family -to sing, and, if he is fortunate and keeps alive, he will be forever in love.’

“So, back to Shelley Argov's WHY MEN MARRY BITCHES, hurray for the spirit of the independent woman, the savvy beauty of mankind! Reading KETTLE BOTTOM -a perfect title!- by Diane Gilliam Fisher, published by the energetic Perugia Press (Susan Kan), and brought in by Meredith, is like remembering what led to Sago Mine disaster, 12 killed, in January 2006, Sago, West Virginia. To Blue Creek #5 Mine disaster, 13 killed, in September 2001, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. To Consol #9 Mine disaster, 78 killed, in November 1968, Farmington, West Virginia. And to many, many more preventable tragedies going back in time.

“KETTLE BOTTOM is an impressive selection of poetry of social content, and I just loved it! The language used there sounds as true miners jargon revealing their life struggle. It pictures real people from the working rural segment of our nation speaking out for us -the indifferent urban world-. Folks talking from the soul on a sort of historical account. Getting sour stuff out of their chest and heart of selected witnesses of a reality that only a few Americans know. A reality that even has gone too far as to produce one of the most heinous episodes in American labor history. The Red Neck War or Battle of Blair Mountain in September 1921, Appalachia, West Virginia. With at least 30 American casualties, most of them miners. Which constitutes one of 20th century's unavoidable social bursts that confirms me, we did create a newly enslaved society after 1863. For that reason, there are still ahead more social changes waiting for us to make them happen. And doing so we will not let the vital ideas of democracy and social justice die."






The largest unionized bookstore in America has a webstore at Powells Books. Some people prefer shopping online there to shopping at An alternative way to reach Powell's site and support the union is via 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 .



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" above) that sells online at  Another good source for used and out-of-print books is All Book Stores at .
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!




Please send responses and suggestions directly to Meredith Sue Willis at Unless you instruct otherwise, your responses may be edited for length and published in this newsletter.

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#146 Henry Adams AGAIN!
#145 Henry Adams, Darnell Arnoult, Jaimy Gordon, Charlotte Brontë
#144 Carter Seaton, NancyKay Shapiro, Lady Murasaki Shikibu
#143 Little 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.
#134 Daniel 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.
#131 The Help; J. McHenry Jones, Reamy Jansen, Jamie O'Neill, Michael Chabon.
Lynda Schor, Ed Myers, Charles Bukowski, Terry Bisson, The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism
#129 Baltasar 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
#127 Olive 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
#124 Cloudsplitter, 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
#115 Adam 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
#108 The Animal Within; The Ground Under My Feet; King of Swords
#107 The Absentee; Gorky Park; Little Scarlet; Howl; Health Proxy
#106 Castle Rackrent; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; More on Drown; Blindness & more
#105 Everything 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
#101 My Brilliant Career, The Scarlet Letter, John Banville, Never Let Me Go
#100 The Poisonwood Bible, Pamela Erens, More Harry P.
#99   Jonathan Greene on; Molly Gilman on Dogs of Babel
#98   Guest editor Pat Arnow; more on the 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
#93   Kristin Lavransdatter, House Made of Dawn, Leaving Atlanta
#92   Death 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
#87   Wings 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
#78   The 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
#74    In 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
#67    The Medici
#66    Curious Incident,Temple Grandin
   Ingrid Hughes on Memoir
    Boyle, Worlds of Fiction
#63    The Namesame
#62    Honorary Consul; The Idiot
#61    Lauren'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
#55    Addie, Hottentot Venus, Ake
#54    Scott Oglesby, Jane Rule
#53    Nafisi,Chesnutt, LeGuin
#52    Keith Maillard, Lee Maynard
#51    Gregory Michie, Carter Seaton
#50    Atonement, Victoria Woodhull biography
Richard Price, Phillip Pullman
#47    Mid- East Islamic World Reader
#46    Invitation to a Beheading
#45    The Princess of Cleves
#44    Shelley Ettinger: A Few Not-so-Great Books
#43    Woolf, The Terrorist Next Door
#42    John Sanford
#41    Isabelle Allende
#40    Ed 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
   On Libraries....
#24    Tales of the City
   Nonfiction, poetry, and fiction
#22    More on Why This Newsletter
#21    Salinger, Sarah Waters, Next of Kin
#20    Jane Lazarre
#19    Artemisia 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 Presses
#13    Gap 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
#5      Tales 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 this newsletter
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