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BOOKS FOR READERS is a free, independent newsletter written and produced by Meredith Sue Willis, copyright Meredith Sue Willis 2008.  To have this Newsletter sent to you by e-mail, send a blank email to  Readerbooks-subscribe@topica.com. To unsubscribe, send a blank email to Readerbooks-unsubscribe @topica.com. Write to Meredith Sue Willis at MeredithSueWillis@gmail.com. Unless you specifically request otherwise, your responses or selections from them may be included in future Newsletters. Find back issues here.
 

Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers #116

January 18, 2009

Barack Obama is about to be inaugurated president, and the invasion is still raging in Gaza, in spite of a reputed cease fire. The Northeastern United States is frozen in. The media is fascinated (me too) with the spectacular ditching of a US Airways plane in the Hudson River with everyone surviving.

And I’m still looking for novels that make sense of the world while having artistic integrity. So it is good to be able to recommend the rightfully praised first novel by Ann Pancake, STRANGE AS THIS WEATHER HAS BEEN, of which Shelley Ettinger in Newsletter #110 said “please abandon everything else in your life and read it immediately.”

I don’t feel THAT strongly about it, but it is a truly passionate novel set in the environs of the horrific environment destruction called mountaintop removal that is taking place in Appalachia. When I was growing up in West Virginia (also Pancake’s home state), we deplored strip or surface mining, which is not the deep pits for extracting coal but rather the excavating of hillsides for a quicker grab at the mineral. In recent years, the ugly scars of strip mining have been multiplied many times through southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky as colossal mining operations change the very shape of the mountain ranges, poisoning water, flooding land, denuding the earth of animal, plant, and human life. Pancake’s novel is an excellent introduction to all this.

The novel is told through the eyes of a cast of generally sensitive observers whose home is being destroyed around them, and the writing is full, rich, and sense-driven, much of it in a near-stream of consciousness. At the center of the story is a marriage between Lace, who went away to college but became morbidly homesick for the mountains, and the years younger Jimmy Make. One important thread of the novel is how their marriage plays out, with an abiding sexual passion that finally breaks up on the economic shoals of whether to stay or go, along with Lace’s increasing involvement with the anti-mountaintop removal movement.

In a lot of ways, though, my favorite character is Lace and Jimmy Make’s son, Corey, who, unlike the other characters in the novel, does not have a sacred connection to the Land, but who rather loves engines and speed and power and even the great draglines that are simultaneously raping and eating the mountains. Maybe he’s the one who reminds me of people I grew up among, or maybe it is just the contrarian on me, to like this little boy who loves machines. But do read the novel. Learn what our nation’s energy policies in cahoots with Big Business have wrought in my home region.

 

And now for something completely different, or perhaps another example of me being contrary– a book some Generation X students in one of my novel writing classes waxed enthusiastic about: the nineteen-eighties popular success, AMERICAN PSYCHO by Bret Easton Ellis. I had avoided reading it because I have never been into snuff porno, which is what I had understood the book to be. And it does have plenty of torture and blood and gore and a deep expression of misogynistic violence, but it is also a novel that is a perfect artifact of its time, and– to my surprise and even horror– very funny, at least in the parts you can bear to read.
I admired its clever manipulations of us readers– that part worked fine. The article on the book in Wikipedia suggested that there is some doubt about whether the protagonist/narrator is a serial killer or just imagines it, but it seems pretty clear to me that poor Patrick Bateman is, as the title states pretty clearly, psycho. Aside from lots of textual clues (the Bates motel?), how could the neighbors and super and various guests in Patrick’s building not have smelled the leftovers from his mass murderous messes? Who would have cleaned up the blood? Preppy, wealthy, Patrick is not the boy to be using scrub brushes and Lysol. In other words, this is not a fantasy novel, but a realistic novel about a fantastical– and deeply pathetic and disturbing– mental state.

For me, the downside was what I consider a good example of a technical problem, the imitative fallacy, which is writing a boring story to demonstrate boredom. Patrick Bateman’s mean, narrow, uptight, wealthy, obsessive life centers on how people dress and what grooming products they use, and where they eat– and he constantly, did I say obsessively?, lists and names these products and designers as he dresses in the morning, as he and his friends decide where to eat dinner, as they have drinks waiting for their table in that night’s restaurant. He notes every designer tie, designer suit, shoes, fragrance– it is a very clever concept, hilarious at first, and then, after a while, not just demonstrative of Bateman’s mental state and his milieu, but boring boring boring. You get the idea, you giggle, you laugh out loud, you begin to feel the weight and desperation of it; you cry uncle, and finally, you begin to skip. I skipped the chapters reviewing his favorite musical stars too. The blood fantasies I skimmed. Repetition is a useful literary device, but it gets– well– repetitive. For an interesting alternative view, see an old NATIONAL REVIEW of all places: )

Please! Find me some more artful and politically uplifting novels!

 

                                                                       -- Meredith Sue Willis

 

MARC HARSHMAN ON GEORGE MACKAY BROWN

I’ve been reading the Orkney author George Mackay Brown for more than thirty years and never leave his words without feeling refreshed and believing I’ve caught an honest glimpse of life’s mysteries. Of course, the bleak landscape of these islands north of Scotland, can seem a natural repository for mysteries. At his death in 1996 aged 74 he left behind a large body of work mostly unknown to readers in the states. The work includes poetry, fiction, plays, travel pieces, and children’s stories. For a long time I knew only his poems which I found myself reading again and again, an activity that happens all too rarely for me. Unlike quite anything else I know in English, they are both spare and rich, possessing a grit and vision that truly sees something worth seeing. Sample this 4th segment of the poem, Chinoiseries:

 

 

 

 

 

Good, the surge of the year
Towards equinox.
Some say, winter ends with January.
But I think it is February.
February begins to unlatch the gate,
Feeling with frail hands.
Still, she is the daughter of Winter,
Cordelia of the Crocuses.

[from TRAVELLERS, John Murray, London, 2001]

 

 

Or try this stanza from a long narrative piece titled: ELIZABETH SWEYN, WIDOW, AT HER WRITING DESK IN THE HALL. I find it typical of a frequent narrative drive not surprising for this poet who also authored six novels and several collections of short stories.

 

For taking a trout out of my water: the cold hill
Water that tumbles white and brown over stones
To the loch, and loses itself there awhile, and
Then gathers its strands and issues out again,
Tranquil and blue and reed-stained, to the sea,
I summon you to the hall.
[Ibid., p. 46]

To be honest there are poems, especially in his earlier work, that can get trapped in formal constraints that lessen the impact of their content, but nearly all the of the later work is rewarding.
But where should a new reader begin? In 1999 John Murray published a lovely sampler of Brown titled NORTHERN LIGHTS: A POET’S SOURCES. Lots of prose here counter-pointed, as the editors say, with poetry. It is not a bad place to start. My only warning is that though the poems do fit as counterpoint, they are not, perhaps, representative of his best work as a poet. For the poetry I would suggest any of the larger “selected” volumes. Whether poetry or prose, I should think any may make you hungry to go looking for more of his books, if not hungry to go visiting the landscapes themselves in those far islands north of John O’Groats.

 

                                                                                                                        -- Marc Harshman

 

 

MORE BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS--AND THE OPPOSITE...

Greg Sanders' MOTEL GIRL , a first collection of short stories from Red Hen Press , does a neat job of setting up a slightly off-plumb world of sometimes funny and sometimes anxious situations, often fraught with violence. The situation usually centers on a lonely guy, a bit of a loser, often living in New York City’s East Village. Some of the best stories are funny as well as sad, like “The Garage Door,” in which an unemployed suburban guy steals a garage door out of a quirky nostalgia for his childhood. In “At the Laundromat,” a man finds an ad on the bulletin board and starts going to the therapist upstairs while his clothes spin. Other pieces are brilliantly, painfully dark, like the story of “L.,” whose girlfriend has left him during a New York City black-out. This story has a surprise ending that is amply earned. Another of my favorites is the title story, “Motel Girl,” an exploration of what rape would be like from a woman to a man. In all of the stories, there are surprises and a nicely astringent fictional experience.
 

Marc Harshman says, “I really enjoyed your reflections on ADAM BEDE. I have just re-read MIDDLEMARCH a year or two ago and, as with you, and as I've found with other similar books, to re-read many years later, I bring a different self to the pages and the revelations are sometimes astonishing. I was also intrigued by your reflections upon Christianity, etc. You might, at some point, one to take a look at some of the work of Marcus Borg, my vote as the most free-thinking and yet grounded Christian theologians. Despite the German name, he can be a very friendly read, at least in the books I would recommend: ON READING THE BIBLE AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME and the companion ON MEETING JESUS AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME. My Advent nonfiction reading this year was his THE FIRST CHRISTMAS [co-author John Dominic Crossan]where he points out little things like the fact that we have no idea how many 'wise men' there were, and that they quite likely may not have arrived until two years later! And there was not only an 'annunciation' to Mary, but one to Joseph, as well! Etc. Lots of fun, actually.” Also see Marc’s recommendation above of Orkney writer George Mackay Brown..

 

Jeffrey Sokolow writes to praise Dorothy Sterling's autobiography, CLOSE TO MY HEART. "She died last month aged 95 or so; wrote the book when she was 90 or close to it. It's a great read: born to an assimilated German Jewish middle class family, joined the CP in the thirties and left after 1956. Lifelong commitment to racial equality, wrote many pioneering works for juveniles on black figures, stopped writing these books after black nationalism drove her out. Remarkable woman, great read.”

 

Ardian Gill begs to differ from the rave reviews that David Wroblewski’s THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE has been getting. Writes Ardian: “I didn't think it possible to write a book that would make THE DA VINCI CODE look like literature, but EDGAR SAWTELLE accomplishes that remarkable feat. Edgar of the title is an autistic boy who trains dogs with sign language. In the process of nearly 600 sluggish pages I learned more about dogs than I cared to know. His father dies (revealed at the end to have been done in by his brother, the boy's uncle, who then beds his brother's wife.) The boy accidentally causes the veterinarian to fall from the hayloft and break his neck and so, naturally, his mother tells him to run away. He does with some dogs for several irrelevant months and then, for no apparent reason, returns.

“The son of the veterinarian, a thuggish cop, decides he must ask the boy a question about the circumstances of his father's accident (as if he'd understand the signed answer). Of course, he must first chloroform the boy, kidnap him and drive away in his police cruiser. With the connivance of the boy's uncle, he succeeds with the first part but the boy, in his etherized fog, manages to spill lye on the cop's eyes and blind him. The cop's reaction to this is what any red blooded American cop would do: he puts the boy's mother in a scissors grip with his legs. This gets her out of the way so the barn can be burned and the boy poisoned by injection with a secret poison the uncle had obtained in a dark alley in Vietnam and hidden in the barn for just such an opportunity. By now the smoke and flames are such that the uncle becomes disoriented and presumably burns along with the boy.

" A dog named Mable is the only one around with any sense and so leads the other dogs off into the great beyond.”

 

GOOD NEWS


Marina Spence’s book MAKE EVERY DAY A FRIDAY (pub date February 1, 2009) is a terrific little self-help book about career crisis and change. Marina has worked in all sorts of interesting jobs, and now runs The Pink Edge at http://www.PinkEdge.com.
The NEW YORK TIMES (and lots of other places and people) are praising Jayne Anne Phillips’ new novel LARK AND TERMITE:
The PEDESTAL magazine is celebrating its eighth birthday– see the latest issue at
http://www.thepedestalmagazine.com .
My story “Tara White” has just been published in BLOODROOT Literary Magazine 2009. For an excerpt from the story, go to http://www.bloodrootlm.com/willis.html . The has work by Nancy Means Wright, Fredrick Zydek, Gary Metras, Gina M. Tabasso, Regina Murray Brault, Julia Shipley, Michael Steffen, David Strait, Ivy Schweitzer, Gary Hanna, Suzanne Dudley Schon, Sean Lause, Laura Davies Foley, Rena J. Mosteirin, Ted Possehl, Hatsy McGraw, Danny Dover, David W. Ricker, Lisa Furmanski, John A Vanek, James Heffernan, Carol Milkuhn, Nancy Hayes Kilgore, Leslie Woods, Linda Himadi, Meredith Sue Willis, Kerry Jones, and Josh Green, and is available from PO Box 322, Thetford Center, Vermont, 05075 or online .
 


IUNIVERSE: JUST ANOTHER VANITY PRESS?

Ron Pramschufer, who runs a self-publishing company (http://www.selfpublishing.com/) with an interesting newsletter and blog, is of course biased in his own favor, but do look at his piece about how Iuniverse, Xlibris, Authorhouse are tending more and more toward being vanity presses. He tries to distinguish businesses like his that facilitate the work of self-publishing from more costly vanity presses. For a satisfied customer of a different self-publishing company, see Marion Cuba's article.
 

GOOD READING ONLINE


I’ve mentioned sometime-contributor-here Shelley Ettinger’s blog about books, READ RED, but she is having some really interesting discussions right now, about politics and literature always, but especially about the place of the political in the art of fiction writing. Some years back I read a scholarly book by Barbara Foley, RADICAL REPRESENTATIONS, which was tough going as a reading experience, but opened my eyes to the fact that if we can include everything in our writing, why not the political too? So Shelley’s blog is right up my alley and awfully interesting: http://readwritered.blogspot.com .
An interview with Barbara Foley, probably too scholarly for most of us, is at http://reconstruction.eserver.org/081/ramsey3.shtml
Marc Harshman has poems in the current issue of INNISFREE POETRY JOURNAL at http://www.innisfreepoetry.org/ .
Marion Cuba has a new article here.
Don’t miss this hilarious if scholarly article on how to recognize a Southern writer:
http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/southern_cultures/v006/6.4mills.html
Check out the winter issue of Persimmon Tree at http://www.persimmontree.org.
 

 

SELECTED CONTESTS, FELLOWSHIPS, AND PLACES TO SUBMIT

MARSH HAWK Poetry Prize: http://www.marshhawkpress.org/UploadAPP/Form.aspx
New poetry journal edited by Sue Ann Simar: http://www.10x3plus.com . Their blog is at http://10x3plus.blogspot.com .
DIANA L. BENNETT FELLOWS. See http://blackmountain.unlv.edu/programs/fellows.htm . Black Mountain offers nine-month fellowships to published writers and public intellectuals. The program accepts applications from novelists, poets, playwrights, historians, political scientists, independent scholars, and anyone else whose work is meant for a general, educated lay audience. Black Mountain awards three to five fellowships each year to outstanding writers who have published at least one critically acclaimed book before the time of application. Foreign nationals conversant in English are welcome to apply. There are no degree requirements. Fellows receive a $50,000 stipend, an office, a computer, and access to UNLV's Lied Library. They remain in residence at BMI for the duration of the fellowship term (approximately August 24, 2009 to May 14, 2010) and work daily at the BMI offices. Application deadline: February 1, 2009.
THE ADIRONDACK REVIEW is pleased to announce the third annual Fulton Prize for Short Fiction. The winner will receive $400 and publication in The Adirondack Review. Entrants whose stories receive honorable mention will also have their stories published in The Adirondack Review. In addition, they will be awarded an honorarium of $30. The deadline for the Fulton Prize for Short Fiction is January 31, 2009. For more information about this contest,visit http://adirondackreview.homestead.com/fultonprize.html
KORE 2009 Fiction Award. Winner receives $1,000 plus publication as a stand-alone short story chapbook. This competition is open to any woman writing in English, regardless of nationality. Submit your manuscript and the $15 entry fee by using our online submissions process: http://www.korepress.org/KorePressShortFictionAward.htm All entrants will be notified of results via email.

 

 

 

 

 

Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers #117

February 7, 2009

For a Free Subscription to Books for Readers, s end a blank email to Readerbooks-subscribe@topica.com

 

 


           Ann Pancake                                                Jayne Anne Phillips

 

SPECIAL WILD, WONDERFUL, WEST VIRGINIA WOMEN ISSUE

This issue has reviews of two of West Virginia’s best known writers written by two other West Virginia writers, and for a special treat, an essay from still another West Virginian about publicizing your own work. Cat Pleska reviews Ann Pancake’s STRANGE AS THIS WEATHER HAS BEEN, (also see issues #116 and #110 ,, and Phyllis Moore Reviews Jayne Anne Phillips’s 2000 MOTHERKIND (see my article on the art of Phillips ).

Dolly Withrow gives us an essay that is both funny and true about how today’s writers, even if they have commercial publishers, are expected to push their own work.

As I was told at an employment agency many years ago, “You young girls today just don’t know how to sell yourselves!”

                                                                       -- Meredith Sue Willis

 

SHE WAS BORN WITH AN AGE IN HER: ANN PANCAKE’S NOVEL ABOUT MOUNTAIN TOP REMOVAL

 

Inspired by the extensive research she conducted for her sister Catherine’s documentary BLACK DIAMONDS: MOUNTAIN TOP REMOVAL AND THE FIGHT FOR COALFIELD JUSTICE, Ann Pancake wrote a novel about a family affected by Mountain Top Removal (MTR) in southern West Virginia. Her research may form the backdrop, but as a native of the state, Pancake brilliantly reveals the inner souls of her fellow West Virginians through her characters in universal stories about relationships between people and the environment.

The narrative cycles through six voices, although we are privy to many more characters’ views. While the story takes place in 2000, it begins with a flashback to the 70s and the affair of youngsters Lace See and James Makepeace Turrell (Johnny Make). In the way that characters’ names can symbolize themes in a story, Lace See is destined to “see” the intertwining chronicle of her family and the environment, and the destruction of both that she feels powerless to halt.
Johnny Make tries to make peace with his family by leaving the area for work—in this case to North Carolina, or what West Virginian’s call the Appalachian Highway. Johnny personifies those residents who find the change in the environment and financial hardships overwhelming to the point that leaving the state becomes the only viable option.

Besides Lace and Johnny, another narrator is their daughter, Bant, short for Bantella, who was born out of wedlock, and is the first of four children. Lace liked the way Bantella had a “speak-taste” to it, the way it “pressed every part of your tongue” to say it. Bant was born with “the age in her,” an old soul. As a child, she came to love the natural environment through roaming the hills with her grandmother looking for herbs, but as she grew, began to feel a distance from it. She loves the land but reluctantly takes up the battle against MTR. She says near the end of the novel: “And from helpless, I had learned what a short step it is to I don’t care.” Later she thinks: “Was it worse to lose the mountain or the feelings that you had for it? . . . I realized that to not care wasn’t to save yourself at all. It was only another loss.”

Dane, a son, seems to be the sin eater of the family—he holds inside tremendous worry and dread. He fears another deluge in the hollow, conflating the Biblical flood with the real floods that occur, and worries about End Times. Dane assists elderly and infirm Mrs. Taylor when he’s not in school. Mrs. Taylor is not untypical of the state residents who go elsewhere and remain uncomfortable, “Cleveland . . . now flat places like that make me feel lonely,” she tells Dane. Mrs. Taylor is like many who leave to find work then return to their beloved state at retirement.
Another son, Corey, is all about machinery and the powerful way it makes him feel. He embodies the process of MTR. He picks up anything and everything that the previous floods have rained down upon the inhabitants of the hollows: the flotsam and jetsam of old appliances, car parts, twisted bits of metal. He hoards it all with the dream of building machines. He covets a schoolmate’s All Terrain Vehicle, to use it to test himself against the altered mountains.

Mogey, Lace’s uncle, is another narrator. His character represents the magic of the mountains and best explains the land’s mystical elements. He understands how someone can love the rough terrain: “In the West, the mountains are mostly horizon. We live in our mountains. It’s not just the tops, but the sides that hold us in.” A gentle soul, his bond with the land is so primal that it makes all the sense in the world to save the mountains.

Avery Taylor is the lone narrator not related to the Turrell family. He recounts surviving the Buffalo Creek Flood of 1972, when a slurry pond broke through its flimsy dam wall and flooded, killing 126 people. Using a non family member to tell the Buffalo Creek story might be pushing the research too far into a novel. Yet, the story is compelling and in fact illuminates the real risk of such dams.
Pancake’s fiction prowess is extraordinary. One of her approaches to character is to show what happens in the mind before rational thought joins in the process. Her sentences are at times like a stream of unconsciousness, rather than stream of consciousness. Characters sometimes deliver emotional, associative reactions in a sing song-style delivery. An example from narrator Dane: “Then he stood quivering, the fish loosened now, risen almost into his throat. And in the distance, he could hear the whispers of the End. A mutter. Soft-chutter. Moany, moany in their mouths.”

At other times she piles up nouns as an aggregate of sensory impression, such as Bant’s description of walking up a hollow: “You were just in it, in the hollow, in the mountains, in the woods, up above you trees and vines and rock overhangs, and higher than that, a change in the light that let you know where the top should be.” Pancake masters dialect as few can, rendering southern West Virginia voices realistically and respectfully.

The beauty of fiction is that it allows the writer to reveal people and their choices in a way that if it were nonfiction it would expose them to risk and make them too vulnerable. With the novel’s characters, readers can better understand how people react to the overwhelming problems of MTR. An egalitarian, Pancake demonstrates the different perspectives of the state residents, whereas many writers could make this novel more baldly political. Indeed, she shows the life choices and attitudes with honesty and insight. Pancake herself now lives outside Appalachia, but for her the distance sharpens her view of this place.

In a sense, the character of Bant is most like Ann Pancake, seeming to have been born an old soul, watching our recent strange weather, warning us of what’s to come.


                                                                       – Cat Pleska

Cat Pleska is a freelance writer/editor and a 6th generation West Virginian. She's a regular contributor to Wonderful, West Virginia magazine. She also writes and records essays for West Virginia Public Radio. Here's a link to select from several of Cat's essays.

 

 

MOTHERKIND: FAMILY WRIT LARGE

MOTHERKIND: A NOVEL (2000) is the story of a contemporary family during an unusually stress-filled first year of a marriage. It’s a horrendous year and a happy year with no honeymoon in sight. It has been hailed it as a woman’s novel, a mother’s novel, even a learner’s manual, especially for men.

Phillips sets seven of the novel’s eighteen chapters in a small unnamed town in Appalachia, much like the towns mentioned in her first novels Machine Dreams (1984) and Shelter (1994). These chapters take place on the protagonist’s, Kate, 31, one visit home to Appalachia. The hometown visit chapters open and close the novel and are in interspersed with eleven chapters occurring over the next year in Boston.

The circular story begins on a warm summer day with successful poet-author- Kate, flying home to Appalachia from her present home in Boston. She is returning to spend time with her terminally ill mother, Katherine.

Katherine, 57, a former school administrator, has terminal cancer. Kate and local church members have been her support through surgery and radiation. But the cancer returned.
Matt, Kate’s significant-other, a still-married Jewish physician, will also fly in.

They have much news to share with Katherine and are unsure of her reaction.

Kate considers her mother out-of-touch with contemporary life styles. As Kate sees it, Katherine holds strong opinions on topics with which she’s had “scant” experiences: serial monogamy, live-in arrangements, interracial marriages, homosexuality, literature, and film, to name a few. Kate leads a “modern” life far from the eyes of her home town.

As she matured, sweet intelligent Kate grew into Katherine’s hiking-boot hippie-type “trial-by-fire” daughter. Even though she is still her mother’s pride and joy, Katherine hides the realistic books Kate writes inside her piano bench. She can’t understand why Kate writes what she writes.

Murphy’s Law prevails. Matt telephones to say his youngest son caused an uproar by peeing in the sink at day care. His estranged wife is pressing him to spend the next few days with the two unruly boys. In fact, she wants Matt to forget about the divorce.

Breaking their news is up to Kate. In tears, Kate tells her mother she is four months pregnant and will still be single when the baby is born in late December. Next, she confides she and Matt have already purchased a house together on Boston’s upscale “Pill Hill” and will have custody of his undisciplined sons half of each week. Finally, she reveals Matt’s divorce proceedings are in an ugly snarl and they will wait and get married in the spring.

Katherine’s first reaction is tell Kate, “You should be happy.” Kate answers, “I am happy…but I was afraid you’d be unhappy.” Katherine reassures her but insists they must agree to tell friends and relatives Matt and Kate are married. Kate reluctantly agrees. Life is good. Life is complicated. Mothers are formidable.

Within three months, Katherine’s declining health dictates she live with Matt and Kate (now seven months pregnant). She brings along her blind incontinent toy poodle, Katrina. The new family contracts and expands like an amoeba: MotherKind employees (an agency providing home support for new mothers), hospice workers, two dogs, one newborn, two very resentful young boys, and visiting relatives and friends. It is life seen through a kaleidoscope.

Throughout the novel, Phillips manages to finds some humor, even in the gory details of a difficult 37-hour labor on Christmas Day that ends with complications, a retained placenta:

 

After the birth and the overnight in the hospital, she (Kate) didn’t go downstairs for a week ….She slept and woke, naked except for underpants, sanitary napkins, chemical ice packs. The ice packs, shaped to her crotch, were meant to reduce swelling and numb the stitches….This bathroom looks like a MASH unit, Matt would say. But it’s not your unit that’s mashed, Kate would think. In fact, her vagina was an open wound. Her vagina was out of the picture. She couldn’t believe she’d ever done anything with it or felt anything through it.

 

Kate is exhausted and wary of leaving the house; she experiences fears for the baby’s health and safety and for her own sanity. According to Matt, his adventuresome Kate is now the “Queen of Safety.”

Kate’s adoration of baby Alexander is juxtaposed with episiotomy stitches, breast feeding worries, anesthesia fatigue, the baby’s jaundice, mastitis, and finally a breast biopsy. In the middle of this she needs to plan a wedding, remember that Matt exists, and convince step-sons Sam and Jonah to stop roller skating in the house and occasionally speak to her. She had planned to use her post partum time to do some freelance writing. Right.

Some of the novel’s most poignant sections are interactions between Kate and her mother. Always a reader, when exhausted Kate likes someone to read to her. In one scene her mother obliges and read Kate’s favorite passages from David Copperfield:

 
`I went away,’ her mother read, ‘loving you. I stayed away, loving you. I returned home loving you. And now I tried to tell her of the struggle I had had, and the conclusion I had come to. I tried to lay my mind before her, truly and entirely.’

 

There was a hush in the room. Kate’s mother looked back at the lines once. Then she leaned forward and touched her open palm to Kate’s face. Kate touched her own hand to her mother’s wrist and inclined her head as her mother stood to embrace her. Listening, she heard the beating of her mother’s heart as snow brushed the windows in sweeps of wind.

Phillips gets it right on all counts. The overwhelmed new mother’s need to do every thing for the baby and to do it just right. Her concerns for the baby’s health and safety, complete with frequent telephone calls to the La Leche League, are perfect.

The hospice care workers are well drawn. The account of a mother and daughter coming to terms feels so real it hurts.

This is a novel to be read more than once and recommended to others; pass it on to a friend along with a box of tissues.

 

                                                                      – Phyllis Moore

 

Phyllis Wilson Moore of Clarksburg, West Virginia, an avid reader and word lover, researches and writes about the literature of West Virginia. Her publication credits are in the genres of fiction, literary history, memoir, nonfiction, and poetry. She headed the state’s effort to create its first official literary map, “From a Place Called Solid.”

 

 

 

HOW TO SELL YOUR BOOK

 

Writing a book is difficult, but just as difficult is selling your book. Since I have had what a writing friend in New York has called phenomenal success hawking my books, I’ll share a few tips with you so you can also be a successful bookseller. (Actually, sharing these tips was Meredith Sue’s idea, but you know she has some great ideas.)

Each week before Christmas for several successive years, I signed approximately 400 copies of my books MORE THAN PENNY CANDY and BEYOND THE APPLE ORCHARD.  The manager of the local bookstore even gave me free cups of love-you-latte, or some such. In fact, so successful was I at book signings that my publisher said I was responsible for getting books by West Virginia authors back in that bookstore.

Here’s a little about my background as a writer. As a local author, I am not famous. Unlike most authors who have known since childhood that they wanted to be writers, when I was a child I wanted to be a movie star. Despite my maiden name of Dolly Wood (honest), that didn’t work out. Once I was asked to write the history of a black land-grant college, though, I was hooked on writing.

I love grammar, another fact that makes me, well, a bit odd. The second book I wrote was a grammar-writing college textbook (THE CONFIDENT WRITER). A Boston editor for Richard D. Irwin publishing company called and asked me to write the book. For these first two books, I did not have autograph sessions and didn’t have a worry about sales.

My third and fourth books were different. My manuscripts for both MORE THAN PENNY CANDY and BEYOND THE APPLE ORCHARD  were accepted by a local publisher. He arranged my book signings, but it was up to me to make those autograph sessions successful. Publishers expect authors to help sell their own books.

Here, then, is how I made my book signings work. When sitting at my signing table, I didn’t read a newspaper, yawn, chew gum, or chat with friends. My job was to entice potential buyers to my table and then sell my books. I began by giving a warm, friendly smile. Smiling all the while, I greeted people as they entered the bookstore.

An aside: Believe me; if you are a modest person (and, oh, how we’re taught to be modest), this is not the time. Somehow, some way, get over that modesty and tell passersby that you have one of the finest books in the store. (If you don’t believe that, stay at home.) You must be sold on your own book. If you’ve had buyers come back and buy more copies for gifts, by all means tell potential buyers that. Share compliments you’ve received on your book. Don’t be bashful.

One woman who had bought my book said, “My husband and I keep your books in our camp, and each summer we sit on our deck by the river and take turns reading your stories.” Do you think I tell that story to passerby? You bet I do. Another woman said my books were magical. Yep, I tell that, too. Still another woman bought six copies of each book to give as gifts. She said she would put each of my books in a basket with chocolates, a candy dish, West Virginia apple butter (and the like). She was choosing gifts to accompany my books as my book titles suggested. I told that story to potential buyers. Often, people said, “What a great idea. I want your books.”

Frequently, people would come by my table and tell me how much their mother, father, husband liked my books. Yes, I told that story, too. I was bragging, but—and this is important—I was telling the truth.

If your book has been covered in a newspaper or magazine, display the article on your table. You can also make a notebook of positive reviews and comments to place on your table. I did that for a while, but it was not as effective as my one-on-one conversations.

Some authors have a guest book and ask people to sign it. I never did that and never would, although that might work for you. Perhaps, a certain kind of personality is at work here. I like people and have never met a stranger, as a friend said. If you’re shy, you might ask an outgoing friend to accompany you. When someone else praises your work in front of potential buyers, that’s even more effective. I’ve had that happen, and it was wonderful, Most of the time, though, I have had to promote my own work. You probably will, too. I wish you great success selling your book.

                                                                    – Dolly Withrow

Dolly Withrow, a retired English professor, taught at West Virginia State University for 16 years. She also taught writing classes for the University of Iowa’s world-famous Summer Writing Festival. She is the author of four books: From the Grove to the Stars, the history of West Virginia State College; The Confident Writer, a grammar-based writing textbook for college students and writers in general; More than Penny Cand,y and Beyond the Apple Orchard.

                                                                  

 

SHELLEY ETTINGER AND READING RED

This is from Shelley's must-read blog, “Read Red". She writes: "I just read an important yet, to my outrage, little-known novel: THE SCAR OF DAVID by Susan Abulhawa. This book tore me up. Reading the last pages as I ate dinner last night, I had to set it aside because I was crying too hard to swallow my food without choking. After I picked it back up and finished this searing, painful, beautifully written book I had to sit quietly for a long time until I calmed down and could function again. Now that's what reading fiction should be. Losing yourself in a story that tells the truth. A story that matters. A story that grips you and transports you."

Shelley also suggests a list of her current favorite socially engaged fiction: " Some novels that are extremely political and extremely fine: here is a mere brief list off the top of my head and in no particular order, consisting entirely of well known books written in English that I have read."
* Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates
* Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks
* Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
* Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
* The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
* The Wall by John Hersey
* Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
* The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
More on political novels: Some years back I read a scholarly book by Barbara Foley, RADICAL REPRESENTATIONS , which was tough going as a reading experience, but opened my eyes to the fact that if we can include everything in our writing, why not the political too? An interview with Barbara Foley, probably too scholarly for most of us, appears at http://reconstruction.eserver.org/081/ramsey3.shtml

 

 

ARE YOU LOOKING FOR A VIRTUAL WRITING COMMUNITY?

Take a look at After Hour Authors .
 

OBAMA READING LIST

If you missed Michio Kakutani’s article in the NY Times: It’s all about what President Obama reads.

ONLINE BOOK REVIEW

Take a look at Gently Read Books.
 

READINGS– NEW YORK AREA

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2009 New York City Branch, Black History Club proudly presents a Poetry Reading and Book Signing featuring PULITZER-PRIZE-winning Poet, YUSEF KOMUNYAKAA & Critically acclaimed Poet, JUANITA TORRENCE-THOMPSON. Creole dinner buffet – musical interlude. At AAUW, 111 East 37th Street, (Lexington & Park Avenues), NYC. RESERVE SEATS in advance. Mail check payable to AAUW-NYC Branch, -- $15 donation to AAUW-NYC Branch, 111 E 7th Street, NY 10016, Attn: Stephanie Ramsey. Details: 212-684-6068; EMAIL: aauwnyc7@yahoo.com
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 17 at 7pm reading featuring LOUIS REYES RIVERA, HAL SIROWITZ, and JUANITA TORRENCE-THOMPSON with curator: PATRICIA CARRAGON at THE FALL CAFÉ (718-403-0230) 307 Smith Street, Brooklyn, NY (between Union & President streets). Take E or F train to Carroll St, Exit @ President Street. $3 donation from audience. Food/drink—Limited OPEN MIC. Email: pattikake@earthlink.net .

 

WORKSHOPS

WHITE LOTUS POETRY WORKSHOP with Ellen Bass is April 24-26, 2009 at the Rowe Conference Center Rowe, Massachusetts. This an opportunity to delve deeply into our writing without distractions or interruptions. In our busy lives, many of us long for more time to write. This workshop will be a way to nurture the creative voice inside us and allow it to speak. Please visit their website at www.rowecenter.org for information on fees, hours, transportation, direction, etc. If you have questions about the workshop itself, please email ellen@ellenbass.com or call 831-426-8006.
HEART AND CRAFT: A MEMOIR WORKSHOP FOR WOMEN, taught by author/journalist Anndee Hochman in La Barra de Potosi, Mexico. November 14-20, 2009. 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 price is $1100 ($500 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 www.casadelencanto.com; e-mail aehoch@aol.com for details and application.

 

NEWS

See an interview with George Brosi, editor of APPALACHIAN HERITAGE, on BOOK TV BUS .
Marina Spence’s book MAKE EVERY DAY A FRIDAY is offically published this week! It is a terrific little self-help book about career crisis and change. Marina has worked in all sorts of interesting jobs, and now runs The Pink Edge at http://www.PinkEdge.com.
MSW’s latest publications: A story “Tara White” is in the 2009 issue of BLOODROOT Literary Magazine. For an excerpt from the story, go to http://www.bloodrootlm.com/willis.html or order from PO Box 322, Thetford Center, Vermont, 05075 or online . . My article on Jayne Anne Phillips just appeared in the Winter 2009 issue of APPALACHIAN HERITAGE.

 

MORE GOOD READING ONLINE

Dolly Withrow has a column in the Charleston Daily Mail .

 

 

 

 

 


 

Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers #118

March 24,2009

For a Free Subscription to Books for Readers, s end a blank email to Readerbooks-subscribe@topica.com

 

 


                  Jeanette Winterson                                   Kasuo  Ishiguro

 

I sometimes think of myself as not reading very much anymore– and this is partly true, or at least psychologically true, because when I was a kid and teenager I lived much of my life in books. Truly, much of my experience came from books. Today, a larger portion of my experience comes from life, and I find people recommending books to me, and I get a panicked feeling that I will never catch up. I still read a lot, but I’m no longer the one who reads the mostest and the fastest. And where did I ever get the idea it was a contest?

These last weeks, between a lot of teaching (and student writing to go over), a lot of meetings of our local integration organization, traveling, and personal business, I’ve read three children’s chapter books that are part of the curriculum in the middle schools of Jersey City (this is related to one of my jobs). These are SWEETGRASS (Jan Hudson), A SINGLE SHARD (Linda Sue Parks), and SILENT THUNDER (Andrea Davis Pinkney). These are well done historical reconstructions that ought to give kids some insight into things they’re studying in school. SWEETGRASS is the story of a young Blackfoot Indian girl’s life at a time when enormous changes are happening to her people. It shows the heroism of daily survival. A SINGLE SHARD is about a thirteenth century Korean boy who wants to make celadon pots, and this book too honors the value of labor and craft. SILENT THUNDER is a solid escape-from-slavery novel.

Also a quick read was a Dennis Lehane novel, A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR. I like Lehane except for the portentousness of his tone. And I read the first two Robin Hobbs sword and sorcery novels, but I want to write about them later, as do I want to write about two histories of the Jews– not quick reads!

Let me say a little more here about one nonfiction book and two novels. The nonfiction book was very personal to me: WILL YOU MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE: THE CARTER FAMILY & THEIR LEGACY IN AMERICAN MUSIC by Mark Zwonitzer with Charles Hirshberg. It isn’t that I am such a huge fan, although I like their music, it's more like I've always felt the Carters were part of my family. The book is full of stories about the sources of Carter family (and other country) songs: borrowed from 19th century sheet music, from traditional ballads from Britain, new words to old hymn tunes, a little Mexican mariachi music mixed in by Mother Maybelle when the group was singing down around the border on a high power radio station. The music was all about community and tradition and borrowing and sharing– and then about broadcasting and big business. The Carters themselves are a wonderful example of people who both loved music and loved to perform, and then grabbed the opportunity to make money for their families.

For me, though, along with the innate interest and Americana of the story, there is the background of life in the Appalachians at the time of my grandparents. The Carters’ homeplace is just a couple of ridges over from Lee County, Virginia, where my father’s parents grew up, and over another couple of mountains from Wise County where my father was born. So this book, good in itself, had personal meaning for me.

Less personally meaningful, but a great favorite of mine is the work of the contemporary British novelist, Kasuo Ishiguro.  I read his first novel, A PALE VIEW OF HILLS , set in Nagasaki and England. These are places from his real life, but the story is indirect and delicately moving. It is suffused with the sadness of the pale view of hills, of lost daughters, of family members who died off-stage in the American bombing of Nagasaki. There is a hint that someone may have done something regrettable before the war; there is the unanswered question of why Etsuko the narrator leaves her husband and father-in-law, and then why her children leave her. Things at the outer edges of consciousness taint the lives of the multiple parent-child pairs. There is one interesting technical/structural anomaly near the end in which for one passage the point of view switches from Etsuko to her friend Sachiko, and there is a hint that the two women are the same woman. I prefer things like this to be made clear, but Ishiguro is so good, I’m willing to go where he goes.

Finally, I had a rousing good time with another first novel, Jeanette Winterson’s ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT. This is an excellent combination of British Lower Middle Class realism with Winterson’s off-kilter literary experimentalism (although I don’t know if Winterson experiments so much as writes just exactly the way she sees the world). As the novel progresses, there are long passages of story telling in the voice of the main character, “Jeanette.” There is a retelling of a King Arthur tale and a story of a character called Winnet StoneJar, and lots of dream narratives. The more representational part was my greatest delight, however, as the narrator discovers first her religious calling in a woman-centric Pentecostal church, and then her sexuality, wildly unacceptable to the church family.. The girl is feisty and smart and loving, and her mother is a terrifically colorful and engaging monster.

Everyone eats oranges in the novel, but at the end, the missionary mother decides that the “coloured heathen” might prefer pineapples.

Who recommended this to me? I’m pretty sure the recommendation appeared in this newsletter– maybe it was Evelyn Codd who recommended it. I’ve also read SEXING THE CHERRY (the 1600's London story) and WRITTEN ON THE BODY.



                                                                                             -- Meredith Sue Willis

 

DOLLY WITHROW RECOMMENDS....

“I stopped by Charleston [West Virginia]’s West Side yesterday because my husband wanted to drop off clothing at the Mountain Mission. I always gravitate to the book section wherever we are, and there I found a hardback for $.50. It was Art Buchwald's second memoir, I'LL ALWAYS HAVE PARIS. It is a delightful read. I also like anything by Barbara Holland, who answers most e-mails. She lives in Virginia with her cats and lives in a small house inherited from her mother. She's lives near the West Virginia line and has a friend (I think boyfriend, not sure) who lives in West Virginia. Her HAIL TO THE CHIEFS: FROM GEORGE W. TO GEORGE W. is one of the most hilarious books I've read. As you can see, I'm reading for enjoyment (well, and insights) in my retirement.”
 

NEWS

Albert Meglin’s book THE BIGGIE & OTHER ONE-ACT PLAYS (Volume 1) has just been published by Stage Plays Theatre! For more information go to http://stageplaystheatre.com/publish.htm .
Larry Smith of Bottom Dog Press (http://smithdocs.net) has put together an interesting list of Appalachian Working Class literature at http://smithdocs.net/AppalachianFiction.htmlion.html
INSIDE OUT: VOICES FROM NEW JERSEY STATE PRISON– a book of poems, stories, memoirs and commentaries by forty-three inmates at New Jersey's maximum security prison. Compiled and edited by Kal Wagenheim, who as a volunteer directed a creative writing workshop in the prison for five years, until it was shut down--without any reason provided--by the authorities. "The idea of being locked away for 10 years, 20 years, LIFE is a nightmare to most of us, an almost inconceivable bad dream. Well, here are the daily inhabitants of that bad dream, poetic in their description of its badness. Fascinating stuff…(the) jail cell writers in 'Inside Out' take us into dark and lonely rooms that we can only imagine. Now we can imagine much, much better." - Leigh Montville, author of numerous books, including best-selling biographies of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. "Imprisonment of the body behind steel bars and chunks of cement certainly has not dimmed the creativity of these inmates at the New Jersey State Prison…Hope lingers among the most chastised and beaten souls after many years of relentless incarceration …The resilience of the human spirit is demonstrated again. I have learned much from this text." - Professor Lloyd H. Rogler, Fordham University. To order, starting April 1, 2009: Contact www.amazon.com or www.bn.com. 188 pages. $14.95.
ISBN 978-1-59594-294-4. Copyright 2009 For details or to schedule talks about the book, contact: Kal Wagenheim. Tel: 973 885 6897. Email: kalwagenheim@cs.com
Staci Backauskas’s novels are THE FIFTH GODDESS and WHERE FAT GIRLS HAVEN'T GONE. Non-fiction includes THE NITTY GRITTY TOOL KIT FOR CAREER TRANSITION. And now– new releases: an audiobook, EGO: A PRIMER, and DESIREE ~ THE DOLL WHO BELIEVED SHE COULD BE A MERMAID, which is a fairy tale for adults. Go to http://www.tlol.org for more information.
Neva Bryan’s ST. PETER'S MONSTERS is getting great feedback on Facebook– read some commentary http://www.facebook.com/inbox/readmessage.php?t=1110459522885
LAURA THOMPSON'S poems MOSAIC OF LOVE (South Street Press, December 2008) is available. “With a unique perspective and distinct voice, Laura Thompson explores the meaning of love beginning with family, progressing to the garden of flowering lovers and culminating on the mystical note of universal love. Be a traveler on this pilgrimage of poems and seek for yourself the way of love.” For more information about Laura's books, visit her Web site at http://www.loralia.com.
 

ONLINE

For some good poetry and short stories, take a look at THE HAMILTON STONE REVIEW # 17, online at http://www.hamiltonstone.org/hsr.html . Poetry Editor Halvard Johnson, Fiction Editor, Lynda Schor.
I continue to enjoy my colleague Shelley Ettinger’s perhaps one-of-a-kind blog about books and left politics– and esepciallya bout the relationship between the two: http://readwritered.blogspot.com/ (Don’t miss her March 16 piece on how much of a book you have to read before deciding to stop!)
The latest issue of THE INTERNET REVIEW OF BOOKS is up at http://internetreviewofbooks.com/index.html
For more reviews on line, take a look at GENTLY READ BOOKS: http://gentlyread.wordpress.com
The Spring 2009 issue of THE SALT RIVER REVIEW http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http://www.poetserv.org
is now online with poetry by Steven F. White, Lynn Strongin, Alexis Quinlan, Laura Jensen, Sergio Ortiz, M, Doug Ramspeck, Emmanuel Jakpa, & Greg Simon and fiction by Icy Sedgwick, Tiffany Promise, D.C. Lynn, Zachary Watterson, & Richard Widerkehr.
The Spring ’09 issue of PERSIMMON TREE: AN ONLINE MAGAZINE OF THE ARTS BY WOMEN OVER SIXTY is now online at http://www.persimmontree.org.
The New Issue of the MARSH HAWK REVIEW is now at http://marshhawkreview.blogspot.com/ . Marsh Hawk Review is an online poetry journal sponsored by the Marsh Hawk Press collective, appearing twice each year under the revolving editorship of collective members. Contributors in this issue include: William Allegrezza, Tom Beckett, Sigman Byrd, Patricia Carlin, Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, Denise Duhamel, Kristen Gallagher, Noah Eli Gordon, Carlos Hiraldo, Amy King, Basil King, Mary Mackey, Sandy McIntosh, Stephen Paul Miller, Sheila E. Murphy, Tammy Nuzzo-Morgan, Akilah Oliver, Tim Peterson, Sean Singer, Juanita Torrence-Thompson, Geoffrey Young and Mark Young
The Winter 2009 issue of THE KING'S ENGLISH (http://home.comcast.net/~wapshot1/) is their biggest issue ever.
Barbara Crooker’s latest poems are here. Her website is www.barbaracrooker.com . Garrison Keillor read her poem "Poem on a Line by Anne Sexton, 'We Are All Writing God's Poem' " on The Writer's Almanac on Saturday, March 21st. http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/.
Diane Simmons has a blog at http://freezeinthedark.blogspot.com/
John Amen’s new collection, AT THE THRESHOLD OF ALCHEMY, will be coming out soon from Presa. Some of his poetry appears in OTHER VOICES INTERNATIONAL (including three new pieces from At the Threshold of Alchemy at http://www.othervoicespoetry.org/vol40/amen/index.html

 

READINGS AND EVENTS

The Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art has in Saint Joseph, Missouri, has an exhibit of a collaboration by Dobree Adams & Jonathan Greene called Segues: Works in Wool / Works on Paper: A Collaboration of Vision and Voice through April.
See http://www.albrecht-kemper.org/exhibits-main.html
Rosary O’Neill’s SOLITAIRE will be performed Sunday, March 29th at 6:00 PM. Starring JO ANNE BONN and directed by PETER BLOCH, the play is to benefit the Abingdon Theatre Company, 312 West 36th Street, NYC just west of 8th Ave. Access to the 6th Floor Rehearsal Room is via the front elevator through the wide doors at 312 W. 36th Street. At the 6th floor, take a right then another right. $10 suggested donation. This is a salute to Abingdon--a Benefit for this great theatre. Learn more about the playwright at http://www.rosaryoneill.com/.
 

WORKSHOPS AND RETREATS

AURORA PROJECT, INC. Second Annual Spring Writers’ Retreat • April 23 – 26, 2009
Welcome to the Second Annual Aurora Project Spring Writers’ retreat. This retreat is designed to give you time to focus on your own work; no workshops or entertainment. The cost of $225 per person includes three breakfasts, two lunches, and two suppers as well as three nights’ lodging. If you would prefer a private room, the fee is $300 (up to 6 possible). Unfortunately, there are no handicap accessible rooms at this time though two of the cottages are one story with minimal entrance steps. All meals will be served at Brookside Inn; breakfast will be served from 8:30 to 9:30 am and supper at 7:00 pm. Lunch will be available for you to take with you. Vegetarian meals (but not vegan) will be available. For information, auroraproject@frontiernet.net
HEART AND CRAFT: A MEMOIR WORKSHOP FOR WOMEN, taught by author/journalist Anndee Hochman in La Barra de Potosi, Mexico. November 14-20, 2009. 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 price is $1100 ($500 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 www.casadelencanto.com; e-mail aehoch@aol.com for details and application.
 

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Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers #119

May 3, 2009

For a Free Subscription to Books for Readers, s end a blank email to Readerbooks-subscribe@topica.com

 

ONLINE WRITING CLASS DEADLINE APPROACHES!
My online creative writing class Film Techniques for Fiction Writers
starts in a few weeks. Visit the web site above for information.



Abram Leon Sachar                                                   Cecil Roth

Among the things I’ve been reading in the last few weeks were two books on the history of the Jews, recommended by Jeffrey Sokolow. They are both older books, with almost the same name: A HISTORY OF THE JEWS by Abram Leon Sachar, the founder of Brandeis University, and HISTORY OF THE JEWS by Cecil Roth, a British historian. Both writers have the wonderful confidence of highly educated men of the twentieth century, and I’m very glad to have both books available to me, although I preferred Roth’s for its compact size and stronger narrative– after all, you need a good narrative to carry you through thousands of years of political and religious history.

Roth ends with a burst of religious fervor, stating that although he has “deliberately attempted to write this work in a secular spirit; he does not think that his readers can fail to see in it, on every page, a higher immanence.” (New York: Shocken, 1954, p. 424.) He wrote his book in the heady, heroic days of the Jewish warriors of the new state Israel, with the Holocaust fully present as lived horror in people’s minds and hearts. Roth has just told how a third to a half of all the Jews in Europe had been murdered by the Nazis, and now he’s talking about renewal and how the Jews always come back. One feels a hint of what it must have been like to be Jewish at that moment: the determination that the assassinations and murders and pogroms and torture and genocide must end. I am far from uncritical of Israel– on the contrary, in fact; but after reading these histories, I understand so much better why many Americans are.

There are parts of Roth’s book that are dated and grate on the ear: the lack of a cultural history that includes women’s lives, for example, and the tone Roth takes in writing about early twentieth century Palestine. He calls the native people “uncivilized,” and he calls the land a waste. These are among the favorite lines of all colonizers and empire builders– that not only are the indigenous inhabitants not really using the land, but that they are so much less civilized and thus less human and thus less deserving of the land that the colonizers and empire builders want.

In the long run, Roth’s lively enthusiasm for the history of the Jews is in no way misplaced: it’s an incredible history. The pogroms and the holocaust and all the other suffering beyond words is appalling evidence of what human beings can do to each other when we convince ourselves that others aren’t human. What is amazing, too, is that this is not the history of military conquest or law laid down by great kings, but rather of survival and of study, of contemplation and discussion.

There are fascinating passages about who was probably in the land of Palestine before the nomads who became the Jews arrived. There is the fact that apparently most of the Israelites after the Babylonian captivity actually stayed in Babylon– and how indeed for a long time that was the center of Jewish culture. There’s the story of the years of the Alexandrian Greek empire and then the Roman Empire, of how the wonderful brave Maccabees took power and their relationship to the considerably less wonderful Herods. There was the success of the Jews in Iberia, then oppression by Muslims and Christians alike. There is the story of the Inquisition, and the secret Jews. Oh, I really look forward to reading all this again!

To me personally, perhaps what is most remarkable about the history of the Jews is not what they have suffered– there has been plenty of suffering and even genocide to go around in history. What is remarkable to me is that we have such detailed records of this one line of people– and, again, it is not a record primarily of conquest and kings. With the history of the Jews, we have something much more intimate than such a chronicle: we have the development over time of a culture and a world view and a belief system. This allows us one long connected story through which to marvel at human resourcefulness and creativity.

 

 

 

 



                                                                                         

Summer is coming fast! – perhaps time for some extra reading. I want to remind everyone that this would be a good moment to take a look at the wonderful books proliferating from small presses that are more and more carry the weight of contemporary literature. These small presses range from university presses to presses for experimental fiction to reprint presses to micro-mini presses with only one or two books. I keep a list both on my Gift Books site and on my resources-for-writers page . Suggestions are welcome! Take a look, and perhaps commit yourself to reading at least one book you won’t find at your friendly local megastore.

Here are a couple of suggestions, both new and from previous issues of this newsletter:

Belinda Anderson's BUCKLE UP, BUTTERCUP is a book of linked stories that are solidly humanistic and hopeful They are not didactic in a preacherly way, but each one of them gives you a little lift, sometimes a chuckle, sometimes the satisfaction of a loser winning. In one story, for example, a boy named Seth is about to fail Driver's Ed but is taken under the wing of local police officer Paul Goshen, the character who ties the collections of stories together. Goshen is first seen as a wiseacre community college student, but he becomes a police officer whose great joy in life is just plain old helping people. He almost marries the wrong woman, and the woman he DOES marry is almost as wrong, but somehow, through several stories, in spite of repossessed cars and disappointment, his little family seems likely to make it together.
Pamela Erens– THE UNDERSTORY. A short novel about a man named Jack who is one of the quiet people slipping around the streets of New York City. It is an interior, precise, and carefully imagined novel that makes a powerful social statement in an oblique but focused way.
Mark Kaminsky-- SHADOW TRAFFIC. This wonderful book includes personal essay, criticism, poetry, and fiction. Kaminsky is a poet, essayist, editor, psychotherapist whose themes center around the aftermath of the Holocaust, the aftermath of the Soviet Union, and the aftermath of family trauma. Reading the book is like having an amazing, far-reaching conversation without ever becoming tired.
Finally, Gnomon Press has brought out a new edition of QUILT PIECES, a little book which is half poems by Jane Wilson Joyce and half my short story “Family Knots.” The book has been out of print for some time, and Gnomon’s new lovely edition is available by mail from Gnomon Press, $12.50 plus $2.00 to help with postage from Gnomon Press, P.O. Box 475, Frankfort, KY 40602-0475. Gnomon’s other books are equally beautiful and thoughtfully chosen and produced.
 

    -- Meredith Sue Willis

 


NATIONAL POETRY MONTH IS OVER BUT...

...check out the fine poetry of Grace Cavalieri, Mark Defoe, Larry Jaffe, Llewellyn McKernan, Robert West, Ethan Fischer, Edwina Pendarvis, Jeff Mann, Dana Wildsmith, Colleen Anderson, Marianne Worthington, Kirk Judd, and others on Open Mic: http://www.freewebs.com/laura7/apps/blog/.

 

 

LAURA THOMPSON SAYS....

“I feel a little like you in that I no longer have the time or voracious appetite to read as I once did as I'd rather be with fellow human beings whether it be work, volunteer projects or traveling with friends. I wonder if it's in part due to work related with the computer which is solitary or is it our technological society that has sped up our lives a thousand fold? I'm still pondering whether I should continue writing or find a new medium of expression as it seems the younger generation no longer reads that much anymore either.”

 

MORE RECOMMENDATIONS

Jeffrey Sokolow writes: “I'm reading a book entitled THE FORSAKEN: FROM THE GREAT DEPRESSION TO THE GULAGS – HOPE AND BETRAYAL IN STALIN’S RUSSIA by Tim Tzouliadis. It's the story of a little-known Depression-era migration, that of thousands of Americans (some idealists, most just unemployed) who made the fatal mistake of accepting Soviet Russia's offer of employment in the Worker's Paradise, many in the hundreds of factories built for Stalin by Henry Ford, only to be swept up a few years later in the maw of the Stalinist murder machine. Stripped against their will of their American citizenship, ignored by the U.S. government before, during, and after the war, slave laborers in the Gulag, they were truly forgotten. A very few survived to tell the tale. Not that ‘progressives’ would listen. A riveting, well-written, and meticulously researched work of forgotten history, well worth the read.”
Jeffrey also suggests more sources on history of the Jews: “If you want more, Seltzer's JEWISH PEOPLE, JEWISH THOUGHT and Ben-Sasson's A HISTORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE are standard textbooks. More recent works include David Biale's CULTURES OF THE JEWS. Multi-volume histories include Salo Baron's magisterial SOCIAL AND RELIGIOUS HISTORY OF THE JEWS. S.D. Gotein's A MEDITERRANEAN SOCIETY looks at medieval Jewish social and cultural life at a time when 90% of the world's Jewish population lived under Islamic rule."

 

 

REAMY JANSEN’S LESSER KNOWN GOOD VICTORIAN NOVELS AND MORE

George Douglas Brown          The House with the Green Shutters
Charles Dickens                    Little Dorritt
Mrs. Gaskell                         Cranford
George Gissing                     The Odd Women
Anthony Trollope                    Doctor Thorne
William Hale White                 The Autobiography of Mark Rutherford
Also, John Stuart Mill’s autobiography and Darwin’s VOYAGE OF THE BEAGLE.
 

 

NEWS

Anne Whitehouse has a review in GENTLY READ BOOKS: http://gentlyread.wordpress.com/
of ROCHELLE RATNER'S BEN CASEY DAYS. See here.
. Also, she was interviewed for Teachers & Writers, and the interview is here.
Janna McMahan’s new novel is just out: THE OCEAN INSIDE Check her website for details and appearances: www.JannaMcMahan.com . “Set along South Carolina's coastal communities and Charleston. Makes a great beach read.”
Ed Davis’s story “Power in the Blood” will appear in the anthology Dots on a Map, containing 22 stories of small-town eccentrics, soon to be published by Main Street Rag Press. Until April 27, the pre-publication price is $10; after that the book will sell for $16.95. See Main Street Rag’s website at http://www.mainstreetrag.com/store/ComingSoon.php

Bob Heman‘s first full-length collection of prose poems, titled DEMOGRAPHICS, OR, THE HATS THEY ARE ALLOWED TO WEAR, has just been published by Gian Lombardo's Quale Press - it's available as a free downloadable e-book that you can read on line or print off or download onto your hard drive - just follow the link to http://www.quale.com/Demographics_BH.html.   Quale also did a smaller collection of his in 2007 which you can find at the end of this link: http://www.quale.com/How_BH.html
Mark Rudd’s book UNDERGROUND: MY LIFE IN SDS AND WEATHERMAN has just been published. It has a good site complete with before and after mug shots of Mark. I knew him a little when I participated in the sit-ins at Columbia University in 1968, and found out later he is a graduate of the same New Jersey high school as my son, coincidentally named Columbia (in Maplewood/South Orange). Mark is very clear about his politics: what he regrets and what he still works to achieve. For a list of this book and others centering on the anti-war movement of the late 1960's, see Books About Columbia University 1968 .

 

 

READINGS, WORKSHOPS, AND OTHER EVENTS

NEVA BRYANT will be reading from her new novel ST. PETER'S MONSTERS at :
May 1: Binding Time Café, Martinsville, VA, 4:30 PM
May 7: Jonnie B. Deel Library, Clintwood, VA, 6:00 PM
May 14: Craft Memorial Library, Bluefield, WV, 5:30 PM
May 21: Taylor Books, Charleston, WV, 10AM-2PM
May 23: Plumb Alley Days, Abingdon, VA, All Day
May 30: Clinch River Days, Saint Paul, VA, All Day
The Third Annual NEW CENTURY AWARDS LIVE MUSIC SHOWCASE Hosted by Red Carpet Live with Lisa Levy Featuring: Larissa Shmailo with Bobby Perfect, Marcell and the Truth, Ekayani and the Tom Glide Space, The Change Agents, Viva Date: Wednesday May 6, 2009. Time: 7 – 11 pm Wicked Willy’s 149 Bleecker Street (between Thompson and LaGuardia) NY, NY 10012 . See myspace.com/wickedwillysnyc
HEART AND CRAFT: A MEMOIR WORKSHOP FOR WOMEN, taught by author/journalist Anndee Hochman in La Barra de Potosi, Mexico. November 14-20, 2009. 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 price is $1100 ($500 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 www.casadelencanto.com; e-mail aehoch@aol.com for details and application.

 

SPECIAL ON HILTON OBENZINGER BOOKS!!

Hilton Obenzinger has just announced that he has boxes of some of his books in his garage, and he wants people to read them! Therefor, he’s selling them cheap, and most of the money will go to his granddaughter's ballet school fund! Each book $10 per copy, including shipping and handling (at book rate). He has copies of BUSY DYING; THIS PASSOVER OR THE NEXT I WILL NEVER BE IN JERUSALEM; NEW YORK ON FIRE; CANNIBAL ELIOT AND THE LOST HISTORIES OF SAN FRANCISCO. Write a check or money order for $10 per book to Hilton Obenzinger, and send it to Hilton Obenzinger, P. O. Box 60585, Palo Alto, CA 94306. He requests that you notify him of your order via email obenzinger@stanford.edu or else he won't be checking the box too frequently.

 

 

 

THE ALGONQUIN ROUNDTABLE RETURNS– AND YOU CAN READ ALONG!

A group of NYU writing professors has begun a reading group at the famous Algonquin Hotel. They are not open to new members, but they are sharing the list of what they’re reading: So far, it’s GUERRILLAS by V.S. Naipaul; PALACE OF DREAMS by Ismail Kadare, and THE GATHERING by Anne Enright.

 

CHEAP MENTORING

 

The Dzanc Creative Writing Sessions are founded on the principle that many authors’ lifestyles do not afford them the opportunity to obtain feedback on their writing. They feel that all authors deserve the opportunity to have their work reviewed. Unlike most of the current workshop opportunities - MFA programs, Low-Residency programs, colonies, online classes, etc. - the DCWS is unique in that it allows the writer to determine the parameters for their own review sessions. With the DCWS, you sign up for what you want and need, not some pre-determined program.
The DCWS is set up to provide a one-to-one working relationship with a published author, allowing you the benefits of their experience, in many cases both writing and teaching. Nearly 100 authors have already agreed to volunteer their services as mentors in our DCWS program. The names you’ll find in their database include award winning authors and teachers such as: George Singleton, Myfanwy Collins, Dawn Raffel, Peter Markus, Leora Skolkin-Smith, Katrina Denza, Laura van den Berg, Kevin Wilson, Nancy Cherry, Jeff Parker and Mike Czyzniejewski.
From this list, writers paying to participate in the DCWS may select an available author to work with. Participating writers will then have their work critiqued and can discuss in detail their writing and any other areas of writing in general they wish to explore with their DCWS author. The program is being offered at an extremely low rate - many of the instructing authors volunteering their time to Dzanc. For information, send an email to info@dzancbooks.org and/or visit the DCWS page at http://www.dzancbooks.org/creative.html and select your author.

 

 

FORGOTTEN PULITZER PRIZE WINNERS?

Here’s an interesting list from ABE books– “forgotten” winners of the Pulitzer Prize.

 

INSIDE OUT: VOICES FROM NEW JERSEY STATE PRISON

This is a book of poems, stories, memoirs and commentaries by forty-three inmates at New Jersey's maximum security prison. Compiled and edited by Kal Wagenheim, who as a volunteer directed a creative writing workshop in the prison for five years, until it was shut down--without any reason provided--by the authorities.

The book has been causing considerable controversy as New Jersey State prison has banned it from the very men who wrote it. The STAR-LEDGER newspaper has weighed in with an editorial in favor of allowing the writers to see their book. See the editorial .

To order, contact www.amazon.com or www.bn.com. 188 pages. $14.95. ISBN 978-1-59594-294-4. Copyright 2009 For details or to schedule talks about the book, contact: Kal Wagenheim. Tel: 973 885 6897. Email: kalwagenheim@cs.com .

 

 

ONLINE

Youtube interview of Irene McKinney, West Virginia's poet laureate. by Kate Long. It’s here.
For some good poetry and short stories, take a look at THE HAMILTON STONE REVIEW # 17,
online at http://www.hamiltonstone.org/hsr.html . Poetry Editor Halvard Johnson, Fiction Editor, Lynda Schor.
Thanks to Phyllis Moore for this link to a piece on Shirley Hazzard.
Ann Patchett recommends Henry James’s THE AMBASSADORS!
Youtube interview of Jayne Anne Phillips.
For some good poetry and short stories, take a look at THE HAMILTON STONE REVIEW # 17, online at http://www.hamiltonstone.org/hsr.html . Poetry Editor Halvard Johnson, Fiction Editor, Lynda Schor.
I continue to enjoy my colleague Shelley Ettinger’s perhaps one-of-a-kind blog about books and left politics– and esepciallya bout the relationship between the two: http://readwritered.blogspot.com/ (Don’t miss her March 16 piece on how much of a book you have to read before deciding to stop!)

 

SIX WRITER-FRIENDS COMPLETE BOOK FOR A DYING AUTHOR/FRIEND

When Elizabeth Aleshire was hospitalized after suffering a heart attack last summer, she fully expected to recover and complete her book, 101 WAYS YOU CAN HELP: HOW TO OFFER COMFORT AND SUPPORT TO THOSE WHO ARE GRIEVING. But that was not to be. A second heart attack dimmed the prospect of recovery, and Ms. Aleshire expired at the age of 59. Six writer-friends offered to complete her manuscript posthumously. Permission was granted by both the author and her publisher, Sourcebooks. The book, 101 WAYS YOU CAN HELP: HOW TO OFFER COMFORT AND SUPPORT TO THOSE WHO ARE GRIEVING. Watch for the book.

 

CONTESTS

For Anderbo Poetry contest, see guidelines: http://www.anderbo.com/anderbo1/anderprize2009.html
MOBIUS, THE POETRY MAGAZINE INTRODUCES THE FIRST DR. ZYLPHA MAPP ROBINSON INTERNATIONAL POETRY AWARD, 2009 THEMES: Global Warming, Effects of the economy or any topic in Mobius’ 8 categories. Guidelines at http://www.mobiuspoetry

 

 

 

 

Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers #120

June 11, 2009

For a Free Subscription to Books for Readers, send a blank email to Readerbooks-subscribe@topica.com

 


THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak
Guest Reviewer:
Dreama Wyant Frisk

 

There are a few books which put down roots in your life. THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak is one. A quote from the New York Times on the book cover forewarns the reader of this: “Brilliant and hugely ambitious. . . . It’s the kind of book that can be LIFE CHANGING.” Still nothing can fully prepare the reader for the impact of this novel about ordinary people and their ability to find meaning and hope in the most dismal surroundings of a small town near Munich during the Jewish Holocaust.

The book cover also bears the imprint of the 2007 Michael L. Printz Honor Book award for young adult literature. It is surprising that this is a young adult book. (This reviewer’s teenage grandson recommended the novel and still “loves the book”.) In Zusak’s native Australia it is considered adult. Perhaps, it is in the young adult category because the main character is a young girl, Liesel Meminger, who comes to live with Rosa and Hans Hubermann after her father, a communist, is taken away. Her relationship with the Hubermanns is a mainstay of the narrative. Her thievery of books, her disruptive behavior at school, and her fighting make this partly a coming of age story. Another young character is Liesel’s best friend, Rudy Steiner, who in an unforgettable scene smears charcoal on his body before a race to impersonate Jesse Owens. No adult should hesitate to pick up the novel because of the young adult designation.

The first few chapters are confusing and some might argue too difficult for adult as well as even sophisticated young readers. The difficulty mainly lies in the introduction to the narrator, Death. This is a kindly and shy Death who makes announcements, observes events, tries to avoid collecting souls, and is darkly humorous. His announcements are made in bold print and centered on the page with asterisks. His quirky personality is reminiscent of a Vonnegut character. Once this introduction to Death is made, the rhythm of the narrative is underway.

Death, like Liesel, has a way with words. Zusak plays out his central metaphor, the power of words. Max, the Jew hidden in the Hubermann basement, writes a book on pages cut from a copy of Mein Kampf. For lack of paper he whitewashes the pages, hangs them up to dry, and writes his story with a paintbrush. These pages including illustrations are displayed. It is a present for Liesel which deepens their bond and which she reads in the dark days of bombing around Munich. Liesel’s thievery of books provides a wallop of suspense throughout the almost 600 pages. Indeed, she first meets Death when she slips a book from a bonfire. In the end, it is the book which she writes that saves her life. Books are treasures.

The use of figurative language becomes the engine of the narrative. It is another reason why writers and lovers of literature will want to read the novel. Death speaks of the color of the smoke coming from the crematoriums. In the middle of a fight (and there is lots of fighting), Max dreams of boxing with Hitler. Liesel notices “utterly blue skies”. Always there is Rudy’s lemon yellow hair, and Papa’s silver eyes. “The moon is sewn into the sky. . . Clouds were stitched around it.” Nightmare becomes a consistent verb until it is customary to say that Liesel nightmares. Max nightmares.

Above all, this is not a maudlin or sentimental book and never, self –indulgent as it tells the triumph of hope and friendship. It is intricately constructed so that the reader is grounded inside the events. We can understand our place in this tragedy through the lives of these ordinary people. THE BOOK THIEF is a profoundly different kind of book about stories and who tells them.

 

                                                                                                                              -- Dreama Wyant Frisk
                  

RECOMMENDATIONS FROM MSW

I just read Mark Rudd’s book UNDERGROUND: MY LIFE WITH SDS AND THE WEATHERMEN. It has had a fair amount of play in the media, including an awful review in the NEW YORK TIMES by a reviewer with zero interest in politics and a condescending nod to the story line about Rudd’s family. Actually, the story of Mark and his parents is very engaging, but the heart of the book is his hope that political organizers can learn from his mistakes– and his successes.

Because of the personal honesty you can appreciate this book even if you don’t have a fetish for the nineteen sixties. Rudd writes both about the development of his commitment to fight injustice and war and about how he left open organizing for a tiny sectarian group and ended up spending years underground. His greatest regrets are the failure of the young organizers of the late sixties to create a broad and lasting movement, and that he and his friends romanticized violence and revolutionary elitism. It is fascinating to see commitment trump common sense as well as democracy. Rudd’s personal life during the Weatherman and underground years was full of suffering, errors, and indeed a kind of insanity. He details all this, as well as his gradual and painstaking change.

Rudd says that he hopes the successes and failures of political organizing chronicled in his book can become an organizing tool for today's young activists, and I hope so too. I wonder how different the history of the left in the United States would have been if the youth movement of the late sixties had been less age-segregated– if there had been some accumulated wisdom floating around out there with all the reckless courage and indignation over the war mongering and imperialism of the United States.

For me personally, as a participant in the events at Columbia University where Mark got his start, the book reminded me of a lot of things: the excitement, of course, but also the rank sexism of the SDS chapter at Columbia University in 1968 (Guess who was detailed to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches during the sit-ins?). It reminded me about how in spite of the near-worship by the SDS leadership of black radicals, there was almost no sense of what daily life was actually like for black students at Columbia and elsewhere.

Another interesting fact is that the Columbia University SDS chapter was highly Jewish, and Mark himself has a good article about the meaning of this available online at http://www.markrudd.com/?about-mark-rudd/why-were-there-so-many-jews-in-sds-or-the-ordeal-of-civility.html ). One more suggestion for further reading is a review of the book by Tom Hayden (author of SDS’s important Port Huron Statement– okay, also the ex-husband of Jane Fonda) at http://www.truthdig.com/arts_culture/item/20090507_tom_hayden_on_mark_rudd/ .

 

.....And now, for something completely different...

 

I re-read CRANFORD by “Mrs” Gaskell. She had a first name of course, Elizabeth, but back in the day she was called "Mrs".. Reamy Jansen suggested the book, which I read years ago and re-read this time quickly and with much pleasure. I had remembered it as being about small lives and mildly amusing anecdotes, but, in fact, the novel begins with several deaths, and it includes financial disaster and a runaway boy and considerable quotidian cruelty among the classes, particularly from the indolent social leader of little Cranford, who visits her friends just to tell them NOT to return the visit as she will be having a titled guest! Even fluttery Miss Matty Jenkyns has a sad story of lost love. She meets her aged lover– and he dies. You have to keep in mind that death was more everyday in the mid 1800's than now– it was perfectly common for most of a family’s babies not to survive infancy, and Mrs. Gaskell herself, who was considered to have had a long and fruitful life, died in her mid-fifties. The very ordinariness of loss of all kinds– loss of life, loss of lovers, loss of financial stability– underlies the gentle nattering of the ladies of Cranford. I love the book, but you have to be in the right mood to read it– is a sea-green turban appropriate headgear for an aging spinster? Get in the mood where that might matter to a character, though, and you are as lost in this world as in many a more obviously exotic one.

Two more books: THE GIFT by Lewis Hyde had been recommended to me several times. It is one of those often mentioned books by a public intellectual that I wanted to enjoy more than I did. It was hard going for me. Too much t.v. and internet? It does, however, make a really important distinction between what we do for money and what we don’t. It begins with folk tales and narratives about hunter gatherer and other societies with strong emphasis on gift exchange and the circulation of valuable things rather than private ownership, and goes on to long essays on Walt Whitman and Ezra Pounds and Allen Ginsberg.

Finally, I read Alice Sebold’s memoir, LUCKY, which is searing and feels very real and true. Sebold here investigates and documents her own rape and the struggle to bring the rapist to justice. Then she summarizes the real damage done to her– years of drinking and drugs and suffering. As good as this kind of book can be.

    -- Meredith Sue Willis

 

 


Response to Issue # 119

Ardian Gill writes, “I enjoyed your review of the History of the Jews, etc. [in Issue # 119] Coincidentally, I just finished a small novel by a camp survivor named, appropriately, Wander. (He was in 20 camps). It's called THE SEVENTH WELL, a reference to something in the Hebrew Bible, I think. It's fiction but reads like a diary. Not an easy read a/c the German indifference and worse, but it's rewarding in that humor survives even the worst ordeals. Wander isn't just telling of life in the camps but gives brief biographies of some prisoners, and that's where the humor comes in along with the strength of the human spirit under the most brutal circumstances.”
Jeffrey Sokolow writes: “Thanks for the shout out. I'd forgotten how dated [Cecil] Roth was but I think it's still a good read. You might want to locate out-of-print books of his such as THE MARRANOS and A HISTORY OF THE JEWS OF ITALY. The late great Columbia historian Salo W. Baron objected to what he called "the lachymorose concept of history" (i.e., the history of the Jews being one primarily of suffering). His 18-volume SOCIAL AND RELIGIOUS HISTORY OF THE JEWS goes up to the 18th century. He was writing into his 90s but didn't make it past the 18th century. Another massive read is S.D. Gotein's 5-volume A MEDITERRANEAN SOCIETY, which paints a picture of medieval Arabic Jewish social and economic life based on documents from the Cairo Geniza (a repository for Hebrew manuscript fragments). On women, Judith Baskin is a historian whose work is aimed at bringing out the female side of Jewish history. I also understand that the newly revised ENCYCLOPEDIA JUDAICA includes many articles based on the last few decades of research into Jewish women's history and cultural criticism. Baskin's books would be a good place to start. Happy reading.”

 

 

MORE RECOMMENDATIONS

 
Sal Weir says, “I just finished a book that I have recommended to others: ASSISTED LOVING by Bob Morris, a past contributor to the Styles section of the NEW YORK TIMES. Morris attends to his 80-year-old father, lives his own disordered life, and longs for love. Mere months after the death of his wife, Joe Morris is busy dating, looking for the right woman to share the rest of his life. A fanatical bridge player, a high-octane talker, Joe has a full social life. In turn, Bob wrestles with his feelings for his father's dating life, for his father, and for his dead mother. In turns hilariously funny, poignant and reflective, the book is a gem. Well written, fast paced, it feels real and is a rewarding read.”
Nicole Arbuiso suggests, for those interested in dipping their toes into chick lit, Emily Griffin’s SOMETHING BORROWED; SOMETHING BLUE; and BABY PROOF plus SHOPAHOLIC by Sophie Kinsella and THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA by Lauren Weisberger.
Ed Davis reports that “Scott Giesel, an English prof at Wright State University (Dayton, OH), has compiled an anthology called GRAVITY FICTION: SHORT STORIES FOR COLLEGE WRITERS, consisting of 13 stories from ten different colleges, including Oberlin, University of New Orleans, Texas State as well as Sinclair Community College....Of course there are many such anthologies highlighting students in graduate programs, but this one highlights mostly undergraduate writing. Only a couple of the writers herein were in grad programs when they wrote their stories--and they're all excellent, accessible and compelling....In addition to the full text of the stories in a large, easily-readable font, Geisel wrote excellent introductions/analyses of each story. Furthermore, the book is quite affordable at @ $16.95, and is available at Amazon and Booksurge.com. It would make a great text for any college (maybe even high school) creative writing course, and, in fact, I'll probably use it in my advanced fiction next year. However, it's a great read, too, for anyone who likes great fiction and would like to see the sorts of issues and topics (mostly undergrad) writers in America are thinking about these days (for example, my student, Dennis Hitzeman's story ‘Never Enough’ is about a school shooting, but steers carefully around cliched shades of Columbine; the point of view character is the survivor of violence, a man who's now pledged, as a security officer, to end the violence). GRAVITY FICTION is a very worthy addition to the college fiction genre, and a labor of love for Scott Geisel.”

FOUND READING LISTS

Nancy Gross teaches a course called “Literature & Medicine: A Community Dialogue,” at Overlook Hospital-Atlantic Health in New Jerseu as part of the Palliative Care and Ethics Program. Her reading list includes: Philip Roth EVERYMAN, Stephen Kiernan LAST RIGHTS, Thomas Lynch THE UNDERTAKING (essays), Donald Hall WITHOUT, John Bayley ELEGY FOR IRIS.
 
Thanks to Thulani Davis for a summer reading list on Black history and movements. She says, “I am just going to assume everyone has read the wonderful tomes PARTING THE WATERS and PILLAR OF FIRE by Taylor Branch. The first volume includes a lot of the kinds of experiences we southern black Columbia University students had before coming to New York and the incredible internacine struggles of organizing in small communities.” Here are her suggestions.
On Race:
Berger, Maurice. WHITE LIES: RACE AND THE MYTHS OF WHITENESS. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1999. "It was in college that I learned to be a racist." P. 122
Malcomson, Scott L. ONE DROP OF BLOOD: THE AMERICAN MISADVENTURE OF RACE. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2000.
Pieterse, Jan Nederveen. WHITE ON BLACK: IMAGES OF AFRICA AND BLACKS IN WESTERN POPULAR CULTURE. New Haven: Yale, 1992. [The only book of its kind.]
McClintock, Anne. IMPERIAL LEATHER: RACE, GENDER AND SEXUALITY IN THE COLONIAL CONTEXT. New York: Routledge, 1995. [Magisterial. A scholarly text but so eye-opening. "Colonial" as in British Empire, taking in Fanon and other post-colonial work, including pre-Mandela South Africa]
Morrison, Toni. PLAYING IN THE DARK: WHITENESS AND THE LITERARY IMAGINATION. Cambridge: Harvard, 1992.
On the Southern Movement & Black Power movement:
Carson, Clayborne. IN STRUGGLE: SNCC AND THE BLACK AWAKENING OF THE 1960S." Cambridge: Harvard University: 1981.
King, Mary. FREEDOM SONG: A PERSONAL STORY OF THE 1960S MOVEMENT. New York: William Morrow,1987. [By a white member of SNCC....She was co-author with Casey Hayden of the memorandum charging SNCC leaders with sexism.]
Tyson, Timothy B. BLOOD DONE SIGN MY NAME. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004.
[Recommended to me by every book seller I met in Mississippi as the best history of the state's bloody past, though it primarily opens up the story of a 1970 incident. This is by a white Mississippian, son of a white liberal, who has that great southern story-telling ability.]
Joseph, Peniel E. WAITING `TIL THE MIDNIGHT HOUR: A NARRATIVE HISTORY OF BLACK POWER IN AMERICA. New York: Henry Holt, 2006. [He has no clue how chaotic things felt at the time and you will recognize that right off but he has most of the players you have never heard of down right—black power groups in places like Detroit. Unfortunately, he did not counter the NY Times coverage with black periodicals and thus he is repeating a lot of hysteria over Black Power that you may recognize as a source for your own but they got a lot of the reporting wrong. Still it's an overview.]
On 19th century radicals you should know (in my opinion):
Morgan, Albert T. YAZOO: OR, ON THE PICKET LINE OF FREEDOM IN THE SOUTH, A PERSONAL NARRATIVE. U of South Carolina, 2000. [Riveting autobiography of a true anti-racist radical of the late 19th c and his misadventures/education in Mississippi.]
Wells, Ida B. SOUTHERN HORRORS AND OTHER WRITINGS: THE ANTI-LYNCHING CAMPAIGN OF IDA B. WELLS, 1892-1900. New York: Bedford/St. Martins, 1997. [Just in case some of you have never read her.]
On Obama:
Asim, Jabari. WHAT OBAMA MEANS . . . FOR OUR CULTURE, OUR POLITICS, OUR FUTURE. New York: William Morrow, 2009. [For a thorough look at mainstream black views of Obama, including the old-heads from the black nationalist movements, and a good reading of black views on racialized nonsense that came up during the campaign.]
 

ONLINE!

Podcast with Cat Pleska at http://www.wvwriters.org/podcast.html
Neva Bryan’s website http://www.nevabryan.com/ has a lot of good links to Appalachian websites as well as information about her new book.
Laura Thompson invites us to visit her updated Web site (www.loralia.com) and her new blog about culture, travel and the arts (http://loralia.blogspot.com). She welcomes comments!
May issue of Internet Review of Books at http://internetreviewofbooks.com/index.html
If you haven’t, check out Ron Pramschufer’s cheerfully commercial site about self-publishing: http://www.publishingbasics.com/
Gently Read Literature’s May 2009 Issue 14 is available at http://www.gentlyread.wordpress.com
with Critical Reviews of Contemporary Poetry and Literary Fiction— Mary Ackers on Ron Rash’s SERENA, Stephen Delbos on Peter Ludwin’s A GUEST IN ALL YOUR HOUSES; Anne Whitehouse on RED MOUNTAIN , BIRMINGHAM , ALABAMA , Rick Larios on Andrea Barrett’s THE AIR WE BREATHE, and more.
 

NEWS

Dissident Books is a new press worth looking into: http://www.dissidentbooks.com/index.php. It has, among other things, a new edition of H.L. Mencken’s NOTES ON DEMOCRACY. Dissident Books says of its mission: “In an intellectual landscape that’s largely homogenous and spineless, Dissident Books offers independent visions and accounts to those who have grown tired of adult lullabies. Our books are for readers who have both the stomach and the desire for the undiluted, no matter how strange, ugly, or sad it might be.”
FATHER, poems by Jeff Daniel Marion not only serves as a tribute to Marion’s father, but to fathers everywhere. From Wind Publications, 600 Overbrook Drive, Nicholasville KY 40356.
SAID AND DONE by James Morrison (Black Lawrence Press, June 2009) is now available for pre-order on the Black Lawrence Press website and on Amazon. In these nine stories, James Morrison writes about the intricate relation between tenderness and cruelty, about the burdens and freedoms of selfhood, the vagaries of identity, and the connections and disconnections among people across a wide range of human experience.

 

 
 

 

 

 

ABOUT AMAZON.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.
 

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BACK ISSUES:

#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.
#130
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 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
#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
#65
   Ingrid Hughes on Memoir
#64
    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
#49    
Caucasia
#48    
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
#25
   On Libraries....
#24    Tales of the City
#23
   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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