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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 To unsubscribe, send a blank email to Readerbooks-unsubscribe Write to Meredith Sue Willis at 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 #121

July 25, 2009

For a Free Email Subscription to Books for Readers, send a blank email to





Recent MSW News:

My story “The Roy Critchfield Scandals” appears in We All Live Downstream: Writings About Mountaintop Removal, edited by Jason Howard and published by Motes Books.
My short-short "My Most Embarrassing" is now online at Two Hawks Quarterly





Special Supplement to Issue # 121!


This is a special supplement to Issue #121 with an article by a literary agent aimed at writers who have been considering using an editor or book doctor.


    -- Meredith Sue Willis






By Debbie Carter


Many writers think that a book doctor’s edit of their manuscript will get them published, but some of the worst submissions to my agency have come from book doctors or freelance editors. With the recent layoffs in publishing, many editors who worked for name imprints and famous authors are now offering their services to anyone who’ll pay. It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of working with an editor whose resumé you admire, but you really can’t tell from their track record what they will do for you or your manuscript. They often charge high fees, and with no affiliation to a company they can set their own standards. The editors are freelancing for money, not to discover new talent, although they’d be happy if they did. I would encourage writers to look at the situation as a business transaction. Both the writer and editor should be clear on the services to be rendered and fees before any work is done, and state the terms in an agreement or letter.

Only engage an editor with experience in your book’s category. One writer told me he engaged a nonfiction editor who used to work for a major house to edit his novel. This doesn’t make sense. What writers really need is insider feedback on the commercial prospects for their manuscripts, and editors have their areas of expertise.

Shop around. Talk to more than one editor before hiring someone and ask for references.

Do you want a critique or line editing? Do you need feedback on the entire manuscript or a few chapters? You won’t really know if their feedback will help you until you work with them. Why not ask if the book doctor is willing to work with you on a partial manuscript? Maybe you’d like their help in drafting a query letter or finding an agent?

Does it make sense to even engage an editor for your manuscript? If your book needs more research or new content, you might look into a continuing education class or hiring a collaborator. NYU’s SCPS division offers workshops in many categories of books as well as one-on-one tutorials. How can you find a collaborator? American Society of Journalists & Authors has a directory of members available for collaboration. See Hiring a book packager is another option, see

So don’t be awed by celebrity editors.  Take a businesslike view of their talent and services, and be clear in what you want.  You’re paying for it.  Hopefully, you’ll find someone who gives honest feedback that will enable you to turn your manuscript into a real prospect for publishers.


                                                                                           Debbie Carter                                                                                                  Http://





A month after summer solstice, so the angle of light is more or less the same as late May. In other words, for all you optimists out there, please lower your spirits! The days are getting shorter! But the books are still long and rich. I want to begin this newsletter with one of the latest books from Hamilton Stone Editions, a small literary press with which I am associated. This new novel SOME PLACE QUITE UNKNOWN is by the well-known and well-published Jane Lazarre, whose work includes BEYOND THE WHITENESS OF WHITENESS, THE MOTHER KNOT and much more. For some of her awards and reviews, visit her website at

SOME PLACE QUITE UNKNOWN is a novel that slips around the border of memoir, but creates a full fictional world. It uses shifting points of view and a story-within-the story that– to Lazarre’s great credit– enhances the singleness of purpose and the intensity of the search for a lost mother. The book has a deep sensuality that fills the reader’s horizon the way menstrual cramps or nursing a baby can fill a woman’s.

As I was reading, I compared and contrasted it in my mind with Anaïs Nin’s diaries, but Lazarre’s book has none of the coyness and preciousness that marred Nin’s work for me. Maybe I’m just older and understand more, but I think Lazarre’s explorations are more powerful and honest. The story line is clear: the main character fears that she may be suicidal; she enters therapy; she explores where she has been and inquires into the mystery of her mother’s suicide. She explores this mystery in many ways, some obvious and some surprising: she narrates dreams, interviews people of the past generation, talks with people of her son’s generation. She looks at photographs, reads letters, mulls over phrases from her mother’s letters, has conversations with her friends and her sister. She eats meals, she goes down to the sea on both coasts. She remembers and speculates.

Mainly, Lazarre does all these things extremely well, with a straightforwardness that is totally convincing. This isn’t to say that the writing strategies are naive, on the contrary. But she moves forward with such concentration and intensity that as a reader I felt enthralled by her conviction. Near the end, quotations from Anne Sexton and Virginia Woolf begin to crop up, and that connection to women literary figures who committed suicide helps open the work out into the larger world in a fruitful and powerful way. In a different vein, Lazarre also creates wonderful portraits of people, especially my favorite, mean old Aunt Lucille, the older sister of the lost mother. Lucille appears in various contexts, from various angles, gradually sharpening into a clear, vivid, presence.

This is not reading for the beach; rather, it is reading for sounding the depths.



One more note: I picked up in a used bookstore LEON TROTSKY by Irving Howe, an excellent short introduction to Trotsky's ideas and place in history with a minimum of biography. Howe is sympathetic and admiring, but deeply critical of Trotsky and all the old Bolsheviks for not seeing in time that their policies might lead to a monstrous catastrophe like Stalinism. Howe’s point is that however brilliant and serious and brave Trotsky was– fascinating, literary, and indefatigable in working toward social change– he did not move anywhere near fast enough against the evil potential in Bolshevism that was realized, whereas the promise of Bolshevism never was.

In related reading, I came across an article in the NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS by Timothy Snyder called “Holocaust: The Ignored Legacy” (The New York Review of Books, Volume 56, Number 12 , July 16, 2009. P.14 - 16). Snyder asserts that the real center of the Holocaust was not western Europe and the German Jews, not even Auschwitz, which was a work camp as well as an extermination camp and thus had survivors to tell the story. The real killing center, he says, was Eastern Europe, specifically Belarus and the Ukraine, both ravaged by Stalin in the thirties then by the Nazis in the forties with planned starvation and famine and simple shooting and clubbing to death as well as more technologically advanced methods of killing.



    -- Meredith Sue Willis




Jeffrey Sokolow writes to say he has “just finished RED ORCHESTRA: THE STORY OF THE BERLIN UNDERGROUND AND THE CIRCLE OF FRIENDS WHO RESISTED HITLER by Anne Nelson, a new book on "Die Rote Kapelle," The Red Orchestra, which was the name the Nazis gave the (mostly unconnected) circles of anti-fascist militants and Soviet-led espionage agents (the two categories were not mutually exclusive) who performed truly heroic deeds during the darkest days of the Third Reich. As the subtitle indicates, it focuses mostly on the resistance angle. Another highly recommended book with the same focus is RESISTING HITLER: MILDRED HARNACK AND THE RED ORCHESTRA by Shareen Blair Brysac, a biography of Mildred Fish-Harnack, the only American woman to be executed in Nazi Germany under Hitler's personal orders. For the fascinating espionage side of the story, two books are recommended: THE RED ORCHESTRA by Gilles Perrault and THE GREAT GAME: MEMOIRS OF THE SPY HITLER COULDN'T SILENCE by Leopold Trepper. Trepper's story is mind-blowing and why it hasn't been made into a movie, I can't imagine (well, maybe we're not ready yet for a film whose hero is a Soviet Jewish anti-Stalinist spy chief). Although these last two books are out of print, they both are well worth finding. I haven't read THE RED ORCHESTRA by V. E. Tarrant, but a glance at the table of contents suggests it might be interesting. Not recommended is CODEWORD DIREKTOR by Heinz Hohne, which relies too much on tendentious Nazi materials that slander the participants in the resistance as sex deviants and traitors to Germany (not that there's anything wrong with that).”



Reamy Jansen suggests “Mary Elizabeth Braddon's LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET, one of the Victorian sensation novels of the 1860's, great Oxford paperback. Sterling introduction and excellent notes. A great read. She wrote 85 novels, mostly dreck probably. However, this one in terrific.”



Linda Marshall has sent us a special recommendation of GRINGOLANDIA by Lyn Miller-Lachmann. She says, “I want to tell everyone I know to read this amazing book. Once I began GRINGOLANDIA (Curbstone Press, 2009), I couldn’t put it down. A generally slow reader with numerous obligations and interests that keep me from reading, I stopped everything to read this book. It’s an amazing and historically accurate novel about Chile under the Pinochet regime – and the effects of the Pinochet regime on the population. The main characters, Daniel, Marcelo/Nino (his father), Tina (Daniel’s sister) and Courtney (Daniel’s girlfriend) are vivid, believable and haunting. Told from multiple points of view and written in a way that is suitable for Young Adult readers, GRINGOLANDIA is a must-read for any adult, high school or college student concerned about the horrors of torture and political repression.

“GRINGOLANDIA begins in Santiago, Chile in 1980, when Daniel awakens to see his father being beaten, tortured and hauled away: Daniel, his mother and sister flee Chile and find refuge in Madison, Wisconsin. More than five years later, Marcelo is released, but he is partially paralyzed, the result of a savage beating in prison. Daniel is horrified to see what has happened to his father and wonders if he’ll ever have the same relationship with him that he had before:

‘I nod, but inside my down coat, I’m shaking. Sure, [Mamá] told me about Papá being tortured, and it was on the leaflets, too. But that was just words. This guy is really messed up. Maybe he isn’t Papá. Maybe this is some kind of sick joke, some way of torturing the family, killing Papá and sending this crippled guy to take his place.’

“Daniel’s struggle to reclaim that relationship, and his conflict with his girlfriend, Courtney, who wants to start a human rights newspaper using Marcelo’s story, is the focus of the novel. GRINGOLANDIA concludes in 1991. Pinochet is no longer in power and the country is healing. Marcelo, now living in his own home in Santiago, has a parrot that he has rescued from a cruel neighbor.

‘The beauty of it all filled the hole inside, where torturers had tried to beat out or burn away every emotion except the fear and rage that they expected would eventually consume me.

‘I’m healing, too,’ I said. ‘Just give me time.’”


Linda also praises Lyn Miller-Lachmann's DIRT CHEAP as a “very good, fast-paced eco-thriller.”





Iris Schwartz is the guest poet at
She also has a poem on Jee Leong Koh's blog:

Laren Stover’s story “The Last Geronimo” is the lead fiction story on GUERNICA, a magazine of art & politics described as "a magazine of art & politics." GUERNICA called out by Esquire’s blog as a Great Online Literary Magazine. "The Last Geronimo" is the funny and sad story of Geronimo the Third and a pet monkey named Colette. See

Allan Appel’s new play THE EXCOMMUNICATION OF MRS. EATON, a theological love story, is based on the record of the excommunication trial of the wife of New Haven's founder in 1645. The play takes place in New Haven at the church on the Green. For more information, see
Barry Wildorf’s historical novel, DAWN OF DARKNESS, is now available as an ebook from SCRIBD ( or just Google the title. DAWN OF DARKNESS is a fictional account of two very courageous women who heroically resisted the Church's efforts to destroy classical knowledge, and with it women's traditional roles as teachers and healers, during the dying days of the Roman Empire. Since, as we know, the Church ultimately won, condemning nearly everything written by classical/pagans as heresy, and burned most of their books thereby bringing us the Dark Ages, we have to use our imaginations to fill in the gaps. Hence, DAWN OF DARKNESS is both a cautionary tale and a work of fiction.
Mary Lucille DeBerry’s new book of poems is BERTHA BUTCHER'S COAT.
Sandy Vrana's work was selected as a finalist in the 2009 Patricia Dobler Poetry Contest sponsored by the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing of Carlow University, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Barbara Crooker: "Secret Garden" is in the Saw Palm Review: (you have to scroll down the page)."After the Operation, I Find I Like Sleeping Alone" and "Walking in the Orchard with Katha Pollitt" are in the new issue of Summerset Review:

And her book LINE DANCE won the 2009 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence!
ANDERBO story “The Right Passengers” by Waqar Ahmed was honored as one of the 2009 BEST OF THE WEB stories! See   This 2008 story now appears in Dzanc Books' BEST OF THE WEB 2009.


An interesting source of seld-editing advice is at plus a site for screnwriters at
Samples of Bob Heman’s Information Pages:
New issue of Internet Review of Books is up at
Garrison Keillor read a poem from Barbara Crooker’s LINE DANCE "The VCCA Fellows Visit the Holiness Baptist Church" on The Writer's Almanac on Sunday, June 28th. Archived here:
An interview with Brenda Seabrooke.




ANDERBO SEEKS NOVELIST: is seeking to post ONE unpublished entire novel on its website by December 1, 2009 for at least the following six months. We will look at the FIRST 30 PAGES (up to 10,000 words) of your e-manuscript and decide within 60 days if we want to see more. THERE IS NO READING FEE and all literary rights will remain with the author. No novel submissions will be accepted after September 1st. We guarantee to choose and use one manuscript, and to pay an honorarium of $300 to the chosen author upon publication. For technical guidelines and address see


MOTIF is an anthology series published annually by MotesBooks of Louisville, Ky. VOLUME 1: WRITING BY EAR featured 116 writers, including Patty Griffin, Silas House, Buddy & Julie Miller, Maurice Manning, Evie Shockley, Neela Vaswani, Frank X Walker and Pamela Duncan. Each volume in the MOTIF series focuses on a theme – for Volume 2 the theme is CHANCE. Submissions may be poems, short stories, song lyrics, short memoirs, essays, letters, creative nonfiction, or other forms. Combinations of forms are acceptable up to the limits described: Prose must be under 3,000 words. Send no more than three poems/lyrics. All genres will be considered as long as “chance” is referenced or illuminated in the works. Submissions may address the theme either directly or indirectly, but “chance” should figure significantly and artfully in the piece. For full guidelines, go to Submission period closes September 1, 2009.
The Anthology of Appalachian Writers is a publication that encourages a long-established tradition of storytelling, love of language, and creative expression associated broadly with the area of the country known as Appalachia. Though the principal mission of the anthology is to provide a venue for publication of new writers, it also provides a collection of literature and scholarship that contributes to an understanding and appreciation for the region. Poetry, fiction, memoir, heritage writers, as well as new voices appear in each annual volume of the anthology. To submit any original, unpublished work of fiction or poetry for consideration by the editors, send an electronic copy, along with the information below, to Dr. S. Bailey Shurbutt, . All submissions must be in the submission format below.

Title of Submission:___________________________________________________________
E-mail:____________________ Phone:_____________________
Brief Biography (limit 100 words):________________________________________________

Deadline for Submissions: October 15, 2009.
Resilience Multimedia, publisher of the widely praised book, “THINK OUTSIDE THE CELL: AN ENTREPRENEUR’S GUIDE FOR THE INCARCERATED AND FORMERLY INCARCERATED,” is sponsoring its second writing contest for people who are or were in prison, and their loved ones. The books will be widely distributed and widely read.. Contestants may write personal stories about one or more of these topics:
* Reentering society after incarceration
* Waiting for loved ones to return home from prison
* Prison marriages and relationships
Three winners will be chosen for each topic and will receive these prizes:
* 1st Place: $300
* 2nd Place: $150
* 3rd Place: $ 75
Stories that do not win cash prizes will still be eligible for inclusion in the series.
For contest rules and more information, email or call 877-267-2303.










Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers #122

August 22, 2009

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send a blank email to

Cowboy Poet Paul Zarzyski



This issue is made up mostly of contributions from readers, including Morris Older on left-wing cowboy poetry! Don’t miss Neva Bryant on giving readings when only a few people show up, and also responses to Debbie Carter’s piece in Issue 121 on book doctors- and much more.

                                                                  -- Meredith Sue Willis






Pretty much all genres of music and poetry span the gamut of politics. Soul, for example, back in the day, included the ChiLites singing "(For God's Sake) You've Got to Give More Power to the People," and Freda Payne, singing "Bring the Boys Home," even while James Brown was singing "It's A Man's World." And don't forget the Coasters, who in “Wake Me, Shake Me” talked about how their boss was a big flat slob, and they couldn't be a minute late for their jobs driving the garbage truck. Similar examples can be found across the wide spectrum of rock , rap, new wave, heavy metal—or opera.

Cowboy poetry and music comes from a very different tradition, of course, derived from the life experiences of settling the West, growing up on ranches, living with horses and cattle in a struggle for survival, but with the beauty of the natural world ever present. Humor is a common thread, and story telling is both suspenseful and meaningful. Lots to explore at sites like sites like .

Like other genres, cowboy poetry runs from right to left also- there are poets who belittle environmentalists and hate the government telling them to do anything, even the right thing. But there is also a group that talks from the heart about the environment, about class, and about racism, usually without using those labels. Check out some of the poems of Waddie Mitchell, who writes in one poem about mining companies despoiling the landscape, or Wallace McRae, who writes about all aspects of ranch life. In Cowboy Curmudgeon (1992), [McRae] compares the Ranch Wife to the fashion plate and beauty queen, noting that

There’s a loveliness in rough, stained hands
Making jelly from wild plums.
The simple tears of pain and grief
When birth or death each comes
So don’t sing to me of goddesses
Larger (and falser) than life
Or degenerate the beauty
Of the solid, strong ranch wife.


Actually that is a common theme, echoed in song by Wylie (singer of the original “Yahoo! Yodel”) Gustafson, in the Carrhart Song on Wylie and the Wild West’s 2007 music CD, Bucking Horse Moon, and in the poetry of women like Susan Parker, who has also resurrected the hundred year old verses of ranch women crossing the west in covered wagons and settling the west.

Wylie has collaborated with Paul Zarzyski, perhaps the only free-verse cowboy poet and one of the finest poets of any genre. A rodeo rider for years, Zarzyski somehow graduated with his parts intact to write poems about rodeo. In “Rodeo to the Bone,” set to a heavy rock beat on Wylie’s album noted above, Zarzyski writes of his buddies...


He’s a chiropractic snafu
An orthopedic wreck
Of spinal column fusion
From his tailbone to his neck…
A tie rod in each femur
Ball joints in each hip
His doctor and mechanic
Had to form a partnership.

Zarzyski, who just loves the sound of words, is an extraordinary oral performer—you can get a sample by scrolling down to the end of the alphabetically listed poets who perform at the annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering and clicking on the word Listen, which takes you to his paean to Butte, Montana and the Polish names he finds there.

Zarzyski, an amazing story teller and great performer, who can be humorous and insightful, really understands a bit more than just performance art. In Wolf Track on the Welcome Mat (2003), he writes about Polish poetry and cowboy poetry the day before he visits the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, in his poem entitled Shoes- yes, the mildewed shoes recovered from Auschwitz:

What I ask now is
that each of the world’s soldiering poets writes life
back into one shoe of the persecuted—softly
as a mother’s fingertip to her teething child’s gums,
rub olive oil into the leather until you feel it
breathing again. Choose your most truthful
words, your most vital music…
…Now I must sing
to you of the bugle-
beaded horse-track-on-the-buckskin
Sioux moccasin, so tiny against the black
mountains of shoes—one baby’s bootee found
frozen in the snow at Wounded Knee.


In the same collection, he writes in “The Hand” about a white South African who yanks the hand of a black cowboy sitting on the ground, thrusting it into the face of a reporter, claiming that they are not the same species; Zarzyski describes the “landscape of canyons and arroyos, buttes and mesas…shaped by pistol grip, lariat and reins” on the working cowboy’s hand


Alongside the aristocrat’s
Tissue-paper appendage always reaching to take
Even another man’s hand, and own it,
And hold it open, because he knows that the fist
Is as big as the man’s heart
And this is the difference he fears


In another poem he writes about a legendary old cowboy that he has never met, who everyone totally respects as the best horse-trainer ever, and he finally, shakes the man’s hand, and is quite surprised to find it is black—nobody had ever thought that important to mention.

The annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering, held in Elko, Nevada in January, is a week long with four or more workshops going on all-day, with concerts and readings in the evenings, the essence of folk art preserving traditions that many in cities might assume no longer exists. Each Elko Gathering has a theme, which different years been themed has been the poetry of Ranch Women, Native Americans and Vaqueros. And look for regional gatherings across the country usually a long weekend celebrating cowboy culture.

And of course with the poetry there is also great music, from Vaquero songs with accordions, to the cowboy folk of Ian Tyson, Michael Murphy and Dave Stamey. Cowboy music is quite different than commercialized country and western, focusing instead on the realities of life, and sometimes going as far as this song from James Talley Touchstones CD released in 2001, shortly after Bush took over:

So you've never picked no peaches,
You never rode no box car trains,
Never worked out on the road gang,
Or slept- out in the rain,
But when you see a good man
Have to struggle sweat and strain
And when a man can't feed his children
Don't it make you stop and think...
Are they gonna make us outlaws again?
Is that what it's coming to my friends?
Well I think I see why Pretty Boy Floyd
Done the things he did-
Are they gonna make us out- laws again?
Now there's always been a bottom
And there's always been a top
And someone took the orders
And someone- called the shots-
And someone took the beatin' Lord
And someone got the prize-
Well, that may be the way it's been
but that don't- make it right!





Sondra Olsen writes, “That was such a valuable statement in your update! Both my children are now novelists, and I feel sorry for them because it's such a wilderness out there in publishing now. It was nice to see a frank and useful appraisal (which writers' magazines probably wouldn't run.)”



Another reader, one of my former students who went on to get an MFA, wrote the following in response to Debbie Carter’s piece:


"Last May I graduated from The New School University with an MFA in creative writing (fiction). I learned a lot, and most of all I enjoyed the aspiring writer’s life for two years. I feel it was worth paying the tuition of $55K....Today I am sending a response to the article of Debbie Carter, whom I know.

"I fully agree with Debbie's opinion, warning, and suggestion, as I have used several editors and book doctors in the past. Some are mediocre, and others are even dubious, in spite of their impressive resumés. A book doctor I hired said, "Your writing is so bad, I rewrote first page for you. See, how it is improved." I read it, and I was disgusted, because her rewrite was much worse than my original. She did not know some words I used (which were reasonably common in American culture), and criticized as a "wrong word". Many times she criticized my writing without understanding my intention, so her criticism was off-track. So, on, just to give you a few examples. ... And she charges money for that lousy work. What a nerve! But this is not an isolated case.

"Yes, Debbie is right. One should shop around and get referrals from writer colleagues before choosing a book doctor who suits one's own needs. What one is really looking for may not be a book doctor, but a tutor, who would guide him/her to develop and polish his/her work in several sessions.

"I am fortunate to have found an excellent book doctor. I'm going to stick with her."







Ardian Gill says the “last BOOKS FOR READERS column struck a chord when you mentioned ‘Holocaust: The Ignored Legacy’ which asserts that the real holocaust was in the Ukraine, etc., where some 20 million are believed to have been slaughtered. The same conclusion is asserted in an afterword in George Steiner's THE PORTAGE TO SAN CRISTOBAL OF A.H.- The A.H. standing for Adolph Hitler, who is believed to be alive in the jungle in South America. A group sets out to find him and bring him to San Cristobal. Their story is intermingled with the beliefs or non beliefs of the outside world. As Steiner flips back and forth between these two worlds, he utilizes a stunning array of writing styles ranging from staccato no punctuation, incomplete sentences, unidentified speaker in the jungle search to rigid or loose formal prose depending on whether he is dealing with the French (formal) the Americans (sloppy), Russians (course), Germans (precise) etc. Aside from the story, it is a wonderful example of ‘you can do anything in fiction.’”
Jeffrey Sokolow writes: “I just finished reading "THE BIELSKI BROTHERS: THE TRUE STORY OF THREE MEN WHO DEFIED THE NAZIS, SAVED 1,200 JEWS, AND BUILT A VILLAGE IN THE FOREST" by Peter Duffy (2009, Harper & Collins). This gripping narrative tells the story of the Bielsky partisans, a Jewish guerilla unit that fought the Germans, punished collaborators, and saved Jews in the Belorussian forests during World War II. Their story was also portrayed in the recent movie DEFIANCE and in an earlier book, DEFIANCE: THE BIELSKY PARTISANS by Nehama Tec (1993, Oxford University Press), which I also recommend. Not read by me but recommended by the author are FUGITIVES OF THE FOREST: THE HEROIC STORY OF JEWISH RESISTANCE DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR by Alan Levine (1998, Stoddard) and THE JEWISH RESISTANCE: THE HISTORY OF THE JEWISH PARTISANS IN LITHUANIA AND WHITE RUSSIA DURING THE NAZI OCCUPATION 1940--1945 by Lester Eckman and Chaim Lazar (1977, Shengold). Once you pick up this book, you will find it hard to put it down until you finish it.”
Ingrid Hughes recommends THE WASTED VIGIL by a Pakistani Brit, Nadeem Aslam. The book, she writes, “is set in Afghanistan in the present day. Characters are caught up in the Soviet Invasion and the CIA's promotion of the Taliban and al Quada to oppose it, and the current war. They suffer losses of those they love, one loses her mind, one a hand, and in parts the book is painful to read. But the writing is dense and beautiful, not didactic. Aslam is interested in the history of the region and the ways that people treat others of different religions, races, nationalities, without being very interested in the character of individuals He holds the Soviet Union, the US and fundamentalist Islam equally responsible for the devastation of Afghanistan. A sad book but an interesting close-up of Afghanistan.”




(Found on Neva’s Facebook page – see her webpage at


Recently a writer I know remarked on his deep disappointment that so few people had shown up for one of his readings. He said he felt “pathetic” and mentioned low book sales.

I advised him to treat three attendees the same as he would have treated 300 and it would still be rewarding. He agreed that he always mustered genuine enthusiasm for the audience no matter the size, but admitted that he did not feel as gratified when there were fewer attendees.

I would argue that size doesn’t matter. (Get your mind out of the gutter.) I’ve spoken to standing-room only crowds and to an audience of one. Both were satisfying, but in different ways. When I read to a room full of people, there’s an energy there that rouses the performer in me. It’s fun to read the different expressions on the faces in the crowd. They give me cues as to how to proceed. It’s large-scale interactivity.

On the other hand, when I’ve had only one person show up to a reading, I find myself connecting on a deeper level with that individual. It’s only happened to me twice, but both times I did the same thing. I came out from behind the podium, pulled up a chair to face the visitor, and gave the reading. Afterwards we sat and chatted: small-scale interactivity, but very meaningful. On one of these occasions the attendee told me that I was very likeable. It tickled her to death that I sat down with her to read and talk.

While literary readings are great opportunities to sell books, I don’t look at them as serving just that purpose. To do so is to diminish the importance of the spoken word. Yes, I want to sell books. However, I also want to enjoy the shared social literary experience.

The act of reading a book is one of isolation and interpretation. When I’m allowed to read to an audience- even an audience of one- I insert myself into someone else’s world temporarily. And, hopefully, I provide clarity to the story. I give it a voice.




Peggy Backman’s new book DID THAT REALLY HAPPEN is just out, and she’ll be reading from it Friday, September 4, 2009 from 4:00 p.m. to 6 Canio’s books in Sag Harbor. For details, go to .
Of the new book, Dee LaDuke says, “Peggy Backman has served up a collection of stories that introduce us to an exotic world by way of its geography or out-of-the- ordinary experience and just as we get our bearings, flips the psychological location on us, O. Henry style. These stories pull us under and leave us doubting what others might call reality.”


ONE STORY’s editor-in-chief Hannah Tinti's novel THE GOOD THIEF has just been released in paperback! THE GOOD THIEF was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
Podcast with MaryLucille DeBerry, whose new book of poems BERTHA BUTCHER'S COAT is just out.



Aurora West Virginia Writers’ Retreat
Peggy Backman reading Friday, September 4, 2009 from 4:00 p.m. to 6 Canio’s books in Sag Harbor. For details, go to .



For something completely different, and very interesting, take a look at a multi-media short short story (I think!) that uses visuals and sounds (essentially Youtube technology) to tell a story- and the amazing thing is that it works! Jay David’s hilarious piece is about how a couple breaks up. More of Jay David's stories at
Winslow Eliot’s webpage has lots of interesting things, including some writing exercises and discussions of interest to writers. See
Interview of Stefan M. Bradley in INSIDE HIGHER ED about his book HARLEM VS COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY at
Thanks to Norman Julian for suggesting this site with free books: .
Barbara Crooker’s poem, "Vegetable Love," will be read by Garrison Keillor on THE WRITER'S ALMANAC on Sunday, August 23, on NPR.
The August Issue of the INTERNET REVIEW OF BOOKS is up at
NEWSWEEK magazines says... Read Trollope! And others:
Also take a look at the National Council of Teachers of English’s NATIONAL GALLERY OF WRITING at and also their National Day of Writing at




ANDERBO SEEKS NOVELIST: is seeking to post ONE unpublished entire novel on its website by December 1, 2009 for at least the following six months. We will look at the FIRST 30 PAGES (up to 10,000 words) of your e-manuscript and decide within 60 days if we want to see more. THERE IS NO READING FEE and all literary rights will remain with the author. No novel submissions will be accepted after September 1st. We guarantee to choose and use one manuscript, and to pay an honorarium of $300 to the chosen author upon publication. For technical guidelines and address see
MOTESBOOKS SEEKS SUBMISSIONS FOR 2010 ANTHOLOGY MOTIF is an anthology series published annually by MotesBooks of Louisville, Ky. VOLUME 1: WRITING BY EAR featured 116 writers, including Patty Griffin, Silas House, Buddy & Julie Miller, Maurice Manning, Evie Shockley, Neela Vaswani, Frank X Walker and Pamela Duncan. Each volume in the MOTIF series focuses on a theme – for Volume 2 the theme is CHANCE. Submissions may be poems, short stories, song lyrics, short memoirs, essays, letters, creative nonfiction, or other forms. Combinations of forms are acceptable up to the limits described: Prose must be under 3,000 words. Send no more than three poems/lyrics. All genres will be considered as long as “chance” is referenced or illuminated in the works. Submissions may address the theme either directly or indirectly, but “chance” should figure significantly and artfully in the piece. For full guidelines, go to Submission period closes September 1, 2009.
ANTHOLOGY OF APPALACHIAN WRITERS IS OPEN FOR SUBMISSIONS. The Anthology of Appalachian Writers is a publication that encourages a long-established tradition of storytelling, love of language, and creative expression associated broadly with the area of the country known as Appalachia. Though the principal mission of the anthology is to provide a venue for publication of new writers, it also provides a collection of literature and scholarship that contributes to an understanding and appreciation for the region. Poetry, fiction, memoir, heritage writers, as well as new voices appear in each annual volume of the anthology. To submit any original, unpublished work of fiction or poetry for consideration by the editors, send an electronic copy, along with the information below, to Dr. S. Bailey Shurbutt, . All submissions must be in the submission format below.
Title of Submission:___________________________________________________________
E-mail:____________________ Phone:_____________________
Brief Biography (limit 100 words):________________________________________________
Deadline for Submissions: October 15, 2009.
“THINK OUTSIDE THE CELL” WRITING CONTEST Resilience Multimedia, publisher of the widely praised book, “THINK OUTSIDE THE CELL: AN ENTREPRENEUR’S GUIDE FOR THE INCARCERATED AND FORMERLY INCARCERATED,” is sponsoring its second writing contest for people who are or were in prison, and their loved ones. The books will be widely distributed and widely read.. Contestants may write personal stories about one or more of these topics:
* Reentering society after incarceration
* Waiting for loved ones to return home from prison
* Prison marriages and relationships
Three winners will be chosen for each topic and will receive these prizes:
* 1st Place: $300
* 2nd Place: $150
* 3rd Place: $ 75
Stories that do not win cash prizes will still be eligible for inclusion in the series.
For contest rules and more information, email or call 877-267-2303.


Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers #123

Autumn Equinox Issue
September 22, 2009

Bronze trees already?
Underfoot, a few crisp leaves--
Precious autumn green.


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Special Contents of this Issue:

More on leftwing cowboy poetry
Special notes for writers
Thulani Davis at Pennysylvania's “Quest for Freedom”
Jeff Sokolow/Johnny Sundstrom Stories
Olive Schreiner


New Jersey Writers: MSW is teaching Prose Narrative Writing 5 Thursdays starting October 15, 2009, 12:30 - 2:30 PM at Playwrights' Theater in Madison, New Jersey: For information, click here .



This is a long issue!  A lot of news, a lot of responses to past issues, and I couldn’t be happier. Please keep your news, recommendations, and responses coming.

I want to offer a round-up of my summer reading, which was all-over-the-map: There was CITIZEN TOM PAINE, on of Howard Fast’s historical fictions, sometimes sloppily written, always wonderfully old school left-wing. (He's the guy who wrote the book Spartacus). When the writing is good, though, it is sharp as a good knife blade: this one shines in its excellent descriptions of the Continental Army at war, for example.

In striking contrast, I read a couple of Nabokov books, SPEAK, MEMORY and THE GIFT, and had my usual ambivalent reaction to Nabokov: amusement, admiration, occasional impatience with the preciousness of some of his interests. I’d love to hear the opinions of others on Nabokov.

I also read THE STORY OF AN AFRICAN FARM by Olive Schreiner, a wonderful example of a self-taught genius who had a terribly difficult life, largely because she was a woman and not rich. This was also the first major art work from (white) South Africa. Schreiner was an early feminist, trying so hard, describing so beautifully, maundering on with philosophical musings, but everything passionate and heartfelt. She took this manuscript with her when she went to England at the age of 26, and it is very much a young person's book. It deserves a lot of readers and discussing, but for now, just find a copy and read it for the doomed, homemade feminist Lyndall and the inarticulate dreamer-farmboy Waldo. For the Germans and Boers and English and in the background the people who were there first, and the stunning landscape that, I suppose, even preceded them.

Also a couple of chick-lit books, BABY-PROOF by Emily Giffin, which got better as it went along but had very flat language and many references to popular products and culture that were perfectly up-to-date– back in 2005. Rather more witty and funnier was Sophie Kinsella’s CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC. Well, now I’ve been there and done that, but if anyone has some chiclets that are super funny, I might try again.

In this same informal study of popular fiction (a.k.a. what sells) another Joyce Carol Oates novel, BECAUSE IT IS BITTER AND BECAUSE IT IS MY HEART, and my first Jodi Picoult, HARVESTING THE HEART. I may expand a little on these two at some time in the future, but here I want to say that both of these writers are major story telling talents but (didn’t you feel that “but” coming?) both also seem to me to have a sense of entitlement that leads them to dip into places they haven’t bothered to imagine fully. That is to say, their stories always move, and when they are fully engaged, they are masterful, but they are not fully engaged at all times. I realize that I am merely skimming the surface of some thoughts about popular literature here.

What else? I finally read Ishmael Reed’s late sixties explosion MUMBO JUMBO; some other fantasy and science fiction including the rest of Robin Hobbs’s Farseer trilogy, ending with ASSASSIN’S QUEST. I tried Jack Vance, one of the original space jockey novelists, hoping for some of the pleasure I got in the Assassin fantasy novels. Vance was recently profiled in an article in the NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE, but he didn’t seem as good as the TIMES writer thought he was. Maybe I read the wrong books? They were fun in places, but thin, like sketches for STAR TREK episodes.

Some treats: the first of Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels, CAN YOU FORGIVE HER? and Peggy Backman’s miscellany of stories, memoir, poems, and songs DID THAT REALLY HAPPEN? This is a wonderful entertainment: in the longest section, “Such Is Paradise,” a young woman takes boats and planes around various small Caribbean Islands and has near-catastrophic experiences but comes out with new understanding of people and places. There’s also a hilarious story about trying to scam the system and get an insurance company to pay for lost eye glasses. Since a police report is required, the narrator ends up feeling increasingly guilty– in the criminal as well as moral sense! It’s a small book, each story direct and sharply told. An engaging read, whether it really happened or not!

Another treat this summer was two visits to the Clark Museum in Williamstown, Massachusetts to see an exhibit comparing the work of Georgia O’Keeffe and Arthur Dove. Afterwards, I read couple of books on O’Keeffe, notably a good biography, FULL BLOOM: THE ART AND LIFE OF GEORGIA O'KEEFFE by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp. This answered a lot of my questions– especially delineated the complex relationship between O’Keeffe and Alfred Steiglitz, which was at once highly fruitful for her and psychologically destructive at times. The story of her last years– thirty or forty of them– is compelling, and sad only if you are looking for a happy ending to a human life, which is absurd given the end for all of us.

And finally– I want to give my own response at some length to a book recommended here two issues ago by Dreama Frisk: Markus Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF. First, I highly recommend Dreama’s review of it, and I recommend the book itself, I'm going to begin with what I consider a serious flaw: the sometimes annoying narration by a voice who happens to be Death. Yes, that Death.

Death isn’t annoying all the time. Sometimes Death works well, especially later in the book after the voice is established, but for me, the personification is often just too much, raising too many questions about details that aren’t part of book: For example, What religion does Death follow? Where does he take all these souls he collects so tenderly? Is Death a he? He has that Regular Guy tone that I associate with the male. Why are there no conversations with anyone after he picks them up except Liesel? What is the circumstance of his telling this to us? Are we having coffee together? Is he about to take me, the reader?

I don’t mean to be too literal-minded here, but rather to come to my main point, which is that I’m not sure Death adds much to this really good story of an orphaned German girl and the wonderful people around her, most of whom die in an Allied bombing. Death’s voice is, as far as I can tell, pretty much an intrusive author of the old fashioned nineteenth century type– a perfectly useful voice, a time-honored way of telling a story– but a style that writers today feel has to be made original. Death makes lots of interesting observations about human nature and war, but I don’t understand why the Author doesn’t admit he is just speaking for himself. It’s an unnecessary superstructure, but the novel inside the superstructure is lovely: the family that takes in Liesel; Max, the Jew they hide; Liesel’s best friend and should-have-been beloved, Rudy who wants to be Jesse Owens. A whole wonderful suffering Germany I never knew or imagined.

Questions at the end: we know Liesel survives for a long life and marries. Who does she marry? Also, what happens to Max? He survives the concentration camp, but does Liesel marry him? I’m willing to accept the questions, and many of the writerly conventions, but I wish we all could trust our stories to be enough in themselves.


                                                                                                      -- Meredith Sue Willis



Shelley Ettinger has a fascinating blog post about a review of one of her published stories– how the reviewer read a different but still good story from the one she wrote.


Debbie Carter, literary agent ( – see her piece on whether to hire a book doctor or freelance editor in issue 121 ), adds this:

“It’s good to see writers talking about their experiences with editors. I wanted to add an account from John Wray, author of LOWBOY (, who spoke at the writers’ space PARAGRAPH last month. He hired a book doctor when his editor at Knopf no longer had time to edit his books. For his first novel she gave him one page of feedback but none for his second, CANAAN’S TONGUE , at which point he hired a freelance editor, Ethan Nosowsky, and was glad he did. Together they decided the manuscript didn't need line editing, but Nosowsky contributed a number of useful ideas about the narrative’s structure and looked for contradictions and inconsistencies. The process took about a month, and Wray paid Nosowsky ‘a modest sliver’ of his advance for an enormous amount of work in the salt mines, as he put it. Wray found Nosowsky through a friend, novelist Akhil Sharma, but also relied on feedback from a couple writer-friends. Since working with an outside editor is ‘a roll of the dice,’ Wray recommended that writers look for someone based on recommendations of those they trust. At the end of the second novel, Wray asked Knopf to assign him another editor, which unleashed a firestorm in the editor’s office and forced him to change publishers. He’s happy with his new editor at Farrar Strauss Giroux, who checked in from time to time during the writing of LOWBOY, which Wray said was rare. But he still sought the opinions of author-friends.

“It’s good to see an author care this much about the quality of his work, but you have to wonder about publishers’ standards when in-house editors are overextended and not available to edit. Not all authors engage outside editors. As publishers throw more responsibilities and costs to authors, sometimes pushing them to hire publicity and marketing consultants as well, what are they doing as publishers? Recording artists were forced to take on more costs when more and more artists brought finished product to record companies and hired publicists because record companies were short-staffed. Now technology enables them to sell their own music on the net. Will there come a time when authors don’t need publishers?“




It seems that there may really be only be a handful of original stories. Jeffrey Sokolow writes:

“I really should pay more attention to your blog. I was just glancing at Issue no. 115 and saw the Arapaho story about the turkey in the tree that Johnny Sundstrom passed on to you.

“Would you believe that this is a variant of a story first told (in print that I know of) in the DISCIPLINA CLERICALIS of Petrus Alfonsi, born Moshe Sefardi, an 11th century Spanish Jewish apostate physician whose collection of 33 tales translated from Arabic into Latin constitutes the first corpus of eastern tales transmitted to the west, including stories from the Panchatantra (known in the Arabic world as Kalilah and Dimnah).
“In Alfoni's version, three travelers are making the haj to Mecca (in a Sufi variant, they are students crossing the Himalayas): two city slickers and a country bumpkin. With only enough flour left for one loaf, the city slickers conspire to defraud the bumpkin by agreeing that on awaking, they will each describe their dream, and whoever had the most marvelous dream will get to eat the loaf. They leave the bread baking over the coals and go to sleep. The country fellow is no dope; he waits till the others are asleep and eats the half-cooked loaf himself. In the morning, the city slickers each pretend to wake up with a start, saying they each have had the most marvelous dream. One reports that the heavens opened up and two angels conducted him before the throne of the Holy One. The other reports that the earth opened up and two devils seized him and brought him before the Evil One. ‘But you,’ they ask the bumpkin, ‘what did you dream?’ ‘Well,’ says the bumpkin, ‘I dreamed that one of you was taken up to heaven, and the other taken down to hell; I figured neither one of you would be back any time soon, so I got up and ate the bread.’

“The day I read this thousand-year-old story I was listening to a Celtic show on the radio and at exactly the moment I finished, the host recounted a story that began, ‘Three Irishmen were on a fishing trip" and ended with "so I got up and ate the bread.’ True story.”



I love Jeff's experience: that there so many versions of stories– that we are always recycling our stories, and, of course, making them our own. Check out my notes on a wonderful novel from some years back called NO NEW JOKES by Steven Bloom.





Alice Philipson has this to say about Morris Older’s piece in Issue 122 on leftwing cowboy poets:

“Well, OK but a couple of 'good' guys does not a genre make. There are exceptions to every rule. Hell, I even have a book on Jewish Pioneers. Because they were the exception, not the rule. And so I maintain that just like Country Music can have a number of songs that are left's the exception, not the rule. And, of course, one never really knows the mind you mention, many of the folks are right wing extremists whose love of the land and the range is based more on being away from civilization and its burdens than about the beauty that co-exists within the push/pull of modern society.

“I can ride the range all day, and frequently do, but I'm never going to be ‘White.’ I'll always be an over-educated woman of Jewish descent and lesbian identity. And me and the Cowboy Poetry folks will share the trait of mutual suspicion. But I can hide behind my middle age white face until they show their hand: and it's almost always one I don't want to be around. Sexist, racist, homophobic, anti-urban to the point of hating museums and the Opera. Those hearts of gold when helping you with a trailer are all too often the same hands that go vote against me whenever give the chance. When the best you can say about a genre is that it is ‘not all bad’'s bad enough.”



Howard Gilman writes this in response to the New York Times piece on Hemingway’s last book (Don’t Touch ‘A Moveable Feast’ By A. E. Hotchner July 19, 2009 here. “I happened to have read the Hotchner/Hemingway item in the TIMES and while I found most of it credible and persuasive, I must admit a feeling of proletarian disbelief washed over me when I came to lines like ‘Ernest and I were having lunch at the Ritz in Paris.’ Does he not know he comes off sounding like a parody when he says things like that? Does he not care? Is it a parody?”



Ingrid Hughes writes about an article I mentioned in Issue 121: “The summer issue (July 16) of THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOK had a long piece, ‘Holocaust: The Ignored Reality’ by Timothy Snyder on the less known holocausts of WWII-- civilians killed by the Germans and Soviet Union. He says, ‘The Germans killed somewhat more than ten million civilians in the major mass killing actions, about half of them Jews, half of them non-Jews... mostly from the same part of Europe.’ It's a long, dense, informative piece. I mention this because I hate the idea that Jews are specially privileged to thrust a people from their land, lock them behind a wall, and carry out attacks, some would say genocidal attacks, on them by their- the Jewish- history as victims. There were many victims of the Nazis- Jews were not the only ones. Hard to read so much about Jewish history without thinking of the Jewish state today, for which my feelings are very similar to the ones we had for the US during the Vietnam War.”
A friend of Ingrid’s, Samirah Alkasim, who is Palestinian-American, recommends these titles regarding Israel and Palestine: Illiane Pape's THE ETHNIC CLEANSING OF PALESTINE and Rashid Khalidi's PALESTINIAN IDENTITY: THE CONSTRUCTION OF MODERN NATIONAL CONSCIOUSNESS. Samirah also has an interest in an entirely different field, cinema. She recommends Stella Bruzzi's NEW DOCUMENTARY, 2nd edition, “where she proposes that we consider the performative nature of all documentaries as a way to negotiate the dialectical relationship between representation and the ‘real,’ where so much boring discussion about documentary gets stuck.”



Alice Robinson-Gilman recently read THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT (discussed in BOOKS FOR READERS ISSUE #66 as an audio book. She says:  “I've adopted the habit of listening to audio CDs while I'm (trying) to fall asleep. Although I've read the book, the CD was amazing due to the reader, or ‘narrator’ as they call them. It really brought Chrisopher alive and made understandable what autism or Aspergers is for one person. I got it from the Maplewood (New Jersey) Library and heartedly recommend it.”



Check out this series of book store discussions centering on Thulani Davis’s MY CONFEDERATE KINFOLK ) as part of Pennysylvania's “Quest for Freedom Live and Learn” weekend. Her website is at .




Eva Kollisch's book THE GROUND UNDER MY FEET has been translated into German, and an Austrian publisher, Czernin Verlag, is bringing it out in Spring 2010. Eva is appearing at a Symposium in Vienna on the subject of Memory and Exile. The other participating writers come from various backgrounds of persecution, resistance, uprooting, and exile. The symposium was organized by the Theodor Kramer Gesellschaft and will take place in Vienna from September 24 - 27, 2009. On Sept. 29th, Eva will give a reading in Vienna of her story "Father" (Vater), followed by an interview.
Stefan Bradley’s book HARLEM VS. COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: BLACK STUDENT POWER IN THE LATE 1960S (University of Illinois Press) has just been released. For more information, see the following op-ed piece and an interview with Professor Bradley regarding the book and student activism at Also, see Robert Feldman’s review of at .
Jane Lazarre’s new novel SOME PLACE QUITE UNKNOWN continues to get excellent responses–see She also has new prose in the latest issue of THE SALT RIVER REVIEW (
Look for Rolaine Hochstein’s stories in several recent publications, hard copy and online:
“Art in America” Confrontation #96/97 Fall 2006; Spanish Translation of “Art in America” in Revista Universidad de Antioquia #296 april-June 2009;“Don’t Tell the Cuzzins” in Glimmer Train #65, winter 2008;
“Bronik Returns to Vienna” in Prairie Schooner spring 2008 (; “Virtuous Woman” coming in Glimmer Train spring 2010 (winner First Prize in Very Short Fiction;
and just up, “The Scam” in Persimmon Tree ( Sept. 15-Dec. 15 2009.
Charles Swanson (see has two new books of poems: FARM LIFE AND LEGEND, a chapbook, is due for release in November from Finishing Line Press ( AFTER THE GARDEN: SELECTED RESPONSES TO THE PSALMS is a full length collection available for sale now from Motes Books (
Jack Hussey’s book of Concord novellas, The Ghosts of Walden, ( is now available.
Barbara Crooker has new poems up online: "What the Conch Told Me" You have to scroll down about five poems to find it.
"Zen" and "Landscape in Winter":
Plus the wonderful news that her new book has been taken by C & R Press (no title yet), she read at the Library of Congress in their Poetry at Noon series on September 22, 2009.
Anna Eagan Smucker Day in Harrison County, West Virginia! ( Anna Egan Smucker, an award winning author of Harrison County, West Virginia, was honored with a window display of her work and a reception on Thursday, September 10, 2009 at James and Law, 217 West Main Street, Clarksburg, West Virginia. The event recognized Ms. Smucker’s latest honor: her recent children’s book, Golden Delicious: A Cinderella Apple Story,was the choice of the West Virginia Library Commission and the WV Center for the Book to represent WV at the 2009 National Book Festival in Washington, D. C.



There's a new post at "In This Light" about Dani Shapiro's novel Black & White and the influence of the photographs of Sally Mann. You can read it at:
Classic television online and worth laughing at– thanks to Debbie Carter for the terrific Youtube clip: LUCY WRITES A NOVEL at .
Here’s a review of Redjeb Jordania’s book ESCAPE FROM THE SOUTH FORK AND OTHER STORIES at
Don’t miss the new issue of PERSIMMON TREE , especially the story about a woman who gets scammed by Rolaine Hochstein. There are also poems, a nonfiction piece about aphasia by Ruth Resch, and other fiction and visual art.
A new literary magazine online, THE COLLAGIST, is edited and e-published by the folks at Dzanc Books. The debut issue is available at: The Collagist is edited by Matt Bell with Matthew Olzmann as Poetry Editor. The debut issue includes fiction by Chris Bachelder, Kevin Wilson, Kim Chinquee, Matthew Salesses, and Gordon Lish, plus an excerpt from Laird Hunt's forthcoming novel Ray of the Star. Charles Jensen, Oliver de la Paz, and Christina Kallery each contribute several new poems, and Ander Monson and David McLendon offer unique takes on the personal essay. The Collagist's first book review section includes coverage of Terry Galloway's MEAN LITTLE DEAF QUEER, Michal Ajvaz's THE OTHER CITY, and Brian Evenson's FUGUE STATE, as well as a video review of Jonathan Baumbach's YOU, OR THE INVENTION OF MEMORY.
Just out: the ninth issue of THE INNISFREE POETRY JOURNAL, which you can find at on a computer near you. In addition to contributions of new work from thirty fine poets, they feature fourteen wonderful poems from the books of Alice Friman in their "Closer Look" series.

A BOOK LIST YOU PROBABLY DON”T KNOW ABOUT, one of the online sources for out-of-print and other books that I recommend, keeps lists of which out-of-print books are selling best:

Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers #124

October 17, 2009

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Special Contents of this Issue:

Special Interest to Writers
Israel and the Jews

Chuck Kinder-- New Edition of HONEYMOONERS!!



This issue has some of my reading plus a review by Hilton Obenzinger of Stefan Bradley’s new book on the Columbia University sit-ins in 1968, plus an article on an experience in self-publishing-- and the resignation of a reader over comments on Israel.

Given the preponderance of political material this issue, it’s appropriate that some of my recent reading was on historical subjects. CLOUDSPLITTER, a novel by Russell Banks about John Brown, seems especially appropriate as today is part of the 150th anniversary of the radical Abolitionist’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, then in Virginia, now in my home state of West Virginia. Banks’s novel made me want to read a biography of Brown– his fictionalization was vivid, and a lot of interesting material is set forth, and I like his take on Brown (not crazy, but willing to sow bloody terror to stop slavery). I also like the use of peripheral narration, but I had a problem with the narrator. I found Owen Brown and his endless angst tedious. I kept wanting to get back to the Old Man and his activities. Owen is like some extremely neurotic college boy set down in the middle of the abolitionists' radical wing in the nineteenth century. So while maybe half the book was quite wonderful, I just didn’t believe in Owen and tended to skim whenever I saw long pages of his internal life coming up. I keep finding lean powerful books hidden in huge obese Great American novels. Or maybe I’m just turning into a curmudgeon.

I also read a solid popular history, Joseph J. Ellis’s FOUNDING BROTHERS: THE REVOLUTIONARY GENERATION . I enjoyed this a lot– it covers Madison, Hamilton, Burr, Washington, Adams, Franklin, and Jefferson, beginning with the hook of a dramatization of the famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr over here on the Jersey side of the Hudson river. By telling it as a story, Ellis allows himself to give a lot of touches of what life was like then– a nice lead-in to chapters about people we know best as engravings on paper currency.

The second chapter had the good grace directly to deal with slavery, the great rent in the fabric of the forming nation, from the earliest days patched very badly. There was a compromise in the new constitution that southerners and northerners understood completely differently as to when and whether slavery would end. The chapter also reminds us that this revolutionary generation was less than a hundred years before the Civil War– terrifying to think of how much suffering was to come– how much suffering was going on every moment in lives of the enslaved people. One of the most striking things was how the revolutionary generation was totally incapable of imagining the humanity and internal lives of enslaved people, freed blacks, or the native Americans.

After that, it was mostly personalities: interesting enough. The chapter on Washington in particular, rehabilitated him for me– not that George Washington’s reputation has any need of my approval, but I have suffered from lifelong sleepiness whenever Washingtons’ dignified visage appears before me. Ellis doesn’t think a lot of Jefferson, whom he finds too full of ideals and gauzy hopes with no sense of reality, but is very fond of John Adams who sounds like he was a serious neurotic, but with high principles and an excellent advisor in his wife Abigail Adams.

In many ways, James Madison turns out to be the most important of them all– he gave flesh to Jefferson’s castles in the air and seems to have invented the kind of behind the scenes politicking that underlies most of the decisions our elected officials make. Franklin comes off as not very serious as a politician, although a good scientist and popular with the ladies. I regretted the absence of Thomas Paine– I guess he didn’t make the cut as he was never really part of the ruling class, and these folks surely were, whether natural born with wealth or self-made.


Finally, I want to mention a lovely memoir: Patsy Harman’s THE BLUE COTTON GOWN: A MIDWIFE'S MEMOIR. This touching book is made up of the stories of a midwife in northern West Virginia. Patsy Harman and her gynecologist husband start as back-to-the-landers, but end up going to professional school and creating a life of compassionate care for their patients–and difficult financial struggles to keep their practice alive.

After the first quarter of the book, you begin to recognize recurring characters, a long line of unwillingly pregnant young women and unhealthily pregnant women of all ages. There is a death here, a narrow escape there. One woman has 7 children and a convoluted love life that has all the qualities of a real stereotype– ane yet Harman manages to share something of what it would be like to be such a woman

In the end, the story is as much about how this marriage partnership works as about the patients. The middle-aged sex is a lot of fun– nicely defiant of our culture’s worship of youth and beauty. Harman’s religiosity is an interesting part of the story, too– quirky and never used as an excuse or explanation. Everything is open for discussion – how a gynecological practice goes into debt, why ob-gyn doctors give up obstetrics, how long term lovers keep enjoying each other, the narrator’s own neuroses and her religion. This book is a happy discovery.         

                                                                                   -- Meredith Sue Willis


I just finished HARLEM VS. COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY by Stefan Bradley, and I urge anyone interested in Columbia 1968 to read it. It's an excellent history told from the vantage point of the Harlem residents and black Columbia students, particularly those in SAS [Student Afro-American Society], placing their roles as the central force of the student uprising, the catalyst that brought the crisis over Morningside Park to a head. This in itself is an important corrective to all the media distortions focusing on SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] and Mark Rudd. It's a terrific, albeit incomplete, history of 1968, an important addition to the small list of books on the occupation and strike.

Bradley also reviews the history of black student advocacy for the neighborhood and to create a black studies department, and he relates struggles in other Ivy League schools that involved black students in alliance with black communities as central or major actors in the immediate wake of Columbia: Harvard, Yale, Penn, and Cornell. He examines each of these rebellions within the framework of Black Power politics, the objectives, strategies, and tactics detailed in the book BLACK POWER by Carmichael and Hamilton, and he determines that the rebellions all succeeded because the black organizers followed its philosophy (e.g., separate organization, alliances only when blacks could determine the terms). Bradley's analysis firmly counters many who argue that Black Power politics was generally unsuccessful. Sadly, Columbia remained far behind, establishing the equivalent of a black studies department only in the 90s.

HARLEM VS. CU also presents a capsule history of the early machinations of how CU got hold of the park (thank you Robert Moses), and the community's early opposition. I was impressed to realize how much Parks Director Thomas Hoving was a vociferous opponent from very early on. Bradley presents a fascinating analysis of the initial confrontation at the fence surrounding the construction site, arguing that at that point students and community members had crossed the line away from non-violence. Without the knowledge of martial arts allowing one of the black students to push back a police officer from reaching for his gun, everything may have been very different, bloodier and possibly deadly. With all of this struggle, it still amazes me that the gym was stopped and a newly planted tree sits on the site now to commemorate what was not built.

Most of all, he tells the story of Hamilton Hall, of Ray Brown, Jr., Cicero Wilson, Thulani Davis, and all the others.. Even though I participated in a large historical event I feel like I'm still learning what happened. Admittedly, I saw most of what happened from the perspective of the Low Library Commune, even after the bust, so it's only a small corner. (And Bradley has really filled in a lot of what I didn't know.) But, given my limited perspective, I think there are parts of the book that could have been stronger. Even though Bradley relates the history of black student rebellions in Ivy League schools, he doesn't situate Columbia within the context of San Francisco State and Berkeley Third World Strikes that were even more successful in establishing ethnic studies departments, along with opposition to the war. He doesn't mention the CCNY strike for open admissions, which would have made SDS's demand for Columbia to adopt open admissions in 1969 more understandable. There are a number of places where the sources are thin or skewed – I wouldn't rely on Orest Ranum's account of Mark Rudd talking to himself in the middle of the April 23 events! I also wouldn't rely so much on Rudd's account of what happened as representative of all SDS or all the rebelling white students. His perspective is essential, but Bradley draws too many conclusions from Mark's analysis. I know I have differences, and there are others who could have also been quoted, e.g., Lew Cole, Robert Roth, Juan Gonzalez.

Bradley mentions the apparent class difference between the white students and working class Irish police. But he doesn't examine the crucial dynamic of the role of Jewish students, of the many first-generation white college students, and of students whose parents participated in the CP or other parts of the Old Left. The role of Jews is particularly important because huge fractures were emerging in the so-called black-Jewish alliance, particularly SNCC's response to the 1967 war and the Bedford-Stuyvesant teacher's strike. It's also important for realizing the seriousness with which many of the Jewish students took what we were doing: trying not to be "good Germans." Many of us were not rebelling against our parents– we were still fighting the Nazis. But maybe I have a biased outlook.

I also think the book reinforces various stereotypes about the white students, and that's woven into the analysis of why and how black students asked white students to leave Hamilton Hall. Black students had a relationship with Harlem; white students were the community that SDS and other white students related to. That means there really were people just coming along for the ride– because they were simply students, the mass base agitated to action. Nevertheless, the white students responded to the gym and the war, along with opposing Columbia's autocratic behavior. The mass base for the black students was Harlem, not other students. That made for vast differences, as Bradley notes, but these differences did not arise out of moral failure, as is often the way it’s depicted (“spoiled rich kids”), and I think Bradley could have underscored that point more.

I still insist that students in Low attempted to keep the place as neat as possible, considering the crowding. I never saw trashing, and except for the initial dethroning of Kirk's inner sanctum (David Shapiro smoking the famous cigar, etc.), we kept the place clean. Bradley unfortunately doesn't mention how files on IDA and other aspects of Columbia's relationship to the neighborhood were indeed useful and published in THE RAT. Going through the files and copying and sending out the information – that was a sophisticated intelligence operation. And as for trashing: One of the most stunning experiences of the whole thing for me was reading A.M Rosenthal and the articles in the NY Times after the bust describing paint splattered, broken furniture – all done by the cops and used as propaganda. There was some damage in Low and the other buildings, and two fires were set during the May 21-22 re-occupation of Hamilton Hall, fist fights between the Majority Coalition and SDS and its allies – but what was remarkable was how little violence or damage was done.

One last quibble: Bradley mentions me as belonging to SDS. Nope, never was a member. And by 68-69 I was pretty disgusted with the in-fighting and posing– and I instead concentrated my energies on all the in-fighting and posing involved in the literary scene. I may seem to be laying on a lot of criticism here– but that's only because I'm biased by having been there. HARLEM VS. CU is an excellent work of history, and, again, anyone interested in 1968 should read it.





Ardian Gill writes, “I haven't been able to keep up with J C Oates' book a week so missed the title (discussed in Issue #123) BECAUSE IT'S BITTER... but it was nice to have the memory of Stephen Crane's poem:
A man sat by the roadside
Eating his heart
Is it good, friend, I asked
"It is bitter
but I like it because it's bitter
and because it is my heart"
Or something like that.
The best book I've read recently is Doctorow's THE MARCH, Civil War novel of Sherman et al. The audio tape is wonderful. Right now I've started Valerie Martin's PROPERTY, and it too is wonderful. First person in the form of a brutal slave owner's wife who hates him.”




I was sorry to receive the following email shortly after I sent out Issue # 123:

“I was going to send you a note about a particularly good book I've just finished. Instead, I plan to unsubscribe from your newsletter as soon as I hit ‘send.’ What has disappointed, insulted and, ultimately, angered me so is the following comment from Ingrid Hughes which you saw fit to publish: ‘I hate the idea that Jews are specially privileged to thrust a people from their land, lock them behind a wall, and carry out attacks, some would say genocidal attacks, on them by their- the Jewish- history as victims. There were many victims of the Nazis- Jews were not the only ones. Hard to read so much about Jewish history without thinking of the Jewish state today, for which my feelings are very similar to the ones we had for the US during the Vietnam War.’

“I understand that politics are an integral part of your newsletter, your writing and, indeed, your life. I also appreciate that you lie on the left end of the political spectrum. I have no problem with that; on a number of issues, I find myself well left-of-center, too. However, Ms. Hughes' comment is more than political. It is inaccurate and hateful.

“I am not a Zionist, but I fully reject the idea that the sole reason for the state of Israel is because they were ‘victims of the Nazis.’ Jews have had a historical claim on the land for millennia. But that's not even the most troubling part of Ms. Hughes' diatribe. It is her first sentence--blaming ‘Jews’ for carrying out genocidal attacks– which is incredibly offensive. I am Jewish; so, I believe, is your husband. Has he been out killing people? I didn't think so; nor have I. So, first, let's establish that Jews and Israelis are not synonymous.

“Second, and more importantly than semantics, is Ms. Hughes' complete reversal of cause and effect. Israelis do not launch unprovoked rocket attacks on civilian areas. They do not detonate bombs on buses or crowded markets. Each and every act of war committed by Israel has been a direct response to an attack on its people. Let's get that straight: Israelis are not ‘privileged’ to act as killers. They are defending themselves.
“That is the third, and final, point I wish to make: to equate the situation in the Middle East today with that of Vietnam 40 years ago is to betray an ignorance of history. I majored in East Asian Studies at Harvard and did a senior paper on the political development of Vietnam, which hardly qualifies me as an expert, but which evidently makes me far more informed than Ms. Hughes. North and South Vietnam were locked in a colonial war begun by the French and continued by the US. It was bad policy, as some of us knew then and most everyone recognizes now. However, neither the Viet Cong nor the north Vietnamese were launching attacks on the US, nor were they unilaterally targeting civilians in the south. If one wishes to draw parallels between the actions of the north Vietnamese of 40 years ago and the Palestinians today, I can understand. But to say that Israel's actions are ‘very similar’ to those of the US, which stuck its nose where it clearly didn't belong, is just damn wrong.

“Israel exists. Ms. Hughes should accept that; if not, she should join Hamas or move to Iran, where her ideology would be more acceptable.”


Now, while I certainly don’t intend this newsletter to become involved in back-and-forth on this particular issue, I did want to give Ingrid Hughes the opportunity to respond. She wrote:

“In response to [ your former reader], I want to apologize for writing a little carelessly and perhaps suggesting the idea that I think Israel has no right to exist. That is not my position. I cannot apologize for my horror at Israeli policies, however. Perhaps that horror is stronger because I am a Jew. I was not comparing Israel's war to the American war in Vietnam, since as the writer says, they are extremely different, but comparing my feelings about it to the furious outrage I had about Vietnam. But I won't make efforts to go into more detail about my views, since I'm sure you don't want to turn your newsletter over to a debate of such a controversial issue.”

                                                                             – Ingrid Blaufarb Hughes




Peggy Backman writes: “I used Create Space (a subsidiary of to publish my book of short stories DID THAT REALLY HAPPEN?   I am quite satisfied with the final product and their service. I particularly like that they list your book on People can buy their books from Amazon or from You can consult their web site, for information specific to your needs.

“One of the good things about CS is that there are no upfront costs, so to speak. You do have to pay for each proof (including postage). But you only pay for copies as you need them (plus postage), so it's better to order a number of books at a time.

“To give you an idea: If your book is small and sells for about $12, their charge per book might be $4 plus postage, which could come to about $7 out of pocket for a proof. However, when you order your copies, the price of postage drops significantly maybe adding an additional dollar or even less to your base cost.

“The have a Pro program where you pay about $39 upfront. Then your book can drop to about $2.50 in our example. With postage you might be paying $6 for a proof (with postage) and then much less, maybe $4 for additional books. (Please bear in mind that these are rough estimates and depend on the size of the book).

“What is good is that at any time you can make changes to your book, both inside and on the cover. The only charge would be that they require you to order a proof. But this is a great service as should you find typos or wish to make a revision, to do so is very simple and the cost of the proof minimal.

“The turn around time from submission to getting books is quite good. It may take 4-5 days to get a proof and then once you approve it and order your books, it would be another 4-5 days.

“They are efficient about answering questions online: quick response and helpful.

“You have to submit camera-ready copy as PDF. I found formatting the book a bit difficult and frustrating at first— particularly the headers and page numbering– but finally got the hang of it. I have a Mac, so that may be part of the problem as I think they are more geared to the PC.

“Also, PhotoShop is probably the best if you want to make a custom cover. I don’t have PhotoShop, so used one of their cover templates and found it easy to use and the result attractive. The templates give you the option to add some custom imagery.

“I wish they had distribution via bookstores (but I guess since CS is owned by Amazon, they want to control their market). They do have some kind of a discount code for bookstores, but I have not tried using it.

“In summary, I plan to use them again for self-publishing— unless of course something better comes along!”





Debbie Carter (see her article in Issues #121 ) writes, “Are your readers aware of podcasts by LIBRARY JOURNAL and SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL? Some podcasts are about library issues but some focus on bookselling categories like mystery and juvenile/YA. The podcasts are only an hour long and can be a convenient way to keep up with new books. Archives of past podcasts are available on these sites:





George Brosi, Keith Maillard, and Phyllis Wilson Moore have articles on Mary Lee Settle (1918-2005) in a book called CONTEMPORARY LITERARY CRITICISM: CRITICISM OF THE WORKS OF TODAY'S NOVELISTS, POETS, PLAYWRIGHTS, SHORT STORY WRITERS, SCRIPTWRITERS, AND OTHER CREATIVE WRITERS, edited by Jeffrey W. Hunter.(Detroit: Gale, 2009). Settle's career is the subject of pages 300-352. These essays are reprinted from APPALACHIAN HERITAGE (winter 2006), edited by Brosi.
A staged reading of Rosary Hartel O’Neill’s WHITE SUITS IN SUMMER: Sunday, October 25, 2009 at 2:00 PM at the Hudson Opera House in Hudson, New York, and Monday, November 2, 2009, at 7:00 PM at the National Arts Club 159 Grammercy Park South in NYC.


Jarvis Masters has a new HarperOne book, THAT BIRD HAS MY WINGS: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN INNOCENT MAN ON DEATH ROW. Alan Senauke writes that Jarvis Masters is “an African-American man on death row for a gang-related prison murder he did not participate in. While in San Quentin, most of those years in isolation in the so-called adjustment center, Jarvis has become a first class writer--see his earlier book FINDING FREEDOM– and a Buddhist practitioner.” The publisher writes: “The powerful story of Masters' childhood leading up to his conviction, and his subsequent spiritual transformation while behind bars, this memoir has been endorsed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said: ‘His memoir is a plea for reform, for a common humanity, and I share his hope that this moving story will redouble our efforts to make sure that every child matters.’”
Carnegie Mellon University Press has published a new edition of Chuck Kinder’s HONEYMOONERS: A CAUTIONARY TALE, Kinder’s chronicle of two writers pursuing fame and freedom in the Bay Area during the 1970s. The new edition includes an introduction by author and screenplay writer Jay McInerney and two previously unprinted sections. Kinder, who has taught English at the University of Pittsburgh since 1980 and directs Pitt’s writing program, was educated at West Virginia University and Stanford University. At Stanford, Kinder became close friends with fellow student Raymond Carver, who eventually earned notoriety and critical acclaim as a short story writer and poet. Their relationship — a saga of friendship, ambition and debauchery — inspired HONEYMOONERS. Kinder's former student Michael Chabon based Grady Tripp, a character in Chabon’s 1995 novel WONDER BOYS on Kinder. HONEYMOONERS: A CAUTIONARY TALE is available through Carnegie Mellon University Press at Copies may be ordered through the Press' distributor, Cornell University Press Services, at 1-800-666-2214.


See an interview with Neva Bryan about her novel ST. PETER’S MONSTERS at
Barbara Crooker says she has a poem “alas...still as current as it was when I wrote it– ” at”   Her website is at http:// , and her book, LINE DANCE, winner of the 2009
Paterson Award for Literary Excellence, is at
There’s a new issue of INTERNET REVIEW OF BOOKS at



My new Fave for getting books is Paper Back Swap , a low cost (postage only) way to get rid of old books and get new ones!



National Writers Union position on the Google-Authors Guild settlement says, in part:
“Weighing the costs against the benefits to writers, I recommend, therefore, that it be the National Writers Union's official position that we are not opposed to our members and other authors participating in the settlement, since it makes no legal concession to Google with respect to copyright law, despite the defendant's typical claim in a settlement not to have done anything wrong. At the same time, it authorizes Google to use copyrighted works on a non-exclusive basis. While this frees our members to sell their works elsewhere, we should have no illusion about the difficulty of competing with Google in the marketplace.”



“What Doesn’t Kill You...”







Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers #125

November 9, 2009

For a free email subscription to Books for Readers,
send a blank email to


Special Contents of this Issue:

Review of Lee Maynard's new book By Guest Editor Cat Pleska
Books and more on John Brown



This issue is guest-edited by writer and West Virginia Public Radio commentator Cat Pleska who reviews Lee Maynard's newest book.. Full disclosure: I blurbed Lee Maynard’s book for West Virginia University Press, with great enthusiasm!

                                                                                  -- Meredith Sue Willis


Lee Maynard and his new book

The Pale Light of Sunset: Scattershots and
Hallucinations in an Imagined Life

By Lee Maynard   
(Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press, 2009)

Reviewed by Cat Pleska


Lee Maynard’s third novel is based in the world he knows best—his own. Pale Light is Maynard’s third book, following Crum and Screaming with the Cannibals. Crum and Cannibals are the first and second books in a trilogy, (the third, Scrummers, is a work in progress). Meredith Sue Willis alluded [in a book blurb] to the category under which this new book falls: fictionalized memoir. Maynard allows that it’s a fair description, but he prefers to call it a novel.

A novel, regardless of how much fact is used, is a moldable thing: fold, staple, and mutilate—it’s all fine. As Maynard stated to me recently in an interview: “The most important thing is the story.” Still, when a book is classified as “fictionalized memoir” it causes an immediate question that’s just human nature to wonder: What parts are real?” Maynard has said that his first book, Crum, is “about 50% truth.” Pale Light, too, begins in Crum, West Virginia, so maybe the 50% formula holds for this one too. Maynard quotes his friend and author, Chuck Kinder: “All stories are true, if they are well written. The question is what they are telling the truth about.”

Pale Light is set up chronologically and each chapter is titled with a year and a title, beginning with the protagonist’s birth in “1936, The Parlor,” and then each subsequent year of his life through 2005 (Maynard said that the publisher used perhaps 1/3 of the stories he had written). The protagonist is unnamed, but is referred to as Hit Man in one story. As we read the events that unfold, the overwhelming sense is one of longing, of searching for something, perhaps something buried deeply in the imagination—or the protagonist’s hallucinations—and the realization of either longing or searching comes in between lucid imagery written like poetry. These scattershot interludes of peace amid the struggling ones seem as if Maynard is aiming to include all the elements in a life to achieve the larger picture. In this sense, Maynard weaves an amazing tapestry, creating a synergy that leaves you wondering: How’d he do that?

We all know people who were born with a heavy load to bear; maybe this leads them to wander, and things happen to them—over and over, mostly bad stuff, like poverty and violence. As a child, the protagonist is battered by life repeatedly even during the times he runs away. Surrounded by apathy and greed, his mother is an oasis of love that maybe is a saving grace. She tells him after he runs away the first time: “Real people don’t run away from. That isn’t the way to live your life. But real people can run away to, if there’s something there that’s better.” He takes this message to heart. As he ages, he travels widely, never settling down in one place, struggling for food, safety, and survival, but that survival becomes a drive to challenge himself by climbing mountains, rafting wild rivers, riding a motorcycle from New Mexico to the Arctic Circle, and in a late chapter, he faces a scorpion in a way that will leave you cringing long afterward.

A bit of comic relief comes along in some chapters, such as “1977, The Funeral of Cousin Elijah,” who passes away as every man should want to. And then there are the connections he makes with some people whose path he crosses, like Helen, who he first meets in 1967.

And in the middle of graft, smacking and punching, driving to something or away from something, he makes dead stops, like the dead calm in the eye of a hurricane, and notes the beauty of everything around him, such as in the chapter “Where I’m From, 2003”:

. . . mountains that seem to form us and send us tearing along their sides and down and across the ridges to run staring-eyed out into the world like mythical beings charging out of the forests of Valhalla.. . . hollows, those dark, pungent, quiet places that instill in us a way of moving, a way of seeing, a way of being. Hollows capped with smoke and mist, bottling us up, aging us, keeping us still, our lives clear and silent, like mason jars of crystal moonshine gathering dust on a wooden shelf in a shed long forgotten on the back side of an abandoned ridge-top farm.

Even with a respite here and there, much happens to this protagonist: It is easy to keep turning the pages, which is testimony to a good story. Some places of violence I’m just downright uncomfortable (which I should be), but I mean I almost squint at the words. Read the chapter titled “1965, Faggot” and see if you don’t squirm too.

But the reality always bears down upon the protagonist as he moves through his life. It’s like watching the progression of a soul, like a monk in search of enlightenment through the tests that come with an arduous journey. Maynard gives a clue to this choice in a quote from Willa Cather: “The end is nothing. The road is all.”

And along that road, we all need a little light, like the pale light of sunset, illuminating just enough for the reader to sense the scattershot magic that exists in every life—no matter the trials—if we permit ourselves to see it.


Dreama Frisk writes: “Here is something from my journal written on the plane on the way to Russia: The first thing I read on the plane was Books for Readers #123. I loved MSW's comment about Joyce Carol Oates and Jodi Picoult and entitlement. Also, I found it helpful to read about their dipping into places they haven't bothered to imagine fully. It goes well with the Ella Fitzgerald I am listening to on the headset. MSW's judgment is so shrewd. In review of THE BOOK THIEF ‘I wish we all could trust our stories to be enough in themselves.’ (About death as a narrator.) I would like to find THE STORY OF AN AFRICAN FARM by Olive Schreiner.”



(See Jeffrey’s notes on John Brown and the 150th anniversary of the raid on Harpers Ferry at . Now he offers some sources for learning more about John Brown.


JOHN BROWN by W. E. B. Du Bois

“Also,” writes Jeffrey, “when the inevitable ‘isn't violence bad?’ question is asked, I'd add my comment on contextualization: Historical events have to be viewed in context. Today [in the United States] we have a democratic republic with basic human rights taken for granted (not that our society is perfect; far from it). In 1859, the Supreme Court had ruled that ‘a black man had no rights that a white man was bound to respect,’ Congress had imposed a gag rule refusing to hear abolitionist petitions, and had passed a fugitive slave act that criminalized the underground railroad and gave agents of the Slave Power full rein to head north and kidnap African Americans living in the free states, and the executive branch was controlled by supporters of slavery. In my opinion, at that time and place, there was no alternative to war except continued acquiescence to slavery. Resistance to the Slave Power was as justified as armed resistance to the Nazis.

“That said, John Brown's justification of violence by appealing to a ‘higher law’ (that of God) cannot be used today to justify violent acts, whether undertaken by rightwingers shooting abortion doctors or by leftwingers blowing up animal labs. The historical context is totally different. What John Brown can serve for today is as a model for antiracist dedication to the cause of human equality, not a guide to tactics.”

He adds a note on John Brown's daughter, Annie Brown: “Among other reasons Annie did not participate is that she was 15 years old at the time. Her pregnant sister-in-law Martha, Oliver Brown's new bride, was 17. They returned to North Elba, where Martha gave birth after learning of Oliver's death in the battle. The baby died a few weeks later and Martha followed in death shortly thereafter, saying ‘Many women have given money for a cause but I have given everything.’ Breaks your heart. What heroines they were.”




Reamy Jansen writes: “I'm finishing up Richard Flanagan's WANTING, an excellent novel where Sir John Franklin, Charles Dickens (a Manchester production of his and Wilkie Collins' THE FROZEN DEEP was performed), and exiled blacks in Van Dieman's Land converge. I also thought highly of Lorrie Moore's THE GATE AT THE STAIRS.”





Phyllis Wilson Moore asks, “Does it get any better than this?”and then proceeds to list these recent West Virginia successes: Jeanette Walls (grew up in McDowell County): her HALF BROKE HORSES is number 9 on the current New York Times Best Seller list in hard cover fiction. Jayne Anne Phillips (grew up in Upshur County) has LARK AND TERMITE as a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction. BATTLE OF TRENCHMOUTH TAGGART by M. Glenn Taylor (grew up in Cabell County) is a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and finalist for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award in fiction. Lee Maynard (grew up in Wayne County)’s THE PALE LIGHT OF SUNSET: SCATTERSHOTS AND HALLUCINATIONS IN AN IMAGINED LIFE (see review above) is a finalist in New Mexico Book Award adventure fiction category. And Anna Egan Smucker (grew up in Hancock County)’s GOLDEN DELICIOUS: A CINDERELLA APPLE STORY represented the state's literary heritage at the 2009 National Book Festival.




TOP TEN GHOST WRITTEN BOOKS sends out an occasional email, hoping to sell books of course, but interesting nonetheless. For Halloween it was Famous Ghost Writers or maybe famous books that were ghostwritten. Ghost writers include Katherine Anne Porter and Theodore Sturgeon among many others. See the list.



Check out Coral Press and their list of Top Forty bests Music Novels:


R.T. Smith’s stories, THE CALABOOSE EPISTLES has just been published by Iris Press (see Ann Pancake says of Smith’s book that it is “Part bluegrass symphony, part speaking in tongues...the most beautiful sung story collection I have read in years.” George Singleton calls is a collection that will “thrive and endure.”



Barbara Crooker is interviewed by Russell Bitner on THE POET'S CORNER at . There are three poems embedded, two from her new book due from C&R Press in April 2010..




“Finishing Touches,” a workshop with Thaddeus Rutkowski will begin on Monday evening, Nov. 23, 2009 at The Writer's Voice of the West Side YMCA. The class is designed to follow Rutkowski’s "Generating Fiction," but there is no prerequisite. The workshop will focus on improving/polishing fiction. Creative nonfiction and experimental approaches will also be welcome. Open to everyone. Four meetings. Register online at or in person at the front registration desk at 5 West 63rd Street. For info, call Casey Slone at (212) 875-4124, or e-mail




Read some wonderful poems by Ingrid Hughes online at
Cat Pleska’s latest public radio program is online at . Click on the speaker or download mp3 to hear the essay.



I’m still liking Paperback Swap Paper Back Swap, a low cost (postage only) way to get rid of old books and get new ones!






The largest unionized bookstore in America has a webstore at Powells Books. Some people prefer shopping online there to shopping at An alternative way to reach Powell's site and support the union is via Prices are the same but 10% of your purchase will go to support the union benefit fund. For a discussion about Amazon and organized labor and small presses, see the comments of Jonathan Greene and others in Issues #97 and #98 .



If a book discussed in this newsletter has no source mentioned, don’t forget your public library and your local independent bookstore.
To buy books online, I often go first to Bookfinder or Alibris.   Bookfinder has a feature that tells you the book price WITH shipping and handling, so you can compare what you’re really going to have to pay.
A lot of people whose political instincts I respect prefer the unionized bricks-and-mortar bookstore Powells (see "About" above) that sells online at  Another good source for used and out-of-print books is All Book Stores at .
Take a look also at Paperback Book Swap, a low cost (postage only) way to get rid of your old books and get new ones by trading with other readers.

If you are using an electronic reader like Kindle, Nook, or Kobo, get free books at the Gutenberg Project-- most classics, and other things as well. Libraries now lend e-books too!




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

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#146 Henry Adams AGAIN!
#145 Henry Adams, Darnell Arnoult, Jaimy Gordon, Charlotte Brontë
#144 Carter Seaton, NancyKay Shapiro, Lady Murasaki Shikibu
#143 Little America; Guns,Germs, and Steel; The Trial
#142 Blog Fiction, Leah by Seymour Epstein, Wolf Hall, etc.
#141 Dreama Frisk on Hilary Spurling's Pearl Buck in China; Anita Desai; Cormac McCarthy
#140 Valerie Nieman's Blood Clay, Dolly Withrow
#139 My Kindle, The Prime Minister, Blood Meridian
#138 Special on Publicity by Carter Seaton
#137 Michael Harris's The Chieu Hoi Saloon;The Professor and the Madman; Game of Thrones; James Alexander Thom's Follow The River
#136 James Boyle's The Creative Commons; Paola Corso, Joanne Greenberg, Monique Raphel High, Amos Oz
#135 Reviews by Carole Rosenthal, Jeffrey Sokolow, and Wanchee Wang.
#134 Daniel Deronda, books with material on black and white relations in West Virginia
#133 Susan Carpenter, Irene Nemirovsky, Jonathan Safran Foer, Kanafani, Joe Sacco
#132 Karen Armstrong's A History of God; JCO's The Falls; The Eustace Diamonds again.
#131 The Help; J. McHenry Jones, Reamy Jansen, Jamie O'Neill, Michael Chabon.
Lynda Schor, Ed Myers, Charles Bukowski, Terry Bisson, The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism
#129 Baltasar and Blimunda; the Underground Railroad; Navasky's Naming Names, new and recommended small press and indie books.
#128 Jeffrey Sokolow on Histories and memoirs of the Civil Rights Movement
#127 Olive Kitteridge; Urban fiction; Shelley Ettinger on Joyce Carol Oates
#126 Jack Hussey's Ghosts of Walden, The Leopard , Roger's Version, The Reluctanct Fundamentalist
#125 Lee Maynard's The Pale Light of Sunset; Books on John Brown suggested by Jeffrey Sokolow
#124 Cloudsplitter, Founding Brothers, Obenzinger on Bradley's Harlem Vs. Columbia University
#123 MSW's summer reading round-up; Olive Schreiner; more The Book Thief; more on the state of editing
#122 Left-wing cowboy poetry; Jewish partisans during WW2; responses to "Hire a Book Doctor?"
#121 Jane Lazarre's latest; Irving Howe's Leon Trotsky; Gringolandia; "Hire a Book Doctor?"
#120 Dreama Frisk on The Book Thief; Mark Rudd; Thulani Davis's summer reading list
#119 Two Histories of the Jews; small press books for Summer
#118 Kasuo Ichiguro, Jeanette Winterson, The Carter Family!
#117 Cat Pleska on Ann Pancake; Phyllis Moore on Jayne Anne Phillips; and Dolly Withrow on publicity
#116 Ann Pancake, American Psycho, Marc Harshman on George Mackay Brown
#115 Adam Bede, Nietzsche, Johnny Sundstrom
#114 Judith Moffett, high fantasy, Jared Diamond, Lily Tuck
#113 Espionage--nonfiction and fiction: Orson Scott Card and homophobia
#112 Marc Kaminsky, Nel Noddings, Orson Scott Card, Ed Myers
#111 James Michener, Mary Lee Settle, Ardian Gill, BIll Higginson, Jeremy Osner, Carol Brodtick
#110  Nahid Rachlin, Marion Cuba on self-publishing; Thulani Davis, The Road, memoirs
#109 Books about the late nineteen-sixties: Busy Dying; Flying Close to the Sun; Looking Good; Trespassers
#108 The Animal Within; The Ground Under My Feet; King of Swords
#107 The Absentee; Gorky Park; Little Scarlet; Howl; Health Proxy
#106 Castle Rackrent; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; More on Drown; Blindness & more
#105 Everything is Miscellaneous, The Untouchable, Kettle Bottom by Diane Gilliam Fisher
#104 Responses to Shelley on Junot Diaz and more; More best books of 2007
#103 Guest Editor: Shelley Ettinger and her best books of 2007
#102 Saramago's BLINDNESS; more on NEVER LET ME GO; George Lies on Joe Gatski
#101 My Brilliant Career, The Scarlet Letter, John Banville, Never Let Me Go
#100 The Poisonwood Bible, Pamela Erens, More Harry P.
#99   Jonathan Greene on; Molly Gilman on Dogs of Babel
#98   Guest editor Pat Arnow; more on the debate
#97   Using Thomas Hardy; Why I Write; more
#96   Lucy Calkins, issue fiction for young adults
#95   Collapse, Harry Potter, Steve Geng
#94   Alice Robinson-Gilman, Maynard on Momaday
#93   Kristin Lavransdatter, House Made of Dawn, Leaving Atlanta
#92   Death of Ivan Ilych; Memoirs
#91   Richard Powers discussion
#90   William Zinsser, Memoir, Shakespeare
#89   William Styron, Ellen Willis, Dune, Germinal, and much more
#88   Sandra Cisneros's Caramelo
#87   Wings of the Dove, Forever After (9/11 Teachers)
#86   Leora Skolkin-Smith, American Pastoral, and more
#85   Wobblies, Winterson, West Virginia Encyclopedia
#84   Karen Armstrong, Geraldine Brooks, Peter Taylor
#83   3-Cornered World, Da Vinci Code
#82   The Eustace Diamonds, Strapless, Empire Falls
#81   Philip Roth's The Plot Against America , Paola Corso
#80   Joanne Greenberg, Ed Davis, more Murdoch; Special Discussion on Memoir--Frey and J.T. Leroy
#79   Adam Sexton, Iris Murdoch, Hemingway
#78   The Hills at Home; Tess of the D'Urbervilles; Jean Stafford
#77   On children's books--guest editor Carol Brodtrick
#76   Mary Lee Settle, Mary McCarthy
#75   The Makioka Sisters
#74    In Our Hearts We Were Giants
#73    Joyce Dyer
#72    Bill Robinson WWII story
#71    Eva Kollisch on G.W. Sebald
#70    On Reading
#69    Nella Larsen, Romola
#68    P.D. James
#67    The Medici
#66    Curious Incident,Temple Grandin
   Ingrid Hughes on Memoir
    Boyle, Worlds of Fiction
#63    The Namesame
#62    Honorary Consul; The Idiot
#61    Lauren's Line
#60    Prince of Providence
#59    The Mutual Friend, Red Water
#58    AkÉ,
Season of Delight
#57    Screaming with Cannibals

#56    Benita Eisler's Byron
#55    Addie, Hottentot Venus, Ake
#54    Scott Oglesby, Jane Rule
#53    Nafisi,Chesnutt, LeGuin
#52    Keith Maillard, Lee Maynard
#51    Gregory Michie, Carter Seaton
#50    Atonement, Victoria Woodhull biography
Richard Price, Phillip Pullman
#47    Mid- East Islamic World Reader
#46    Invitation to a Beheading
#45    The Princess of Cleves
#44    Shelley Ettinger: A Few Not-so-Great Books
#43    Woolf, The Terrorist Next Door
#42    John Sanford
#41    Isabelle Allende
#40    Ed Myers on John Williams
#39    Faulkner
#38    Steven Bloom No New Jokes
#37    James Webb's Fields of Fire
#36    Middlemarch
#35    Conrad, Furbee, Silas House
#34    Emshwiller
#33    Pullman, Daughter of the Elm
#32    More Lesbian lit; Nostromo
#31    Lesbian fiction
#30    Carol Shields, Colson Whitehead
#29    More William Styron
#28    William Styron
#27    Daniel Gioseffi
#26    Phyllis Moore
   On Libraries....
#24    Tales of the City
   Nonfiction, poetry, and fiction
#22    More on Why This Newsletter
#21    Salinger, Sarah Waters, Next of Kin
#20    Jane Lazarre
#19    Artemisia Gentileschi
#18    Ozick, Coetzee, Joanna Torrey
#17    Arthur Kinoy
#16    Mrs. Gaskell and lots of other suggestions
#15    George Dennison, Pat Barker, George Eliot
#14    Small Presses
#13    Gap Creek, Crum
#12    Reading after 9-11
#11    Political Novels
#10    Summer Reading ideas
#9      Shelley Ettinger picks
#8      Harriette Arnow's Hunter's Horn
#7      About this newsletter
#6      Maria Edgeworth
#5      Tales of Good and Evil; Moon Tiger
#4      Homer Hickam and The Chosen
#3      J.T. LeRoy and Tale of Genji
#2      Chick Lit
#1      About this newsletter
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