Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers #131

May 2, 2010

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Featured This Issue:
Phyllis Moore on J. McHenry Jones's Hearts of Gold and Kathryn Stockett's The Help
Reamy Jansen's Available Light
Award-Winning Poetry Magazine for Sale


Closing Soon: ONLINE SUMMER SOLSTICE MASTER CLASS takes place on June 21, 2010; June 28, 2010; July 5, 2010; and July 12, 2010. This is a class for writers who are already working on or trying to restart a project of prose narrative like a novel, a memoir, or stories. It is filling up fast, so if you want more information, please see the website at

This issue has a guest editor, Phyllis Moore, who writes about two novels on race in America– one a new popular novel, and one that most readers have probably never heard of....





Note from PM: I am indebted to scholar John Sekora, former professor of English at North Carolina Central University, Durham, North Carolina, for his words “black message” in a “white envelope” as a means of describing “as told to” slave stories edited and published by a white person. It is so apt. Because of his example, I consider a “black message” in a “black envelope” one written, edited and published by a black writer.

Recently I read two very different pieces of fiction back-to-back, THE HELP (2009) by journalist and author Kathryn Stockett and HEARTS OF GOLD by noted West Virginian scholar, J. McHenry Jones (reprinted in 2010 by West Virginia University Press).

Jones’ work, self-published in 1896 in Wheeling, West Virginia, is what might be deemed a “black message” in a “black envelope.” He was an Afro-American (his term) writing about black life in the North and South during the post-Reconstruction era. This was a daring undertaking for the (then) young principal of a school located below the Mason-Dixon Line. He took a risk when he pointed out, so to speak, the emperor had no clothes and then suggested how to dress him.

Jones, an erudite scholar and savvy, politically-inclined educator, created his cast of characters from the black middle-class, a departure from the slave narratives and biographies common in the day. His characters came in many hues, but all were intelligent, prospering, professional, educated, cultured, Afro-Americans. Fond of quoting Shakespeare and the Bible, they spoke with perfect grammar and diction and had elaborate vocabularies. He was a master of vaulted language and had a point to make.

His characters want to remain in America (no Africa for them) and live the lives of free people. The times are precarious. They recognize the weakening of civil rights laws, unpunished lynchings, proliferation of Jim Crow laws involving voting and transportation, false imprisonment of blacks, slavery-like conditions in the penal coal mine system, sexual harassment, and believe action must be taken. Through education, the church, lodge memberships, and friendships, they learn to use the power of the press to effect changes in the system as well as in public opinion.

What does HEARTS OF GOLD have in common with THE HELP, written by a young Southern white woman more than 100 years later?

THE HELP is set in the 1960s, one of the most brutal decades in our nation’s racial history. It tells the story of black female domestic workers as told to a white writer. It could qualify as a “black message” in a “white envelope.” It was a risky undertaking for a white woman living well below the Mason-Dixon Line. Her cast of characters is not from the middle-class. They are not pursuing professional careers. They are middle-aged domestic workers with the separate-and-not-equal education the South offered. Not protected by laws, they must ride in the back of the bus, drink from separate fountains, use separate toilets and are blocked from registering to vote. Basically, they have no civil rights. Their language is not vaulted; they don’t speak standard English or have perfect diction. By and large, they are decent, honest, hard working, religious, caring people, living the lives Jones’ characters feared would happen if Reconstruction did not live up to its promise.

Jones’ novel is his one published work of fiction and it does show promise. The same is true for Stockett’s. As I read, what struck me was how little changed in the interval between the eras and how glad I am to have both books to remind me.


My husband and I are snowbirds. We escape West Virginia’s winters by hanging-out in Gulf Shores, Alabama. When we pull into town, the first three places we stop are the mail box rental, the Winn-Dixie Supermarket, and the user-friendly Thomas B. Norton Public Library. Alabama’s libraries offer all kinds of interesting programs. I especially like the monthly book discussion groups. This year, THE HELP, a novel by Mississippi native and Alabama University graduate (Roll Tide!) Kathryn Stockett was the novel for March.

Unfortunately for me, all copies were checked out and the waiting list was 30 some persons long. It was the same at every other Baldwin County library. Even more frustrating, local book stores didn’t have a copy either. Clerks said it sold as fast as it came in. They added it was a “must read.” As evidenced by internet comments, it is a controversial novel. Set in Mississippi, it is the story of relationships between young privileged white women and their older and wiser black domestic workers, the help.

The novel is set in the shameful bloody 1960s, a brutal time in the history of this nation. I can still picture the disturbing images: the murder of Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King in jail in Birmingham and later leading a march on Washington before being assassinated in Tennessee. For me it was a decade of grief and disbelief: young American freedom riders murdered for trying to assist black Americans to register to vote, blacks unable to enroll in state operated universities, black Americans sitting stoically at Woolworth’s lunch counters while white Americans harassed them. I still shutter at the tragedy of three little girls losing their lives in the bombing of a black church.

Stockett, a baby when most of the events took place, used her imagination to create a novel around an untold peripheral story, the relationship of white boss-women and their black domestic workers. The novel opens in 1960, about the time its protagonist, a recent “Ole Miss” graduate, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan, returns to her parents’ cotton farm (read plantation) in Jackson, Mississippi. With no real need to work, she lands a very part-time position on the local newspaper. Her plan is to build her resume, move to New York, and write a novel. She has hope; an acerbic New York editor is willing to read some of her work if it is a subject Skeeter is seriously bothered by or passionate about.

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter is not passionate about anything. She’s rather a dud as a “Southern Belle”– too tall, hair too curly, too studious, too outspoken, not subservient to men, not a clothes-horse. She’s also guilty of speaking to the help (she actually knows the names of her friends’ maids). She is quietly researching Jim Crow laws in various states.

She drifts back into a group of former “Ole Miss” sorority sisters, the ones who chose a wedding ring over a diploma. Like them, she joins the Junior League and the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). When not playing bridge or tennis, the clique spends time around the Country Club pool. Of course, Skeeter’s married friends bring along “the help” (read— intelligent black women paid less than minimum wage, women riding in the back of the bus and living from pay check to pay check) as babysitters.

Skeeter’s friends don’t seem to notice the murder of civil-rights activist Medgar Evers, shot in his own yard just a few miles up the road. They are too busy raising money for the poor starving children in Africa (PSCA) and other worthy-to-them projects, such as lobbying for a bill stipulating all newly constructed Mississippi houses include a separate bathroom for the help.

Skeeter begins to question life as she knows it: if the help is too diseased to use the family’s toilet, why are they allowed to toilet train the children and nurse them when they are ill? Why does the help prepare and serve lunch for the bridge club and contribute elaborate desserts for fund-raisers if they are so unclean? Why do they cook for the family and feed the children if they are so germ-laden? How does the help feel about using dishes and silverware set aside for just their use? Why do her friends act as if the maids are deaf to rude remarks?

Skeeter recalls her childhood maid, Constantine, and wonders what stories Constantine could tell about working for Skeeter’s mother. Intrigued, she approaches a friend’s bright maid, Aibileen, and asks to interview her, secretly of course. Skeeter promises to disguise the town as Niceville, not Jackson, and change all the names of the employer as well as Aibileen’s name. Out of fear, Aibileen says no, but when local and national civil rights incidents become more frequent, she changes her mind.

Being able to tell her own story proves cathartic to Aibileen, an avid reader, journal keeper, and would-be-author. She convinces her feisty friend Minny, the most frequently fired maid and the best cook in the state of Mississippi, to be interviewed. Before long, Aibileen and Minny find eleven more women, mostly from their church, who are willing to risk it all by telling their stories.

Over time, the three original collaborators complete the interviews, type and edit them, and mail them to the New York publisher. The publisher likes their unique approach to this hot timely topic and agrees to publish the interviews as a book written by Anonymous.

The understandably nervous collaborators don't expect the book to create much attention. Imagine their reaction when stores can’t keep copies in stock. When a local television personality questions if the maids and the employers in the book just might be from Jackson, every Junior League member rushes out to buy a copy, as does every maid.

Before long, the town’s citizens are irate. If these interviews were done in Jackson, who conducted them? And where? Whose maid said what? Local readers begin a guessing game to match local League members to the goings-on in specific chapters. The most shocking and titillating chapter is about a feisty maid getting even with a nasty untruthful lady-boss. Just who is this lady-boss? Who is the maid?

Stockett obvious took risks in writing this novel. It’s doubtful she will be invited to speak for a luncheon of the Jackson Junior League anytime soon. She also took a risk with language; some readers take issue with the fact her black characters don’t use standard English. That is true, their speech is Ebonics-like. But once readers get a feel for what Stockett is attempting, it might just work for them. It did for me.

Some readers call the language demeaning or irritating, some say it is insulting. To me, the black language is reasonable for middle-aged women raised in an impoverished ghetto-like section of a city in the Deep South. Most of the maids are said to be 40 to 60ish which means they were born between 1900-1920 and went to school around the time of the Great Depression. They had limited educational opportunities and were denied access to libraries.

Stockett is also criticized for imagining what black women felt during this horrific time. Isn’t that what fiction writers do, imagine? She did grow up in the South and I respect her for giving this era her imaginative reflections.

The book has flaws; it is a first novel. Unlike Lake Wobegon, where all the folks, at least the children, are above average, the novel is populated by a lot of nasty folks: social-climbing white women; women who can’t stand their own mothers or their own children; shallow men who drink too much and have questionable values.

The book is also a spectacular success. Dealing with a turbulent time and serious subject matter, Stockett makes events, some tragic beyond belief, more palatable by wrapping them in the events of daily life: babies are born, people go to church, couples fall in and out of love. Her humor helps. She manages to include some laugh-out-loud wacky situations, such as a decrepit naked exhibitionist’s visit to one of the boss-lady’s wooded yards.

Thanks to Stockett, the rights and wrongs of the era are more visible to a new generation in the guise of fiction. The novel is scheduled to become a Dreamworks film and more information is available at

Note: for a different viewpoint, look here.



Let me begin by recommending a small press memoir collection, Reamy Jansen’s Available Light: Recollections and Reflections of a Son. There are a lot of wonderful details of material culture of the nineteen fifties and early sixties here, and a memorable house that is the center of the family’s lives. The story is full of incident and suffering. But what is most striking about the book  is that it manages to treat with delicacy material that would be, in another writer's hands, potentially melodramatic: an alcoholic mother, a distant father, the death of both of them, a threat to the eyesight to the narrator. I don’t mean that Jansen makes light of what is serious, but rather that he handles his stories in the way we are told to handle tender dough– gently, quickly, expertly: with a light touch. Jansen manages, for example, to present his mother’s frantic anti-Semitism in a perfect mix of light and dark, shocking and familiar, near and far, painfully sharp and almost lilting. How does he do that? I think there is an element of grace here-- both grace in its particular Christian usage of freely given and also in our everyday use of the word to mean a kind of effortless charm and beauty. Jansen’s language is graceful, and he offers forgiveness to the deeply flawed people in his past.

I also read and admired At Swim,Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill, a lovely book that makes me want to start talking Irish.The history of the 1916 Easter Rising is the background, but the real heart of the novel is the boys’ passion for each other, sexual of course, but also simply for the fullness of life through their love. One of the great triumphs of the book, in an entirely different vein, is the character of Jim’s Dad, Mr. Mack, who is a fool but also a man with a great heart. The novel builds toward a demonstration of the shocking arbitrariness of war. So much is so well done here: the delight and euphoria of patriotism, Doyler Doyle's working class cleverness and confidence. A book deserving of its reputation.

Another book that made me feel I was understanding a foreign language was the highly popular The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon. I am really fond of novels that do alternative history well, as this one does. Chabon tries out a scenario where the Jews got invited, sort of, to come to Alaska just before World War II. In this version of history, a Yiddish culture develops in Alaska while the Zionists lose the 1948 war in Palestine. In fact, Roosevelt's real life Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes did consider in 1938 offering Alaska as a haven for Jewish refugees from Germany and elsewhere.

After the novel's clever set-up, and once the reader gets used to the beautiful language that translates and (probably) makes up Yiddish syntax and slang (guns are called sholems), it is a Raymond Chandler-esque murder mystery. I lost the plot from time to time, but didn’t care much, as I was mostly in for the good humoredly depressed and drunk and lonely main character Landsman, his huge half native American cousin, and many more. I had the feeling that Chabon didn’t really decide who done it till the very end, but again, I could care less: it is a great ride.


Editor-in-Chief/Publisher/Owner of award-winning international non-profit poetry magazine seeks individual or group or college to buy and take over all responsibilities including editorial. Possibility of some reading assistance from current associate editor, etc. for smooth transition. Interested parties contact owner ASAP at: .


My friend and colleague Suzanne McConnell has been teaching literature and discussion courses for medical professionals, and her reading lists are terrific: Take a look here: and here:


GOOD STUFF ONLINE books keeps coming up with fun lists: this time it’s Father and son writers:
Barbara Crooker reports a poem from her new book (see her new book below), "Ode to Chocolate," is on the Writer's Almanac for Saturday, April 24th. You can listen here .
Burt Kimmelman has a poem from his new collection AS IF FREE (Talisman House, 2009) that was featuredon The Writer’s Almanac on April 20th. Garrison Keillor read “Taking Dinner to My Mother.”

WriterSites has a lot of good info for writers:



Dzanc Books has published BEST OF THE WEB 2010 guest-edited by Kathy Fish with series editor Matt Bell. This is the newest edition of Dzanc's yearly anthology series compiling the best fiction, poetry, and non-fiction published in the previous year's online literary journals.


The Children's Book Council has nominated Peter Brown for Illustrator of the Year for his book, THE CURIOUS GARDEN. Congratulations, Peter!
A new picture book HISTORIC PHOTOS OF WEST VIRGINIA by Gerald D. Swick is now available. The volume shows West Virginia's cultural heritage by using lesser known historical photographs in a fresh way. For more information, see .
C&R Press announces the publication of Barbara Crooker's new poetry book, MORE!
Whether writing about her son with autism, her daughter's traumatic brain injury, her mother's slow decline, or paintings by Matisse and Kahlo, Crooker grounds her work in the everyday moment. Divided into four sections with each exploring a different aspect of the word "more," these are poems of grace and gratitude that show "all of us dazzling in the brilliant slanting light." More information at .
Kal Wagenheim’s 1973 biography of Roberto Clemente will be re-issued in Summer/Fall 2010 by Markus Wiener Publishers of Princeton.

HEART AND CRAFT: A MEMOIR WORKSHOP FOR WOMEN, taught by author/journalist Anndee Hochman, will take place in La Barra de Potosi, Mexico. November 13-19, 2010. For beginning and experienced writers. Early-bird price is $1000 ($500 deposit due by July 1) and includes tuition, accommodations in the magical Casa del Encanto, six days' breakfast and dinner and all taxes/tips. E-mail for details and application.

Open City's 2010 RRofihe Trophy Short Story Contest is now open. Limit: 5,000 words, winner receives: $500, trophy, and publication in Open City magazine. Judge: See the complete guidelines at .



Books for Readers #132

June 19, 2010

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     For a free e-mail subscription to this newsletter, click here .
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Don’t Miss the New Issue of The Hamilton Stone Review #21

Poetry by Carol Berg, Iain Britton, Jessie Carty, Ken Champion,
W. Frank, Alice Friman, Peter Greico, Anne Haines,
Reamy Jansen, A.F. Moritz, Linda Ravenswood,
Kevin Stein; Nonfiction by Faye Rapoport DesPres,
Linda M. Hasselstrom, Sue Ring deRosset, and Marianne Rogoff.

Armstrong                              Trollope                              Oates



Featured This Issue:
Good Stuff Online-- including articles by readers!
Barbara Smith's latest
Good news-- New Books

I’ve been away to California for my son’s wedding, which was a huge and moving occasion for all the usual reasons, and I’m also still doing a lot of student papers, so my reading recently has been spotty. As usual, though, friends, colleagues, and readers of this newsletter have sent lots of suggestions. Here is a scattering of my latest recommendations.


And I have been reading. I finished Karen Armstrong’s A HISTORY OF GOD: THE 4000-YEAR QUEST OF JUDAISM, CHRISTIANITY, AND ISLAM. Armstrong led me to more appreciation of Eastern Orthodox Christianity and of the old rational tradition in Islam. Armstrong, herself a former nun and self-described freelance theist (clever phrase, but exactly what does it mean?), was best for me when she was writing about areas I know least about– which is a tremendously large number. She is very good, for example, on the early Islamic Faylasufs, who were highly influenced by Greek philosophers, the word itself coming from Greek for philosopher. Her strongest appreciation seems to be for the mystical and mythological branches of all the religions. In this work, she doesn’t pay much attention to social justice, and her most positive models, possibly because they have tended to do the least damage, are those who emphasize mystery, joy, and the frank use of the imagination in religion. Thus her most positive models tend to be groups like the early Sufis and Jewish Throne believers– people who use metaphor and vision to approach the ineffable.

She does not find most of Christianity especially positive, and she particularly seems to dislike Martin Luther and the other dark spirited Protestants. Of course she’s hard on the dogmatic Roman Catholics and all the fundamentalists of all varieties as well. Lots of information, and I'm left especially interested in the idea that some believers actually value imagination as part of their practice.


I am also continuing my run through Trollope’s Palliser novels with a re-read of the EUSTACE DIAMONDS (for my previous take on the book, see Even though the Palliser series is pretty loosely connected, this one makes more sense read in order, especially the parts with Lady Glencora and the Duke of Omnium, not to mention Mrs. Max Goesler. These had seemed like very loose ends the first time I read the book, but now I see that they hold the series together.

This story is about the badly brought-up Lizzie Eustace whose values, ethics, and morals are generally execrable. Trollope simply calls her bad, and uses that word, over and over. One wonders if his judgment is to cover himself for his preference for her over the other female lead, Lucy Morris, who is snoringly good. By the end, though, he has thoroughly punished Lizzie, and most of her charm is gone. Also interesting is the extremely weak anti-hero Frank Greystock, who comes through for Lucy Morris at the very last minute.

One pleasure in reading Trollope is that he cares about more of the world than love affairs or even the movement of money and respectability. The legal ramifications of the appearances, disappearances and possession of the diamonds is high on his list here, as was Parliamentary political maneuvering in PHINEAS FINN. The anti-Semitism, on the other hand, is blatant, ugly, totally socially acceptable in Trollope’s circles, and hard to read today. The thief who is punished by law is a greasy Jewish pawn broker, and Lizzie’s punishment is to end up marrying an unpleasant preacher, also rather greasy, who is hinted to be a convert from Judaism.

In defense of Trollope, or perhaps as a defense of my pleasure in reading him, I don't think most of us really challenge the mores of our time as much as we might think we do. Even the magnificent George Eliot gives good looks to her heroines and does not allow any of them the kind of unsanctioned marriage that was central to her life.


Short Notes:

I also read THE FALLS by Joyce Carol Oates, and she is so wonderfully ambitious and endlessly readable– along the lines of Trollope, actually. I get irritated with her too, but stylistically rather than ideologically. My complaint is that she sometimes wanders in her story looking (as it appears to me) for what comes next, leaving all the scaffolding of her story-search there for the reader to see. In this novel, for example, the Dirk Burnaby section falls in that category for me. Much of the information is reprised later, and might have been better told by his children on their father search, which comprises much of the second half of the novel. What Oates would have lost, of course, would have been her direct re-telling of an only slightly fictionalized version of the Love Canal material, most taken, she says, from the memoirs of Lois Gibbs.

I think her Marilyn Monroe novel BLONDE is one of the best novels of this century so far– it was published in 2000, so I guess it depends on which century you consider that year. And all of her work, whether she goes on too long or shows too much of her process, she is always in the end worthwhile. And perhaps she is right to want to toss in some pretty undigested Love Canal story for readers who may otherwise forget about it or never learn about it?


Finally, I read the highly praised and generally moving poems of Frances Richey, THE WARRIOR: A MOTHER’S STORY OF A SON AT WAR. It is billed as being an every woman’s story, but of course there is no every woman, and Richey’s life and her relationship with her son who so determinedly moves away from Upper West Side Manhattan liberalism and antiwar politics, is highly particular.


Send me what you’re reading!


                                                                                           Meredith Sue Willis



People on the left tend to view modern Islamic radicalism as a response to contemporary U.S. foreign policy (which they oppose), especially U.S. support for Israel (whose policies, and sometimes whose very existence, they abhor). Thus leftists believe that the “root cause” of acts of terrorism such as the 9/11 attacks or homicide bombings is to be sought in the policies of the American or Israeli governments. This view has become something of a dogma on the left. To suggest otherwise is to be viewed as a handmaiden of the right.

Now comes a monograph by a German writer, Matthais Küntzel, a former activist in the Green Party and a self-described “author with roots in the political left,” that demolishes this belief as an exercise in self-deception. Küntzel’s thesis in JIHAD AND JEW-HATRED: ISLAMISM, NAZISM AND THE ROOTS OF 9/11 (New York, NY: Telos Press Publishing, 2007) is (to quote the foreword by the historian Jeffrey Herf) that “during and after World War II, the center of global anti-Semitism shifted from Nazi Germany to the Arab world, above all to the radical Islamist currents in and around the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.” Radical Islamism is a fascist movement that combines an obscurantist rejection of modernism, women’s equality, and Enlightenment thinking with a poisonous brew of Jew hatred and rejection of western notions of democracy and individual liberties. Radical Islamist groups like Al Qaida and Hamas seek the enforced application of Islamic sharia law, the extermination or reduction to dhimmi status of the Jews, the subjugation of non-Muslims, and the elimination of secularists and feminists in the Muslim countries who oppose this fascist program. And it is this virulent fascist movement that some self-deluded sectors of the left see as a constituent part of the “anti-globalization” or anti-capitalist movement!

Küntzel traces the ideological and direct personal connections between the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Nazi party, as well as those of the leader of the Palestinian nationalist movement, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, who spent the war years as Hitler’s guest in Berlin making radio broadcasts to rally the Arab nation to the cause of fascism. In every major respect, from its rejection of decadent western liberal democracy to its depiction of the Jews as a demonic force, the source of all evil, responsible both for the evils of capitalism and those of communism, to its dissemination of “Mein Kampf” and “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” radical Islamists shared a worldview with the Nazis that metastasized in the Arab political body after the defeat of the Nazis themselves in Europe.

For exposing this “inconvenient truth,” Küntzel has been pilloried by his erstwhile comrades as a traitor to the cause. The real treason, one might argue, is that of the hard left, which for the second time – the first being in 1939 when it supported Stalin’s cynical deal with Hitler to divide Poland, thus launching the second world war – people calling themselves leftists and anti-fascists have become apologists for a movement that is itself both fascist and anti-Semitic.

Marx said that history was dialectic, and the dialectic says that things eventually turn into their opposites. The metamorphosis of sectors of the antifascist left into apologists for a species of fascism (one that would happily exterminate them as well) is surely one of those historical ironies that Marx would have appreciated.

An interview with the author appears here: and the author's website contains many articles, for example:



Barbara Smith’s THROUGH THE GLASS is a novel that centers on a time of crisis for Patricia Yokum Tazewell, a stained glass artist who is the heart of a tiny West Virginia community of new homes and diverse families. Patricia is a surrogate grandmother; mother of less-than-ideal children; and a woman with many men in her life, including the husband she loved passionately who died four years before this story begins. During a handful of spring days, she deals with her past, and her past mistakes, faces up to some unpleasant wannabe-gangster teens, the possible reappearance of an estranged brother, her daughter’s emotional deterioration, and a shocking death. It was a lot of fun to get to know Patricia– fun because she’s sixty two and desirable to several men, because she drinks and gets into physical altercations to protect her bipolar daughter and her property. Fun because her spiritual life is pretty equally divided between her dead husband and God. Pat faces everything that life throws at her with energy if not necessarily aplomb. The loose ends are not tied up neatly, but you finish the novel rooting for her and deeply pleased to have been invited into her rich and complex life.





I just finished reading PALESTINE'S CHILDREN by Ghassan Kanafani, the writer, journalist and leading figure in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who was assassinated by the Mossad in 1972. The book consists of a number of short stories and the longer story or novella "Returning to Haifa." While all the stories are deep, true and affecting, this last piece is devastatingly powerful and with its power points the way, I think, to at least part of the answer to these questions I've been asking.

The story tells of a middle-aged couple, Said and Saffiya, who go to Haifa in the days after the 1967 war when, for the first time since April 1948, the Israeli state permits its former inhabitants to enter the city. Said and Saffiya were among those who were driven out -- from their home and from their city, literally driven into the sea -- and while they have survived as refugees they have never stopped yearning for their home and the impossible loss they suffered when they were ousted from it and never till now allowed to go back. For their loss went beyond walls and possessions or even sentiment, tradition, memory. Their 6-month-old baby was left alone in their home that day in 1948, and they never knew what became of him.

Now they find out. A Jewish couple, survivors of the Nazi holocaust, were given Said and Saffiya's house in Haifa -- and with it, their infant son Khaldun. While the woman at first had qualms about the whole sordid business and tried to talk her husband into leaving "Israel" and going to Italy, ultimately they stayed. They raised the child as their own, renaming him Dov. By the time his real parents come back he is a young man, and a member of the Israeli army. Presented with the reality of his heritage but filled with the ideology of Zionism with which he has been inculcated, he rejects, even insults, his Palestinian parents. They leave, brokenhearted but with a renewed understanding of what was done to them and their people and a renewed, clear-eyed commitment to the armed struggle to reclaim their homeland....

As I read this book on the train and in the park over the last few days, [I] wondered what any Jewish New Yorker might think when they saw the cover with its title PALESTINE'S CHILDREN. For those who hew to the gospel of Zionism, the very word Palestine is inflammatory, implying as it does that, yes, there is a nation that, yes, holds claim to that land. But the happy fact is that the lock-step allegiance to Israel and its foundation the racist ideology of Zionism is no longer absolute among U.S. Jews. The suffering of the Palestinian people and the widespread worldwide support for their cause have, over these last 20 years or so, broken the chokehold Zionism once had. Still, it remains dominant here. (Read the full discussion on Shelley’s blog at ).




Sandra Vrana writes: “Thank you for doing the Books For Readers project....From your site I learn about books I otherwise would not hear of. I will, for instance, find AVAILABLE LIGHT by Reamy Jansen because you have piqued my writer's interest in his handling of tough memoir subjects. And then, too, I sometimes get to take a memory walk (with a new perspective added) into books that are old friends. I also enjoyed reading Phyllis Moore's review of HEARTS OF GOLD and THE HELP. I always learn something about West Virginia literature and literary history when Phyllis writes (or talks). I would not know of J. McHenry Moore, for example, or his catchy and appropriate notion of a ‘black message’ in a ‘white envelope.’ Her reviews are always fun, fast-moving, and detailed. And Phyllis, of course, remains one of the best friends West Virginia writers can have.”


Madeline Tiger’s new book THE ATHEIST’S PRAYER is just out: . Alicia Ostriker says, “To read Madeline Tiger’s poetry is like flowing with the river of life itself… Life, love and death are her subjects— not the abstractions but the details, and she gets the details right,” and Gerald Stern says, “I much admire Madeline Tiger’s poetry of observation, her keen memory and her holding of things dear… I also admire her poems of pure imagination, dreamy and scary… …she faces… heartbreaking experiences with the bravery of good music so that there is no fake comfort….”
P.J. Laska’s new book of poetry is NIGHT & DAY. Jeff Biggers says, “Given the complexity of his occasionally dark, unabashedly political, philosophical and underground writings, he [can be described] as an Appalachian Fyodor Dostoyevsky.”


Dustbooks calls itself the #1 source for Small Press Information-- and I agree!


ABE books keeps coming up with interesting collections of old and rarish books. The latest is a group of classic book covers. See


Editor-in-Chief/Publisher/Owner of award-winning international non-profit poetry magazine seeks individual or group or college to buy and take over all responsibilities including editorial. Possibility of some reading assistance from current associate editor, etc. for smooth transition. Interested parties contact owner ASAP at: .


This month only: E. Lee North is prices on "EYES THAT HAUNT" and "SNOWFLAKES ON THE DON” and other books. Write him at ELN BOOKS, 55 Woodland Dr., Brightwaters, NY 11718



West Virginia University Press has launched “Regenerations: African American Literature and Culture,” a new series devoted to reprinting editions of important African American texts that have fallen out of print or have failed to receive due attention. First up is a new edition of the 1896 novel “Hearts of Gold” by J. McHenry Jones (1859-1909) (See Phyllis Moore’s review in #131). For more information on the series, the book or to arrange a local appearance and presentation by the co-editor, please contact Abby Freeland, marketing manager at the WVU Press, at (304) 293-8400 ext. 33508 or


...take a look at the wide-ranging and highly professional offerings of The Write Group. Most take place at the Montclair Library. If you want to be on their mailing list, get in touch with Carl Selinger at . All events are free, and range from a Thursday morning: Critiques for Novelists Workshop to Thursday night: “Free-For-All (FFA) Writing Workshops”, Poetry Workshops, support groups, a “Memoir and Muffins” group– and much, much more.


Travel article by Joanne Wetzel!
Theresa Basile has a piece on her mother, Evelyn Codd in the current SMITH:
Writing Lesson of the Month Network is at:
Winslow Eliot runs a website called WriteSpa, which aspires to be a writing oasis, a place where writers can meet and rest. She offers exercises, experiences, and encouragement to nourish and revitalize peoples' relationship with writing. Take a look at .
The June issue of INTERNET BOOK REVIEW is up at
Barbara Crooker has new poems online here .
Neva Bryan has a new online newsletter for writers.
Glenn Taylor at publishing perspectives: =15688 .




Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers #133

August 9, 2010

MSW Home  
     For a free e-mail subscription to this newsletter, click here .
Note: If you want to link to something in
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Featured This Issue:
The Middle East and the Palestinians
Howard Zinn's on Picketing Spelman Students




This issue begins with a few reviews and suggestions for an informal panel of guest editors, followed by some of my summer reading and the usual announcements. For next issue, I’m looking for old or new opinions on George Eliot’s DANIEL DERONDA, which I’m just rereading. Please let me know if you loved it, hated it, couldn't finish it forty years ago-- or whatever!


               Meredith Sue Willis





Susan Carpenter’s near-documentarian style as well as absolutely believable characters makes her fine new novel, RIDERS ON THE STORM a deeply rewarding experience. While relating the tumultuous events of 1968, she nails down the convergence of historical events, both national and international, that produced the Movement, fed it, and then finally splintered it into rival competing groups. Her point of view characters include increasingly revolutionary Ivy Barcelona, who, before the book’s over, winds up with a bomb in her hand; her would-be-pacifist boyfriend Chuck Leggit; and Jane Revard, friend and ally to welfare mothers, whose radical politics turn her toward feminism. Several others round out this group of young radicals. Bert Augustin is a sexy Che Guevara, whose violent militarism sets him apart from the others. Marvin Kaminsky is the father figure of this loose family which comes together in an attempt to change their world.
With this family, the author takes us on a journey through the past, where we’ll live—or re-live—the Columbia strike, the March on Washington and a lesser-known eruption that occurred in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood. Although we all know the eventual outcome of the Movement, the author creates a great deal of suspense concerning what will happen next to our “family.” The one national event Carpenter develops fully (and terrifyingly) is the demonstration at the Chicago Democratic convention, which matures the Movement at lightning speed. With “the whole world watching,” our heroes take us directly into the heart of chaos, where heads are bashed and horrors await any female unlucky enough to be jailed. However, we also experience transcendent solidarity with Ivy and her fellow activists inside Grant Park at the end of an historic day.

While Carpenter makes us care deeply about the country’s agonizing struggle that Vietnam so symbolized (to overcome the military-industrial complex, racism, poverty, inequality and entitlement), I cared even more about these characters growing their identities in such fraught, unprecedented circumstances. Readers who lived through these times will be tempted to assess what and who they became in the wake of such cataclysmic events; younger people who have been exposed to the countless I-was-there accounts of their elders can experience for themselves what these courageous (confused, overly-idealistic and very human) twenty-somethings went through—and why. Ultimately, the value of the Movement, Carpenter suggests, might’ve been to produce more an inner than outer revolution. “Resistance is now vast and huge,” Carpenter writes in the introduction to Part Five. “We are still here.”

This book is no fabrication but a fictional recreation by one who was there, who doubtless has some Ivy Barcelona as well as Jane Revard inside her. RIDERS ON THE STORM can be ordered for $18 from Bottom Dog Press (P.O. Box 425, Huron, OH 44839) or from their website at





Irene Nemirovsky’s SUITE FRANCAISE gives the reader a panorama of the invasion of France in WWII, showing how quickly it becomes the occupation. In a tour de force of changing characters, Nemirovsky depicts the stunning news of Nazi invasion from more than two dozen points of view which include: the household of Monsieur Pericand, curator of a national museum, the Banker Corbin and his wife and mistress, Arlette Corail, the Michauds, bank employees, Charles Langelet, art dealer, Gabriel Corte, writer, and his wife, Florence, Jean-Marie Michaud, wounded soldier, Lucille Angellier, a French woman whose husband was taken prisoner before she and her mother-in-law are obliged to billet a German soldier.

Nemirovsky has a keen eye for human foibles and a terrific wry wit. She gives the reader characters who scramble to augment their positions once the occupation is a fait accompli. Documenting class prejudices and resentments, as well as individual sacrifices and acts of cowardice or greed, she chronicles the French response to the war. Many horde and think only of themselves, others have the grace to share.

As the occupation continues, pockets of resistance occur. Divided loyalties of townspeople profiting from German presence vs. a fanatical hatred of them on the part of others provides a tension which informs the plot. It is uncanny how Nemirovsky, hidden in the country and soon to be taken away herself, was able to maintain the distance of the omniscient and ubiquitous observer seeing all, including the tenderness of several of the occupiers, the savagery of many of the French and the futility of war.



June L. Berkley recommend I read the novel EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED by Jonathan Safran Foer. Published in 2002, it created quite a stir. I never paid any attention. It is available on audio, as a film, and in print. It has been praised, awarded, blogged, and criticized. If you give it a go, I recommend reading the book first and then listening to the audio to hear the accents, etc. The movie, which is quite good, presents a different story. It should, in my opinion, have a name of its own. It is hardly fair to call it by the book's title.
As I read the first few chapters, I felt like shouting out a line from one of the characters in the book, "As for your story, I will tell you that I was at first a very perplexed person....You will be happy to know that I proceeded, suspending my temptation to cast off your writing into the garbage, and it all became illuminated." (p. 142) I found I needed to read the novel more than once and then to study various pages. It is perplexing. It may be the best novel I've ever read.

Also: A SCREAM GOES THROUGH THE HOUSE: WHAT LITERATURE TEACHES US ABOUT LIFE by Arnold Weinstein, Brown University Professor, is a fascinating look at great works of art juxtaposed with great works of prose, poetry, theater, and film. Weinstein's scholarship is impeccable and his writing style makes the subject of the impact of the arts on our lives a very readable topic. I was attracted to the book by the cover's art, Michelangelo's "The Prophet David," and the subtitle. In the preface. Weinstein maintains literature and art are the bloodstream connecting us to world as well as the mirror for our emotions. One of my favorite artists is Edvard Munch and quite a nice size portion of the book discusses his life and his art. Munch's "The Scream" would make a perfect dust cover for THE PALE LIGHT OF SUNSET, Lee Maynard's latest novel. As to perfect dust cover art, "Les Promenades D'Euclide" the work of Rene' Magritte used on the cover of PRISONS by Mary Lee Settle, seems to mirror the body of her work.



I'm currently reading one of the most beautiful books I've read in awhile, called
NO GREAT MISCHIEF, by Alastair MacLeod, about a clan of Scotsmen who come to Cape Breton Island after the Highland Clearances. Gradually some of them move inland but the story focuses on several tragedies which cost one family their parents and a sibling. Macleod weaves descriptions of the music these people sing, the modes of address they use with each other and the extraordinary loyalty they have to each other into a haunting narrative. It's told in 1st person with long passages of omniscient observer, as Steinbeck uses it in GRAPES OF WRATH.

I reread LES MISERABLES with my book club and am amazed at how Hugo can sustain a 1300 page novel exclusively using omniscient observer including a heavy-handed bit of sermonizing. Initially I was drawn into Pat Conroy's use of first person narrative in SOUTH OF BROAD but quit a few chapters before the end because the plot seemed too contrived.

I also saw a couple of plays which spoke to me: COLLECTED STORIES by David Margulies shows the relationship of a woman author with her protegée. Later we see the protegée stealing the woman's life for the subject of her fiction. That worked dramatically. In THAT FACE the author shocks the audience with the savagery of prep school girls only to shift to the living arrangement of one of those girls so that her brutality seems understandable.


Not the world’s most relaxing summer so far. The trip to California for the wedding kicked it off, but I’ve also had summer session at NYU, an online class, and trips to West Virginia and Lake Buel in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. Still, I’ve managed to do some odds and ends of reading: a popular novel by Harlan Coben; two books about Palestinians, more Trollope, and Charles Bukowski’s HAM ON RYE.

I’ll start with the Bukowski, my second. Once again the autobiographical novel is totally in your face as he reports on an appallingly miserable childhood and adolescence. A brutal father, terrible schooling, learning to drink, getting no girls, and a plague acne boils that amazes the medical profession. He gets his satisfaction from fighting and projecting the persona of a “tough guy.” He is also wildly, horribly foul and funny as he doggedly slogs ahead through a life that only transcends depression because of the narrator’s sharp ability to observe the world and himself.

One part that particularly amused me was how, briefly, at community college, the narrator gets sick of all the liberal voices around him, so he starts making up B.S. speeches that sound vaguely right wing, but he gets even sicker of the wingnuts who try to recruit him. I asked myself here as I did when I fell for Lee Maynard’s very different novel CRUM, why do I like this? With Bukowski, I think it’s maybe that he’s an iconoclast with a chip on his shoulder but no pretensions. And he writes really well about it.


I have much less to say about Harlan Coben, a hot current best seller. I was looking for something to read in the hammock at the lake and tried THE INNOCENT, which went very fast, and was fun, as long as you read fast. I especially liked the settings near where I live– in Newark, Irvington, Livingston, and West Orange, New Jersey. Plenty of mayhem and murder, mostly off stage except for some nose crunching fist fights. Coben seems like a guy who is delighted to have discovered that he can get paid for doing something he likes to do.

I’ve also been reading books about the history of the Jews and listening to a strong series of lectures from The Teaching Company on the U.S. and the Middle East 1914 to 9/11. Then I read two books recommended by Shelley Ettinger in Issue 132: PALESTINE’S CHILDREN: RETURNING TO HAIFA AND OTHER STORIES by Ghassan Kanafani and PALESTINE by Joe Sacco.

Kanafani was an activist who died when his car was booby-trapped, probably by the Mossad, Israel’s covert action and counter-terrorism organization. They considered Kanafani, a journalist and activist as well as a writer of fiction, to be a terrorist. A young niece died with him. Many of these stories center on Palestinian children taking up arms against Israel, and the long title story is about a couple who ran away from their Haifa home in 1948 when the Israelis moved in. They not only deserted their house, however, but also their baby, who turns out to have been raised by the very Israelis who got their house. The Palestinian couple comes to Haifa for a visit years later and confronts– or is confronted by–the young man who is their birth son. It’s painful to read, at best.

Joe Sacco takes a different tack, writing as an outsider to the Middle East in graphic novel form (actually a collection of short strips ). He appears himself is an odd blank-eyed character in his own graphic novel). He visits the Gaza strip as well as Palestinian refugee camps and villages during the period at the end of the first Intifada.

There is lots of humor and more rain and mud and cold weather (and cups of tea) than I would ever have imagined. Joe the comic book character has a meal with two liberal Israeli women and with Palestinians who want him to get him into America. In spite of the ground-level view of people and life, this book is, like Kanafani’s, scathing in its cumulative effect.




John Birch, a veteran of the British army and many years of corporate communications posts a fiction or non-fiction piece every month at his blog, . Most of these pieces have appeared in newspapers or periodicals on one side or the other of the Atlantic.



Library of America sends out free weekly story links by email. Find out more at . These are a lot of fun– so far, I’ve read a Washington Irving devil story and Howard Zinn’s piece “Finishing School for Pickets” about his students in the early sixties, young women at Spelman College who defied their elders and joined picket lines. Read the latter at




Marina Spence writes: “I'm reading WOMEN, FOOD, AND GOD-- you know my affection for self-help. But this one is actually funny and well-written, other than the first section being a bit repetitive. I've been meaning to read Armstrong's book [A HISTORY OF GOD] for years and never have yet, so thanks for the summary. Gotta get BLONDE. Thanks for sharing!”


Editors: Clifford Garstang , Valerie Nieman, and Kevin Morgan Watson . The first issue of PRIME NUMBER MAGAZINE IS OUT– Issue Number 2! The Editors write: “What’s that? Number 2? Why not Number 1? Because we at PNM are fond of the distinctive, the indivisible, the prime. And, as math fans know, the first prime number is Number 2. It’s a gimmick. We admit it. But we like it. Each quarter we will post a new Prime Number issue online (look for Number 3 in October and Number 5 in January) and between issues we’ll regularly post updates—every 13 days, maybe every 11, possibly 17—and we’re calling those updates our Prime Decimals. (That’s not a real math term; we made it up.) Look for Prime Decimal 2.2 consisting of flash fiction and short poetry on August 1 (13 days after our debut).” They are also planning annual print issues, and they are now open for submissions: fiction, creative non-fiction, and craft essays under 3,000 words; book reviews under 500 words; and poetry. They also welcome queries for interviews. PRIME NUMBER MAGAZINE is published by Press 53. Take a look!
This workshop will help keep the channel open. Says leader Ellen Bass: “We'll have time to delve deeply into our writing without distractions or interruptions. Whether you are interested in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, or journal writing, this is an an opportunity to explore your experience and expand your craft.” Esalen fees cover tuition, food and lodging and vary according to accommodations. The sleeping bag space is an incredible bargain and usually goes fast. Registration must be made directly with Esalen, but if you have questions about the workshop, please email
Saturday, September 18, 2010 2 pm -- Award-winning poet SONIA SANCHEZ reads from her exciting new book MORNING HAIKU and other works and JUANITA TORRENCE-THOMPSON reads from BREATH-LIFE (poems nominated for Pushcart Prize) and NEW YORK AND AFRICAN TAPESTRIES. Auditorium of The Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center. 100-01 Northern Boulevard, Corona, Queens, New York. Buses: Q23, Q66, Q72. Train: 7 to 103rd Street, Corona Plaza. Walk 5 blocks to Northern Blvd. Free and open to the public. For further information, call Tracy Crawford, Curator, at 718-651-1100. Website:

Deadline: September thru October, 2010 . For information, go to:


Juanita Torrence-Thompson, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher of MOBIUS, The Poetry Magazine, announces the 2nd Dr. Zylpha Mapp Robinson International Poetry Award (2010). Theme: Global Warming. Contest guidelines at Submit preferably via  EMAIL WORD ATTACHMENT 1or 2 BEST poems only & BIO to Deadline: August 25, 2010. Or postal mail 1 or 2 BEST poem/s, bio & entry fee $10 U.S. check or money order payable to Mobius, The Poetry Magazine, Dr. Zylpha Mapp Robinson International Poetry Award, P.O.Box 671058, Flushing, NY 11367-1058. Lots of prizes! . $10 checks or money orders on U.S. banks. (NO PAY PAL). SASE, telephone and email address for winner notification. NO EROTICA, OBSCENITY, NO RACIAL SLURS. 48-line LIMIT, 56-Character line width, including spaces. No previously published poems. No simultaneous submissions.
POEMS should be SINGLE SPACED. WINNERS NOTIFIED by October 30, 2010. Winners announced and published in MOBIUS 2010 and on MOBIUS website
Deadline: August 31, 2010 Fellowships of $1,000 each are given annually to emerging poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers from underserved communities. Writers who do not have significant publication credits, are not enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate writing program, and do not hold a graduate writing degree are eligible. Submit up to 20 pages of poetry or prose and at least two letters of recommendation with a $10 entry fee. Visit the Web site for the required entry form and complete guidelines: .


...take a look at the wide-ranging and highly professional offerings of The Write Group. Most take place at the Montclair Library. If you want to be on their mailing list, get in touch with Carl Selinger at . All events are free, and range from a Thursday morning: Critiques for Novelists Workshop to Thursday night: “Free-For-All (FFA) Writing Workshops”, Poetry Workshops, support groups, a “Memoir and Muffins” group– and much, much more.






Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers #134

September 9, 2010

MSW Home  
     For a free e-mail subscription to this newsletter, click here .
Note: If you want to link to something in
this newsletter, use the permanent link here .


The Hamilton Stone Review # 22
Is Now Open for Poetry and Nonfiction Submissions.


Featured This Issue:

Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
News and Announcements



My big Victorian this summer was George Eliot’s DANIEL DERONDA, a reread for me. This is one of the books you don’t want to read at the wrong time. The right time, of course, is usually impossible to know in advance. I remember being intensely impatient with a lot of it on first reading, but for me, the summer of 2010 was the right time, partly because it’s a real grown-ups’ book, but also, it has some very personal aspects for me. The plot centers on two people, one a flawed young woman who makes a bad choice, and the other, a rather idealized young English gentleman who discovers he is Jewish. The personal for me is related to my own son’s discovery that he was not Jewish (thanks to yours truly, the cultural Baptist) and then his recent conversion to Judaism.

I am also fascinated by the novelistic project Eliot took on of imagining being the Other– in this case, imagining being Jewish at a time when the upper classes in England looked down on Jews– and that a best case scenario. I was also interested in Eliot’s exploration of the impact of history on individual lives.“There comes a terrible moment to many souls,” she writes in the penultimate chapter of the novel, “when the great movements of the world, the larger destinies of mankind, which have lain aloof in newspapers and other neglected reading, enter like an earthquake into...lives– where the slow urgency of growing generations turns into the tread of an invading army or the dire clash of civil war, and gray fathers know nothing to seek for but the corpses of their blooming sons, and girls forgot all vanity to make lint and bandages which may serve for the shattered limbs of their betrothed husbands.” This happens especially to Gwendolyn Harleth, the flawed young woman. Gwendolyn would be happy simply to enjoy and consume the good things of her small world, but she is dragged brutally into both deep moral issues, and glancingly, into history as well.

On the other hand, Daniel Deronda, is actually seeking a place for himself in the history. He yearns to act in the world, and there is some indication at the end of the novel that he may succeed in doing this. Eliot uses him for purposes of the story, as the vehicle for her project of imaging what it would be like to discover you are part of an oppressed and despised Other in Victorian English society. She tries to imagine her way into being Jewish.

It is a truism in commentary on DANIEL DERONDA that the book is imperfect, and that the imperfection resides in how Eliot fails to embody Daniel and his ideals and his Jewishness. His love interest, Mirah is a sentimental construction, and in spite of Eliot’s valiant efforts at being fair to lower class as well as upper class Jews, the pawn broker Cohen and his family are humorous and largely stereotypical. However– with the possible except of some of Mirah’s brother Mordecai’s Romantic proto-Zionist speeches, every page is sharp, interesting, and deeply worthwhile, flawed or not.

The story circles around Daniel, whose origins are mysterious, but who has been brought up as a perfect English gentleman– handsome and charismatic, a beacon of support especially for troubled women– but unable to fix on a career.

The second focus is Gwendolyn Harleth-- limited, selfish, not very likable but very charming. Gwendolyn makes a disastrous marriage with one of the creepiest but appallingly believable villains you’ll meet in fiction– a pallid, drawling, indolent upper class sadist whose lifework becomes keeping his wife in bondage. This part of the novel is a perfect blend of idea and drama and character. Economic pressure leads Gwendolyn to make what she knows is a bad decision, and Gwendolyn’s efforts to stretch her small capacities into maturity and responsibility make one of the best expositions of a character maturing in fiction. Missing, of course (this was published in 1876), is the sex life of Gwendolyn and her husband, but their physical relationship is a great lacuna thatgives a resounding hollowness to the horror of the marriage.

Everyone who reads the book gets caught up in the Grandcourt marriage, but you are never unaware of the larger world: the economic failures that ruin Gwendolyn’s family; the Civil War in America and its effect on mill workers in England; the many national rebellions and efforts to create new states in Europe and around the world.

This romance of nation building attracted Eliot as it did others of her class and education– the idea of homelands for discrete peoples, of freedom and wars of liberation. She found it natural that a great future for Daniel would be nation building for hispeople.

Simultaneously, she was struggling against the poisonous, narrow-minded, cultural anti-Semitism of the English. One novelistic problem she took on here, was how to make the shop-keeping Cohens human even though she herself appears to have shared the general British repugnance for loud voices, gesticulation, personal aggressiveness (as in an eager shop keeper). She deals with the Cohens with more than a little lingering condescension, but she does give them attractive and deep family affection.

A more successful solution to her efforts to combat anti-Semitism was to make her most important Jewish character essentially English, educated as her male readers would have been educated, with life experiences they could identify with. The question then becomes, is Daniel an English gentleman or a Jew? The set up, of course, is that Daniel has been looking for a purpose in life, and now he finds one by embracing his people, politically if not religiously.

Perhaps most interesting to me are two minor characters, Klesmer the musical genius and the Princess, a retired singer– and Deronda’s reluctant mother. These two are distanced by being foreigners (Klesmer is very quirky: he makes faces and has broad gestures; the Princess’s morals are dubious), but both of them are artists, and intensely attractive to Daniel and to the reader.

Several of the women characters in this novel work for a living, or have worked for a living: the Princess was a working artist, and Mirah teaches and sings for select small audiences. Gwendolyn Harleth chooses not to take a position as a governess, and this is part of her catastrophic personal decision. She also makes an abortive effort at becoming a self-supportive artist, and the scene where Klesmer tells her chances is one of the best in the novel.

Klesmer, it should also be noted, represents another solution to the situation of the Jews in England, which is assimilation; he marries for love the wealthiest heiress in the novel. The heiress, Catherine Arrowsmith, actually makes the offer to Klesmer, and there is a wonderful comic scene when her family tries to bring her to her senses.

One of Eliot’s ongoing themes in all her books is about how women can fulfill their humanity. In this novel, she offers suffering as a way for Gwendolyn to grow, but she also has the strong rich woman who goes after her man, and she has women who are professional musicians. The only woman writer (Catherine Arrowsmith’s mother) is a bit of a caricature, so Eliot never really creates a female character who does what she herself did, which was to write what I consider the best novels of Victorian England.

For more on DANIEL DERONDA, see Susan Carpenter’s notes below.



               Meredith Sue Willis



Susan Carpenter on DANIEL DERONDA:


“I'm fascinated by DANIEL DERONDA. It's not as perfect a novel as MIDDLEMARCH, but there's a lot I've never found anywhere else. Disclosure: George Eliot holds a special place in my private author-pantheon. That nineteenth-century narrative voice is SO wise, SO insightful. I read her for therapy. I also read the I Ching for therapy, fwiw.

“What I love about DD: both stories. One is the education (really proto-feminist consciousness-raising) of Gwendolyn Harleth. The other is Daniel's identity search, which leads him to cross cultural and class lines, to expose and uproot from his subconscious the kind of British anti-semitism comparable to modern American institutional racism. The interesting thing about Daniel is that he DOES explore, relentless as Oedipus in Sophocles' play, from his early boyhood question about why the popes had so many nephews to the last, brutal-naked conversation with his mother. The interesting thing about Gwendolyn is ... well many things, but mostly this: she's being dragged kicking & screaming into awareness of who she is and can (must?) be.

“To be sure, some of the plot-elements (e.g. the romance between Daniel and Mira) seem too stale to be credible to us post-Victorians. And the character whose name I can't remember – Mira's brother [Mordecai], the proto-Zionist whom Daniel admires and learns from -- is downright tedious. I've read the book several times and keep finding more in it.

“Some of the critical material about it is interesting too. A psychoanalytic journal published an article suggesting Freud may have used DD as a model for effective psychoanalysis. F. probably read the book soon after it was published in the 1870s, long before he developed his theories. Daniel's relationship with Gwendolyn does have some parallels to the relationship between analyst and analysand: she comes to him and asks to talk; then she talks and he listens, and he's never quite sure what is going on or what to say, but the talking itself helps her get through her ordeals, and near the end of the book (as the reader is thinking, "Do these two have a future or not; they seem to be in love, but what about Daniel and Mira?") they let each other go with a sense that the therapeutic conversations have done their work.

" Another critic has written that it's simply a double love story.”



More Books: Recommendations from Jeffrey Sokolow:

“I've just finished slogging through all 1100 pages of A LETHAL OBSESSION: ANTI-SEMITISM FROM ANTIQUITY TO THE GLOBAL JIHAD by Robert S. Wistrich. (The title is somewhat misleading, as the focus is primarily on post-World War II developments.) It's a thoroughly depressing read on several levels. Wistrich demonstrates in excrutiating detail the persistance and mutability of Judeophobia in Europe and the mideast. Especially depressing is his depiction of the emergence of a ‘red-green-brown’ (leftist/Islamist/neo-Nazi) ideological convergence if not outright alliance, in which Israel plays the role of the "international Jew," and traditional anti-Semitic narratives such as the blood libel and the supposed Jewish plot for world domination as depicted in the notorious ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ are transferred from the ‘demonic Jew’ to the ‘demonic Zionist.’ Perhaps the most depressing aspect of the book is Wistrich's detailed analysis of the genocidal and exterminationist ideology of what has been called, with some controversy, the Islamofascist movement. I call this analysis depressing because if Wistrich is right that the Islamists are little more than Nazis, then peaceful negotiation of the dispute between the Israeli and Palestinian nationalist movements over who gets which portion of what land is simply impossible if the aim of one side is to exterminate the other. Against all evidence to the contrary, I continue to hope that he is wrong, but I wouldn't bet the farm on my being right. God help us all if Iran gets the atomic bomb and decides to bring forth the hidden imam in a 21st century version of the Holocaust (the historical fact of which the clerical fascist regime persistently denies while working toward its completion). This important book deserves to be read, and answered if possible, so don't let my depression put you off.”


On Another Subject from Jeff

“Last February, I reviewed a slew of books [See Issue # 128 ] about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Just published and hence too late to have included in that batch is FREEDOM SUMMER: THE SAVAGE SEASON THAT MADE MISSISSIPPI BURN AND MADE AMERICA A DEMOCRACY by Bruce Watson. Many books have been written about SNCC's 1964 Summer Project, but none is better or more complete. Blow by blow, bomb by bomb, moment by moment, filled with vividly recounted incidents, Watson makes that summer come alive. Well written, thoroughly researched, incredibly moving, this is a powerful and ultimately inspiring book that deserves a wide readership.”

Responses from Readers

Ardian Gill writes, “In a recent BOOKS FOR READERS [Number 133], Alistair MacLeod's NO GREAT MISCHIEF was recommended. The odd title is a quote from one of the Brtitish/Canadian generals in the book who says, "It's no great mischief if a few Scotsmen get killed." Macleod's book of short stories, ISLAND, is a marvelous portrayal of the lives of the Scot/Irish immigrants to the Canadian Maritimes.”



Do You Have Someone Looking at Colleges?

Wanchee Wang has an informative blog about taking her eleventh grader to colleges– what they experiences, what they learned: .

Black/White Relations in West Virginia" Reading Suggestions from Phyllis Moore

If you would enjoy reading books portraying Black/White relationships in West Virginia, , two are A VEIN OF RICHES by John Knowles and MISS 4TH OF JULY, GOODBYE by Christopher Janus. A VEIN OF RICHES opens prior to 1900 and the first two chapters are especially interesting. The portrayal of the wife as manipulated by her coal baron husband is A DOLL'S HOUSE and THE YELLOW WALLPAPER combined. There is description of a "colored" coal camp as well as a Black preacher, a former student of Booker T. Washington'.

You have probably read RED WHITE BLACK & BLUE: A DUAL MEMOIR OF RACE AND CLASS IN APPALACHIA by William M. Drennen, Jr. and Kojo (William T.) Jones. Jr. and BEETLECREEK: A NOVEL by Clarksburg's William Demby, and BLACK DAYS, BLACK DUST: THE MEMORIES OF AN AFRICAN AMERICAN COAL MINER by Robert Armstead as told to S. L. Gardner. In addition, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Homer H. Hickam, Jr., portray Black/White relationships in their respective memoirs COLORED PEOPLE and ROCKET BOYS.

Scholar Ancella Radford Bickley's MEMPHIS TENNESSEE GARRISON and her historical OUR MOUNT VERNONS provide interesting African American history in WW. Just republished is HEARTS OF GOLD: A NOVEL, a Reconstruction Era work by J. Mc Henry Jones. [See Issue # 131 for Phyllis’s notes on this book].

In children's literature, Sandra Belton's FROM MISS IDA'S PORCH is just about perfect and so is the work of Walter Dean Myers in NOW IS YOUR TIME! THE AFRICAN AMERICAN STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM. Belton describes children learning about segregation as they listen to stories being told on the porch of a neighbor and Myers describes his great-grand mother's enslaved on a plantation in what is now West Virginia.

And on a slightly different note, when people think of West Virginia they seldom think of a girlhood of an Irish Catholic in a steel mill town, complete with a parochial school. But that is the setting and the story for Anna Egan Smucker's children's book NO STAR NIGHTS. Fine artist John Holyfield (Clarksburg) is doing illustrations for children's books set in the era of the Klan and "white only" bathrooms.


Digitalize Your Books!

A good company I've used for turning my hard copy books that were written on typewriters (yes, yes, I know...) into .pdf or .doc files, is Golden Images, LLC at Write to Stan Drew, who is very responsive to email, and does the work for what seems like a reasonable price to me.



Announcements and News

Paola Corso ’s new novel CATINA’S HAIRCUT is just out from The University of Wisconsin Press. PUBLISHERS WEEKLY calls it “A fable-like follow-up to GIOVANNA’S 86 Circles….the stories, individually, find moments of inspired, ethereal revelation.”
Peter Brown ’s new children's book CHILDREN MAKE TERRIBLE PETS! Is a giggle-fest of a story in which Lucy the bear finds a cute little boy in the woods and brings him home to be her pet. She names him Squeaker (because he doesn't speak Bear), and after getting off to a great start Lucy learns the hard way that some critters just aren't meant to be pets. Peter’s book tour starts this week . See details are here:
Tricia Idrobo’s short story “Evan’s Photograph” was published in the Women Who Write literary journal GOLDFINCH 2010.
Phyllis Moore has new reviews out. The current issue of JOURNAL OF APPALACHIAN STUDIES, Volume 15 (2009) has a review she did of PALE LIGHT OF SUNSET by Lee Maynard. Also, the current issue of APPALACHIAN HERITAGE contains her review of HEARTS OF GOLD by West Virginia's J. McHenry Jones.
The eleventh issue of THE INNISFREE POETRY JOURNAL is now open for literary business at on a computer, iPhone, or iPad near you. Innisfree 10, featuring the work of John Koethe, continues to be available under Previous Issues, along with all of the first ten issues. Innisfree 11 takes a Closer Look at the work of Eleanor Wilner and includes new work from 36 other fine contemporary poets.
SPIRITUAL ENGINEERING has just been published by Books to Believe In. Author Thomas J. Strawser is an international engineer with a master’s in psychology and many losses in his life that led him to seek practical solutions to his despair. Combining spirituality, psychology, and engineering have led him to transformations that he shares in this new book. See the web page at
If You’re Near Queens, New York: Saturday September 18, 2010 2:00 PM
Award Winning Poet Juanita Torrence-Thompson and Legendary Poet-Activist Sonia Sanchez will read at the Queens Library, 100-01 Northern Boulevard, Corona, Queens
Red Hen Press in Los Angeles is offering a pre-pub discount for THE LAST JEWISH VIRGIN, Janice Eidus's new novel.
Barbara Crooker is one recent featuree at the Shreve Library in Shreveport, LA’s poet-a-week project, see their website at Barbara Crooker ‘s poem "Peaches," from her new book, was the Daily Poem at this site on August 31st:
Jim Minick's THE BLUEBERRY YEARS has just been published. This memoir captures our story of creating and operating one of the mid-Atlantic’s first certified-organic, pick-your-own blueberry farms, and recently, this book was picked by Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance as one of the best new books for the summer. Author Naomi Wolf describes THE BLUEBERRY YEARS as “delicious reading,” and Robert Morgan calls it “an intimate visit to a delightful place with an inspired guide.” Several other writers have given this memoir advanced praise, including Sharyn McCrumb, Ron Rash, Steven Hopp, Ann Pancake, Nina Planck, and Joel Salatin. Visit to read all of these kind comments and to see his reading schedule.
CHRISTIAN NOVELLA CONTEST hosted by is open till October 30, 2010. They are looking for manuscripts between 15000 and 30000 words. Themes are Historical or Contemporary romance, suspense, time travel and holiday. The contest is open until October 30 2010. They are also looking at novelette length items for their website, between 5000 and 15000 words, same themes as above, and for short stories etc for their online magazine.

If You're in the Montclair, New Jersey Area...

...take a look at the wide-ranging and highly professional offerings of The Write Group. Most take place at the Montclair Library. If you want to be on their mailing list, get in touch with Carl Selinger at . All events are free, and range from a Thursday morning: Critiques for Novelists Workshop to Thursday night: “Free-For-All (FFA) Writing Workshops”, Poetry Workshops, support groups, a “Memoir and Muffins” group– and much, much more.


Available for Purchase


More Online Reading

John Birch, a veteran of the British army and many years of corporate communications posts a fiction or non-fiction piece every month at his blog, . Most of these have appeared in newspapers or periodicals on one side or the other of the Atlantic,

Library of America sends out a free story link by email -- These are a lot of fun– so far, I’ve read a Washington Irving devil story and Howard Zinn’s piece “Finishing School for Pickets” about his students in the early sixties, young women at Spelman College who defied their elders and joined picket lines. Read the latter at









Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers #135

October 3, 2010

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The Hamilton Stone Review # 22
Is Open for Poetry and Nonfiction Submissions.


Featured This Issue:


Carole Rosenthal on Franzen's New FREEDOM


A Memoir About the Hutterites Reviewed by Wanchee Wang

Jeffrey Sokolow on History and Post Soviet Documents

Tooting My Own Horn:
Two New Books:


Ten Strategies to Write Your Novel--Sample here--
and Out of the Mountains--
short stories-- Sample here)



This issue has a nice variety of reviews: Carole Rosenthal talks about that brand new hot literary property, Jonathan Franzen's FREEDOM, which she generally likes, but wonders if our Appalachian (and other) readers think it condescends to West Virginians. Jeffrey Sokolow writes about more espionage literature, with a focus on the American Communist Party, and Wanchee Wang reviews a memoir of a woman who grew up as a Hutterite.

I'm going to be brief and say a word about STRUCTURE AND SURPRISE: ENGAGING POETRY TURNS edited by Michael Theune, about reading poetry. STRUCTURE AND SURPRISE introduced me to a number of poets I had never heard of, and also suggested a raft of new ideas for writing exercises. The idea of the book is that an important approach to poetry is to focus on structures that produce the turns that are (these writers believe) essential to poetry: everything from “concessional” poems of the type of Shakespeare’s sonnet “My lady’s eyes are nothing like the sun” (but I love her anyhow!) to “emblem” poems that describe at length then meditate on the object of description, like Elizabeth Bishop’s superb “The Fish.” The most fun for me, aside from meeting new poems and poets, was being guided. I’m not a very patient reader of poetry, so this was a pleasure. The only part of the book that didn’t delight me totally was the long final chapter where various poets analyze their own work: it seemed to me too much the result of MFA classes, as if these poets had all been waiting for this moment– to explain their own genius to the world.

STRUCTURE AND SURPRISE now takes a place in a group of books that have helped me throughout my life in my relationship with poetry. My first one was the inestimable John Ciardi’s HOW DOES A POEM MEAN? published in 1959, and read by me in my final year in high school, at a time when I was terrified and thrilled with college coming. Ciardi’s emphasis on “how,” which was not how I had approached any literature before, was a mind blower. Also important to me (and aa much shorter book, I notice, as befits a twentieth-century work) was Camille Paglia’s BREAD, BLOW, BURN: CAMILLE PAGLIA READS FORTY-THREE OF THE WORLD’S BEST POEMS. This came out in 2005, and it gives a full chapter to each poem. Most are short (lots of sonnets) including Shakespeare, Donne, Wordsworth, then Jean Toomer, Roethke, and some people I’d never heard of.

I recommend all three of these books highly for an informal approach to poetry.


                                                –       Meredith Sue Willis




Carole Rosenthal on Jonathan Franzen's FREEDOM



I just finished Jonanthan Franzen’s FREEDOM last month and really enjoyed it despite the ubiquitous hype for this novel--which both whetted my interest and made me wary. Now a critical backlash has set in, and I seem to be one of the few readers among my friends who admire the novel.

Franzen IS a terrific writer, an easy stylist whose voice is supple and engrossing. Beginning with comic book-like brightness and intensity, FREEDOM gradually unfolds as an epic tale of the all-American Berglund family--Walter, the father, a liberal do-gooder of the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps variety; Patty, the needy mother, a glib ironist who pushes away family intimacy; Jessica, the sensible daughter; and Joey, the rebellious son who becomes a right-wing entrepreneur. Chronologically FREEDOM begins and ends in Minnesota, spanning the Nixon years to the present. The novel travels the American landscape and explores our shifty and shifting politics, economic changes, and national aspirations over time. The Berglunds endure many personal travails and Franzen's vision is darkly comic, almost satiric, yet he is also tender towards the Berglund famly. In fact, the book struck me as arguably sentimental in its wry, redemptive wrap-up, reminiscent of certain 19th century epic novels.

The ethics and psychology of the Beglund family members is counterpointed by Walter's long-time friend and former college roommate, Richard Katz, a punk rock star of the Lou Reed ilk, whose creative passion, integrity, and personal indifference eventually wreaks havoc on the family--a healing havoc. The fragmentation and eventual individuation of the Berglund family is the central story here.

The Berglunds' experiences are intended to represent American experience, and this ambitious vision of Franzen's poses its own problems. For instance, no people of color are represented in the novel, with the single exception of Walter's love interest, a beautiful South-Asian American organizer whose interiority is insuffciently probed; also, she conveniently disappears. The Berglunds themselves, Minnesotans, are white and upper middle-class.

Yet a pivotal section of FREEDOM is set in West Virginia, and involves heinous mountain-top removal for mining coal. Walter, an idealist, hooks up with a Halliburton-like company whose overt intention is to create transglobal bird refuges and new jobs for the unemployed and working class who must be relocated, although this is obviously a cover story. Walter's secret plan--never entirely clear--is to begin to save the world from overpopulation with this leveling of the mountain. Walter is naive and also condescending to the West Virginians he encounters--indeed, to the working class in general. When his personal agenda is thwarted, Walter's rage overflows.

Yet I couldn't help wondering how West Virginians respond to this quick-study portrait of their state. Although the condescension is expressed from Walter's point of view, the author himself--certainly not naive--seems to be complicit in this view. (Walter, like Franzen, is an avid birdwatcher, and Walter's love of birds and nature is central to his later actions Franzen, on the other hand, seems to be employing the technique of limited direct third person to cover his tracks.)

I won’t bother to further recount the characters or plot, since Franzen and FREEDOM have been so widely discussed and publicized, but I would be interested in what others think.




“Mommy, are you a Hutterite?”

For years Mary-Ann Kirkby hid her Hutterite background, even from her young son. His innocent question prompted her to write this gentle memoir about her Hutterite childhood. In so doing, we get a peek into a little known community of faith.

Like their Amish and Mennonite brethren, Hutterites trace their beginnings to the religious turbulence of 16th century Europe. Founded by Jacob Hutter in 1528, Hutterites organize their communities based on the principles of communal property and life as found in Acts 2: 44-45: “And all that believed were together, and had all things in common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” You could say that the Hutterites practiced an early form of socialism, even while pre-dating Marx by three centuries. Fleeing persecution, they came here in the 19th century. Today there are 45,000 Hutterites living in North America, mostly in the prairies of western Canada and northwestern United States.

The first part of the book describes her parents, their courtship and marriage, and sets up the background for their family’s eventual departure from the colony. It also introduces us to the rhythms of Hutterite life where “women did the cooking, baking, and gardening while the men carried out the farming, mechanical, and carpentry chores.” At age two, she entered Kleineschul or kindergarten, learning German songs, stories, prayers, and games. By her account, it was a happy childhood. “As children, we found contentment in the bosom of colony life and in the routines that directed every new season.”

With limited contact with the outside world, colony life was simple, filled with hard work and dedication to community. “Regardless of age or capacity, each member had a station to fill and meaningful work to do. No one received a salary, but everyone’s needs were met. Sharing a common faith, most colony members were satisfied with a sustainable lifestyle that nurtured them physically and spiritually from cradle to the grave.”
But even communities of faith are not free from internal conflicts. Years of disagreements between her father and the colony leader caused her father to make the draconian decision to leave when she was ten. Her family was thrust headlong into a modern society that sneered at their ways. The upheaval was predictably painful and wrenching. “In school, we collided head-on with popular culture…We didn’t know how to swim or skate or ride a bicycle. We had never tasted pizza, macaroni and cheese, or a banana split - rites of passage in mainstream society.”

Despite all this, Ms. Kirkby never veers into self-pity or bitterness in describing their difficulties. Parts of the book could have used some judicious editing to pick up the slow pace (but then again, I’m from a fast-paced society). In writing this book, she finally comes to terms with her past and imparts the richness of the Hutterite culture to her son. We are also richer for these glimpses into the Hutterite world.



Jeffrey Sokolow:

Some time ago, I wrote about my interest in espionage literature, especially biographies of and memoirs by participants in such work (link to: The vast trove of documents spirited out of post-Soviet Russia by the most unlikely of dissidents, the long-time KGB archivist Vassily Mitrokhin, also is well worth reading. Two volumes of files have appeared: The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB and The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the the Third World: Newly Revealed Secrets from the Mitrokhin Archive (both with the British historian Christopher Andrew. In these documents, workers at the Soviet Center speak directly and in as unfiltered a voice as we are likely to get now that the "ex"-KGB apparatchik Putin keeps a tight lid on the archives.

One fruitful topic for study on which a large and growing literature exists concerns the espionage activities of American Communist Party members. Although it would be false to say that most American Communists were spies, in the Stalinist era, before disillusion with the romance of Communism set in, the great majority of Americans who assisted the Soviet secret services were members of the Communist Party. Of course, most American Communists were blissfully unaware of the party's secret apparatus and were involved in trade union, civil rights, or other purely legal activities. But the party, like all Comintern member parties, had a clandestine capability that provided a natural segue from affording an ability to function underground during times of repression to conducting clandestine activities in normal times, including carrying out espionage work for the worker's true motherland. To the Soviet Center, CPUSA members were known as "fellowcountrymen." Many of them came from families that had fled Tsarist Russia, especially Jews, so the term was apt. To the American services, these folks were traitors, but to their colleagues at the Center in Moscow, they were Soviet patriots whatever citizenship they held. One agency's traitor is another's hero. 

Two of the most prolific authors in this field are the historians Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, whose works include Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (with Alexander Vassiliev), Early Cold War Spies: The Espionage Trials that Shaped American Politics, Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, In Denial: Historians, Communism, and EspionageThe Secret World of American Communism (with Fridrikh Igorevich Firsov), and The Soviet World of American Communism (with Kyrill M. Anderson).

The improbable story of Elizabeth Bentley, who took over the espionage rings run by her lover, the Soviet agent Jacob Golub, after his untimely death and then betrayed them all to the FBI out of pique when the Center tried to take over her responsibilities in a bid to be more professional and eliminate use of amateurs, is told in two recent biographies: Clever Girl: Elizabeth Bentley, the Spy Who Ushered in the McCarthy Era by Lauren Kessler and Red Spy Queen: A Biography of Elizabeth Bentley by Kathryn S. Olmsted. Another improbable story is that of Judith Coplon, told in The Spy Who Seduced America: Lies and Betrayal in the Heat of the Cold War: The Judith Coplon Story by Marcia Mitchell and Thomas Mitchell.

The Rosenberg case has long been a lodestar for the left, though recently, with the end-of-life confession of Morton Sobel, the left's line has shifted from "they was framed" to "what's so bad about spying anyway?" The autobiographical memoir by Aliexander Feklisov, Julius Rosenberg's Soviet control who later was to play a key role in the resolution of the Cuban missile crisis, The Man Behind the Rosenbergs, paints a very moving portrait of his colleague in clandestine work.

Of course this topic is a hot potato politically: many on the left can't bring themselves to admit the facts (which as Stalin said, are "stubborn things"), while partisans of the right use this long-past history to smear all domestic radicals past, present, and future as traitors and knaves. I recommend that people who just like to read history ignore the political misuse of history on either side and become better acquainted with this fascinating topic and its amazing cast of characters.



Three books I enjoyed last month:

THE FIFTH CHILD by Doris Lessing, recommended by Alice Robinson-Gilman, a small book, 133 pages, very chilling and realistic. Excellent example of speculative fiction, as Alice said. Only one thing is changed in this world, the one thing being a monstrous child, whose origin is accepted as a given. The novel is about what happens after. It's about the impossibility of creating something perfect, especially a family, especially in real life.

Another very imperfect family appears in a life-and-tmes biography, CATHERINE DE MEDICI: RENAISSANCE QUEEN OF FRANCE by Leonie Frieda This was a solid narrative that pulled together a lot for me about the sixteenth century. And what a time that was. It was the period of the wars of religion in France-- death present and cruel by the hand of enemy religionists. But equally cruel was what happened when people got sick. Catherine’s three king sons and her king husband die grimly, although she lived to be 69. I was struck by so many things: the public quality of life; the lice and fleas even in royal cloth-of-gold; Catherine's heroic if limited efforts to hold the kingdom together for her sons, to keep her sons alive, and her daughters. The author suggests that she might have been as great as Elizabeth II in England, her contemporary, but that Catherine (who was a native of Italy) lived and schemed for her family whereas Elizabeth's schemes were in the end for England. I liked the book a look.

Third, I read and was delighted by William Golding’s The INHERITORS, especially the way he created a way of thinking for his imagined Neanderthal people who live in the moment and think with “pictures.” There is a wonderful emblematic moment when the main character doesn’t get it that the "gift" with a red feather that is suddenly stuck in the tree beside him is dangerous. The "gift" of course is from our ancestors, homo sapiens sapiens, the inheritors. The last part of the book is all about these “new people,” a drunken violent cruel lot, worthy progenitors of the perpetrators of religious wars. This is William Golding most famous for Lord of the Flies.





Nancy Haber suggests these from around the world. A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS by Amos Oz; THE INHERITANCE OF LOSS by Kiran Desai; GOD OF SMALL THINGS BY ARUNDHATI ROY; THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO by Junot Diaz. I’m in the middle of the Amos Oz memoir, and really amazed and moved by it:




I’ve been using the Teaching Company’s tapes and CD’s for trave for many years. They prepare lectures on everything from the philosophy of science to histories of language and of course lots of politics and psychology and literature. Jeff Sokolow recommends Isaiah Gafni's and Lawrence Schiffman's lectures on Judaism and a three part history of the English language by Seth Leher. See the Teaching Company website at


New Press

Laura Roble is the CEO of a new publishing company called Heroic Teacher Press. They are a small, independent press with a mission to raise the status of teachers in America . They released their first book earlier this year, LEAVE NO CHILD BEHIND, by first time author R, Overbeck. The book is a thriller about a terrorist takeover of a small high school and one teacher's struggle against the intruders. See



Do You Have Someone Looking at Colleges?

Wanchee Wang has an informative blog about taking her eleventh grader to colleges– what they experiences, what they learned: .


West Virginia Encyclopedia is Now Online!


The WV Encyclopedia website shows the state's history, culture and people with pictures, videos and maps and other features about the history of West Virginia. Visit





Announcements and News

Ed Davis has a story “Convergence” appearing in the second volume of the MotesBooks Motif Anthology Series, Come What May, containing short fiction, nonfiction, poetry and song lyrics. Although the 136 contributors are from all over the world, many are southern and Appalachian, reflecting editor (and award-winning writer) Marianne Worthington’s Tennessee roots. In length 323 pages, the handsome book is arranged into intriguing sections such as “Parallel Realities,” “Happenstance” and “Strangers and Kin.” Writers include Larry Smith, director of Ohio’s Bottom Dog Press’, along with recent Antioch Writers Workshop faculty Cathy Smith Bowers and Joyce Dyer, as well as Ed Davis. The book can be ordered for $15 plus postage at
Writers, note that the editor is collecting material for the next anthology on “Work” with a deadline of November 1, 2010. For details, see:
Just Out: THE BODHISATTVA’S EMBRACE: Dispatches from Engaged Buddhism's Front Lines by Alan Senauke. See website at
Barbara Crooker has two new poems up at Verse Wisconsin: and and at:


Digitalize Your Books!

A good company I've used for turning my hard copy books that were written on typewriters (yes, yes, I know...) into .pdf or .doc files, is Golden Images, LLC at Write to Stan Drew, who is very responsive to email, and does the work for what seems like a reasonable price to me.







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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