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Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers #136

November 7, 2010

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The Hamilton Stone Review # 22 Is Available Online

Featured This Issue:

Shelley Ettinger on Books for LGBT Young People

Anna Smucker on Agents and Keeping Books in Print
Joanne Greenberg's latest

New Books and Other News


I’ve read several excellent books lately– a powerful memoir, a family epic, and a family epic in stories– plus a nonfiction book that finally helps me begin to understand some of the issues involved in copyright and so-called intellectual property rights.

James Boyle’s THE PUBLIC DOMAIN: ENCLOSING THE COMMONS OF THE MIND was recommended to me by David Weinberger (EVERYTHING IS MISCELLANEOUS; THE CLUETRAIN MANIFESTO), and once again David serves as an excellent digital age guru. Boyle asserts that copyright was never meant to be– at least in US constitutional law– about rewarding the hardworking artist. Rather, he quotes Thomas Jefferson telling us that there should be as few copyright and patent protections as possible, just enough to encourage innovation for the good of the whole. Thus, copyright law is supposed to be about about community, not about property.

One of the essential points Boyle makes is how different physical property is from intellectual property: if I take your bracelet, you don’t have it anymore, whereas if I use some pages of your writing, you still have them.  You are not deprived of your ideas the way you would be deprived of your beloved charm bracelet. The case is made, of course, that someone is being deprived of the income from selling their writing, but there has always been the concept of fair use, which immediately puts creative work in a different category from bracelets as I don’t have fair use of even one shiny charm from your bracelet just because I happen to want it.

There is also of course the possibility that if someone likes the two pages of the book, they will then go buy it. This actually happened with me and the Boyle book under discussion: I downloaded some of the free version (see below) and then decided I wanted a regular dead trees book. Again, very, very different from the bracelet.

There is also the argument that when we write or otherwise create, we are increasing the cultural wealth of everyone, and thus your  book becomes mine even as I read it. In any case, copyright was never meant to be extended retrospectively (the famous repeated extensions of the length of copyright when Mickey Mouse comes up for public doman), not even for our entertainment and pharmaceutical corporations.

Boyle is emphatically not against copyright, however, but rather wants us to begin thinking of these issues in terms of what actually helps innovation and creativity. Apparently, in many cases, a certain amount of legal protection for creators and innovators is a good thing, but too many rules can stifle the very same innovation and creativity. Software code, for example, needs to be available to everyone to build on, and he makes the case that music has always been about mash-ups-- building on other music. He has lots of detailed legal case histories, lots to think about, learn from, and chew over– highly recommended.

And, by the way, if you want to read some of it for free-- or even all of it-- it is available by Creative Commons License here.


The memoir I read was A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS by Amos Oz , recommended on this newsletter last issue. The book is extremely moving with its powerful story of the beautiful mother who killed herself, the scholarly father, the son who becomes the famous writer. The personal story would be strong enough alone, but it is embedded in an intimate look at the lives of Jews living in Jerusalem just before and during the 1948 war. But that’s far too simple– it is also about the lives of people forced from their homes in central Europe, including many who didn’t particularly want to come to Israel. The book excavated a new place in my understanding of specific suffering.

Technically, Oz does something wonderful with his mother’s death, which he mentions often, circling around it, then at a certain point, skipping over it to write of his teen years on a kibbutz, so that the death is suddenly seen in retrospective. There was a moment when I thought, Is it possible he won’t tell the actual suicide? But then, at the very end of the book, he finally narrates his mother’s last months, weeks, finally days and hours.  Part of the satisfaction of the book is that while this suicide clearly shaped everything in the writer’s life, it is also by no means the only thing or perhaps even the main thing.


Speaking of family stories: Paola Corso's CATINA’S HAIRCUT is a collection of short stories that manages in just over a hundred pages to create a family epic, two countries, and several eras. It moves from Calabria, Italy at the very turn of the twentieth century to Pittsburgh in the industrial steel mill mid- twentieth century, and into the twenty first century as well. Destructive drought and deadly flood waters alternate as Corso’s characters try to live in their old world and their new one. She’s especially good at the play between tales and fables and a brilliantly solid, earthbound realism: a literary rendering of a family’s story and its soul.

CATINA’S HAIRCUT is short, but Monique Raphel High’s THE FOUR WINDS OF HEAVEN is very long and highly dramatic. This novel was the first book by my former literary agent and college classmate, and it is a highly professional and richly entertaining historical novel– lots of family, lots of love, lots of violence, lots of historical context, and a happy ending for at least some of the people we care about-- especially the woman who was Monique’s own grandmother. There is drama and danger, but all based on real events in the lives of a group of rich Russian Jews who were newly minted barons and baronesses. Some of them, like the main character’s father David, are admirable. He works tirelessly to save the poor Jews of Russia and to make change from within the tsarist government. Others are not admirable at all. But whatever their ethics and ideas, they become affianced to the wrong people, they suffer in marriage, they lose all their material goods in the aftermath of the First World War and the Russian revolution. This is a fast moving 682 mass market pages, alive and gripping all the way through.


It also makes you thankful to live in not-so-interesting times!

                                                                                       – Meredith Sue Willis




See Shelley's blog for more:

Writes Shelley: “First there's this list of Young Adult books that feature gay and lesbian characters of color courtesy of the blog THE HAPPY NAPPY BOOKSELLER Turns out I've read a couple of them--THE NECESSARY HUNGER by Nina Revoyr, all of whose books I've loved, and A MAP OF HOME by Randa Jarrar. One or two others I've heard of, the rest are new titles to add to my to-read list.

“Then there's the blog I'M HERE, I'M QUEER, WHAT THE HELL DO I READ? , whose whole purpose is to provide book information ‘for teens (queer or not), for librarians, for teachers, for booksellers, for people with teens in their lives and for anyone interested in YA books with GLBTQ characters and themes.

“I also remembered a children's book that Teresa and I gave as a gift to a 2-year-old a few years ago. THE SISSY DUCKLING by actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein. This is a sweet, lovely book with a delicious story and wonderful message. I don't remember if the 2-year-old liked it much, but we sure did.”




Joanne Greenberg’s MIRI WHO CHARMS is a novel that feels as real as a memoir. The heart of this story is a relationship between two girls who become women in the story. One of them is the type of person who draws the rest of us toward them, who “charm, “ as Greenberg would have it. In my life, I have tended to keep a distance from them; but the narrator here, Rachel, is so deep in Miri’s life that she seems to live for her and her daughter rather than for herself.

Miri is totally believable as a charmer, but she is also a monster of selflishness, and her precocious, hot house flower of a daughter has some of the same qualities. The story is largely about the narrator's struggle in this relationship, but also about the relationships of both women to the community they have rejected: the Orthodox Jews of Colorado. It’s a lovely, worthwhile story– and you have to wonder: why isn’t Greenberg’s work being reviewed and read more widely?



Anna Smucker writes: “When you asked if I'd sold my books thru an agent and I said that I had sold them on my own, I probably should have added that I could paper several rooms of my house with rejection letters. If nothing else, I'm stubbornly persistent. Also, in thinking of how my books are still in print, I really had to fight to keep three of the six in print, going as far as writing a personal plea to the publishing director at Knopf for NO STAR NIGHTS, and rounding up several key people to speak to the WV Humanities Council in support of keeping my WV history book in print.

“No doubt about it, keeping our books in print isn't easy, and that's after all the hard work of writing them, finding a publisher, and doing school visits, appearances, and writing workshops to try to pay the bills. The appearances, etc. are also necessary to keep our books in the public eye and thus also help to keep them in print!! Being a writer is definitely not a career for those who are easily discouraged. But with all that said, holding a newly published book (and our beloved old ones) in our hands, somehow makes it all more than worthwhile. “



And Now,For Something Completely Different...

Take a look at Theresa Basile's fictional blog "Confessions of a Superhero's Girlfriend" at


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

Iris Schwartz’s poem “My Dead Father Takes Your Dead Mother on a Blind Date” is available at OCTOBER BABIES online.

PENCIL MEMORY, a chapbook of poems by Llewellyn McKernan, will be published December 3, 2010. This is a limited edition collection, and the number of pre- publication sales will determine the size of the press run, so please reserve your copy now. Learn more at . And here's a sample!
You swallow a syllable,
hiss and howl, claws of meaning
pile up on the page, phrase
after phrase unravels its yarn,
a catwalk of sorts: on it
thought stalks, twitching
its long-haired tail, emotion creeps
knee-deep in catnip and cream,
and nouns with big paws
sit and dream of nine lives, glad
each dark end abides
in words, kneading
the paper.
Marina Budhos has a nice utube video introducing her young adult novel TELL US WE’RE HOME about three girls whose mothers are nannies.   Her web site is .
FLIGHT OF THE SORCERESS by Barry S. Willdorf is now available from Wild Child Publishing. This book is the result of eight years of research, writing and editing. It represents an accurate portrayal of the Roman Empire in the Fifth Century A.D. with appearances by several notable personages of that period including Hypatia of Alexandria, Pelagius the heretic, Pope Innocent, Saint Augustine and the Roman Prefect, Orestes. Further information about this unique historical novel, set in the fifth century A.D., can be found at: and at the publisher’s website,


Halvard Johnson’s latest book of poetry is MAINLY BLACK from Vida Loca Books.
Just Out: THE BODHISATTVA’S EMBRACE: Dispatches from Engaged Buddhism's Front Lines by Alan Senauke. See website at
Johnny Sundstrom’s new novel DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT is set in the desolation that became known as southern Wyoming, when Martha Bradford, traveling on the Oregon Trail. is told she must discard either her cast-iron cook stove or her pianola. She has them both taken off the wagon and then refuses to go on any further. Her brother-in-law continues west with the wagon train. Her husband rides off in anger, leaving her stranded in this big emptiness with the freed slave who came with them from Missouri. Late in the day, when Carlton Bradford returns to his wife, he has found a place to try to settle. Thus begins this six-generation saga of the Bradford family, the first “Americans” to try to make a home in that part of the West. The novel addresses the cultural evolution of the “Old West” through these pioneering characters and their descendants as they struggle to survive bad weather, death, isolation, emergencies, and sometimes near-insanity, even as they enjoy the deep satisfaction of an honorable and remote way of life with all of its rewards and usual celebrations. For information, email the author at .
Jim Minick’s THE BLUEBERRY YEARS is available from online vendors such as Better World Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Borders, or support your local bookseller. For a list of independent bookstores, visit Upcoming Readings include
11/13/10 Malaprop's, Asheville, 2:00; 11/13/10 City Lights, Sylva, NC, 7:00 with Dana Wildsmith; 11/14/10 French Broad Institute, Marshall, NC, 4:00; 11/16/10 “Over the Top Blueberry Shindig” Roanoke Public Library, Roanoke, VA, 6:30 reading w/ Thorpe Moeckel; 12/13/10 Ram’s Head Bookstore, Roanoke, 1-3, signing w/ Ralph Berrier.
Free between now and December 7th, Kal Wagenheim’s serio-comic novel, THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MOTT in PDF format. Send an email to




Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 137

December 9, 2010


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Featured This Issue:


Short Takes from High, Lazarre, & Sokolow
Joel Weinberger on EATING ANIMALS

New Books and Other News



Let me begin this issue with an excellent new novel, THE CHIEU HOI SALOON by Michael Harris. This is part of PM Press’s Switchblade series ( “a different slice of hard-boiled fiction where the dreamers and the schemers, the dispossessed and the damned, and the hobos and the rebels tango at the edge of society”). The setting is the seamy side of Long Beach, California, during the year of the Rodney King beating and subsequent trials and riots. The protagonist is Harry Hudson, a chronic stutterer who works at a fictional newspaper called the CLARION as a copy editor. He is barely keeping his job, living in what he calls a “blur,” trying not to remember the death of an old villager when he was a soldier in Vietnam and the death of his small daughter much more recently. He does try to remember to send child support to his ex-wife and surviving child. When he is feeling particularly self-destructive, he goes to dives where people watch low quality pornographic movies and variously have sex with strangers and themselves. The good part of Harry’s life is Mama Thuy’s Chieu Hoi Saloon where he feels a modicum of belonging, and in his free time he tries to help a local prostitute with an extended dysfunctional and violent family.

Now here’s the thing: what I’ve described so far is how the book gets labeled noir, but Harry is at rock bottom, a lover and care-taker. It is Harry’s story, but Michael Harris gives the women in Harry’s life occasional point of view passages, notably the tough but tender Mama Thuy and Kelly the Kansas born African-American prostitute who always needs money. Even Harry’s religious zealot of a wife gets a passage that dips into her consciousness. All of these women, even his ex in her section, value, admire, and forgive Harry. If only Harry could forgive himself, which is the monumental task before him.

Harry’s adventures take place mostly on dark streets and in crummy rooms in rough neighborhoods and include being shot in a hold-up and taking a bizarre but bizarrely believable drive with an armed enemy in the back seat of his car. These elements– the scene, the slimy sex, the casual violence– are what makes the novel part of the Switchblade series, but while the story has hard edges, it isn’t really hard-boiled, not even heart-of-gold hard-boiled. Most of the evil (except for the plans of very distant, very rich newspaper owners) is as much situational and mistaken as it is intentional. Most of the people are in one degree or another understandable if not lovable, from the motley crew at the bar to Kelly and her incarcerated husband, her quarrelsome sister-in-law and niece, her ex-con brother, and her dangerous step-son.

Everyone uses Harry, but also appreciates him as a friend– this is true of Kelly, and also of Mama Thuy, who accepts his money to bring her family out of Vietnam to California. Harry wants to be loved and maybe married, but instead is a friend, maybe a more valuable relationship to most women than husband or lover. Above all, Harry is worth reading about and feeling for. It’s a good book, engrossing and– even if the end is not exactly upbeat– all the doors are open.



Next, I want to recommend a nonfiction book that wasn’t as good as I’d hoped, but was still pretty darn fascinating: THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN: A TALE OF MURDER, INSANITY, AND THE MAKING OF THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY by Simon Winchester. There are a few too many instances of Winchester eating his narrative cake and having it too. For example, he tells an apocryphal tale of how Professor James Murray met Dr. W.C. Minor without knowing that he was in an institution for the criminally insane. In fact, Murray learned this in a much less dramatic way. Wincester tells the real, less thrilling version much later in the book. Unfortunately, if you only read the first part of the book, you’d go away with the wrong information.

Less egregious is his lurid narration of the murder that got W.C. Minor in the insane asylum in the first place. The London fog and darkness is well-described and evocative, but, again, it’s written for maximum dramatic effect. What I liked best was the lively description of how the OED was developed; what a monumental task it was– and how it was in some ways a proto-Wikipedia; for the story of poor Dr. Minor and his work on the OED and his insanity. It’s such a sad story: his crazy crime, his time as a Civil War surgeon (he was an American), his pathetic self-mutilation late in life. To see more of Winchester’s broad reach of nonfiction books, go to his website book page.


I also read with great pleasure (thank you Connie Brosi for the recommendation!) FOLLOW THE RIVER by James Alexander Thom. This is an historical novel of the amazing true adventure of Mary Draper Ingles, who was captured by Shawnees, escaped, and walked hundreds of miles home through the Appalachian mountains in early winter through incredible difficulties. She has a companion, too, a crazy, hungry Dutch woman, who adds a kind of twisted humor and interesting human relationship to the amazing physical challenges. Thom does the physical challenges extremely well. He treats Ingles as an ordinary human being bent on survival, and his respect for her has just the right tone. He writes of the horror from the white settlers’ point of view at the scalping and murder by the raiding Shawnees, but also presents the Shawnee villages as complex communities, and even allows Mary a moment of considering accepting her captor, known as Captain Wildcat, as a husband.

When Mary chooses to run away and go home, she has to leave three children behind. The afterword of the novel tells about how one of her sons is eventually returned to the white world, but has an ambivalent relationship with it, and often returns to the Shawnee world.

I hope to read more of Thom’s books (see his website ), and the work of his wife Dark Rain Thom, a voting member of the council of the East of the River Shawnee of Ohio.


Finally, to stick with the old fashioned delight of tales well told, I have a new guilty addiction: the George R.R. Martin swords and sorcery series, FIRE AND ICE, starting with GAME OF THRONES. Boy, was this fun, and now about to become a series on HBO. It isn’t the kind of serious fiction I aspire to write myself (although when I enjoy it so much, I sometimes ask myself why it isn’t), and I could never read only this kind of book with its portentous hints of dark deeds past and darker deeds to come, with its beheadings and sword play, but it is fun fun fun. Part of what makes it work for me is that Martin, like James Alexander Thom, is willing to grant his women agency and power. There’s one charming girl character who is even a fighter, and a couple of armored warriors who are women as well as leaders. Another really good character is a dwarf known as the Imp who is a member of the bad royal family, but clever and humorous, and probably the most consistently reasonable voice in the book. I like some of the point-of-view characters more than others– the Imp and the fighter girl are my favorites– and I admit to speeding up over the whack thwack and sickening crunch of the battle scenes. One thing Martin does so well is the sorcery element– the dragons and secret magic– which are dealt with sparingly, which is fine with me, as my complaint in novels with magic is always that the writers tend to use magic or the arrival of the good dragons from the sky to solve plot problems they couldn’t resolve otherwise. So far, Martin is doing it all right.



                                                                                                   – Meredith Sue Willis




Foer explicitly is "not trying to make you a vegetarian." He's lying; this is exactly what he's trying to do. In fairness, it is really about "better options" when eating animals, but by the end, it's quite clear what he thinks (and wants you to think) about "the best options" for eating meat. (Here's a hint: he's not in favor of them). Just to be clear, I don't think there's anything wrong with this approach, you just should be aware of what you're getting yourself into.

The book itself is solid, albeit heavy handed at points and missing critical arguments at times. For example, Foer makes a great deal of not-so-subtle argument by adjective, referring to the "Frankenstein genetic makeup" of factory-farmed chickens. He also fails to fully address several important questions, like why we have factory farming in the first place. Waving it off as merely a result of a drive for profit, he fails to point out that it is part of a greater movement towards factory farming that has greatly increased the worlds' food stores and in large part staved off food shortages.

That having been said, Foer paints a powerful portrait of exactly what goes into your meat. He is most successful when he sticks to simply describing the facts of factory farming: for the animals involved, for the environment, and for us, the humans (Spoiler alert: it isn't good for any of them). If you have a strong sense of supporting moral and ethical behavior, this is an important read in understanding exactly what goes into that chicken wing you're about to eat.

The inevitable comparison is to Michael Pollan's magnificent "The Omnivore's Dilemma." Let's cut to the chase: "Eating Animals" is not as good. Pollan does a much better job of not trying to appeal to emotion, and he at least *tries* to give a half-hearted defense of why factory farming is here. That having been said, Foer takes many of Pollan's arguments and applies them more fully to animal farming. At the very least, Foer makes you wonder about your meat consumption.

If you have an interest in where your meat comes from, this is a must read. Just know what it is before you start reading it.




Jane Lazarre says: “Not only was the Oz memoir (A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS see Issue # 136 ) one of the most wonderful books I have read, and I use it often for many reasons - writing and teaching, but the new novel by David Grossman TO THE END OF THE LAND is the best novel I have read in years - moving, beautiful, layered, complex. I also recommend FRIENDLY FIRE, and THE LIBERATED BRIDE, both by A.B. Yeshoshua, along with Oz and Grossman-- all three Israelis - very highly.”
Monique Raphel High writes, “Hallie Ephron has a new mystery novel: COME AND GET ME. Her first one, NEVER TELL A LIE, was so compelling and such a page-turner that we should all rush off to buy it! There was also a delightful piece by her sister Nora in the New Yorker a few weeks ago that mentioned Hallie and her sisters.”
Jeffrey Sokolow recommends A CURABLE ROMANTIC by Joseph Skibell (Algonquin Books, 2010). “In this sprawling and magical novel, which begins in Vienna in 1895 and ends in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1940, the protagonist has strange encounters with three well-known historic personages – Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis; Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof (aka Doktor Esperanto), inventor of the ‘universal language’ Esperanto; and the Hasidic rebbe of Warsaw, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira – along with a love-sick but vindictive dybbuk (in Jewish folklore, the spirit of a dead person who possesses the body of the living) who has pursued the protagonist through an unending series of lifetimes and several not-quite-so-angelic angels. I couldn’t put it down, but was sorry to finish it because I wanted the story to keep going. It’s a great read.”



Poetry online and on the air: Lawrence Joseph, D. Nurkse, Hugh Seidman, and Susan Wheeler on WBAI’s "The Next Hour" Sunday, 12/14, 11 AM, WBAI 99.5 FM in New York City.
WBAI Home Page: WBAI Live Stream:
WBAI 7-Day Archive: "Next Hour" Permanent Archive:
Read a sample of Barry S. Willdorf’s FLIGHT OF THE SORCERESS . The book is available from Wild Child Publishing, the result of eight years of research, writing and editing. It represents an accurate portrayal of the Roman Empire in the Fifth Century A.D. with appearances by several notable personages of that period including Hypatia of Alexandria, Pelagius the heretic, Pope Innocent, Saint Augustine and the Roman Prefect, Orestes. Further information about this unique historical novel, set in the fifth century A.D., can be found at: and at the publisher’s website,


Announcements and News

Louise T. Gantress’ new book BITTER TEA is praised by James Fallows of THE ATLANTIC:
“With Bitter Tea, Louise T. Gantress has produced a vivid, memorable and realistic portrait of Japan during the boom years of the 1980s. The oddities and delusions of those days made an indelible impression on those who witnessed them, and this book brings all the details back to life.”
THE CENTER FOR FICTION (formerly the Mercantile Library) in NYC: Events has rental space for writers.
Mike Topp has a new book called SASQUATCH STORIES from Publishing Genius Press, with a cover drawing by Tao Lin and a frontispiece drawing by former Silver Jew David Berman. Information here: or email Mike at
EPIPHANY is proud to announce the arrival of its Fall/Winter 2010-2011 issue, PERSISTENT LABYRINTHS: ANALOGUE ANTIDOTES TO THE DIGITAL MORASS, vital new writings that, disparate as they are, all bring readers to engrossing and unexpected places in the mazes life perennially holds in store. The new EPIPHANY includes a richly comic story by Dale Peck ("Not Even Camping Is Like Camping Anymore"); an excerpt from Lisa Dierbeck's hip new novel, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF JENNY X, that strips the façade off the private life of a powerful senator's son; two further chapters from KEEP THIS FORTUNE, silver-spoon adoptee A.B. Meyer's witty and moving memoir of reuniting with her birth mother; and much more, including débuts by promising and original new writers you won't find anywhere else.
THE WRITING LIFE WORKSHOP with Ellen Bass January 28-30, 2011, Esalen, Big Sur .
This workshop will offer an inspiring environment in which to write, share our work, and receive supportive feedback. We'll help each other become clearer, go deeper, express our feelings and ideas more powerfully. From beginners to experienced, all writers are welcome. Whether you are interested in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, or journal writing, this workshop will provide an opportunity to explore and expand your writing world. Esalen fees cover tuition, food and lodging and vary according to accommodations--ranging from $360 to $695 (and more for premium rooms). The sleeping bag space is an incredible bargain and usually goes fast, as do some of the less expensive rooms, so it's good to register early. All arrangements and registration must be made directly with Esalen (Esalen at 831-667-3005 or at, but if you have questions about the content of the workshop, please call Ellen Bass at 831-426-8006. Ellen Bass’s most recent book of poems is THE HUMAN LINE, was published by Copper Canyon Press
THE BODHISATTVA’S EMBRACE: Dispatches from Engaged Buddhism's Front Lines by Alan Senauke. See website at
Johnny Sundstrom’s new novel DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT is set in the desolation that became known as southern Wyoming. Martha Bradford, traveling on the Oregon Trail, is told she must discard either her cast-iron cook stove or her pianola. She has them both taken off the wagon and then refuses to go on any further For information, email the author at .




And Now,For Something Completely Different...

Take a look at Theresa Basile's fictional blog "Confessions of a Superhero's Girlfriend" at



Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 138

January 22, 2011

Special Extra -- Article for Writers
On Doing Your Own Publicity

MSW Home  
     For a free e-mail subscription to this newsletter, click here .
Note: To create a link to this newsletter, use the permanent link .


Dear Readers:

This is a special issue with some announcements and a couple of book discussions, but the main article is by writer and artist Carter Taylor Seaton about how she did publicity for her book. It has become a commonplace that whether you publish with a small press, self-publish or even publish with a huge commercial congolomerate, you are now often asked for a "platform" on how you intend to publicize your work– and then you are asked to publicize it, often at your own expense. Grim news for us introverted types-- but Carter has some specific suggestions.

                                                                             -- MSW      

Doing Your Own Publicity
By Carter Taylor Seaton 


As the old cliché goes, there's more than one way to skin a cat. Just so, there's more than one way to market your book. If you've got a big enough name or deep enough pockets, either your publisher or the publicist you pay the big bucks will set up a book tour where folks will flock to see and hear you and, of course, buy piles of books for you to sign.
However, if you are new at the game, or have a small press that recognized your talents and published your book, you are most likely going to be doing the marketing yourself. That's the position in which I found myself several years ago, when Mid-Atlantic Highland Press published my debut novel.
Fortunately, I'd had nearly thirty years of marketing experience by then, and knew a few things that helped. First, I drew up a marketing plan, outlining what the publisher was willing and had the expertise to do, along with what I could do. His role was to create and distribute press kits to retailers and libraries, to secure reviews where he could, and to get the book on the inventory list of the distributors. I positioned myself to speak at every civic and social club, book club, retirement home, or college classroom in the region.
That plan is standard fare, however. My twist? I sent a letter prior to publication to a personal mailing list of over six hundred people offering them an opportunity to buy – at a pre-publication discount price – a numbered and signed copy of the book. These were individuals to whom I could safely address a letter saying, Dear John or Mary – folks I knew personally. Jokingly, I told them as one of my six hundred nearest and dearest friends they alone could take advantage of this golden opportunity. Over 250 people bought the book before a drop of ink had been applied to paper. That's more than a forty percent return on the offer – which in any marketer's book, is remarkable.

Carter Taylor Seaton is a free-lance writer living in Huntington, West Virginia. Her work has appeared in regional and statewide magazines in West Virginia and Kentucky, and in anthologies and literary journals. Her debut novel, FATHER'S TROUBLES, published in 2003 was a finalist for ForeWord Magazines Book of the Year awards in 2003. Her essay on West Virginia's back-to-the-land artisans, "Those Who Came," won a Denny C. Plattner award in 2007. She recently completed a second novel.






Monique Raphel High says, "Katie (Catherine) Gates is the author of a moving novel, THE SOMEBODY WHO, which is available from Amazon. It's a superb depiction of a middle-aged woman dealing with the care of her beloved husband who has been devastated by Alzheimer's. Some of you on this site are struggling with Evelyn's (the character's) dilemma; the book will nurture you. For others, it will be an engrossing read, especially now, by the fire or under the quilt."




Joel Weinberger says of Animal Liberation by Peter Singer: " Animal Liberation asks, and attempts to answer, several extraordinarily important moral questions that we often take for granted. Namely, should we care about how animals are treated, and if so, to what extent? Singer ultimately believes that human civilization cannot justify suffering caused to animals, for eating, for research, nor any other purpose.

"Singer starts with an argument that our worldview reinforces 'speciesism,' a prejudice akin to racism and sexism. His argument is strong enough, if your moral framework does not explicitly define human relationships with the world. For example, his argument against 'speciesism' falls flat against a Christian or Jewish ethical framework that explicitly defines humans as a separate category from animals, in a moral sense. Singer talks about this explicitly in a later chapter, pretty much admitting that his moral case for 'speciesism' conflicts with at least traditional Christian and Jewish morality. However, even in these cases, his general point about the suffering stands. Even if you don't believe that humans should be completely morally barred from causing animal suffering, his case stands strong that you should at least minimize it.

"While the moral framework Singer provides may be the most radical part of his book, his exposé of animal treatment on factory farms and in research is ... well known and important. Two very large sections of the book discuss how the industrialized and 'civilized' Western world directly lead to inordinate amounts of animal suffering, specifically in research and factory farming. These sections really push home the point that our everyday consumption of food and products directly tie into the tremendous suffering of animals around the world.

"In some sense, Peter Singer is ultimately a utilitarian. He believes that we should feel free to act as we please as long as the utility gained outweighs the utility cost. However, Singer counts the suffering of animals as a much greater utility cost than humanity traditionally has. Thus, while he believes an experiment on animals that causes suffering can, in fact, be justified, it would have to be one hell of a result, and should only be done if there wasn't an alternative that would have been pain free. Moreover, he believes that if you are willing to test on a monkey, for example, you should also be willing to test on a retarded, orphaned, infant, as he sees the potential suffering to that child equal to, if not less than, the monkey's suffering. Ultimately, the practical ramification of this outlook is that these types of evaluations are much too difficult, and we just should not cause suffering to animals of any sort.

"There are numerous holes in Singer's presentation. For example, in his presentation of animal experiments, he constantly asserts that the results from the experiments he presents are useless. However, he provides virtually no evidence of this. Furthermore, he fails to show that generally the results from animal experiments are not useful or could be replicated in other ways. In some sense, this really isn't important to his argument; Singer says we basically shouldn't be doing these experiments even if there is a benefit to us. But then again, he is trying to make the utilitarian argument that our experiments are not worth the cost.

"Perhaps most surprisingly, and most gratifyingly, is that Singer ultimately proposes a practical 'do what you can' approach. He certainly calls for a vegetarian diet (it turns out to really be a vegan diet), but he also makes it clear that anything you can do to reduce animal suffering is certainly better than the status quo.

"Overall, however, Singer's book is a radical departure from our standard thought in the most positive sense. He makes us question our unflinching belief that we, as humans, have the 'right' to cause animal suffering for our benefit and gratification. Singer's book is incredibly thought out and well researched. If you have ever doubted your consumption of meat or how our civilization treats animals, this is a must read. At the very least, if you can defend your meat consumption after reading this book, you are in very good shape. I certainly have begun to question my own habits deeply."


(Also see Joel Weinberger's piece in #137 on Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals.)


Need a laugh? Try BO's Café Life at
Poems Newly Online by Barbara Crooker:



JUANITA TORRENCE-THOMPSON, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher/Owner of the Internationally acclaimed MOBIUS, THE POETRY MAGAZINE is seeking a GROUP of poets and/or editors or a COLLEGE or individual to purchase and publish her 28-year old print magazine. Contact her at:



Some friends of mine in the South Orange/Maplewood, New Jersey area have a reading group called "Women Reading Women." They celebrated their 16th anniversary in December, 2010. They sometimes have theme parties, and always make interesting choices (okay, they've chosen my books at least three times!). Here are their choices for 2011, including a play in February, which they'll see as well as read:
January: YOUR BLUES AIN'T LIKE MINE by Bebe Moore Campbell
March: CLEOPATRA: A LIFE by Stacy Schiff
April: OUT OF THE MOUNTAINS by Meredith Sue Willis
June: HISTORY OF LOVE by Nicole Krauss
July: THE BELL by Iris Murdoch
August: GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
September: EVIDENCE OF LIFE UNSEEN by Marianne Wiggins
October: JUST KIDS by Patti Smith
November: PASSING by Nella Larsen




Holly Iglesias's new collection of poetry ANGLES OF APPROACH is just out from White Pine Press.
2011 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize Submission deadline: April 30, 2011 See Submit a manuscript of 48-84pages of original poetry in any style in English. The manuscript must not have been published previously in book form, although individual poems appearing in print or on the web are permitted. Entries may consist of individual poems, a book-length poem, or any combination of long or short poems. Collaborations are welcome. Alicia Ostriker to Judge 8th Annual Contest
Make sure to read the exciting Winter Issue of Persimmon Tree at You'll find a thought-provoking conversation with Maxine Hong Kingston and Susan Griffin, fiction by Carol Bergman and Deborah Shouse, poetry by Sandra Gilbert, and much more. We're accepting submissions now for our next SHORT TAKES contest. (Check out the guidelines by clicking here and scrolling down.) This section has proven to be one of our most popular, so consider sending us a short piece; winners will be published in the upcoming Summer '11 Issue. The subject this time is "Taking a Stand."
Thad Rutkowski's new book HAYWIRE: A NOVEL is available from Starcherone Press at .
Victor Depta's new book is BROTHER AND SISTER: A MEMOIR from Blair Mountain Press, which has a new website: http://www.



Phyllis Moore recommends a couple of good books set in West Virginia:
  • The MOUSE HUNTER, by Gaynelle Malesky. "This is a charming memoir about growing up in Marion County."
  • THE LEGEND OF MAMMY JANE by Sibyl Jarvis Pischke. "A grad student at WVU suggested this title to me and I found it to be full of interesting facts about the era surrounding the Civil War. I enjoyed it. The Jarvis family still lives in this [West Virginia] area, but Ms. Pischke lives in Florida now."
  • THE CHIMNEY SISTERS by Joyce Williams & Saundra Ours: " These two authors are from Harrison County and it is a fun novel to read."








Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 139

February 10, 2011

E.M. Forster at Home

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George Eliot, My Kindle, Trollope


I got a Kindle for my holiday gift. For months I spent time agonizing over corporate misdeeds and which device had access to the most books. In the end, I was sold by the lightness and visual neutrality of its little gray self. It pops into my bag with almost no added weight. I can lie in bed and hold it over my head as I read (try that with a three pound hard cover novel). On the train, if I don't feel like using glasses, I can make the type larger. There are no colors, no music (although you can have the text read aloud if you really want it). I've now got a whole blog with my ongoing commentary of this new kind of reading and how the digital revolution feels to a literary person. It's called Literature and the Web .

The thing I want to focus on in this issue, what is absolutely stunning to me, is that I am gradually downloading for FREE all my favorite Victorians and more. A couple of nights ago I got the free versions of all the major Jane Austen novels. I've got all of George Eliot except Theophrastus Such. I have all six Trollope Palliser novels (that would be Can You Forgive Her?, Phineas Finn, The Eustace Diamonds, Phineas Redux, The Prime Minister, and The Duke's Children.) and my favorite E.M. Forster (Howard's End and A Passage to India.). Indeed, a huge per centage of literature that is out of copyright is available to download free on the Kindle (or any other electronic reader).

Some of you are going to say, Well I have all of the Victorians in my local library, or I have an omnibus edition of George Eliot sitting on my shelf right now. To which I say, Great, so do I, but can you carry it all with you on the commuter train in to New York? In your suitcase for vacation?

The first book I read on the device– finished, not started– was Trollope's The Prime Minister.  My first full book (also free) was P.G. Wodehouse's My Man Jeeves, short stories, followed by Right Ho, Jeeves, (novel), both as light as meringues, and just as delightful: eh what old chum?

The first (and so far only) book I purchased for money was a George R.R. Martin sword and sorcery, A FEAST FOR CROWS. I am now contemplating purchasing an early Cormac McCarthy, one of his novels set in Knoxville, Tennessee back when he was an Appalachian writer, before the border trilogy and BLOOD MERIDIAN (see review of BLOOD MERIDIAN below). You can, of course, buy many current books too for the Kindle, but they aren't cheap, and you can't pass them on. So far, I'd rather buy a used book or trade on at

So, here are a couple of official responses to old books, as experienced on the flat gray screen of the Kindle:

THE PRIME MINISTER, while not my favorite Trollope, is, as always with Uncle Tony, an interesting look at human beings in a different time and place. This novel is even more loosely connected with Parliament that the Phineas Finn books– this one is about how a good man can be a bad politician, and it is also about the vicissitudes of marriage. In particular, pride destroys lives here: Plantagenet Palliser, now Duke of Omnium, never wanted to be Prime Minister and now that he is and it's time to step down– he doesn't want to give it up. Not because he thrives on the role, but because of pride. It's his ever lively wife Glencora (Lady Glen, the Duchess), who should have been the Prime Minister. The other story line is about Emily Wharton Lopez, who makes a disastrous marriage and is too proud either to get down in the dirt where her handsome husband is striving to succeed (a man with no antecedents– probably Jewish or Portuguese or both) and far too proud to leave him. She is a really miserable case: blind and stupid pride insisting on marrying who she wants, in a time and place where she is by custom and in fact ignorant of who she is marrying– and then determined to embrace her suffering. I was hoping she'd remain a widow and live as a monument to her own stupidity, but Trollope likes his old English squires too much not to let them win in the end.

So it's essentially an unpleasant story, a study of marriage and money and the emotional underpinnings of parliamentary politics– the general themes of the whole series, particularly highlighted in this one. Glencora Palliser, the Duchess, continues to delight, but she is, au fond, pretty much without fond, i.e. shallow. She was wonderful in Can You Forgive Her, when she was young, with her fondness for impropriety.

All the Palliser novels play with outsiders: Trollope's Irish (Phineas Finn) and Jews (probably the redoubtable Mrs. Max now Finn) are worthy in as far as they remake themselves into English gentlemen and women. Politically, I far prefer George Eliot, who shares a lot of the general attitude– that English gentility is superior to most other ways of being– but she goes much farther in her efforts to understand the other. In DANIEL DERONDA, for example, the quintessential, heroic gentleman is not only Jewish, but becomes a Zionist activist.

Finally, A PASSAGE TO INDIA, E.M. Forster's highly praised last novel, was a reread for me, but as I started reading, I realized that I remembered just about nothing. I think I must have read it as a student, probably in a Great Novels of the Western Tradition context. I remembered the scene in the mosque at the beginning; I remembered the unpleasantness (and importance to the book) of the Malabar caves, and I knew Mrs. Moore died but had no memory at all of the last third of the book (the temple part). It was like reading a completely new book. Also, I was mistakenly looking for the famous Forster phrase "only connect," having associated it with Mrs. Moore when all along it was from HOWARD's END. It's as if all that was left of my previous reading was Mrs. Moore. I remember her not as more important than she was– because her compassion and her religious devolution are indeed central to the book– but I didn't remember what happened to the other people. I didn't remember that Dr. Aziz was actually the main character, the changes he went through, and mainly, I didn't remember the actual political study of the awfulness of the racist colonial British in India.

This really reminds us of the wonder of books that are works of art: that they are different to us at different times, that they are really experiences rather than objects, and this perhaps is why, for me, there is very little attachment to the book as object: it is the experience and re-experience that matters.

                                                                             -- Meredith Sue Willis                                                                                                   



A blood-soaked, epic tale of the West as a not-so glorious look at Americana and our history, not to mention the essence of humanity. The imagery is certainly off-putting, to understate it quite a bit. Between the blood, death, rape, pedophilia, the squeamish should think twice before picking this up. Even as a suitably desensitized Generation Y-er (thanks, T.V.!), the book was extraordinarily disturbing. Seriously; BLOOD MERIDIAN is probably the single most brutal piece of art (literary, theatrical, musical or otherwise). However, in the end, it was absolutely worth it.

The plot is not necessarily the essence of BLOOD MERIDIAN. It is a tale of an unnamed boy who travels the West in the 1800s with a group of scalpers, attacking and killing any Native Americans they can get their hands on. Along the way, he meets many characters, all of whom, it seems, partake in the gory episodes the book recounts. The plot mainly serves as a vehicle for presenting violence, which is what the book is truly about.

Now, no one is saying this book is accurate. I'm not referring to the historical nature of the novel (of which there is plenty: many of the characters are based of real people, and most of the events are tied to true historical ones); I'm referring to McCarthy's view of human nature, which is the essence of the book. His extremely disturbing view of human nature– and his gory description of the violence in which humans partake– is quite negative, only enhanced by one of the more prominent characters in the book who can only be described as satanic-like. But McCarthy's view is vivid and important, none the less. He makes you question the good in the world by focusing so much on the violence.

This book is a must-read, if you can take the blood, gore, and rape. A true American classic. You may not agree with McCarthy's ultimate points regarding human nature and violence, but he certainly raises a multitude of important questions. On top of all this, as usual, McCarthy's command of American English is superb and wonderful, his descriptions are unmatched, and the language is generally a joy to read.




While this book is certainly a "baseball book," and will be most appreciated by baseball fans, it should be appreciated by any sports fan in general. Lewis takes a deep look at the Oakland A's of the early 2000s and how they were able to win so many games with so little money.

Lewis mixes up what is effectively basic economics with sports excitement. He jumps between describing how the A's general manager (GM), Billy Beane, is able to exploit market inefficiencies in how players are evaluated to the excitement of a GM trying to pull a coup in a trade to the big moments in a baseball game. Lewis's writing style is blunt and to the point, but generally very gripping. He also ties in the historic aspects of how these new evaluation tools were created very nicely.

The message of the book gets strung out a little bit long. Yes, we get it, baseball teams were not properly evaluating on base percentage. We don't need a 20th story about this it understand it. For two-thirds of the book, this is the message, and it gets tedious. Eventually, towards the end, he starts to address pitchers' market inefficiencies, but this certainly gets the short end of Lewis's stick, probably because it was not the Oakland A's priority. However, overall, Lewis's book is fascinating, if for no other reason than how dumb most GMs in Major League Baseball seem to be.




Taina is a strong, curious girl, but sometimes life can be very difficult. She is young and inexperienced in the ways of life. Her parents are from Puerto Rico, the Spanish-speaking island in the Caribbean Sea. They live in New York City and their lives are a mixture of both PR culture and that of the mainland US where they now live.

Chapter by chapter, Taina deals with the complications of growing up: negotiating the ups and downs of her relationships with friends at school, struggling with the confusing feelings of a first love, Eddie the Cutie ("Is he looking at me?" "Does he like me?")--while all along being plagued by her parent's fretful marriage, her mother's seemingly unreasonable demands, and her father's absence.

The author, Jo Anne Valle, has a wonderful way of getting inside the heads of young people—gathering insights from her own experiences, as well as from the pupils she knew, when she was teaching school. Ms Valle holds a Masters Degree in Philosophy, and has Taina discovering philosophical principles that help her find her way.




COLIN PRESTON ROCKED AND ROLLED by "Bert Murray" is a novel that does a wonderful job of capturing the voices and lives of a certain time and place. The use of music– both music contemporary to the characters and Colin's beloved Beatles (already, of course, at the time of the novel, classic)– works especially well. Instead of using words, Colin, when in the grip of a strong emotion, puts on an appropriate song. Overall, the compactness of the story and the ease with which one identifies with Colin and his situation create an inevitability about the events that has an almost tragic quality as well as a strong structure. I felt I experienced it all with Colin, and it was a pleasure to read.



The current, 28th anniversary, issue of MÖBIUS is, as always, a rich cornucopia of poems by people like Jane Stuart, Laura Boss, John McKernan, Thaddeus Rutkowski, Simon Perchik, Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, Marge Piercy, Rita Dove, Daniela Gioseffi– and of course the editor-in-chief and publisher, Juanita Torrence-Thompson. One interesting surprise among many was a group of Sonia Sanchez's striking haiku ("i see you Nubia/walking your Mississippi walk/God in your hands.") but also "Where I'm From" by fifteen year old Sydney-Elise Washington ("I am from pots overflowing with cachupa and pans of beef roti.") For information about buying the magazine, see Below or go to the website at



Dolly Withrow writes in response to Joel Weinberger's review of Peter Singer's ANIMAL LIBERATION in the last issue ( "With respect to our treatment of animals, it wouldn't take much to transform me into a vegetarian--not a vegan, if I have the terms correctly defined. I don't believe Elsie, the famous cow, would mind if I had a drink of her milk of a pat of her butter--that is, as long as she could be treated with kindness. My husband and I now live with one 26-pound cat (he's on a diet) and three dogs--all strays. I've written about Freddie Flealoader, but the other two have not as yet found fame."

One Writer's Experience with CreateSpace

Bert Murray on Working with CreateSpace: "Createspace...was a very good experience. They let you call them on the phone. You are assigned a team to work with and you can call a hundred times until all your questions are answered. They are polite, friendly and have an answer for all your questions. I've worked for a few fortune 500 publishing companies selling academic books to schools and public libraries during my business career. I guess I was expecting a self publishing company to be difficult to work with. I was wrong. Createspace is easy to work with and they do a great job helping you make your book. In my opinion, they are an option anyone who is considering self publishing should consider."




If You Are in Oakland, California, drop by Diesel Books on Sunday, February 13 at 3:00 PM for a celebration of Alan Senauke's book: THE BODHISATTVA'S EMBRACE —DISPATCHES FROM ENGAGED BUDDHISM'S FRONT LINES. The address is 5433 College Avenue at Kales (near Manila) in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland. Alan will read from and discuss his new collection of essays from Clear View Press. For information contact: or look at the Clear View Blog:
Oritte Bendory has an essay in the brand new Simon & Schuster anthology LIVE AND LET LOVE a collection of essays written by women whose lives have been transformed by love. The book was featured on GOOD MORNING AMERICA on Feb 3, 2011.
MÖBIUS, THE POETRY MAGAZINE is available for $15 each copy, which covers shipping & handling. Mail orders to MOBIUS, THE POETRY MAGAZINE, P.O. BOX 671058, Flushing, NY 11367-1058. Print order form at: fill out and mail.
NARRATIVE'S CONTEST: (There is a fee). Go to


SOL LITERARY MAGAZINE INVITES SUBMISSIONS ... of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction for its July issue. While the magazine favors writing from or about Mexico and Latin America, its general outlook is for excellent writing of any kind. The deadline for submissions is May 15th . Poetry submissions should be directed to: . Prose submissions to: . Please consult the submission guidelines at; as there are strict formatting requirements.



JUANITA TORRENCE-THOMPSON, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher/Owner of the Internationally acclaimed MOBIUS, THE POETRY MAGAZINE is seeking a GROUP of poets and/or editors or a COLLEGE or individual to purchase and publish her 28-year old print magazine. Contact her at:









Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 140

March 10, 2011


Valerie Nieman                 Frederick Reiken                      Sherman Alexie
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Dolly Withrow's Recommendations
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Meredith Sue Willis will be reading from OUT OF THE MOUNTAINS at Teachers & Writers Collaborative on Monday, March 14, 2011. Doors open at 6:30 PM. 520 Eighth Avenue, Suite 2020 (between West 36th and West 37th) Queries: 212-691-6590 or
MSW is also giving a free workshop on Revising Your Novel at the NYU Bookstore Tuesday, April 12, 2011 6:30 - 8:00 PM 726 Broadway, New York City 212-998-4667



Sometimes it appears that I read more Victorian novels than anything else– especially now that I'm getting them free from Amazon and Gutenberg. (See my blog Literature and the Web where I go on about the wonders of having all of Mrs. Gaskell and Trollope's Palliser novels on my little bitty Kindle.)

But I digress. I want to defend my interest in contemporary literature too by saying that I am reading lots of books recommended here and by people in my writing classes. I even read books that haven't been published yet– for example, this issue begins with a recommendation of a book by Valerie Nieman that is just coming out later this month plus a couple of slightly older books by Frederick Reiken and Sherman Alexie.


Valerie Nieman's latest is BLOOD CLAY, a highly realistic story about people you feel you could know and be friends with. They get caught up in unexpected, gripping, and horrific events. Something very unusual and ugly happens early on, and the novel is about the repercussions of this event, and how the main character tries to live with what she has witnessed. The victim is a child, and the main character is not heroic– she may be, in fact, cowardly or possibly culpable in some way. I won't describe the actual event, but I will say it is deeply grounded in issues of rural contemporary America, in this case, a small town and the surrounding county in North Carolina.

The main character and the other point of view character are both teachers in an alternative school for kids. He is a native of the small town, returned home reluctantly after physical and psychological trauma. She is a newcomer, fleeing personal rejection and a failed marriage. She is emphatically seen by the local people as an outsider, in spite of having farm roots. Both of these people are damaged by life, but no more damaged than perhaps most of us, and their damage is solid, believable, and not treated at all melodramatically. This is one of the joys of the book– that however shocking or terrifying the events, people wake up the next morning and make tea, feed the cats, go to work.

Indeed, their relationship to work, too, is one of the triumphs of the novel: the characters don't self-destruct in the face of their suffering, but rather work– both at jobs and on their living spaces. What is sometimes forgotten in fiction is that the quotidian work of surviving and healing is as realistic as despair. But Valerie Nieman does not forget this. In BLOOD CLAY, teaching and taking meals– and the very clay and plants of North Carolina are the ground of the story. They go out to dinner, they dig around in old middens to rescue cobalt blue glass bottles. Feral cats are important characters, as is an old farmhouse in bad repair.

The seminal violence of the story happens quickly, shockingly, with no thrumming drumbeat of foreshadowing, so that the reader is as shocked and paralyzed as the main character. With similar realism, Nieman creates an unpleasant and possibly dangerous neighbor of the main character who certainly does some bad things– but could do much worse. Guns are discussed and appropriately hung in truck cabs if not on walls, and they are not window dressing. On the other hand, the novel never puts forth violence as a catharsis. Things small and large are seen in perspective in this apotheosis of everyday people living ordinary lives– which means lives full of discovery, love, anger, violence, struggle, cowardice, failure and hope. What is unusual and deeply satisfying here is the insistence on how the story goes on and we keep on, living through our failures, facing our fears, reaching for one another. Valerie Nieman's website is here.


Next, I want to give an enthusiastic nod to a short young adult novel by Sherman Alexie called THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN. It won a National Book award, well-deserved. It deals frankly with poverty, frequent death, and alcoholism on a reservation– as well as the stresses of trying to escape those things while still loving friends and family. Its depiction of the conflict between change and deracination is as good as anything I've read. The narrator's friend in the end calls him a nomad, which is a culturally acceptable, but hard won, role, like the ideal of warrior. This book doesn't need my recommendation, but has it anyhow.



Finally, I want to mention an interesting writer I've missed along the way: Frederick Reiken. I read his book THE LOST LEGENDS OF NEW JERSEY. This thoroughly literary novel is set in in Livingston, New Jersey, and other suburban towns in the general vicinity of New York City. For those who know the area, it is a lot of fun to read Essex County scenes from the eighties: going Down the Shore, Turtle back Zoo, the ice hockey arena, Eppes Essen delicatessen. The book has some really superb scenes, including the opening one where a woman is having a breakdown and smashes the windows of the neighbor's house while her son and his friend are inside. There are lots of powerful characters and situations, but perhaps my favorite is when the family's father, a physician, gets involved with events in the life of his orthodox Jewish sister-in-law who has been having a loving, lifelong affair with a gentile. The man is dying, and she is trying to slip into the hospital to say good-bye to him. I'm going to look for more of Reiken's work.

                                                             -- Meredith Sue Willis                                                                                                   



Jennifer DeWitt writes: "Ah, yes, the great Kindle debate. I struggled with whether or not this was a wise move to make because I do love how a good book feels in my hand. But you are absolutely correct---it is so much easier to carry around. I normally drag 2-3 books with me when we go on vacation and this past fall my husband gave me a Kindle for our anniversary (which I took with me on our trip to Italy) and I fell in love with it. Because it is so small and lightweight, it didn't have to stay in my carry on. I carried it with me in my purse and when the mood struck, I was able to read at a moment's notice.

"Did you get the cover with the built in light? If not, I highly recommend this! Not having to carry around an extra book light and batteries has been a dream. There are still books that I buy in paper form, but the freebies are GREAT! I am addicted to downloading them. I'm finally going to dig into reading THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA one of my all time favorite musicals.

"The other cool thing that I have done with mine is to save recipes from The Food Network on it. No more endless pages of papers everywhere. Now I just pop on the ole Kindle and cook."


Barry Willdorf wrote, "I'm not sure how to do it with a Kindle but you should give a plug to the Gutenberg Project ( for its 30,000 public domain eBooks. Lots to explore and chose from....In protest against that Florida preacher who threatened to burn the Qaran, I downloaded it from Gutenberg. Doesn't that sound like a nice way to counter-protest nonsense?"

[I agree with Barry that Gutenberg is a great resource. You can indeed download files for Kindle there (with the .mobi extension). Kindles can, in a pinch, also read PDF's. ]



I shouldn't comment, perhaps, because I have not finished it yet. Still, an excellent book by a first-time author you might want to check out is MAJOR PETTIGREW'S LAST STAND. The Features editor at the CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL recommended it, and I must thank her. Each time I finish a book, by the way, I know I should record the title. I've read so many and can't remember all the titles. We should all keep a log of our read books.

The following books are just a few I've read within approximately the last year. I can't remember them all, but this is a sampling. I have not reviewed them, as you can see, but I've made a comment or two. I used to review books for The Charleston Gazette, but that was a long time ago (before I started teaching). Kathryn Stockett's THE HELP – Good book; several of Picoult's books, including HER SISTER'S KEEPER - After the third or so book, I began to see the formulaic patterns and haven't read any others; THE SELECTED WORKS OF T.S. SPIVET – I confess I couldn't finish it—just couldn't. At my age now, I read for enjoyment and enlightenment. I was getting neither from this book. Perhaps you will. If so, let me know, and I'll try again. It was different from any novel I've ever opened, though. I'll give it that; Stieg Larsson's trilogy, comprising THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST and THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE. The author died shortly after delivering his books to the publisher. The protagonist (Lisbeth, I think) is one of the most bizarre characters any author has delineated. It's set mostly in Sweden and anything goes. The one moral code left intact is loyalty to friends; THE GOOD FAMILY (I've forgotten the author, but this was a good book as I recall); THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT (ditto); THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES (I think critics loved this book. It was so-so for me.); because of his poetic prose and gift for figurative language, I have read all of James Lee Burke's books. Formula or not, I enjoy his prose. I thought no other professor (retired or not) would ever read his works. Then, lo, there was his name in THE ATLANTIC. A reviewer was praising his work. Most of his books are set in New Orleans and surrounding area, which is another draw for me because we lived there for almost four years. The dialogue is excellent as are scene and character descriptions. If readers are offended by rough language, Burke would not be the author to read, but when one is describing Mafia and using authentic dialogue, there it is.

I've read many memoirs, including those by Mary Lee Settle, Eudora Welty, John O'Brien, Rick Bragg, and Conroy's MY READING LIFE (his prose get to be a bit much, and he blames it on Thomas Wolfe). I've read ANGELA'S ASHES, 'TIS and GROWING UP (the last a long time ago). Oh, I read anything that Barbara Holland writes. She is a nonfiction author, but she has a wicked wit I love. Her HAIL TO THE CHIEFS: FROM GEORGE W. TO GEORGE W. is, by far, one of the most hilarious books I've ever read. When a friend loses a loved one, I give this book instead of flowers. One friend told me after she lost her sister, each afternoon she would sip tea, sit in a chair by the fireplace and read Holland's book. She claimed that was part of what got her through her grief. I highly recommend this book.

I just this morning (2-19-11) finished reading Robert Morgan's GAP CREEK. It's been out for a long time, but I just now read it. It is set in Appalachia in the 1800s, and life is so hard that when I closed the book, running the vacuum seemed like play. The author is a professor of English at Cornell, but his talent permitted him to write authentic Appalachian dialogue, such as "they was," and "as soon as we eat (past tense) our grits). My mother said "ette" for "ate." She was a smart woman despite her dialect. I love any prose by Meredith Sue Willis, and I hope she will leave this sentence in her newsletter as a favor to me. How fortunate we are to be the recipients of her newsletters.

Browsing in a bookstore recently, I saw these books and was reminded to send the titles your way. Khaled Hosseini's THE KITE RUNNER is an excellent book set in Afghanistan, the author's native country. He now lives in California and knows how to tell a story. Many of the Mid-eastern terms were familiar to me since I rewrote the life story of one Dr. Ali Morad, a retired surgeon who grew up in Iran. He is a Muslim and is married to a Methodist. Oh, Lordie, why can't we all get along the way this Muslim and Methodist get along? Khaled Hosseini's A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS does not disappoint either. Elizabeth Strout's OLIVE KITTERIDGE would appeal to adult readers who want someone else's examination of the relationship between parent and offspring, especially an aging parent. I knew before reading Strout that, like a waterfall, love flows more freely downward, that is, from parent to child. Although offspring generally love their parents, a parent's love is all-giving. It's different. Strout shows this, whereas I'm merely telling it. She is more effective.

THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE, written by Wrohlewski, is a tragedy to be sure. If you like tragedies, you'll love this book. If you love animals, like many readers--oops--if I tell anything else, I'll tell the ending, . The author has talent to spare, but there's the story's ending, which he claims can end no other way.



Patricia Park has a piece in THE NEW YORK TIMES plus a poignant/funny blog called "New Yorker in Seoul."
John Birch is republishing stories and essays from his long and distinguished career as a journalist on his blog at .
Read Shelley Ettinger's review of THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER on her blog at .
Looking for some fun? Neil Arthur James is the mastermind behind DANDY DARKLY , the fictional, serialized account of America's favorite gay exorcist living in a dark-fantasy version of Manhattan.
PEDESTAL # 62 is now online at
A piece from the Charleston Daily Mail at on drinking and not drinking by Dolly Withrow.
PERSIMMON TREE's latest issue is online at with a conversation between Maxine Hong Kingston and Susan Griffin; fine poetry by Sandra Gilbert; sculptural paintings by Judy Pfaff; and wonderful fiction and nonfiction.
Innisfree12, the spring 2011 issue of THE INNISFREE POETRY JOURNAL. is now available at
Barbara Crooker has poems in Hospital Drive:
as well as at Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup:
and Favorite Poems/Alan Berecka:




Ed Lynskey's latest book LAKE CHARLES, in the genre of Appalachian Noir, is now available for pre-order sales on Amazon. Ed Gorman, New York Times bestselling author of STRANGLEHOLD, says "LAKE CHARLES is going to scorch your soul. Ed Lynskey has given us a geographical and spiritual wasteland that that bears comparison with the best noir fiction being published today. I loved it."
Thad Rutkowski reports that registration is now open for his spring fiction-writing workshop "Generating Fiction," which begins Monday evening, March 28, 2011, at The Writer's Voice of the West Side YMCA, 5 West 63rd St. Open to everyone. Ten meetings. For information, call Casey Slone at (212) 912-2634, or e-mail
Thad is also reading March 12, Saturday, 7 p.m. at KGB Bar, 85 E. Fourth St., Manhattan. Free.
2011 MARSH HAWK PRESS POETRY PRIZE – Submission deadline: April 30, 2011! Submit a manuscript of 48-84pages of original poetry in any style in English. The manuscript must not have been published previously in book form, although individual poems appearing in print or on the web are permitted. Entries may consist of individual poems, a book-length poem, or any combination of long or short poems. Collaborations are welcome. To learn more, go t he website at
The following announcements are thanks to Ellen Bass:
ECHOES, A POETRY JOURNAL Deadline: March 31, 2011. Guidelines can be found on the website, or emailing
Deadline: April 15. Prize: $150 Looking for short fiction or memoir up to 750 words. Fee: $10 for processing only or $20 for detailed evaluation. Visit for complete guidelines.
GAY AND GRAY, AN ANTHOLOGY OF MATURE GLBT WRITERS Deadline: April, 30, 2011. Seeking creative non-fiction, short stories, fiction or memoir, poetry, digital imagery, and photography. Fiction and non-fiction submissions should be a maximum of 5,000 words. Each writer may submit three pieces for consideration. Reprints are acceptable as long as the author retains the copyright. Submissions should be sent as attachments to an email and not pasted into the body of the e-mail. Multiple submissions are welcome and should be sent in separate e-mails. Use 12-point Times New Roman, single-spaced. Authors should include a photo when possible. The photo may be taken from any point in the author's life. Also please include a brief biography. While there is no specific theme, content may focus on aging in the gay community, historical hindsight and/or perspective unique to the GBLTQ person 50 and older. E-mail submissions to: .
SWAN SCYTHE PRESS POETRY MANUSCRIPT CONTEST Deadline: June 1, 2011 Swan Scythe Press announces its 2011 Poetry Chapbook contest. Winner will receive publication and 25 copies of a perfect-bound chapbook with full-color cover. For Guidelines: .
SNAIL MAIL REVIEW, A NEW AND UPCOMING LITERARY JOURNAL SEEKING SUBMISSIONS FOR SECOND ISSUE Deadline: June 30, 2011 Please send 3-5 poems of no more than 35 lines and/or 1-7 pages of fiction to: Snail Mail Review, c/o Kris Price, 3000 Coffee Rd, Chateau Apt #B6, Modesto, CA, 95355. Contact us if you have any further questions at .
Deadline: June 30, 2011 Edited by Shane Allison, to be published in Fall 2011. Submission guidelines: Title file with the initials of the anthology and author's last name. Include your name, mailing address, email, and a bio. Submit work by email as an attachment in rtf format, to If poems have previously been published please include in your document where and when and be sure you hold the rights to your work.


The National Book Critics Circle occasionally offers lists of books that well-known writers say everyone should have in their library. Doris Lessings' five books are: THE LEOPARD by Giuseppe di Lampedusa; ANNA KARENIN by Leo Tolstoy; TOM JONES by by Henry Fielding; REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST by Marcel Proust; and ALICE IN WONDERLAND by Lewis Carroll.








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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