Books for Readers 161-165


Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 161

May 2, 2013




It looks better online! -- Read latest changes and corrections online -- MSW Home

In this Issue:

Duff Brenna's Murdering the Mom; Swans and Klons; No Name

Reamy Jansen on Lady Audley's Secret

Phyllis Wilson Moore on The Black Unicorn

Joel Weinberger on A Confederacy of Dunces

The E-Reader Report with John Birch

The Debt of Tamar


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A Space Apart , first published by Charles Scribner's Sons is now available in a revised edition for all E-Book Formats from Foreverland Press with a new Afterword

for Kindle--for Nook--for All E-Reader formats


Duff Brenna's memoir Murdering the Mom at first felt to me a little like Charles Bukowski-lite: appalling brutality and ugliness and grim good humor about it all. But as I read, I became more and more impressed with the fullness of the world of this family with too much drinking, too much smacking around, and too much abusive sex--especially the sister used by the stepfather. What Brenna does extremely well is to convey accumulative psychological damage over time. Only the best prose narrative can do this kind of painstaking, deliberate laying on of detail that captures the accretions of time, the slow changes of life.

I don't mean to suggest that the novel doesn't move. On the contrary, it goes fast; Brenna's storytelling has tremendous momentum, and as the narrator matures from child to teen, there is a wonderful demonstration of the many selves he develops. He becomes a car thief and worse, and for self protection, he practices little bits of casual sex that either are or aren't consensual. Sometimes the user and sometimes the used, he also reads widely and takes care of his little sister. From time to time there are small moments when some adult makes a serious effort to understand him and his sisters, including his mother when she isn't drinking and decides to focus on someone besides herself. Always, too, he has a solid relationship with those sisters. Along with the sex life and the crazy destructiveness, we see the narrator gradually growing a moral consciousness and the ability to begin to love.


I want to recommend in an entirely different mode Nora Olsen's new novel, Swans & Klons. This is young adult L.G.B.T. science fiction by the author of The End: How Five Queer Kids Save the World. The earlier novel was lots of fun, but tended to insert new characters and new settings to keep things moving. This time, we have a fully realized science fiction world where two energetic, hopeful young characters try to make political change and find adventure. In this world, all the men have died off--except for a few "cretinous males" in the Land of Barbarians. Everyone here is female, "born" in a Hatchery as clones of an original 300 or so chosen women. Technology is fantastic in some ways (viz. cloning) but most labor is done by hand-- by other clones who are not considered human.

The two main characters, "schatzies," (German for treasure and slang for girlfriends and I assume lovers, although there's nothing explicit) discover that the nonhuman clones are nonhuman only because the bosses say so. The exciting story line is about how the girls try to start a revolution and free the klons. What's neat about the book is that the girls are brave, resourceful, and smart– and not unsuccessful, but it also turns out that the Klons have been running away on their own with no help from members of the ruling class.

In the end, the girls go to the only other part of the world delineated in this book, where the so-called Barbarians live. The Barbarian women turn out to be rather nice, if a little on the crunchy side– they hatch their babies in their own uteruses and keep their hairy cretin-sons around and seem to be fond of them.

It's a high stakes but high spirited adventure, and I recommend it for yourself and the teens in your life: it holds together well, with just the right mix of realistic teenage love and a fascinating speculative world. And Olsen leaves an opening for more adventures!


For more in feisty female protagonists, try No Name by Wilkie Collins. This one of my cheap-to-free Victorians for the Kindle. Collins' other books I have read have been entertaining, but sometimes too convoluted for my taste. This one is certainly highly plotted and also melodramatic, but the main character makes suspension of disbelief well worthwhile.

The underlying situation is that English law of the time could deprive children of their father's legacy if he is not married to their mother, even if everyone thought they were married, and even if he wants the legacy to go to the children. This is what happens to two young women raised to be ladies; to their horror, they are, overnight, turned into illegitimate orphans with no money and a grasping uncle who intends them to have none of their father's legacy.

The situation itself-- that the parents were secretly unmarried-- was considered racy at the time, but more shocking is that the younger sister, Magdalen, a teen-aged dynamo, decides to seek revenge. She has enormous personal agency, earning money and generally running circles around the objects of her hate. She flees her friends and the impoverished safety they offer; she goes on stage for money; she arranges a partnership with a con man; and she eventually effects a mercenary marriage of revenge.

She also suffers from some of her actions. Laws are probably broken, as Magdalen disguises herself and spies on her enemies and obtains a proposal of marriage with complete underhandedness. She only breaks down in her wild careen of vengeance with poverty and illness. There is some officious narrative hand-wringing over her unwomanly behavior, and she is punished-- a little-- but quickly redeemed and given a good, devoted, solvent man who loves her and nurtures her back to health.

But what you remember is all her adventures, and you have to feel that Wilkie Collins is himself in love with her nostril-flaring passion and determination.


                                                                               --Meredith Sue Willis


Short Reviews

I was really on a Wilkie Collins kick last month. After No Name, I was less fascinated by Fallen Leaves, one of his last novels. It was published in 1879 and did not do well commercially. He planned a Part II about an unconventional marriage, but never wrote it. The main character is a young man, a passionate Christian Socialist raised in an American utopian community. Quick to express indignation and maybe like Wilkie himself only handsome, he falls in love impetuously with a conventional girl who totally misunderstands him when he takes under his wing a girl-prostitute off the streets. He causes scandals in a dozen directions– the prostitute of course, but he also gives a scandalous lecture on Socialism. The novel has unconventional women, including one strong individual with a tragic self-inflicted end. It's sentimental and melodramatic, but also anti-capitalist and proto-feminist.


Next I read a short biography of Wilkie (everyone called him by his first name): Wilkie Collins by Peter Ackroyd. This gave me some of what I wanted, namely which other of his books I might enjoy, but it wasnt a really satisfying biography for me. Ackroyd is the biographer of Dickens, and a novelist himself, and I had the feeling he condescended to Wilkie with his sensation novels and coincidenes, especially in comparison to Dickens. The biography never really approaches his unusually empathetic attitude toward strong women and the plight of women– and how at the same time, he kept two families and never married either woman.


Once I Was Told the Air Was Not For Breathing is a small book of poetry by Paola Corso. Divided into "Men's Work" and "Women's Work," it sets as its subject Italian immigrants, although many other groups and individuals are included. One poem is addressed by the Italian and Jewish victims of the Shirtwaist Triangle Factory fire "to the Chinese girls, the Indonesian girls,/ the Vietnamese, the Taiwanese/ girls girls" of today. The most brutal poems come out of the 1911 Shirtwaist Triangle Factory fire--and seem fearfully relevant as I write this a few days after the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh.

Corso has poems about the coke ovens of Pittsburgh and environs where Corso's own family lived and worked. Most of the poems are built of words from documents of public hearings and news reports as well as memoirs and academic studies. Meticulously footnoted, the book has a wonderful quality of poetry blooming out of a great ocean of information and lost voices, past and present.



The Debt of Tamar by Nicole Dweck is a love story that begins in the 16th century in the time of the Inquisition, less than a hundred years after Christopher Columbus's voyages, among rich, secret Jews. It moves on to Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire, and ends in contemporary times among the wealthy jet set.

At heart, the story is a romance that crosses religious and national barriers– and centuries of time! The people who are tied in this way are from a wealthy Jewish family, the Nissims, and the imperial Osmans, including Selim Osman, a playboy with a good heart and a terrible disease. The love story is moving, but perhaps the understated theme of Jews and Muslims intertwined in their commonalities is what really powers this surprising debut novel.


How It All Began by Penelope Lively leaves me not quite knowing how I feel: I read it with alacrity, if not quite the passion with which I gobbled , Hunger Games or George R.R. Martin. It takes place in contemporary London among rather repressed and literate people for whom a love affair is major excitement and not having an affair seems morally admirable. Somehow, it all felt light to me. And if so, is that a bad thing?


Finally, I read Autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid. This novel is beautiful and impressive with its powerful repetitions ("my mother died at the moment of my birth" "I can't love anyone" and its mix of splendid language and anger. A short book, it has a richly sensual yet oddly ascetic view of life. The narrator, a black woman, ends up living with the enemy by marrying a pathetic white colonial man. He is weak and clueless; she is vital and barren, except for her imagination and language that burgeon with imagery.



Phyllis Wilson Moore on THE BLACK UNICORN by George the Good

THE BLACK UNICORN is a rollicking fantasy/coming-of-age novel told with subtle, sometimes wry, humor. Readers experience a kingdom described in intricate detail and populated by unique imagined characters. A place inhabited by unicorns, gypsies, priests, villains, and more strange animals than Hogwarts.

The protagonist, young Blackie, is not a cautious teen. Ignoring the advice of his rather sedate elderly father, he sneaks off from his forest home determined to see the world and test his mettle. He soon runs afoul of meat-eating peasants and villages who chase him from their luscious gardens. Worse, he can't recall how to get back home.

But the world is not all bleak. Blackie meets a beautiful princess and her bumbling Prince George, both in need of a hero. George enlists Blackie's help saving the princess from a marriage to the treacherous and nasty Prince Vile. The unlikely duo sets out for the kingdom of Vile.

Their journey leads them to villages full of mistreated peasants, herb women, dangerous animals, a band of conniving gypsies, and smelly flying creatures spewing fire. Just when Blackie is getting the hang of fighting, his baby horn falls off. Meanwhile Prince George keeps losing his swords and shields. But on they go to Vile.

Harry Potter fans will enjoy the colorful details of life in this era. The fight scenes with hellions and dragons are graphic enough for any adventure movie and the villagers and priests are especially well drawn. The author has a great sense of humor and an incredible knowledge of unicorn lore, mythology, and the days of dragons.

Here in West Virginia folks know the author as Dr. George Byers, an esteemed teacher of Shakespeare and children's literature, now retired from Fairmont State University. His former students can attest to his skills as a teacher and to his wonderful wacky sense of humor. I am fortunate to be one of them.


Also read Phyllis Moore's review in The Charleston Gazette of Fed from the Blade:



THE E-READER REPORT WITH JOHN BIRCH:What E-Book Is Everyone Reading Right Now?

The New York Sunday Times publishes each week's list of bestsellers, broken down into fiction, non-fiction and Self Help/'how-to' hard cover books, paperbacks, trade paperbacks, and e-books. Here are the top five fiction and non-fiction e-books listed in the Times on April 7.

1. Love At Last, by J.R.Ward. (Penguin Group)
2. The Host, by Stephanie Meyer. (Little, Brown)
3. The Wanderer, by Robin Carr. (Harlequin)
4. Six Years, by Harlan Coben. (Penguin Group)
5. Falling Into You, by Jasinda Wilder. (self)
1. Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg with Nell Scovell. (Knopf)
2. Proof Of Heaven, by Eben Alexander (Simon & Schuster)
3. Salt Sugar Fat, by Michael Moss. (Random House)
4. Killing Kennedy, by Bill O'Reilly, with Martin Dugard. (Henry Dugard)
5. Bossypants, by Tina Fey. (Little, Brown)
Is the wine trade trying to pull the wool over our eyes? Maybe. Read John's latest post, "Weird Words About Wine" on his blog: -- a growing collection of nearly 30 of his short stories, articles and essays


Reamy Jansen on Lady Audley's Secret

Of the Victorian Novels mentioned in these pages, another volume, my candidate for admission, Lady Audley's Secret (Oxford World Classics),is the product of the prolific Mary Elizabeth Braddon, whose eighty-fifth novel was published one year after her death in 1815. Lady Audley, like Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, was of a genre known to its readers as "sensation novels:" tales of reversals and betrayals, ones that also pressed themselves up against the borders of eroticism and occult taboos.

Their villains, such as Count Fosco in The Woman and Lady Audley, are an admixture of charm, threat, and ruthlessness. Invariably, this sort of work played off against nineteenth-century anxieties over illegal and secret confinement. Someone, mostly women, is always being locked up against her will, as happens to Monica in The Woman in White, who is rescued by her drawing master/hero. A different fate awaits the murderer, Lady Audley, who initially poses as humble and efficient housekeeper, but is utterly satanic in fulfilling her designs on Audley manor.

Her foil turns out to be an unassuming, but dogged member, of the Audley family (like many of these heroes, he has little sense of vocation: Walter Hartright in Woman is an artist manqué, and "Robert Audley was supposed to be a barrister," says the narrator. Each hero also becomes more "manly" by the books' conclusions. And Robert is iron willed when it comes to determinng a terrible fate for Lady Audley, life imprisonment in a maison de santé , a living death in well-appointed madhouse in the French Countryside, an end that strikes terror into Lady A and no doubt will have a similar effect on Braddon's female readers (see note) "If you were to dig a grave in the nearest churchyard and bury her alive in it", says Robert, "you could not more safely shut her from the world and all worldly associations."

This volume is a thrilling ride that even Wilkie Collins would envy.

NB: Braddon herself was not unfamiliar with asylums; her long-time lover, John Maxwell, had a wife who was in an Irish sanitorium. When his wife died 1874 the couple married and had six children. ---





JOEL WEINBERGER on A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

An absolute comic masterpiece. There are many books that I find humorous and funny, even to a grand degree (Hitchhikers Guide comes to mind), but there are few that cause me to laugh and guffaw aloud as much as I did with this book.

While the plot is a mindless set of coincidences, the book's complete gravitational center is the main character, Ignatious Reilly. A bombastic, flatulent, overweight wordsmith, Reilly is an absolutely brilliant creation. He's a man completely out of his time, belonging in a different world, finding virtually everything in the modern world offensive, yet he manages to offend everyone around him at the same time.

It's hard to describe the comic brilliance of the character of Reilly, but it really comes down to Toole's brilliant use of the English language. Reilly has a unique voice in English literature, as far as I've read, using modern English as we know it, but coming across as an ancient man of letters. The only other character in literature that I can compare him to is Falstaff, but even he was man of his own time. The brilliance of Reilly is he's simultaneously both ancient yet modern, something not even Falstaff achieved.

I found Reilly's speech so fantastic that, for several weeks after reading "Confederacy," I found myself quite accidentally trying to mimic Reilly's patterns and speech in my own daily conversation. Odd, to say the least, especially given the comic nature of the character.

It has been a while since I've so thoroughly enjoyed and been engrossed in such a book. It's such a shame that Toole's life was cut so short and English literature was robbed of such a powerful voice.







Readers Respond

Donna Meredith wrote: " Love the concept of Politerature! A writing book a professor recommended to my fiction workshop, Carol Bly's The Passionate, Accurate Story, encourages this type of writing."

Politerature is a new website from me and Shelley Ettinger that begins with the assertion that politically informed literature can be of the highest quality:





Latest from Foreverland Press: a pair of linked novels by Kathryn Dow in fascicle form: "Until We Meet Again" and "The Minor Apocalypse of Alma Bell." Free downloads!
Split This Rock, the national network of socially engaged poets has a poem of the week:
The Center for Fiction in New York City (formerly the Mercantile Library) is a place for events and meetings and even has its own independent bookstore!
For people looking for a space to rent for writing, take a look at an interesting shared space called Paragraph. It's on 14th Street, and they have readings and more, along with renting the spaces. "Paragraph is a membership organization dedicated to providing an affordable and tranquil working environment for writers of all genres. We are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year."
Laura Treacy Bentley's novel THE SILVER TATTOO has just been released in print and as an ebook. It is a dark literary thriller set in mythical Ireland.
On Barcelona is inviting submissions: "Looking, as always, for work. No reading fees, no contest fees, no SASEs, no guidelines." Email
An email digest of magazines and publishers open to submissions: write to join the list.
Leora Skolkin-Smith's ( essay on Clarice Lispector "Words Are Living Tissue" published at the Quarterly Review is going to taught at Bard College for a course called: "The Antiheroine: Writing the Female Rebel." Lispector was a feminist of the 1960's and 70's who has been been virtually erased by our current literary scene.
The Seven Hills Literary and Penumbra Poetry and Haiku contests are now accepting online manuscript submissions. Aug. 30 is the upload deadline. The contests, sponsored by the Tallahassee Writers Association, are in their 19th and 27th years, respectively, and are open to all. Short stories, creative nonfiction, flash fiction, and children's picture books (text only) are the categories for prose competition. Winners in prose and poetry receive $100 for first place; $75, second; and $50, third. Haiku winners receive $50, $35, and $20. Winning entries will be published in the 2014 Seven Hills Review. See the Tallahassee Writers Association website ( for complete contest guidelines, rules and entry fees. TWA members receive a discounted fee for entries, but all judging is blind.



Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 162

June 28, 2013

Etel Adnan                                          Ann Patchett                                          Laura Treacy Bentley


It looks better online! -- Read latest changes and corrections online -- MSW Home


In this Issue:

Sitt Marie Rose; Team of Rivals; The Cove; Ann Patchett

The E-Reader Report with John Birch

Laura Treacy Bentley's First Novel

Announcements: Including Naomi Replansky's
award for her Collected Poems!

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For Back Issues, click here.


I haven't done a Books for Readers Newsletter in more than a month. I've been travelling-- as far as Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee where I taught a master class in fiction and enjoyed the Appalachian mountains around that part of the world where Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee converge. My dad was born in that region, and I used to spend summers with my grandmother in Wise County Virginia, and visit my aunt in Scott County Tennessee. I'm always struck by the love of story in Appalachia, whether read, spoken or sung. This enriches Appalachian writers' conferences, where you also find deep and abiding respect for literature and the belief in finding meaning from the path of the story. I had a lovely week-end, and recommend that everyone go to Mountain Heritage Literary Festival .

In the interstices between traveling and teaching and writing, I've been reading. I have some books you may not have heard of, and some that are doing quite well for themselves, thank you very much! Among the latter is Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which was the main source for the recent block buster movie, Lincoln. The book was on its own merits a best seller for a few weeks in 2005.

I especially enjoyed the story of Lincoln's road to the nomination for president. Kearns Goodwin emphasizes his political talent and his ability to bring the best out of men with very large egos, and she also, like so many before her, falls under the spell of Lincoln's personality and integrity. I heard people praising him my whole life, except for when they were complaining that he wasn't anti-slavery soon enough. In this book, I finally got it: his charm, and his enormous abilities and also the terrible trade offs required for dealing in a multi-party system with people whose values are corrupt.

It was a nasty, nasty war: the sheer number of deaths in battle was extraordinary. One of the excellent elements in this book is the personalization of the struggle through he use of letters and journals voices of many people, especially women like Frances (Mrs. William) Seward and Mary Lincoln and young men like Lincoln's secretaries (and future biographers) Hays and Nicolay. They tell Lincoln stories, of course, but also what it was like to have family members dying in war or coming home terribly mangled.

Other striking things: How short the war was in years; how intractable was the hatred of black people and injustice to them, not only in the south. The horrors of Mississippi in summer 1964 was, after all, only three generations after the war. The terrorism during the Civil Rights movement was in many ways a continuation of the war.

Finally, it was a book about about writing: a lot of time is spent on how Lincoln's speeches were revised, and how he-- a sharp logician and rhetorician--turned so often to storytelling to reach an understanding himself and to communicate to others.


More nonfiction: I also read the enormous doorstopper of a biography of Joseph Kennedy, THE PATRIARCH: THE REMARKABLE LIFE AND TURBULENT TIMES OF JOSEPH P. KENNEDY by David Nasaw. I was at Bucknell University for a while when he was there, so I have some interest in Nasaw's career.

It took me a long time to decide I wanted to read this 800 pager about a man and family I never quite understood what was so terrific about: that is to say, I never got the romanticizing of the Kennedies, and reading about the patriarch of the family didn't make me like them or respect their politics much-- but I did get fascinated.

Even after I'd dipped into the book, I kept laying it aside. Usually, I am drawn into biographies by the childhood stories, but for some reason, I don't know if it was Nasaw or Kennedy, this one didn't really get going till Kennedy started acting in government. You'd think his years in Hollywood and his affair with Gloria Swanson would be fun, but through the first couple of hundred pages I just didn't care enough about Kennedy. What kept me reading was wanting to find out about the lobotomy of the oldest Kennedy daughter, who appeared to be slow but not all that damaged until they opened up her head.

When Kennedy became ambassador to England and his kids got older, I began to get really interested. His opposition to the war– for conservative reasons– gave me a look at the Roosevelt administration I'd never had. I always vaguely thought everything was rah-rah go FDR-- well, maybe not the New Deal, but surely the Second World War was popular, yes?

Kennedy thought the Second World War had the potential to destroy capitalism,and thus should be opposed! Still, he played as best he could the part of a good soldier, representing the Roosevelt administration, at least most of the time.

Then the Kennedy boys went to war, and the familiar family catastrophes began: within ten years he lost his oldest son, lost his oldest daughter to lobotomy and his next daughter to an airplane crash. This was all long before the famous assassinations. The decimation of a family brings up feelings, no matter how much you don't like most of what Kennedy stood for.

The political parts are excellent: in the second half, Kennedy's efforts to support his sons' political careers offers a real lesson in how those things are done in the real world, with lots of money and the calling in of favors and building relationships.


Another of the books that doesn't need my praise is William Styron's Sophie's Choice, which I re-read (again?). I admire this book a lot and this time I was particularly impressed by the novel's elegant shape, although the narrator maybe makes it a little too explicit: how it begins with the noisy lovemaking bed and ends with death in the bed.

My favorites are all the parts that Sophie narrates; charmer-schizo Nathan is a superb character; Styron creates some good Nazi characters; and I adore the post-war New York City setting. It is a good book, probably (IMHO) Styron's best. I even like, up to a point, Stingo as a narrator and the writer-as-a- young artist theme, but this is also where I see the novel's flaws. There is just too much of Stingo's sex life (or lack of it). Some of it is funny, some of it is painful, but I get it much sooner than Styron gives up on writing about it! A nice boy in the late nineteen forties has a hard row to hoe with the nice girls determined to be modern but virginal. Fine, let's get on with Sophie and Nathan.

Finally, the whole theme of the young writer wanting to be "great" is painful to read, maybe too close to home for me, but his suffering reminds me that the Age of the Great-Man American Novelist seems to have petered out in depression and alcohol and buffoonery (in the case of Norman Mailer). Happily, we've still got great novels being written, without all the posturing.


                                                                               --Meredith Sue Willis




Short Notes

Etel Adnan's small novel SITT MARIE ROSE is an amazing hundred pages set during the (last) Lebanese Civil War. An ethnically Christian woman lives with Palestinians, loves a Palestinian man, and works for their cause. An old boyfriend in the Christian militia is part of a small group who captures, interrogates, and murders her in the school where she woks with deaf children. The brief story is told in many voices: the children speak as a group, the militia men have their turn. There is hunting imagery, there is Sitt Marie Rose's feminist sensibility. The only real Christian, she says, is one who stands up for the Stranger. It is a poet's novel, searing and beautiful. Worth seeking out-- I found it as a used book on the Internet.




I admired and enjoyed reading Ann Patchett's The Magician's Assistant, except for the ending. Patchett is an very inventive and moving writer, and I'm a big fan of her Bel Canto. This one is good too: it is just what is says, the story of a woman who has made her life as the assistant to a charismatic magician. She is in love with him, even marries him, and he is loving towards her, but sexually attracted to men. He dies, and she discovers the secrets of his birth family.

It's all about Los Angeles and Nebraska, with well-drawn mid western characters who are firmly of their place but not condescended to. I was, however, disappointed by the ending which has what I think of as a short story ending: that is, it is clever and surprising with a dollop of "real" magic. I think this kind of thing works best in something short. It seemed too slight for the solid weight of realism that preceded it. I felt like Patchett was dodging a lot of human character-driven questions she had raised and hinted at.

Well, I always say I read novels for the journey, not for the final five pages.


My first Ron Rash novel was a short work called The Cove, with clean strong writing and a good story. Something in it seemed, however, manipulative to me. It wasn't the sentences-- he's clearly a superb craftsman-- but it was as if he planned his plot and stuck to it, whether or not it worked. The story sets up a mystery in the first pages: whose skull is in the old well? Then we go back in time to a family living in a hollow that doesn't really get enough sun for farming, where the parents are dead, the daughter shunned as a witch, the son back from the war short a hand. A stranger arrives, and we're off to the races: a lot of energy and a lot of momentum, but the deaths at the end seem to me to fit a plan rather than rise from the story.

There is an interesting author's note in the e-book version I read saying that Rash revised the book, de-emphasized one of the point-of-view characters, a one-dimensional bigoted sleazebag.



I also want to make a short mention of Chinua Achebe's Hopes and Impediments:Selected Essays by Chinua Achebe. I intend to re-read many of the essays here, especially the ones on the uses of fiction and of course the seminal "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness." For now, I just want to quote from "The Truth of Fiction:"

"How often do we hear people say, 'Oh, I don't have the time to read novels,' implying that fiction is frivolous? They would generally add– lest you consider them illiterate– that they read histories or biographies, which they presume to be more appropriate to serious-minded adults. Such people are to be pitied; they are like a six-cylinder car which says: Oh, I can manage all right on three sparking-plugs, thank you very much. Well, it can manage somehow but it will sound like an asthmatic motorcycle! The life of the imagination is a vital element of our total nature. If we starve it or pollute it the quality of our life is depressed or soiled.

"For just as man is a tool-making animal and has recreated his natural world with his tools, so is he a fiction-making animal and refashions his imaginative landscape with his fictions."



I also read MONTECORE: THE SILENCE OF THE TIGER by Jonas Hassen Khemiri-- an excellent book, truly political. See Shelley Ettinger's review on POLITERATURE at:
and my response .




Laura Treacy Bentley's first novel THE SILVER TATTOO moves from West Virginia to Ireland where protagonist Leah Howland must face not only the terrible thing that happened to her husband, but also her own guilt and fears– and a very real and very mysterious threat to her life.

This dark literary thriller is an interesting mixture of the dark fears that pursue us when we are isolated in strange places and real life horrors that require courage and determination to face. Bentley easily combines these these with suspense and literary and folk references in a powerful combination of psychological thriller and paen to Ireland.

Bentley is a poet whose work has been praised by Ray Bradbury. For more commentary on The Silver Tattoo, see the review in the Herald-Dispatch .






Naomi Replansky says, "Thank you, as always, for the newsletter. And for sending me now to Willkie Collins. I've been re-reading George Gissing with great admiration, in particular for his NEW GRUB STREET."


Phyllis Moore liked Joel Weinberger's review of A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES and recommends Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of A Confederacy of Dunces by Cory MacLauchlin.




Publishers Random House have launched a mobile Facebook app called BookScout, which it describes as an "e-book discovering engine." It goes to great lengths to learn about your reading likes and dislikes, and then recommends books you'll probably enjoy but probably wouldn't have discovered on your own. Book Scout recommends Random House's books, of course, but also pretty much every book in the listings of major distributors, such as Ingram. The app will offer you a list of retailers that have your book of choice, and with a few more mouse clicks you'll have bought.

To see how it works, just type "BookScout" into Facebook.

About John Birch: The great Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock once wrote a piece called "Men Who Have Shaved Me," and John's decided to do his version of it. Read "Clip Joints" in his blog: -- a growing collection of nearly 30 of his short stories, articles and essays.




Phyllis Moore reviewed Jackson Versus Witchy Wanda by Belinda Anderson on Amazon.



Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya recommends that we "try anything by the remarkable Etel Adnan (, whose sensibility I've always found lapidary."

I was sold. See my short review of Etel Adnan's Sitt Marie Rose above.




Don't miss Marc Kaminsky's wonderful piece in Tikkun about the fate of the Palestinian village of Lifta near Jerusalem:
There's an excellent story about a shift in relationship between two school boys by John Birch at!
Learn about Jane Austen's use of latinate words to distinguish the class of her characters:
If you want more on spying, see this Guardian piece on the FBI and Carlos Fuentes:
There's a lovely, short, online documentary about McDowell County, West Virginia.



Our friend Backchannel sends the following notes:




Great news: Naomi Replansky's Collected Poems, published by Godine/Black Sparrow in 2012, has just won the William Carlos Williams award of the Poetry Society of America!


The Ice Mountain Writers in the Hampshire County area of West Virginia will be meeting in Romney, West Virginia July 18, 3013, at 2pm at the library in Romney.
Alice Boatwright's book COLLATERAL DAMAGE (reviewed won the Bronze Medal for Literary Fiction from the Independent Publisher Book Awards. Alice says it feels just like the Olympics.
Halvard Johnson's book of poems Remains to Be Seen has been published by Spuyten Duyvil Press. REMAINS TO BE SEEN ]
June 29, 2013: The Literary Image and Impact of Breece D'J Pancake: Native Son Symposium. 1140 Smith Street, Milton, WV 304-743-6711 Speakers: Dr. Grace Toney Edwards 10:00 a.m. An Overview of Pancake's Life and Career Dr. Rob McDonald 11:00 a.m. Native Ground, the Role of Place In Shaping Literary Imagination Marie Manilla 1:30 p.m. An Analysis of Pancake's Writing Panel of Peers 2:30 p.m. Breece As We Knew Him Phyllis Wilson Moore 3:30 p.m. The Impact of Pancake's Work





Books for Readers # 163

August 7, 2013



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In this Issue:
Things to read online;
Special Project for Rural Women
This Gone Place: Poems by Lisa J. Parker
Audiobook of Screaming With the Cannibals
The Wedding Gift by Marlen Suyapa Bodden
The Virgins by Pamela Erens
Romantic History
by Michael Harris
The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya
Cat Pleska Reviews The Silver Tattoo
The E-Reader Report with John Birch

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I'm excited to be writing this month about three brand new novels and one recent one: a historical drama centered on American slavery; a prep school story of doomed love; another love story that spans decades; and a story set at a forward base of the American army in Afghanistan that is structured by a Greek tragedy. That's what I love about fiction: you fly over centuries and continents to burrow deep into the lives of others through the power of the writer's imagination-- and yours, the reader's.


Marlen Bodden's novel The Wedding Gift is the story of several interlinked families enmeshed in the American institution of slavery shortly before the Civil War. The two main characters, Sarah Campbell and Theodora Allen, show us that world from the view of a young enslaved woman and from a white plantation owner's wife.

Sarah is the heroine: she is vital and brave and brilliant, and engineers her own escape from slavery– as well as her awful revenge. Theodora, a generation older, faces secret horrors: the discovery that her daughter Clarissa has an enslaved half sister; the realization that her brutish husband, if he loves anyone, loves his enslaved concubine. Later, Theodora's daughter Clarissa is the cause of a shattering scandal among the slave owners.

Carefully researched, the novel has appealing characters, complex situations, and powerful story momentum. It also offers a stunning portrait of a well-run Alabama cotton plantation of the 1850's. Bodden sets up the Allen Plantation as a relatively benign place. The Master, Mr. Allen, finds it economically favorable to provide decent housing, food, gifts, and even holidays for his property. Of course, he treats his wife and legitimate daughter as well-dressed chattels as well. Slavery is shown to be, even in relatively humane conditions, a corrupting abomination both to the enslaved and the enslavers.

Early in her marriage, Theodora is jealous of her husband's concubine, but this changes to a certain kind of camaraderie as they try to do the best for both of their daughters. It is Theodora who teaches Sarah to read, and Sarah uses her knowledge to read poetry– and also to write passes and manumission papers.

Another pleasure of the book is the legal machinations over Mr. Allen's inheritance. Ms. Bodden is herself a lawyer and knows not only how the law works, but how to make it an interesting part of the story. What finally drives the novel is the questions: What is in the will? Exactly how badly will Mr. Allen treat his legitimate wife and children? Who is the black father of a white woman's child? Who will run and who will be caught? Who will live and who will die? And above all, will Sarah's skills and courage–and the support of her family and community–be enough to get her to freedom?

The novel satisfyingly combines a hopeful future for many of the people we like best along with a real shock at the end. It is an exciting, informative, and deeply entertaining novel.



Pamela Erens' new novel The Virgins is a beautifully written story in the long line of prep school novels going back at least to A Separate Peace -- distinctly adolescent worlds, in which adults are on the periphery. Here, the adults check dorm rooms for sexual and drug activity or offer occasional bumbling support, which the young people promptly turn down. Adolescents are always, of course, about making their own social circles– making themselves, actually– but here, in spite of some visits home to families in varying stages of dysfunction, divorce, drunkenness, coldness, and high-pressure expectation, there is no other reality at all.

The three main characters in The Virgins are Seung, an attractive and appealing Korean-American boy; Aviva, who is Jewish American from Chicago; and Bennet-Jones, the WASP narrator and reconstructor of the story, who appears at first to be a peripheral narrator, but becomes increasingly less dependable and more involved.

He is the only principal character who is a traditional prep school type: that is, he is from a line of fathers and sons of the old American upper class. The other two, Aviva and Seung, are the children of immigrants, so there is an interesting culture and class clash going on– this theme is not central, but Erens is such a subtle writer that many not-so-obvious things are always at play.

The story line, culminating in a break-up and betrayal, is that Aviva decides to remake herself and talks her parents into sending her to the prep school where she causes a stir and begins a year long relationship with Seung. Their relationship is disturbing to the school because it consists of long hours of physical passion as they two explore one another's bodies in great detail, but never have coitus. The whole school sees them kissing and touching and knows she visits his room, and everyone admires and envies their free and presumably complete sexual relationship. It's a fascinating premise to explore, and Erens does a wonderful job.

Both young people in the end feel they are failing-- failing to reach each other, to penetrate, as it were. In the end, their failure ends in catastrophe. The sexual activity is described in painstaking detail (and keep in mind that the narrator is always Bennet-Jones, who is a kind of undependable, creative voyeur.) It's a wonderfully told story, excruciatingly painful. Erens is harder on Aviva than on Seung, even though he is eager to try drugs, dependent on other people, and heroic in his determination to please Aviva.


Michael Harris's new novel is Romantic History has a strong young woman character, Maggie, a rebel, talented and smart, who thinks she can handle herself after a life with a drunken Private Investigator dad. She ends up raped horrifically, then working in a massage parlor, marrying a career criminal she meets there-- and going with him on a robbery spree. She is wonderfully messed up and feisty, and I like her better young than old. Older she is still interesting, but too involved in New Age theorizing for my taste.

The other main character, Paul, a newsman, loves Maggie over many decades, and their relationship is the romantic history of the title. Along with the love story is a lot of interesting material about the failing newspaper business on the west Coast. There are colorful newspaper characters and a little labor unrest that doesn't go well.

The strength of this book is how many ways it opens, unpeels, rebuilds, and re-envisions its damaged characters. It circles around its events nicely, giving us a look at Paul and then the youthful Paul, and then some young Maggie and some old Maggie.

It also has a surprisingly satisfying triplet ending. That is, we are given three possible endings, a probable one; a violent one, and a freeze frame. This works extremely well-- far better than I would have guessed, and does not feel like a cop out, but a continuation of the exploration of the people's lives.



Finally, in my fiction round-up, is The Watch , a highly praised, commercially-published Afghanistan War novel. Joydeep Roy-Battacharya did deep research for this, and acknowledges the many soldiers he interviewed. He builds his world with the right music, the right vulgarities, knowledge of the rules of engagement, of weapons, and even the various backgrounds of the characters including flashbacks to Baton Rouge and a small town in Vermont.

The story is structured around the outline of Sophocles' Antigone: here, a Pashtun woman arrives outside a US forward base in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. She has no lower legs or feet, and has dragged herself for many miles in a cart. She wants to bury her brother, who probably led an attack on the base after a drone strike killed most of their family and gravely wounded her.

The book follows several points of views– the sister first, then various Americans, including one articulate First Lieutenant who has chosen to be a warrior and has a high ideal of honor. In his diary he writes, "I'm at the epicenter of the place where the forces of Fascism– of religious fundamentalism, societal repression, and violent hatred– must be contained. When I'm challenged about the consequences of my actions, I ask the person to look me in the eye and ask if he or she truly believes that peace would return and the condition of the women and children, especially, would improve if we decided to leave this place."

Another character, the medic (who I wish had had a full point-of-view section) sees things differently. He says, "The Pashtuns are in this thing as a people. And that legless girl in her cart is part of that. They know what they're fighting for– they're fighting for their survival, their homes, their beliefs. Okay, fine, those beliefs are fucked up, what are we fighting for? We got kids here whose only option in life is either the army or methlands. Sure, we also got the high-tech ordnance and every damn textbook strategy under the sun. It doesn't matter. Their slings and stones are more powerful than our M-203's. Their nation's more powerful than our army."

Roy-Battacharya puts in everything: all the viewpoints, all the smells and sensations of war, all the richly realized backgrounds of his characters. It is not a huge book, but it is thick with detail, sometimes almost too much for a story with its reminders of the spare staging of classical Greek theater. What is best here, aside from the strong beat of the story's momentum, is how the Americans gradually develop a more nuanced (and thus more painful) view of their role in Afghanistan. This happens over days of watching the brave young woman in her cart in the desert waiting to bury her brother. Her presence and her demands for a particular kind of righteousness bring out an answering yearning for righteousness in many of the soldiers.

In this sad tale, even the "old man," the commander-captain, is not yet thirty. This is, in the end, like so many war stories, about boys facing the incoherence and immediacy of our wars.




                                                                               --Meredith Sue Willis




I just finished Lisa J. Parker's lovely first collection of poems. It's a wonderful mix of sensual memories of growing up with Southern Appalachian roots and an extended mountain family and the pain of leaving home, even if you want to. There are many wonderful pieces, including one about snapping beans with her grandmother and one about her father dying from black lung. This latter poem, "Sounding," is a real knock-out, juxtaposing the man's agonal breathing and the coal miners' technique for knocking on the mine's ceiling to see if it's about to collapse. She writes extremely well of Appalachians, herself and others, going out into the world, and there is a special section about her time in New York City which coincided with the attacks on the World Trade Center.

It is a highly sophisticated collection that is also highly readable.

It's published by the invaluable Motes Books.




Cat Pleska Reviews Laura Treacy Bentley’s The Silver Tattoo


Here’s what I love: a page-turning mystery written in beautiful language! And that’s not the only pairing that Laura Bentley provides in her thriller, The Silver Tattoo: a stalker following a lovely, intelligent woman across the stunning landscape of Ireland; lost love and the desire to move beyond sorrow; friendships forming amidst terror.

As a poet, Bentley has finely tuned language to her command as she expertly builds fear throughout the story. Beginning with an ominous event—a beautiful butterfly is trapped on sticky tape and affixed to her bathroom mirror—Leah, a student at Ireland’s famous Trinity College, flees from Dublin to the beautiful and dangerous Cliffs of Moher, on the west side of Ireland. Here, rather than tranquility Leah hopes to find, danger and fear escalate. A strange woman who calls herself Rowan (the rowan is a meaningful tree in Ireland, which is supposed to protect you from witchcraft and enchantment) tries to push Leah off the Cliffs (a 700 foot drop!). From that point, Leah intensifies her search for clues as to why she was a target of this strange woman and who on earth is stalking her and why.

Bentley moves the story along with not only mystery and intrigue, but also the challenge of thought-provoking life issues and emotions. Readers learn that Leah is fleeing more than danger; she’s also fleeing her husband, Conor, a bedridden victim of a car accident. Leah tries to rebuild her life and begins with continuing her studies at Trinity. Close friend Ferdy back in America, seems to be the one who is loyal to Conor and visits him faithfully, reporting to Leah Conor’s condition. Leah is grateful, but Ferdy also provides a reminder of how she is not the wife Connor deserves. How can someone live with guilt, move on, and flourish despite it?

In thinking about other West Virginia writers who wrote in the thriller genre, this story reminds me of the chilling ride created by Davis Grubb in Night of the Hunter. A knuckle-biter that builds continual fear, The Silver Tattoo creates the same kind of “look over your shoulder as you never know who’s going to be gaining on you,” feeling.

This passage gives a glimpse of the poetic language Bentley is known for:

“They walked down a dirt road that paralleled a rushing stream where bright green watercress skimmed its shimmering surface. After about a half mile, they stopped to listen to a croaking bullfrog and surveyed a large man-made pond thick with cattails; metallic dragonflies hovered overhead, darting to and fro in the now hot morning sun. Spring had gone directly to summer this year—no transition. In a far meadow, they spotted two young deer. As Leah and Conor approached, the deer raised their heads and froze, starting straight into the intruders’ eyes. After a couple of minutes, the deer cautiously moved back toward a salt lick.

‘Is that the Eighth Wonder?’ she whispered.

‘No, that’s an everyday wonder.’”

As readers, that’s what we all need: wonder. Bentley delivers with her fabulous combination: a thrilling, intelligent, and beautifully written story and leads us along with frightened Leah as she discovers the dark secret as to why she’s being stalked.

Oh, and the meaning of “the silver tattoo”? You’ll find out!





Interview with Marlen Bodden, author of The Wedding Gift reviewed above:

Phyllis Moore points us to some Political Poetry online: at The WebTheater: -- "Boom Boom" the video, poetry by Crystal Good.
Are you interested in an online in-the-cloud word processor that sounds simple and intuitive (and free)? Read about Yarny:

THE E-READER REPORT WITH JOHN BIRCH: Don't Sneeze at Graphic Novels, Says Barnes & Noble!

Graphic novels are "not to be sneezed at," a lady behind an information desk at Barnes & Noble told me. She's right. Just take a look at the rapidly expanding shelves in their stores. There's an absolute boom in sales of these often brilliantly illustrated storybooks, and they're not just for kids. The e-bookstore Kobo has just partnered with Viz Media, the Japanese publisher of the popular manga and anime graphic books, adding 500 "volumes" to their collection, and they expect to add 1500 more over time. Check out who, as competitors of Amazon, also claim to offer "millions of free books."


In his July blog post, John Birch recalls the night when the first "doodle bugs," the Nazi's pilotless flying bombs, came crashing into Southeast England. Go to -- a growing collection of nearly 30 short stories, articles and essays.



See for general information, and an August 2013 only call for submissions to The Notebook:


There are regular, excellent, free programs and peer workshops, many at the Montclair Library and environs. To get the monthly announcements, send an e-mail request to Carl Selinger at .



Backchannel says "Wow, this review sent me for a loop:"  -- "What a great-sounding new novel!!!" ...and also recommends Ben Fountain's stories and a novel by Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou:
And finally: " If this ain't Politerature... I don't know what is: --- "an intense sounding book!"



Y.A. and Middle Grade Intensive Writers' Workshop Saturday, October 12 in Brooklyn. Take a look here, and also at the sponsoring business, Paper Lantern Lit Story Architects. They have an interesting alternative to writing young adult and middle grade novels on spec.
On June 20, 2013, the Poet Laureate of West Virginia, Marc Harshman, read excerpts from his wonderful long poem "A Song for West Virginia" to celebrate the Sesquicentennial Celebration of the state.
New book by Mary Akers: BONES OF AN INLAND SEA: STORIES available from . Says National Book Award winner Andrea Barrett, "In Mary Akers' stories, as complexly intertwined as the branches of a coral reef, her passionate characters engage both each other and a richly detailed, vital physical world. An impressive achievement."
Phyllis Moore draws our attention to a reprint of original reporting on the Hatfield-McCoy feud, writing that probably was very important in creating the Appalachian stereotype of the fight' and feudin' .
Barbara Crooker has a new poem online at Her website is Audiobooks and Ross Ballard present their 15th audio book project, an adaptation of Lee Maynard's cult classic SCREAMING WITH CANNIBALS, which will officially be released July 4th. They say, "Make sure the kiddies are in bed before you crank up the escapades of Crum's very own Jessie Stone. (Contains some Adult language and graphic scenes.)!"

Don't forget to get on this list for regular notices about open submissions at various literary journals and presses:
Normandi Ellis is teaching the following workshop (go to listed website for more information): JOURNAL TO THE SELF SEPT 9 - NOV 11 $200 Register with the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning .
Beach Writers Talk Law at Jessie Creek Winery: Sunday, Oct. 27, the First Annual Beach Writers Autumn Retreat will take place at the picturesque Jessie Creek Winery, 1 N. Delsea Drive in Cape May Court House, NJ. This one-day seminar is a satellite of North Wildwood Beach Writers Conference held in June every year. The Retreat complements the Conference's focus on writing and publishing with the next step—protecting your rights as an author. Register by Sept. 30 and pay only $125 for the entire day. After Sept. 30 the registration fee is $150 Visit for all the details and registration form. You can also e-mail questions to
Naomi Replansky's Collected Poems, published by Godine/Black Sparrow in 2012, has just won the William Carlos Williams award of the Poetry Society of America!



Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 164

September 17, 2013

Latest changes and corrections online        MSW Home


A word from our sponsor: Two terrific new reviews of the revised A Space Apart (my first novel, newly published in an e-book edition from Foreverland Press) -- one by Diane Simmons, author of Little America and Dreams Like Thunder, and one by Michael Harris, author of Romantic History and The Chieu Hoi Saloon.



Elmore Leonard, 1925 - 2013

See Susan Lindsey's comments on his career


In this Issue:

Elaine Drennon Little's A Southern Place

Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth

Peter Ackroyd's Shakespeare: The Biography

Ed Davis on Julie Moore's poems

Call for Books to Review...

The E-Reader Report with John Birch


Special Project for Rural Women

Interesting Things to Read Online

Recommendations from Backchannel


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To create a link to this newsletter, use this permanent link .
For Back Issues, click here.


Elaine Drennon Little's new novel A SOUTHERN PLACE is the direct and moving story of two generations of poor white Georgians trying to get out of "Dumas County" (pronounced, we learn, "Doom us"). It takes place between 1958 and 1995, and has a happy ending after a lot of really bad things along the way. Women who know better fall for bad men or men who turn out to be forbidden to them. Babies come without planning, but, at least in this family, are loved. There is spousal abuse, a lot of drinking, and a rich villain so evil that he not only ruins the lives of the employees in his ladies' panties factory, he is also cruel to his own dyslexic son.

There is a lot of alcoholism and drug addiction as well as pure bad luck, beyond human control, especially a accident that turns an optimistic young man who loves the land into a bitter drunk. Even the happy ending has a lot to do with luck.

The central character, Mary Jane Mullinax, known as Mojo, is bright and extremely hard working. She supports a talented but dangerous musician by working several jobs. The way she finally escapes her circumstances (and Dumas County) has less to do with her efforts and more to do with chance.

The storytelling is smooth and engaging, but the novel's greatest strength is how it subtly makes you pull for the characters. It opens with Mojo near death after a terrible beating, and then moves back in time to her mother and uncle's stories. The book ends in Mojo's voice, so we have the satisfaction of knowing she is a survivor.

We are easily and beautifully initiated into the world of peanut farmers in the second half of the twentieth century and of another world, the world of Southern clubs and bars. There is a wonderful passage where you learn about how a club band chooses its play list and moves the audience through increasingly intense emotional highs. The novel gives lip service to religion, but in the end, it is a story about the effect of luck on working people. Fortune (both the goddess and wealth) hold sway here, but the reader reads for the beating hearts and determined striving of people who work as farmhands and waitresses, in factories and convenience stores.

I also reread Edith Wharton's THE HOUSE OF MIRTH, in which an entire wealthy class is skewered, and the narrow path possible to women is sharply drawn. I've read the novel at least three times, and I used to name it as my favorite. This reading, however, I found it almost too painful-- possibly because I knew the ending well, and felt Wharton moving towards it inexorably.

Elaine Drennon Little's novel was governed by the vicissitudes of fortune, but felt upbeat somehow. Wharton's wonderful, artistically shapely novel brutally, constantly nudges Lily Bart into her downfall. Everything works brilliantly here. The final chapters of Book I , for example, set up the tragedy of the second half. Lily barely escapes a wealthy male acquaintance's attempt to rape her. She is devastated by the betrayal (she owes him money), but goes home to her cold, rich aunt's house and waits for a visit from the man she thinks she loves. She asks her aunt for money to pay her debts, and is refused, but still convinced her beloved will save her. She waits and waits, but he never comes. We know, but she doesn't, that he saw her leaving the home of the man who attacked her and assumes she was there for an assignation.

Instead of her beloved, she is visited by the Jewish parvenu Simon Rosedale, who proposes to her. She almost accepts, once she realizes her beloved isn't coming. She is, in fact, about to write a note accepting Rosedale, but receives a telegram from a friend inviting her to cruise in the Mediterranean. She thus passes on her best remaining chance to be a rich society woman and goes on the voyage which will finally ruin all her chances at the kind of marriage she was bred for. There are many things Lily Bart does to hasten her own fall– she uses her small inheritance when she gets it to pay off her debts. She refuses to take the action that would save her reputation. She undercuts all her own work early in the novel to get a proposal from an annoying boor. She is repeatedly too invested in a kind of high-mindedness that she cannot afford. She never closes the deal on investing the valuable property that is herself.

I admire the novel enormously and will no doubt read it again, but this time I was impatient with Lily's self-destructive behavior, and felt for the first time that perhaps Wharton was too determined to make the story come out the way she wanted. Lily has a friend who is poor and lives for others– a model of an alternative life– but Lily disdains that life. She will only live is she can have both luxury and high-mindedness. Essentially, I felt that Simon Rosedale was beginning to take over the novel, and that Lily should have accepted him. She comes very close, is indeed writing a note to him when the invitation to cruise arrives. So it is a combination of chance (the arrival of the invitation) as well as Lily's pride and, of course, the anti-Semitism of her class that ruin her. There is also an unexplored element of terror of physical sex entering in, I think. Rosedale loves Lily for her expensive, superbly decorative quality, but he also desires her physically.

Except for some of the heavy handed sentimentality over the working girl who gives Lily brief respite near the end, Wharton wrote a pretty much perfect novel, only perhaps too determined to trace Lily's downward trajectory to its logical conclusion.

Image above of Gillian Anderson as Lily Bart.


In a mood for more Wharton, I read SANCTUARY, a very short novel, which Pamela Erens liked it on Goodreads. The first half was pretty terrific– a young girl discovers her fiance's weakness if not moral turpitude. The second half, in which she obsessively manipulates her son into behaving honorably, is a little creepy to me. I kept expecting the young man would be ruined by mama's self-immolating yet still selfish love, but he buys into it completely. See an interesting discussion of the story as an example of melodrama at


In vacation mode, I read THE SECOND CONFESSION by Rex Stout. This was my first Nero Wolfe mystery in a while. My husband's family are all Nero Wolfe fans, and Rex Stout is the first mystery writer I ever liked enough to read extensively. This one, new to me, was good in a lot of ways. Published in 1948, it takes place among rich folks on their Westchester estate; the detective Wolfe, who is famously fat and sedentary, has to get in in a car; narrator Archie Goodwin cracks wise; a right-wing radio personality loses his job. It is also mainstream for its time with its anti-communism, but nuanced enough to have some actual CP members appear with information Wolfe can use. Archie is his usual unrepentant and obnoxiously sexist self. Anyhow, it's of its time in all kinds of interesting ways. Oh, and it has an appearance by Wolfe's crime boss nemesis, the original he-who-shall-not-be-named, Arnold Zeck.


Joseph Kanon's THE GOOD GERMAN is written more recently, but also has a post-World War II setting, Berlin in 1945– a searing, wonderfully described setting. There is a mystery here too, and lots of action and car chases and fire fights and narrow escapes on foot. They weren't bad, but I felt them being written, probably with an eye to the hoped-for movie (which starred George Clooney and Cate Blanchett and a crew of other big names). I kept hoping that the German heroine Lena would turn out to be not-so-good, but she stayed good, and instead we got a lot of interesting Nazis and not-Nazis plus good underworld characters like an expatriate Cockney whoremaster and real estate magnate The main character Jake was a little too skillful in his sleuthing and fighting to suit me. This is another book where I liked the minor characters better than the major ones. But oh that Berlin, and the very real sufferings of the Berliners, many still blaming the Jews.


I also reread for summer pleasure LIGHT IN AUGUST by William Faulkner. As usual I'm glad Faulkner took on some issues of race, but also as usual, it's hard to separate Faulkner's characters' racism from his own. There's lots to be offended by– lots of assumptions about "Negro" poverty, even "Negro" odor. If I were African-American, I think I'd be hard put to read Faulkner. Does anyone know of any good African-American criticism of Faulkner's work? Faulkner is pretty terrible in how he treats women too. In spite of all the discomfort, the novel has some of the darkest, funniest scenes in literature, including the brutal, weird love affair between Joe Christmas and Joanna Burden. Faulkner is especially good on sniffing out the racism of the people who ostensibly want to help blacks (like the Burden family). He is the master of having truly awful things happen that are also funny as hell– the origins of Southern Gothic, but done so much better by Faulkner than by his imitators.

He is also a master of moving around among many characters, and using them to tell the story in long first person speeches. There is a lot in his novels that is meant to be profound but that I find overblown, exaggerated, even silly, but he's a wonder if you can stand him.


I'll end the short takes with a nonfiction book I was dipping into over most of the summer, when we always see at least one Shakespeare play at the always-terrific Shakespeare and Company. The book was SHAKESPEARE: THE BIOGRAPHY by Peter Ackroyd. It is written with many short chapters, which works well because of the amount of information included. It essentially establishes the case for Shakespeare's popularity as a playwright in his lifetime, for his determination to cut a figure back home in Stratford, and for his enthusiastic search for whatever material and stagecraft would please his audiences, which ranged from the general populace in outdoor theaters like the Globe to the more genteel audiences at the indoor Blackfriars theater, to many special appearances at the courts of Elizabeth I and, especially, her successor, James I.

None of this in any way undercuts Shakespeare as a genius. He was happy with the demands of his profession as man of the theater– actor and entrepreneur as well as writer, but he never stopped his exploration of the human spirit and human condition. It's a very pragmatic and I would say just look at Shakespeare. It includes reference to records of deeds and legal proceedings Shakespeare was involved n as well as his publication history. One especially interesting circumstance was the regular, powerful effects of the plague every summer that caused the theaters to be closed and the company to go on the road.

A solid book with minimal speculation and maximum reality.


                                                                               --Meredith Sue Willis




The writing world lost a master craftsman recently when Elmore Leonard died at the age of 87. Leonard was a prolific novelist, short story author and screenwriter. He wrote nearly 50 books. Most were Westerns or crime fiction set in Florida or Detroit. Hollywood made more than half of them into movies or TV shows. The titles are familiar: Hombre, 3:10 to Yuma, Joe Kidd, 52 Pick-up, Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Be Cool, Mr. Majestyk, Freaky Deaky, Maximum Bob, Tishomingo Blues, and many more. The TV series Justified is based on two of his novels (Riding the Rap and Pronto, and one of his short stories, "Fire in the Hole").

His work might not have been great literature, but it was always great reading. Leonard was a master of clean and elegant prose. He was an astute observer of human character, but never as an aloof anthropologist. Leonard climbed into the getaway car himself and rode off with his characters. His villains and anti-heroes were weak and sometimes not too bright, but always memorable. Leonard was renowned for his authentic dialogue. It was direct, gritty, witty, and used sentence fragments, slang, and regionalisms. Within a few sentences, the reader knew where the character was from, how much schooling he had had, his spot on the social ladder, and how much money he earned. Open any of Leonard's books at a random page and read the dialogue aloud; you couldn't find a better teacher.

In July 2001, the New York Times published Leonard's now famous list of ten writing rules. The list includes "Never use a verb other than 'said' to carry dialogue" and "Keep your exclamation points under control." Rule 10 is my favorite, "Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip." Leonard lists a final rule that sums up the others: "If it sounds like writing, rewrite it." That's sound advice from a masterful teacher. Elmore Leonard is gone, but his books and wonderful characters live on.

Susan Lindsey sends out a monthly newsletter called Savvy Writer that is available by emailng her at Her business is Savvy Communications services for writers. See the website at




(Book published in Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, An Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2013.


I met Julie Moore at Antioch Writers' Workshop in 2009 when I led the afternoon poetry sessions, subbing at the last minute for John Drury. Julie was the Judson Jerome scholarship winner that year and had already published her chapbook Election Day. Not only did I find out during the week what a wonderful poet she is but also how generously she helps other poets. So I wasn't surprised when she published a full-length collection Slipping out of Bloom the following year. In the meantime her poems have been widely-published in numerous journals from Southern Review to Christian Century, anthologized and nominated for Pushcart Prizes. Just when I thought she couldn't get any better, Cascade Books just published another full-length collection, Particular Scandals, which is her most mature work so far: accessible, entertaining and spiritually profound.

The book contains three untitled sections. The first section immerses us deeply in poems about loss, illness and healing, as she and her husband faced serious health challenges while still in their forties. Among many fine poems, one I found most touching, "Prayer Shawl," focused on a woman who'd lost her son to suicide and who now, along with a surviving son, sits "fashioning shawl after need-/thick shawl, praying/for those, like me,/to once again be whole." Although facing such serious issues with eyes wide open, the poems are by no means relentless downers. "Recovery," for instance, uses the wonderful image of bees, "persistent as repeated pleas/ . . . tasting grace as insistent as the tune they hum" to help her deal with continuing pain from seven surgeries.

As if Julie realizes she's given the reader a strong dose of mortality—and lessons to be learned from it—the second section includes mostly nature poems, celebratory and healing. These include, among other things, poems about a very happy dog, pagan dancing in the rain, a barefoot husband-gardener and, once again, bees, this time as "Hell's Angels." I love the image of them "in their striped jackets,/black helmets and snug gloves,/[cruising] through coreopsis/while their pollen passengers hug them tight." Delightful stuff.

All of which builds to the satisfying final section synthesizing the previous two. Interspersed among poems dealing with tragedy and abuse and are those filled with healing from both natural and supernatural sources. The wonderfully life-affirming "Afterlife" concerns a World War II veteran, raised an orphan, who experienced "a childhood with nerve amid the world's first breakdown." He now raises horses, "each foal a scandal of particular beauty." Moore repeats this striking (italicized) phrase, or some version of it, throughout the book, gaining resonance with each usage. It first appears in one of the epigraphs from Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, in reference to Christ's having been born, "improbably, ridiculously," into his particular time and place as "the scandal of particularity." To both Dillard and Moore, the phrase comes to mean this world now ("the only world that I, particularly, know," says Dillard): the sensory world of experience and meaning from which both of these fine writers craft their work.

Section Three contains perhaps the book's most heart-breaking poem "Voice," in which the mother of a twenty-year-old suicide later stumbles on a voice mail he left, with a shattering final line, the effect of which I won't spoil by quoting. It also contains some of the funniest, most whimsical and light-filled poems. Who could resist reading a poem with the title "Will you let me write about my love for my child"? (I say yes.) The collection ends movingly with two very different and deeply spiritual poems: "Remember Blessing" and "Window." The former is a stunning summation of the book's themes, expanding outward to include "fire-bombed streets" and "screams of children/fettered to the long arm/of a godless law," concluding with a list of the author's own blessings, to which we can relate. The book could've ended on that note—find hope when there is none—but she saved the best for last, "Opening," which brought me to my knees.

Too easily labeled a "Christian poet," Julie writes poems which are spiritual, even theological at times, but never in-your-face preachy. Only the most Christianity-averse reader will be disturbed; this Buddhist Baptist was hardly ever uncomfortable, and I found myself trusting the poet to tell me the unsentimental, unvarnished truth about suicide, abuse, illness and mortality while affirming life in the here and now. Eternity was almost always found in "particulars."

As I age, I increasingly require literature that unflinchingly helps me face the Big Issues. "A Clear Path," near the book's end, deals with an overzealous farmer-neighbor who, while Julie watches, whips out a chainsaw and cuts down a post to gain easier access to his fields—the same post where the poet watched a vulture she once wrote about. "A clear path," Julie writes, "often means loss." Amen. Particular Scandals, as all of Julie Moore's work, helps me face inevitable losses by balancing them with what's most meaningful and loving at the root of life.






An ebook only bookstore, by subscription. New idea! It's based in the U.S. and operates with U.S. dollars:

You can subscribe, and they'll send you something new each month. Periodicals also included. Observer article says it's stuff unlikely to be found at the bookshops.

It'd be nice to see independent endeavors like this competing with the monolithic corporate structures.

                                                             (Thanks, Backchannel)




"The Wiz of the West!" is so witty and totally non-offensive it deserves a few more!!!! It's a fantasy novel for kids, probably pre-teen, and as fun and quirky as it gets. If you can imagine a Dotty in, you guessed it, red cowgirl boots, you get the idea. It's mostly about kind people and friendship with a few "wicked" folks sprinkled in, of course. It's one of those "clean" books we can thank Woodland Press for publishing. The author is S. Clayton Rhodes from Marietta, Ohio. He's a new-to-me author. If you give it a look, let me know your opinion.




Paola Corso has undertaken a project writing book reviews for the GASP (Group Against Smog and Pollution) newsletter's Greening the Bookshelf column. She says, "They traditionally review non-fiction books, but I've proposed they broaden that to include poetry and fiction. Do let me know if you have a book that might be appropriate for review. And/or spread the word please!... The column is national in scope. For the most part, we're looking for books published in the last couple of years that relate to the organization's focus on clean air--solar, nuclear, coal, urbanism, conservation, nature, energy, etc are a few examples. Since poetry and fiction have never been reviewed in the column before, suggestions for poetry and fiction books that have been published no matter how long ago are welcome too. It could be that the column will include an author interview in a Q&A format."

Here's a link to her first review (scroll to page 8):




A new story from Susan Taylor Chelak:"What She Didn't Do"  at Conte: A Journal of Narrative Writing.


Leora Skolkin-Smith reviews Herta Muller's new novel THE HUNGER ANGEL on Ready Steady Book

"For me, Müller's uncompromising work, born from her own personal experience, however painful and hard to bear at times, is the anguish of a writer unwilling to surrender to our times, some echo perhaps, a linkage not only to European modernism, but to what is most authentic in ourselves and in our world, offering the reader and the writer a lasting collaboration."



New book from Foreverland Press, John Leggett's ROSS AND TOM: TWO AMERICAN TRAGEDIES.



A performance poem that went viral this summer: an OCD guy talks about love: :


A good list of Alternative History Novels from ABE Books:



For years I've admired author and journalist Verlyn Klinkenborg, his highly therapeutic columns in the New York Times and his thirty-odd books on country life and all things rural and rustic. In a recent piece in the Times, Klinkenborg expressed a somewhat ambivalent view of what's been going on in the world of books. While he claims to have read no fewer than 800 e-books on his iPad, he can't help being nostalgic about the real paper and ink ones still on his shelves. Here it is: A article in the New York Times by Verlyn Klinkenberg about what he asserts is the tendency to forget what you read on an ereader more easily that what you read in a physical book. Provocative– probably more true for elders than youngers?

Writes Klinkenborg: "I finish reading a book on my iPad — one by Ed McBain, for instance — and I shelve it in the cloud. It vanishes from my "device" and from my consciousness too. It's very odd. When I read a physical book, I remember the text and the book — its shape, jacket, heft and typography. When I read an e-book, I remember the text alone. The bookness of the book simply disappears, or rather it never really existed. Amazon reminds me that I've already bought the e-book I'm about to order. In bookstores, I find myself discovering, as if for the first time, books I've already read on my iPad.

" All of this makes me think differently about the books in my physical library. They used to be simply there, arranged on the shelves, a gathering of books I'd already read. But now, when I look up from my e-reading, I realize that the physical books are serving a new purpose — as constant reminders of what I've read. They say, "We're still here," or "Remember us?" These are the very things that e-books cannot say, hidden under layers of software, tucked away in the cloud, utterly absent when the iPad goes dark

"This may seem like a trivial difference, but that's not how it feels. Reading is inherently ephemeral, but it feels less so when you're making your way through a physical book, which persists when you've finished it. It is a monument to the activity of reading. It makes this imaginary activity entirely substantial. But the quiddity of e-reading is that it effaces itself. In the past several years, I've read nearly 800 books on my iPad. They've changed me and changed my understanding of the world, distracted me and entertained me. Yet I'm still pondering the nature of e-reading, which somehow refuses to become completely familiar. But then, readers are always thinking about the nature of reading, and have done so since Gutenberg and long before.

"There is a disproportionate magic in the way black marks on white paper — or their pixilated facsimiles — stir us into reverie and revise our consciousness. Still, we require proof that it has happened. And that proof is what the books on my shelves continue to offer."


In his August blog post, John describes why, early in World War II, 3 million Brits, mostly children, were made to leave home -- most often without their parents -- to live with total strangers. See: -- a growing collection of nearly 30 short stories, articles and essays.




Jumpa Lahiri's newest: Back Channelf says, "The political & the personal intersect in this new novel." The review says, "THE LOWLAND is a sweeping, ambitious story that examines in intimate detail the intersection of the political and the personal, encompassing nearly 50 years of Indian and American history through the lives of one family."


A rediscovered Nineteenth century Spanish novel, THE HOUSE OF ULLOA by Emilia Pardo Bazán: :


Backchannel also mentions the film WINTER's BONE, and then two articles are about how white privilege doesn't mean very much to poor whites living in all-white communities like the Ozarks and coalfields of Appalachia. This first article is more about the film: This second article is more about discussing the "limits of white privilege" to poor, rural whites surrounded by whites. In such a context, it becomes all about class. But even if a white, poor person makes it to college where there are other poor minorities, there are still issues.

Backchannel also mentions about mountain-top removal and issues of digital privacy:




Ed Davis writes: "I'm writing with an offer and a request for help. "First, I'm pleased to share that my new poetry collection,Time of the Light, will be published by Main Street Rag Press in November 2013. Time of the Light represents what I feel is my best effort to follow my muse down many meandering country roads and forest paths, from West Virginia coalfields to Ohio cornfields. Birds, boots, blues and banjoes—there's even healing dirt, plus many of the kindred spirits, living and dead, who've made my journey always interesting and often luminous.

"This book will sell for $12, but you can get it for $7 at the MSR Online Bookstore by placing an advance order now.Please note: The book won't be shipped until November, but this pre-publication sale price will only last for a limited time, so I wanted to let you know.

"Now the request... As many of you already know, it's a challenge for any poet to reach his or her audience these days. I hope you'll help me spread the word by forwarding this announcement to any friends who might be interested and/or mentioning the book on social media or your own website. I'd so appreciate it.

You can receive more information (and order the book) at my author's page:

The MSR Online Bookstore is located at:

Just a note: If you'd prefer not to buy online, Main Street Rag Press will take checks, but the price is a flat rate of $11/book regardless of quantity, which includes shipping and sales tax.




Paola Corso's poetry book The Laundress Catches Her Breath won the Tillie Olsen Award for Creative Writing.




Lee Maynard has a new ebook CINCO BECKNELL




Barbara Crooker's new book is GOLD:




Peter Brown's mew book for kids is MR. TIGER GOES WILD! Are you bored with always being proper? Do you need to have more fun? Would you like to act a little wild? Mr. Tiger knows just how you feel. To read excerpts from reviews of Mr. Tiger (which have been extremely generous), check out Peter's website: . Check for Peter's book tour, and see if he's coming to a city near you!




Joyce Dyer has an essay about memoir in the September 2013 issue of Writer's Chronicle, the official publication of AWP. It's titled "Let Me Think About That: The Memoirist as Ruminant."




Pamela Erens' novel THE VIRGINS (reviewed in # 163) received an excellent review written by John Irving in the New York Times Book Review at Pamela will also be reading in the New York City region:

  • Wed. September 18, 2013, 7 p.m.: Reading/reception/book signing, Maplewood Memorial Library, 51 Baker St., Maplewood, NJ (973) 762-1622.
  • Thurs. September 19, 2013, 7 p.m.: Conversation/Q&A, The Center for Fiction, 17 E. 47th St., NY, NY. With Jonathan Dee, author of The Privileges and A Thousand Pardons.
  • Sun. September 22, 2013, 5 p.m.: Appearance at The Brooklyn Book Festival, Brooklyn, NY. (This event is at St. Francis McArdle, 180 Remsen St.)
  • Thurs. September 26, 2013: Reading, Pete's Candy Store, 709 Lorimer, Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 11211. (718) 302-3770. With Gabriel Roth, author of The Unknowns.
  • Mon. September 30, 2013, 6 to 8 p.m.: Book fair/schmooze, Barnes & Noble Union Square, 13 E. 17th St., NY, NY.


Shopping for gifts and services for bookish people? Try Persimmon Tree's Arts Mart.




Phillip Lopate's NY Times Book Review piece "Midlist Crisis" about being a writer and having crushed ambitions: .




Thad Rutkowski 's latest "novel," Haywire, is now available as an e-book on Kindle, thanks to Starcherone and Dzanc Books."These flash stories are mostly gems." --Publishers Weekly "Rutkowski returns with his characteristic blend of anomie and epigram." --Kirkus Reviews Here's the link:

If you're near New York City, Thad reads at KGB Bar, 85 East Fourth Street, Manhattan (, in these two events: Sept. 19, Thursday, at 7 p.m., Drunken Careening Writers, with Lisa Ferber and Kurt Gottschalk and Sept. 25, Wednesday, at 7 p.m., The Understanding Between Foxes and Light (anthology from Great Weather for Media), with Joel Allegretti, Stephanie Dickinson and others.

Also in New York: Thursday, October 24th, 2013, 6-8 PM at Fountain Gallery, 702 Ninth Ave. @ 48th St., New York, NY, there will be a book launch for OF LITTLE FAITH (Steel Cut Press) by Award-winning Novelist Carol Hoenig. This novel was reviewed in # 152 here. Have you read about Carol’s writing journey to publishing this novel on The Huffington Post at ?




To obtain your copy of Poet Laureate of West Virginia Marc Harshman's long poem, "A Song for West Virginia" to celebrate the Sesquicentennial Celebration of the state, call 304-232-3087. $20. Or write Wheeling National Heritage Area, 1400 Main Street, 3rd Floor, Wheeling, WV 26003.




Don't forget to get on this list for regular notices about open submissions at various literary journals and presses:



See for general information, and an August 2013 only call for submissions to The Notebook:


There are regular, excellent, free programs and peer workshops, many at the Montclair Library and environs. To get the monthly announcements, send an e-mail request to Carl Selinger at .







Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 165

November 1, 2013

Latest changes and corrections online        MSW Home


In this Issue:

Janet Lewis's trilogy      Short Takes      Tennessee Literary Luminaries

Poetry News: Aaron Smith, Jeremy Osner, Barbara Crooker

Notes on Moby Dick and War and Peace     More on The Good German

Responses from Readers      Literary Fiction is Good for You!

The E-Reader Report with John Birch      Things to Read Online

Announcements     Recommendations from Backchannel


Free e-mail subscription to this newsletter.
To create a link to this newsletter, use this permanent link .
For Back Issues, click here.


Ohio University & Swallow Press has just done us all a great favor by bringing out a beautiful new paperback edition of the Janet Lewis trilogy of novels based on legal cases from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: THE WIFE OF MARTIN GUERRE, THE TRIAL OF SOREN QVIST, and THE GHOST OF MONSIEUR SCARRON. The first two are quite short, and the last one longer. All are historical novels with plots provided by an 1873 law book given to Lewis by her husband, poet and critic Yvor Winters: FAMOUS CASES OF CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE WITH AN INTRODUCTION ON THE THEORY OF PRESUMPTIVE PROOF by Samuel M. Phillipps. Lewis sticks to the basic facts of the cases, but is really interested in what the cases and the people can show about society and human behavior. The novels are all remarkable for how they seem completely without anachronism. Lewis creates the illusion of real motivations of real people in another century. There are no feisty proto-feminists in rural sixteenth century France for us to identify with. Rather, she brings us closer to then.

Bertrande Guerre, the heroine of probably Lewis's most famous work, the slight but powerful THE WIFE OF MARTIN GUERRE, has a husband who goes away and then comes home many years later. She is deeply happy to have him back and they are both more physically passionate than before he went away. It is like a different, better relationship, and he is like a different man: gentler, more talkative. In fact, Bertrande gradually becomes convinced he is precisely that-- a different man--not Martin, but someone pretending to be Martin. Lewis skillfully builds up Bertrande's growing conviction: it has a quality of a horror story, a stranger in her bed. Is she crazy? Is she sinning? She determines that she cannot continue in this way. Most people in the 21st century would probably say, What the heck, it's all good- a loving man who is an improvement on his predecessor? Why upset the applecart?  But Lewis convinces us that Bertrande's turning away from him is righteous, if brutally painful. Nothing good comes of this righteousness, and yet the catastrophic ending that is the result of Bertrande's moral rigor is also a sign of her personal independence.

THE TRIAL OF SOREN QVIST likewise centers on a moral rigidity that is unfamiliar and even repugnant to a modern reader. Again a good person does what he sees as the right thing, and he and his family suffer terribly. You know from the beginning what has happened– that a man has been executed for a murder no one in the small Danish community believes he committed. Yet circumstantial evidence points to him. By the end, he has convinced himself he is indeed guilty, and would rather die with a good conscience, forgiven by God, than struggle to live. And once again, against all odds, the twenty-first century reader reluctantly gets it, understands the culturally and religiously alien. Qvist embraces his own guilt, refuses to be rescued by his children, and goes to the block with dignity and faith.

The final novel of the trilogy, THE GHOST OF MONSIEUR SCARRON is more ambitious in scope. It is peopled with citizens of all estates, including King Louis IV himself and his morganatic wife Madame De Maintenon. The main characters, however, are lower bourgeois, the household of an honest book binder named Jean Larcher. Again, Lewis is able to give warmth to an overly rigid character. Larcher is stiff with those he loves and opposes his son's desire to see the world.

Most of the story focuses on Larcher's wife Marianne, who is younger than he, efficient, hard-working, pretty, intelligent, and supportive of their son's aspirations. Young men are the disturbing factor here: first the son, and then his replacement in the shop, Paul Damas, a young book binder who comes from the country fleeing a complication with his last master's wife.

Without her son, in the close quarters of seventeenth century dwellings, Marianne begins an affair with Paul. The crime that is officially punished, however, is not adultery or the theft that Paul commits in order to run away with Marianne. Rather, he leaves a packet of scurrilous pamphlets making fun of the King and Mme de Maintenon in Larcher's house. Larcher, distraught, calls in the police-- but the theft is ignored, the pamphlets are discovered, and from there, bad luck and bad actions lead from one disastrous result to another. It's all very sad and feels at once inevitable and surprising. The novel isn't as neat as the two smaller books, and I don't love the final events as much as what went before, but I heartily recommend all three books. I've never read historical fiction like this: just the right amount of researched detail– what people drank, how they dealt with a toothache, how often they changed shirts, what the insanely public levée of the king was like (literally getting up: dressing, breakfasting, washing, everything with the court in attendance!).


For more about these books, look at and at . Also, there is a good NEW YORK TIMES obituary of Janet Lewis from 1998 that gives a good outline of her life: , see .



                                                                               --Meredith Sue Willis






I read Higher Ground: A Memoir of Salvation Found and Lost by Carolyn S. Briggs after seeing the Vera Famiga movie based on it.   I would especially recommend the book to anyone who wants some understanding of a certain extreme kind of Christian fundamentalism. It does not make fun of religious experiences or of the human need to be a part of something Big with cozy corners. Actually, in the book anyhow, the Zealots come across better than the narrator's early friends out in the world as she leaves her church group. The new friends are narrow-minded writer types with assumptions and prejudices at least as big as the New Testament Christians.' But of course, Briggs doesn't go back to her chuch once she's out.

It isn't completely clear to me why she leaves. Part of it I think is that with the passage of years there is a loss of the thrill and passion. Also, the elders of her group in Iowa were right that a move to Arkansas without the support of the group would loosen their ties to the group. No one was watching closely, and she began to be aware of how her relationship with her husband was lacking sexual passion.

I found this really enriching: a very specific sense of what these particular true believers are about (especially these nuevo-hippy ones who actually read and studied the Bible, although nothing else).



The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw  came up on a list of $1.99 kindle books Amazon advertises occasionally. I had known Shaw only as a name, a writer of big best sellers whose work got turned into TV series. Apparently much of his late work was of that popular, potboiler quality, but this first novel-- and he had a number of successful plays and short stories as well-- is definitely my favorite WWII fiction so far.

It is in many ways a lot of short stories-- complete, powerful incidents: the Jewish kid who has a fight with every big anti-semitic red neck in his company; the obnoxious, effete semi-intellectual whose life is in theater and clubs and beds. The story follows these two Americans plus one German, and the end is simply the moment at which all three come together in a forest after the liberation of a death camp. Two die and one lives. You figure something like this will be coming, but it works nicely to tie up the loose ends.

I have complaints-- the wildly pervasive sexism, which is not quite closely-enough embedded in character. Also, the German protagonist starts out complex but ends up two-dimensinally ideological. The Americans are not ideological, which seems to be evidence to Shaw of their goodness. One of the best points demonsrated in the book is how battle is embedded in a lot of non-battle. The soldiers are always deep in personal, individual reality, whatever else is happening. Death is random, in battle and out of it.




Carole Rosenthal wrote, "I'm so much on a different page from you about The Good German, (reviewed by MSW in Issue # 164) which I just read this summer. This is a genre novel, tops of its kind, more like a noir film of the 50s than a contemporary novel, and yes, yes, the hero seems like a movie hero--he is a HERO!--and therefore not fleshed in the way you want, there is a formula, but oh, the writing for a genre novel, the moral complexity explored in a very accessible way, the minor characters, yes, they're great, but it is totally satisfying to me. Believe me, as a reader of the genre (and one who has published in it) this is really good writing, really good (if move-like dialogue), really does a lot with the formula. I rate it an A, for sure. More on this subject if you want to explore it (in talk). PS on Joseph Kanon - much more interesting to me than the snappy Elmore Leonard, much critically admired but whose view of the human condition is considerably truncated.

"About the Good German--some of it was astounding to me, particularly the brief scene where Emil tries to drown the hero towards the end, which showed the complexity of who Emil was how he hid and revealed himself. Yes, the minor characters were great, and the hero and Lena are color-ins. But who is the Good German. Or the Good American or Russian? I think you got the paperback version with George Clooney on the cover and I got a much earlier copy so I knew nothing of the movie. I'm sure that abetted both responses, yours and mine. I'd never heard of the author or the book before and thought I was discovering him myself."




Joel Weinberger on Moby Dick

Maybe I'm still not old enough for it, but Moby-Dick did not do it for me. It is extraordinarily long and for the most part extraordinarily boring. It mostly consists of a plodding plot and Melville expounding on his own personal theories of whales (most of which are pseudo-science, I might add). I'm sure there are deep metaphors and fascinating language somewhere deep in there, but I was too bored to appreciate it. The novel was a brutal trial for me to get through, and I only made it because of my obsession with finishing literature I've started.

So why give it 3 stars on Goodreads? Because the other 30% of the book is quite a good read. The first 125 pages or so are a fascinating portrait of the characters, community, and whaling culture of Nantucket.... It wasn't until after this, when they reach the ship, that the book really slows and the pseudo-science begins. Furthermore, the last 75 pages are action packed; I won't spoil anything, but you can probably guess why.

On the whole, I did not have a good time getting through the book. I suppose on the plus side, I can now tell my children to read Moby-Dick because, hey, I had to (okay, chose to, but who's counting).


(Image is from a wood cut by Rockwell Kent)


MSW on War and Peace

I did my once-a-decade reading of War and Peace. This is at least the third time, maybe more. I dug out my college notes on it from a Russian literature (in English translation!) class, and I was pleased that the notes were mostly background on Tolstoy's life and times. I like reading a classic like this from my present age and level of confidence (at least about some things). I can, for example, be honest about admitting how eccentric Tolstoy was. His theory of history is okay in flashes, as a kind of artist's world view, but his determined effort to systematize it was just boring. There's a hilarious Goodreads review of War and Peace that compares T. to a beloved, charming, entertaining house guest who every so often goes off on a crazy rant, especially right after he has finally said he's leaving and everyone has bidden farewell-- then stays for one more marathon rant.

On the other hand there is nothing anywhere that touches those war scenes (and peace scenes): Pierre standing around trying to understand war and getting shot at; Prince Andrei learning to die but not to live. There's the wonderful burning of Moscow and the suffering prisoners of war and the Russians harrying the fleeing French. There is Natasha's attempted elopement and the various drunken debauches.

For many readers, there is also the brutal disappointment at then end when the brilliant sprite Natasha becomes thick and bursting with milk and jealousy. Her brother Nicholas moves from the epitome of attractive, heedless youth to serious farmer and grumpy father. This time I particularly like a character I hardly even remembered, the princess Maria, fanatic religious sister of Andrei who ends up still religious but with a modicum of happiness with her husband and family. She becomes calmer and attains a kind of grace through life experience.

There are so many wonderful characters, so many great scenes. I suppose Tolstoy's theories were necessary for him, but it's certainly not why you read the book. You read the book because he loves his characters, loves life, and tries so hard to make everything real, and also new, as if he wants us to see it for the first time since the creation of the world.

He doesn't love flesh, or pretends he doesn't-- has a disgust for society women who expose their breasts and disdains Napoleon's plumpness and small white hands. His case is for life force, for the flame burning in us. And the horses and dogs are as alive as the people, and yet never anthropomorphized, always horses and dogs. What a book.

(Image is from a painting called "The Battle of Borodino Has Ended!")


Poetry News

  • Aaron Smith's poem "Like Him" was on poem-a-day from
  • Barbara Crooker on Garrison Keillor's Writers Almanac   AGAIN!!
  • Analogies for Time by Jeremy Osner is a small digital book of excellent poems. This is an electronic chapbook that begins with the title poem, which is a wonderful meditation on time and how we swim and float in it: "Think of time as a river of events/think of time simply as a river...." and of course as the analogy gets increasingly concrete, things fall apart and reform.  It ends with a celebration of being in the moment. It's a brief book, a narrow glance into an extremely interesting mind, not conventional but certainly not unconventional for the sake of making a splash:
    The dead of 9/11
    are photographed
    and silent
    and the crater they fell into long since filled
    with detritus of 21st C. dreams in America
    and ragged strips of newsprint
    without any columns of ink,
    they're blank and they're torn, and the
    names of the dead
    scroll by beneath the image
    of America.

Osner, a computer programmer with a long-standing interest in languages, sees the structure of things the rest of us only glance at the surface of. He also has an interesting blog at .


There is a free download at , or buy it (cheap!) on Amazon for Kindle at .





-- Science magazine says Literary Fiction is good for empathy and social skills: New York Times 10-4-13.
-- Do we remember more when we read print than e-books? Article from Time magazine.


Chances are you've never heard of Scribd, the world's largest digital library, but it's just teamed up with mammoth publishers HarperCollins, offering an e-book service that will work much like Netflix. For for only $9 a month you'll be able to read up to ten of e-versions of most of HarperCollins books. True, you won't be able to buy their new bestsellers nor – at least to begin with – books that have been published during the past year. But for people like my wife, who reads nearly 50 books a year, it'll be a bargain.

Subscribers throughout the world will be able to browse through books and, if they choose, and read sample chapters, using any personal computer with a browser, an iPhone or iPad, e-readers and other mobile devices. Scribd CEO Trip Adler said. "For power readers, this is going to be like a dream come true, we think this could really change the book publishing's business model and change people's reading behaviour."

Take a look at

See: -- a growing collection of nearly 30 short stories, articles and essays.


The Circle by Dave Eggers: BackChannel says, "Looks like it's the 1984 for our time. By an American author, I believe. Hope it gets made into a film because it'll attract a much larger audience for the message I firmly believe we all need to reflect on." See



Guardian readers's favorites:





If You're in Yellow Springs, Ohio...

Ed Davis is reading poetry on November 16, 2013: Learn more here.


The Hamilton Stone Review #29 Fall 2013

...... is now online at . Editors for this issue are Fiction: Lynda Schor ; Poetry: Roger Mitchell ; and Nonfiction: Reamy Jansen. Poetry by Sarah Anderson, Nina Bennett, Roy Bentley, Ace Boggess, Doug Bolling, Craig Cotter, Mark DeCarteret, William Doreski, George Freek, Nels Hanson, Maureen Kingston, Tricia Knoll, Philip Kobylarz, Desmond Kon, David McAleavey, Bruce McRae, Karla Linn Merrifield, BZ Niditch, Holly Painter, Joyce Peseroff, Roger Pfingston, Brianna Pike, Tim Suermondt, Anne Whitehouse, Chelsea Whitton, and Leonore Wilson; Fiction by Rebecca Andem, Jack Dowling, Desirée Jung, Richard Kostelanetz, Robyn Ryle, Yong Takahashi, and John Duncan Talbird; and Nonfiction by David W. Ricker,  Jerry Wemple, James Ferry, Terry Barr, and Jim Krosschell.



See review





Phyllis Moore directs us to this review of an interesting new book:




The History Press has just published Sue Freeman Culverhouse's TENNESSEE LITERARY LUMINARIES: the biographies of eleven Tennessee writers--Robert Penn Warren, Peter Taylor, Eleanor Ross Taylor, Alex Haley, Cormac McCarthy, William Gay, Bud Willis, Marshall Chapman and Amy Greene. The book (also as an e-book) is available on and on Barnes and Noble online..


A Poetry Magazine in Germany– in English!

Poetry Salzburg Review publishes poems, translations, interviews, essays and reviews of recent collections of poetry. Our intention is to publish the best available writing from a variety of writers. See their website at



Marsh Hawk Press

Fall 2013 books from Marsh Hawk Press:



Memory is life. Without memory, we are only what we are at that split second of time. Good or bad. Set in the underbelly of the pseudo-glitz of the streets of Santa Fe and based on generations of violent, local family history, CINCO BECKNELL is the story of a homeless man with no memory. Locked in the emptiness of his mind is a secret, a past, which will either keep him alive, or get him killed. As Cinco staggers through a dangerous journey of re-discovery, he is hunted by psychopaths who want to kill him, and he has no idea why; is shadowed by a woman who may keep him alive -- or not; and is finally helped by another woman who can bring back to him the light he looks for. If he can stay alive. But he is running out of time, and people around him are dying, always violently. Gradually, he begins to understand the true, brutal, nature of himself and of the darkness of his past. But it is a past, and a present, that he may never fully understand.




Submission Deadline: December 31, 2013 Submit via email: .Published by Loyola Marymount University.




Pithead Chapel is a monthly online journal of short fiction and nonfiction seeking gutsy narratives up to 4,000 words, particularly essays (personal, memoir, lyric, travel, experimental, etc.). Learn more at




Don't forget to get on this list for regular notices about open submissions at various literary journals and presses:




There are regular, excellent, free programs and peer workshops, many at the Montclair Library and environs. To get the monthly announcements, send an e-mail request to Carl Selinger at .





Sanjay Agnihotri has a lovely new magazine, Local Knowledge. He is looking for work!–


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 of 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 that you may be able to borrow it from your public library as either a hard copy or a digital copy. You may also buy or order from your local independent bookstore. To buy books online, I often go first to Bookfinder or Alibris. Bookfinder 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 source for used and out-of-print books is All Book Stores. Also consider 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, don't forget free books at the Gutenberg Project—mostly classics, but other things as well. sells books for independent brick-and-mortar bookstores.



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

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#165 Janet Lewis, Melville, Tosltoy, Irwin Shaw!
#164 Ed Davis on Julie Moore's poems; Edith Wharton; Elaine Drennon Little's A Southern Place; Elmore Leonard
#163 Pamela Erens, Michael Harris, Marlen Bodden, Joydeep Roy-Battacharya, Lisa J. Parker, and more
#162 Lincoln, Joseph Kennedy, Etel Adnan, Laura Treacy Bentley, Ron Rash, Sophie's Choice, and more
#161 More Wilkie Collins; Duff Brenna's Murdering the Mom; Nora Olsen's Swans & Klons; Lady Audley's Secret
#160 Carolina De Robertis, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Ross King's The Judgment of Paris
#159 Tom Jones. William Luvaas, Marc Harshman, The Good Earth, Lara Santoro, American Psycho
#158 Chinua Achebe's Man of the People; The Red and the Black; McCarthy's C.; Farm City; Victor Depta;Myra Shapiro
#157 Alice Boatwright, Reamy Jansen, Herta Muller, Knut Hamsun, What Maisie Knew; Wanchee Wang, Dolly Withrow.
#156 The Glass Madonna; A Revelation
#155 Buzz Bissinger; reader suggestions; Satchmo at the Waldorf
#154 Hannah Brown, Brad Abruzzi, Thomas Merton
#153 J.Anthony Lukas, Talmage Stanley's The Poco Fields, Devil Anse
#152 Marc Harshman guest editor; John Burroughs; Carol Hoenig
#151 Deborah Clearman, Steve Schrader, Paul Harding, Ken Follet, Saramago-- and more!
#150 Mitch Levenberg, Johnny Sundstrom, and Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns.
#149 David Weinberger's Too Big to Know; The Shining; The Tiger's Wife.
#148 The Moonstone, Djibouti, Mark Perry on the Grimké family
#147 Jane Lazarre's new novel; Johnny Sundstrom; Emotional Medicine Rx; Walter Dean Myers, etc. 
#146 Henry Adams AGAIN!  Also,Fun Home: a Tragicomic
#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; 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; Underground Railroad; Navasky's Naming Names, 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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