Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers


Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 171

July 15, 2014

When possible, read this newsletter online for updates and corrections. 
 To create a link to this newsletter, use this permanent link.  
For Back Issues, click here.

MSW Home

In this Issue:
Guest Editor Ingrid Blaufarb Hughes on Robert Graves' Goodbye to All That;
Marie Manilla's The Patron Saint of Ugly;
Johnny Sundstrom's For Spacious Skies;

Kirk Judd's New Poetry Collection My People Was Music ;
Sample of Kirk Judd's Poetry in Performance!


Some Suggestions for Summer Reading from Democratic Left;
Places to Submit Your Creative Work;
Backchannel Report;
The E-Reader Report with John Birch;
Things to Read Online;
Announcements

Special! Indiegogo Campaign for a Bookstore on the South Shore of Long Island!

For a Free Email subscription to this newsletter:

.

.

.

.

.

.

  This issue has as its guest editor Ingrid Hughes. She writes about the autobiography of Robert Graves and gives a short but essential list of novels and other books about the First World War.

.

                                                                                         Meredith Sue Willis

.

.

Ingrid Blaufarb Hughes on Robert Graves

Goodbye to All That is the only autobiography among Robert Graves's many volumes of poetry, fiction, biography, retellings of myth, translations and critical works.  Goodbye covers the first thirty years of his life, and is a terrifically good read, especially riveting in the two hundred pages devoted to his experiences serving in the Royal Welch Fusiliers during World War I.

Wanting to put off his enrollment at Oxford, outraged by the German violation of Belgian neutrality, and believing predictions that the Germans would be defeated within a few months, Graves volunteers in the fall of 1914. The most ludicrous of his stories comes from the period he spends in training in Wales. The Regimental goat-major, a corporal, is charged with disrespect to an officer, the officer being the king, who had given the regiment a goat from his herd at Windsor. For hiring the goat out as a stud the goat-major is busted to the ranks, despite pleading that he did it for the goat’s sake.

The issue of the British caste system is even more appalling on the front.  After serving for several months with the Third Battalion, Graves is transferred in July of 1915 to the Second, where he is greeted coldly when he reports at headquarters.  Later he asks another junior officer why. 

"The senior officers are beasts.  If you open your mouth or make the slightest noise in the Mess, they jump down your throat.  Only officers of the rank of captain are allowed to drink whiskey or turn on the gramophone....  We've even got a polo-ground here....Subalterns who can't ride like angels have to attend riding-school every afternoon.... They keep us trotting around the field, with crossed stirrups most of the time, and on pack-saddles instead of riding saddles....   You notice everyone's wearing shorts?  The Battalion thinks it's still in India. The men treat the French civilians just like n------s, kick them about, talk army Hindustani at them."'

"All this is childish.  Is there a war on here, or isn't there?'  Graves asks. "'The Royal Welch don't recognize it socially," he's told.

Graves is interested in everything about the war: the men he commanded, his fellow officers, the upper echelons; the conditions in the trenches, the battles he fought in. His narration of the slaughter is matter-of-fact. At their briefing for the Battle of Loos, Graves and other company officers recognize the impossibility of the plans they are to follow for a subsidiary attack with no support intended as a diversion.  As they begin to laugh at their orders one of them says, "Personally, I don't give a damn.... We'll get killed whatever happens."'  They laugh even more. Most worrying is the plan to use poison gas, despite the fact that none of the various types of respirators issued work, though the Germans' respirators did.  The young commanders (Graves is twenty) are told to make sure their men press forward, since the gas is heavy and will sink into the trenches. The battle is one deadly snafu after another. (Snafu, a World War II term,stands for situation normal, all fucked up, which seems like the right word here.) In the subsidiary attack alone, total casualties are nearly 11,000. Though the captain commanding the gas-company telephones headquarters with the message that in the dead calm it's impossible to discharge the gas, the response is 'Discharge at all costs.' The costs, of course, are British lives.  The gas is released and gradually collects in the British trenches. 

After the failure of the first initiative, orders come down to try again.  "We waited on the fire-step from four to nine o'clock, with fixed bayonets, for the order to go over."  The acting CSM, or Command Sergeant Major protests to Graves: "It's murder, Sir."  "Of course, it's murder, you bloody fool. And there's nothing else for it, is there?" ' Graves tells him. Fortunately, that particular part of the attack was called off.

Graves is clearly a kind and sensitive man.  He describes the enlisted men he commands with compassion and agrees with his friend, a fellow-officer and poet Siegfried Sassoon, that the worst crime an officer can commit is to abuse his men. In his free time he plays with French children or writes poetry. (His first book of poems is published in 1916.) In the course of the war he marries a feminist and later has four children with her, sharing childcare and housework. But while knowing that the war is a hideous and unjustifiable slaughter he believes he must put his own life on the line and lead his men to almost certain death in battle. That's what I don't understand. How can such a sensible person buy the idea that an essential  male attribute is the willingness to kill and be killed at war? (Not that Graves wants to die.  He describes working out his chances of surviving the war: best to be wounded, best to be wounded while above ground at night, since the chance of a head wound is less then than when only his head is exposed over the top of a trench during the day, and so on.)

While he's on light duty in a training camp in Harlech, Wales, after a long interval on the front, he meets a captain from another regiment who tells him: "'In both the last two shows I had to shoot a man of my company to get the rest out of the trench.  It was so bloody awful I couldn't stand it. That's why I applied to be sent down here.' I felt sorrier for him than for any other man I met in France.  He deserved a better regiment."

Here I am amazed that his sympathy goes not to the soldiers killed by their commanding officer, but to that officer, for the cowardice, as he sees it, of his men. Yet during this same period at Harlech, when Graves is required to lecture 3,000 Canadians being prepared for the front, he tells them the "real story of Loos...." This despite the fact that he is supposed to inspire the troops to fight the Germans, not undermine confidence in the army's leadership.

When Graves is wounded it is at the Somme in July of 1916. The worst of several wounds is caused by a piece of shell penetrating just below his right shoulder blade and exiting through his chest.  "Old Gravy's got it, all right," he hears the stretcher-bearer say. In the dressing-station he is left in a corner to die and his colonel sends a condolence letter to his mother, saying how gallant Graves was, and what a loss to the regiment his death is.  Next morning when it turns out he is still alive, he's sent by train to hospital.  There he receives a letter from the colonel: "I cannot tell you how pleased I am you are alive.... I also wish to thank you for your good work and bravery, and only wish you could have been with [your men.] .... I have never seen such magnificent and wonderful disregard for death as I saw that day.... "

Following this Graves had a long period of convalescence in various places, and did not return to the battlefield.  While in London he spent time with a number of writers and intellectuals, including Bertrand Russell. Russell, an ardent pacifist:

[Russell] turned sharply on me one afternoon and asked, "Tell me, if a company of your men were brought along to break a strike of munition-makers, and the munition-makers refused to go back to work, would you order the men to fire?"

"Yes, if all else failed.  It would be no worse than shooting Germans.

"Would your men obey you?"

"They loathe munition-workers... They think they're all skrimshankers."

"But they realize the war's wicked nonsense?"

"Yes, as well as I do."

He could not understand my attitude.

.

Grave's assertion may have been more bravado than an assessment of how he would act.  He didn't hold with "anti-war idealism," though when Sassoon spoke out against the war, Graves protected him from a court-martial by having him sent to a convalescent home.  Still, like Bertrand Russell, I don't understand the attitude of this fascinating and complicated man.

NOTE: The best late twentieth century novels about World War I are Pat Barker's Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road. Major novels of the war from earlier in the century include All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek, and The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford.  Siegfried Sassoon's memoir, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer is also interesting for its portrait of Graves, though it doesn't hold a candle to Goodbye to All That in its descriptions of the war itself. 
           

.

SHORT TAKES  (by MSW Unless Otherwise Noted)

.

Marie Manilla's novel The Patron Saint Of Ugly, set in industrial, northern West Virginia, has been described as a blend of "Southern Gothic and Sicilian malocchio." It is an earthy magical realist novel, with a couple of the best family dinner scenes I've ever read– especially the raucous, realistic, hilarious one when the mother of the narrator ("Saint" Garnet), is introduced to her in-laws. The family-- almost always referred to as la famiglia in one of many nice touches of Italian language and culture that bring the heritage of Sicily and Calabria into the forefront of the story-- is eager to please the WASPY blonde beauty their son Angelo brings home, until they realize the young couple is already married– and not by a priest!

She says blithely, "...we didn't need a priest because I'm not even Catholic."

Another favorite of mine, not so funny but capturing the family dynamic beautifully, is when the heroine young Garnet is forced by her grandpa to eat a piece of bloody steak. Perhaps even better than individual scenes are the ongoing characters: Garnet's Sicilian grandmother Nonna, whose history and actions are essential to the novel, but also poor wall-eyed Betty, Nonna's other daughter-in-law, who is good hearted and loving, but whose menfolk cause general pain and catastrophe. Betty is the mother of the completely awful Ray-ray and married to the almost-as-awful Dom.

There's an interesting nineteen fifties proto-feminist, or perhaps simply woman-centered theme to the whole novel. All the men aren't bad people, but patriarchy is destructive. Even Garnet's Anglo-Saxon grandmother who is a horror of bad values and misused wealth, can be seen as a woman of talent and energy twisted by a world in which women are so severely limited in their activities.

But Nonna and her Old Religion are always celebrated, and the amulets and "portafortunas" are richly rendered. The fantasy and folkloric elements move the story along with rollicking wish fulfillment (Don't you wish you could cause a volcano to get rid of your enemies?).

Even though the center of the story is Garnet's strange pattern of birthmarks like a red map of the world over her body (and a map that mysteriously changes with world events), we are so much inside Garnet's consciousness that it is the world around the Patron Saint of Ugly, and her family's past, that engage us most.

It's extremely inventive novel, often very funny, always full of deep affection for the powerful grandmothers of the world.

For more on the novel, see The Pittsburgh Gazette article.

.

.

.

Johnny Sundstrom's latest novel For Spacious Skies is about the settling of Eastern Oregon in the second half of the nineteenth century. It is made up of a lot of good stories that tend toward the quotidian rather than the dramatic, but when violence does occur, it comes as it does in real life, unexpectedly, with no scary music to manipulate the reader.

The story begins in the aftermath of the Civil War in Virginia with a wounded Confederate veteran who is hiding his name because he was briefly a low level aide in the administration of the Confederacy. It then moves to the Oregon trail (which is slightly less dangerous that it was before the war). There is a wagon train and some rough and ready cowboy types as well as Mormon settlers, both fine people and some pretty nasty ones. There are native Americans who are human and interesting but not especially noble-- a tale of the old west, in other words, much more like what it really was.

It is a highly readable book. I looked forward to returning to it, to being in the lives of people. The largest plot knot is the possibility that the most important woman, Sarah Beth, can't have children. The passionate desire for children comes on gradually to Abe and Sarah Beth, and it isn't completely clear to me what cultural patterns and folkways make their need for children so intense. Sundstrom assumes we understand this, but I could use a little more sharpness about the cultural folkways of the protagonists to match up with those of the Native Americans and Mormons in the book.

Sundstrom structures the novel with the Biblical story of the patriarchs Abraham and Sarah, and their relationship with Hagar, who appears in this novel as Helga, a runaway from oppression by the bad Mormons. Sundstrom ends the novel with the story line hanging: What appeared to be a reasonable way to get a baby for Abe and Sarah Beth is suddenly causing emotional storms and unexpected abysses between the people. Questions abound: what will happen to Helga's baby? Is Abe more in love with his beautiful Eastern Oregon valley than with any of the women in his life? Sundstrom has at least one more volume of the story underway, and he invites our responses.

I look forward to the next one!

.

 

KIRK JUDD'S NEW COLLECTION

My People Was Music by Kirk Judd is an excellent collection of poetry by a lifelong writer, creative writing instructor, and performance poet who co-founded a number of important Appalachian institutions including West Virginia Writers, Inc. and the Allegheny Echoes Bluegrass Music Summer Workshops. Praised by national figures including the late Gwendolyn Brooks and Lee Maynard, Judd's work is rich and solid, using precise descriptions of the natural world and physical activities to lift up words and the reader's spirits toward something transcendent. For example, in "Hill Sailor" he begins,

He was like the wood of the mast
he brought from the ship
to make the four foundation logs.
He saved the unsalted top
to spoke-shave the Norway Spruce
down for his fiddle-box.

Judd often also writes celebrations of people who have passed on, especially figures in blue grass music, but also family members and friends. In "For Richard" he says,

It's not much,
but the air is changed
now that you're not breathing it.
The streams
fall down the mountain differently
now that you're not standing in them,
trying the hit a trout in the head
with your sinker.
The deer are a bit more wary,
somehow already knowing
that someone else
who really wants to kill one of them
has taken your place in the woods.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this book, however, is that it comes with a cd recording of Judd performing his works with a number of well known musicians and once with a mountain clogger. He also collaborates with one of his poems and a friend's poem. All this is wonderfully communal, poems brought to vigorous life with his strong, flexible voice carrying us on, lifting us up. Kirk Judd's performance poetry is a national treasure.

.

The book also has beautiful photographs throughout by Dave Lambert. Order from Mountain State Press, or Amazon or any of the other usual suspects.

 

More Short Takes: Summer Reads Recommended by Democratic Left

I’ve read some of these, and look forward to the ones I haven’t yet:

.

Where To Submit Your Creative Work: Suggestions from Jason Schneiderman

I would start with journals that are published by creative writing programs-- WASHINGTON SQUARE, COLUMBIA POETRY REVIEW, GULF COAST, LAKE EFFECT, etc. These have student editors, and so are often amenable to student writing. The students can also research MFA/PhD program by looking at their publications, which means that you can give them a way to control the search, and you are not the oracle providing lists of journals to which they can submit. Many of us were schooled on the logic that publication is something one does after one has established a mature voice. This is clearly no longer the case: my eleven year old nephew recently recommended that I read stories on blog by one of his classmates.

The most important thing is always read/see/know the journal before you submit. Editorial staffs tend to have a high turn over rate, especially at student run journals, but the basic look and feel is important to know. I was just on a publishing panel at which one of the audience expressed frustration that she had "aimed too low" in publishing a poem, and wanted to know if she could republish the poem in a "better journal." My response was-- and I said this as nicely as I could-- that you should never insult the people who have selected your work, and that while the poem may appear in anthologies or her own books, insulting your previous editors is as unwise as complaining about former bosses on a job interview.

In terms of the logistics, make sure [you] know to keep a spreadsheet and to check submission rules regarding simultaneous submissions. The postal problem of crossed letters has essentially disappeared, and many journals now accept simultaneous submissions-- but you must withdraw the poem as soon as it is selected elsewhere. I am somewhat agnostic regarding submission fees. They are becoming common, and I suspect are a reaction to 1) the fact that you no longer have to buy envelopes or stamps and 2) the ease of electronic submission has created an overwhelming situation for editors. On principle, I am against submission fees, but in practice, it allows editors to keep the magazine going. On the other hand, submission fees for contests are standard and normal.

But... be warned against the sort of scams where you submit to a journal that publishes everything and charges $60 to get a copy of the book. But then, we owe the Flarf movement to such a scam, so these scams are not without *some* merit in the larger universe.

The submissions calendar at Poets and Writers (http://www.pw.org/toolsforwriters) is fantastic. CLMP (the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses) can also be helpful in terms of standards and fairness.

.

.

More Sources for Submitting

Don't forget to email CRWROPPS-B@yahoogroups.com and get on their list. They send out almost daily lists of places to submit poetry and prose. To add yourself to the list, send a blank email to crwropps-b-subscribe@yahoogroups.com . You will receive a return message with further sign-up instructions.

.

1. Poets & Writers (http://www.pw.org)
2. Poets Market (a book that you have to buy, but worth the investment for new writers: http://www.writersdigestshop.com/2014-poets-market-group
3. Duotrope.com (has a fee)
4. http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/pbonline.html
5. CLMP's Member Directory: http://clmp.org/directory/
6. Calls for Submissions on Facebook, (Poetry, Fiction, Art) https://www.facebook.com/groups/35517751475/
 

FREE E-BOOK!!


Summer Special through July 31, 2014: Meredith Sue Willis's Oradell at Sea. Get it free in any e-book format. Go to Smashwords.com (You may have to register first). At check-out, put in this coupon code for your free copy: 

YZ48G

(The physical book is still available as well from  WVU Press)

.

.

.

.

The Continuing Amazon Hachette Dust Up

Below is an open letter fro Richard Russo in his role as Co-Vice President of the Authors Guild. If you want my take, see my blog post here:

The primary mission of the Authors Guild has always been the defense of the writing life. While it may be true that there are new opportunities and platforms for writers in the digital age, only the willfully blind refuse to acknowledge that authorship is imperiled on many fronts. True, not all writers are equally impacted. Some authors still make fortunes through traditional publishing, and genre writers (both traditionally published and independently published) appear to be doing better than writers of nonfiction and “literary” mid-list fiction. (The Guild has members in all of these categories.) But there’s evidence, both statistical and anecdotal, that as a species we are significantly endangered. In the UK, for instance, the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society reports that authors’ incomes have fallen 29 percent since 2005, a decline they deem “shocking.” If a similar study were done in the U.S., the results would be, we believe, all too similar.

On Tuesday, Amazon made an offer to Hachette Book Group that would “take authors out of the middle” of their ongoing dispute by offering Hachette authors windfall royalties on e-books until the dispute between the companies is resolved. While Amazon claims to be concerned about the fate of mid-list and debut authors, we believe their offer—the majority of which Hachette would essentially fund—is highly disingenuous. For one thing, it’s impossible to remove authors from the middle of the dispute. We write the books they’re fighting over. And because it is the writing life itself we seek to defend, we’re not interested in a short-term windfall to some of the writers we represent. What we care about is a healthy ecosystem where all writers, both traditionally and independently published, can thrive. We believe that ecosystem should be as diverse as possible, containing traditional big publishers, smaller publishers, Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores, as well as both e-books and print books. We believe that such an ecosystem cannot exist while entities within it are committed to the eradication of other entities.

Over the years the Guild has often opposed Amazon’s more ruthless tactics, not because we’re anti-Amazon but because we believe the company has stepped over the line and threatened the publishing ecosystem in ways that jeopardize both our livelihoods and the future of authorship itself. There’s no need to rehash our disagreements here. But it is worth stating that we are not anti-Amazon, or anti-e-book, or anti-indie-publishing. Amazon invented a platform for selling e-books that enriches the very ecosystem we believe in, and for which we are grateful. If indie authors are making a living using that platform, bravo. Nor are we taking Hachette’s side in the present dispute. Those of us who publish traditionally may love our publishers, but the truth is, they’ve not treated us fairly with regard to e-book revenues, and they know it. That needs to change. If we sometimes appear to take their side against Amazon, it’s because we’re in the same business: the book business. It may be true that some of our publishers are owned by corporations that, like Amazon, sell a lot more than books, but those larger corporations seem to understand that books are special, indeed integral to the culture in a way that garden tools and diapers and flat-screen TVs are not. To our knowledge, Amazon has never clearly and unequivocally stated (as traditional publishers have) that books are different and special, that they can’t be treated like the other commodities they sell. This doesn’t strike us as an oversight. If we’re wrong, Mr. Bezos, now would be a good time to correct us. First say it, then act like you believe it. We’d love to be your partners.

.

.

BACKCHANNEL REPORT

Curious way to get a book deal: http://www.theguardian.com/music/shortcuts/2014/jun/22/one-direction-harry-styles-fan-erotic-fantasies-publishing-goldmine

Article has a link to the online "book," which got the author a 6-figure book deal. I couldn't get into it myself: guess other people having sex just doesn't appeal to me. I haven't seen so many cliches bunched up together since the last political speech I heard. And I didn't even get to any of the sex bits. Good grief, wonder what they're like? So the message...is: adopt a pseudonym, write a sex book online, retire in style.... Does it irritate you as much as it does me to see crap writing making the authors of it rich? When great writers languish?

.

.

THE E-READER REPORT WITH JOHN BIRCH: HOW FAST DO YOU READ?

John Birch is traveling this month in England--in Brontë country!

.

.

.

.

 

THINGS TO READ ONLINE

Deborah Clearnman's short story "The Bicyclist" is now up on Witness, a terrific online magazine. You can read it at their website. Set in New York City, says Deborah, "this is a tale told by an unreliable narrator that in no way reflects my attitude toward Michael Bloomberg, CitiBike, or any other hot-button transportation issue of our times. Just so we get that clear!"

.

MSW's take on the Amazon Hachette dustup: http://meredithsuewillis.blogspot.com/2014/06/my-take-on-amazon-hachette-dispute.html .

.

Summer issue of Persimmon Tree is not available here: http://www.persimmontree.org/v2/?utm_source=June+17%2C+2014+-+FINAL&utm_campaign=June072014Final&utm_medium=email

.

.

Timewell magazine offers a monthly theme with a mix of excerpts from classic literature with contemporary stories, poems, and art. The past year themes: Women, Youth, War Stories, Law/Justice, Infidelity, Power, Marriage, Before/After, Speculative Fiction, Deceit, Revelation, Crime, Stupidity—and the next issue will be Elegance: http://www.timewell.us/

.

.

.

.

.

.

ANNOUNCEMENTS, NEWS, CONTESTS, WORKSHOPS, READINGS ETC.

Don't forget MSW's latest novel Love Palace , now available as a paperback!   Take a look at some New reviews! Buy it from Irene Weinberger Books  Buy it online -- Buy it as an e-Book from Foreverland Press Kindle --  Nook --  iBook --  All Digital formats

.

.

MSW's short story "Sheherezade and Dunzyad," collected in Re-Visions, was translated into Arabic by Mohammad Abd alhalim Khanyam and appeared online in Elaph, London :2415, Dec. 2012, republished online 4524, Oct.10, 2013 http://www.elaph.com/Web/Culture/2009/2/409952.htm, republished in AlHilal Magazine (Cairo , Egypt, as a hard copy)-- and used in a comparative literature class at Kuwait University!

The professor says that the students are impressed to see the influence of their culture on American literature in the twenty first century!

.

.

Fran Simone says of her new book Husband of Joys and Sorrows, "Alcoholism, widely recognized as a wasteland that sucks addicts and their loved ones dry, is a disease that fosters fear, diminishes dignity, and compromises love. Left untreated, alcoholism destroys families and lives. I was one of its causalities." Learn more at : http://centralrecoverypress.com/books/blog/husband-of-joys-and-sorrows/

.

.

Halvard Johnson has a new book of poetry SONGS MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME from Gradient Books: http://gradientbooks.blogspot.fi/2014/06/halvard-johnson-songs-my-mother-taught.html

.

.

.

Time is Running Out! Help a new bookstore café! Before July 26, 2014-- Turn of the Corkscrew Bookstore has an Indie gogo campaign. Two Long Island women are raising money to open a bookstore-café on the South Shore! See https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/turn-of-the-corkscrew-books-and-wine .

I reviewed a novel by one of the entrepreneuses, Carol Hoenig, in Issue 152 of this newsletter: http://www.meredithsuewillis.com/bfrarchive151-155.html#oflittlefaith)

.

.

Sad News: End of Gently Read Literature: Daniel Casey wrote, and Deborah Clearman passed on, that Gently Read Literature's Fall 2014 issue, which will go out on September 1st, will be its last. He thanks readers, contributors, writers, agents, publishers, and presses that made the this tiny electronic magazine possible. He says, "I began GRL in 2008 and have had a very fruitful and engaging time editing it over the years. I hope you have enjoyed the reviews and essays GRL has provided. I hope that the final issue of Gently Read Literature leaves you with pleasant memory of a review that tried to bring more discussion of poetry and fiction into the world." http://about.me/danielcasey

.

.

.

.


.


 

Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 172

September 5, 2014

 

When possible, read this newsletter online for updates and corrections. 
 To create a permanent link to this newsletter, click here.  
For Back Issues, click here.
MSW Home

 

In this Issue:

Fran Simone's Dark Wine Waters Reviewed by Phyllis Moore
Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy
Under an English Heaven by Alice Boatwright
The Mother Hunt by Rex Stout
The Liveship Novels by Robin Hobb
Masks by Fumiko Enchi

The E-Reader Report with John Birch
Backchannel Report
Things to Read & Hear Online
Announcements and News


For a Free E-mail subscription to this newsletter:

.

.

I've done a lot of reading this summer, on my e-reader, in paperback and hardcover, and even on my smart phone-- more than I will report on in this issue. My reading has run the gamut from genre books like Alice Boatwright's new "cozy" mystery (see below) and Robin Hobb fantasies to Helen Benedict's searing Iraq war novel Sand Queen and an excellent nonfiction book on the history of the Comanches.

But I want to begin with a book I have not read.

My sister-in-law Ann Geller read Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch for her book group this summer. Ann told me that she also read some reviews of the book, and found that about half the reviewers thought it was a modern classic and the other half hated it. She said her own opinion is that "It was 800 pages long and should have been 200." I think it's important to note that my sister-in-law is not intimidated by big books. She reads a lot: fiction for pleasure, but she is also a Ph.D. in philosophy and a student of Talmud, so she has no intrinsic difficulty with large, dense books.

The problem, according to her, was what she calls self-indulgence on the part of the author: "The main character walks down the street, and there is an elaborate simile describing each person he passes."  To repeat, I haven't yet read The Goldfinch, so I can't comment on it directly, but Ann's remarks started me thinking about a kind of writing that I come across too often in novels praised as brilliant and beautiful. (In fact, for comments on one of these books that I have read, see below). It is a kind of writing that depends on thick layering of figurative language and sense description and aggregation– that is, heaps of detail and metaphor and sometimes also multiple flights along tangential story lines. When this kind of writing gets out of control, reading it is like eating rum-soaked fruit cake with pecans and currants and candied cherries, and then topping it with both hard sauce and full-fat vanilla ice cream.

This is not meant to be against richness, or against imaginative flights of language or experimentation. What it is against– and very much against– is doing these things lazily or ineptly, or self-indulgently. The longer I read, the more I have become demanding of quality and precision in long sentences and long books. This may have something to do with a cultural restlessness that has come along with visual media and Twitter and e-mail and blogs. I also spend a great deal of time reading student writing. But whatever the reasons, I am impatient with sloppy prose.

All of us who write ought to do a lot of cutting and polishing, of course, but the kind of revision I am talking about here is not only out of respect for the reader's time. It is also essential for the writer's own art. The initial foray into the material you want to write needs to be drafted with whatever tools work for you. If long pages of extremely detailed sense impressions or similes help you feel the texture of the world you're creating, write that way. If you are an outliner who has to get the plot down first and then fill in the details, do that.

It's what comes next, however, that moves the writing to another level. I've written a book called Deep Revision,and for novel writers, I have notes in an article called "Seven Layers to Revising Your Novel). I find myself particularly interested in the part of revision when you refine and make choices, when you make new discoveries and come up with new ideas and material. In fact, long before I start polishing, I cut whole characters and scenes, add new scenes, move scenes, and try to face the fact that a lot of the material that helped me reach my characters and their world is a kind of scaffolding that should be taken down. For me as a writer, these second and third and thirteenth go-throughs are where the value is added. I don't want to denigrate the wonder of initial inspiration: if you're a writer, you live for inspiration. But for me, equally satisfying and probably more important are the times when I am discovering what underlies the initial vision, when I am adding more, going deeper, diving under-- and then, when that's all done, cutting away the metaphors that don't fit anymore, getting rid of everything that isn't necessary to express what I've discovered.

Do some writers get it right the first time round? Of course. Do some truly need to polish the first paragraph before they can write the second?  Is the style of some writers all about metaphor to the exclusion of almost everything else? Yes and yes.

There are such writers, but probably not as many as claim to be. What infuriates me is the grandiosity of believing every word you write is sacred and should be displayed for admiration and/or worship.

                     

                       Meredith Sue Willis

.

.

Fran Simone's Dark Wine Waters: My Husband of a Thousand Joys and Sorrows, Reviewed by Phyllis Moore.

When addiction is the elephant in the room most families are thoroughly confused about where to turn or what to do. Fran Simone shares her experiences in her candid memoir DARK WINE WATERS: MY HUSBAND OF A THOUSAND JOYS AND SORROWS. The title speaks volumes: The joys of marriage become sorrows as a well-educated wife watches her beloved lawyer husband's progress from an occasional drink to full-blown alcoholism. The parade of broken promises, blame, guilt, lies, and hopes for sobriety are a drum beat through the years. Eventually a line is drawn: Therapy and an inpatient stint are a last resort. Sadly, relapses, deceptions, promises, lies, arguments, blackouts, automobile accidents, and loss of a driver's license result in an unexpected drinking bout on Christmas Eve and a totally unanticipated Christmas Day suicide. Simone, suddenly a grief stricken widow, is not just a widow. She is a mother, a professor in a small city, and the widow of an alcoholic lawyer who committed suicide in his downtown office. The feeling of stigma is palpable. How can a survivor cope? Simone shares what she learned when she marshalled her resources and joined a support group of survivors of the suicide of a loved one. Aided by this, and other support groups, her recovery process included writing this memoir as an "…act of discovery". In the discovery and recovery process she learned to forgive her husband and herself. As a result, here is her memoir, a gift "…for all who know the joys and sorrows of loving an addict." She is a generous and courageous writer.

.

Dark Wine Waters: My Husband of a Thousand Joys and Sorrows (2014) by Fran Simone, Ph.D. is published by Central Recovery Press, Paperback, $15.95. For more on this book, read Library Journal: http://centralrecoverypress.com/books/blog/dark-wine-waters-reviewed-in-the-library-journal/

.

.

 

SHORT TAKES  (by MSW Unless Otherwise Noted)

The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy

Here's a case in point about self-indulgence and bloat: Pat Conroy's novel about the Citadel and Charleston, South Carolina. Yes, it's gripping. Yes, it has all kinds of cinematic moments-- and wait! There was a movie made of it in the eighties!  But, oh my, does this guy overdo the suffering and navel gazing of the narrator.

I read somewhere that Conroy is a big fan of Thomas Wolfe, which appears to mean you get to dump out gorgeous metaphors by the ton.  Much of the novel seems to be about narrator Will's confusion, his love-hate for "The Institute," and his feelings of not belonging. When this is dramatized, it's terrific stuff. When it's told over and over again, it gets annoying.

I liked the insider's look at The Institute. The cadets were extremely well done, including the black cadet Pearce who Will is supposed to keep in school in the face of racist efforts to intimidate him into leaving. I was also willing to accept the secret society of the Ten, whether or not all the the cloak and dagger stuff and violence is based on facts, but I didn't believe the love interest, Annie Kate.  In Conroy's effort to write a Big Book, I think he pulled together a few too many threads at the end, and they didn't all work. But the heart of the story, if you can lay aside the bloat and the repetitive descriptions of Charleston, is quite strong.

Frank Bruni says in a New York Times review of another Conroy book: "Conroy tends to paint in extravagant strokes, and The Death of Santini instantly reminded me of the decadent pleasures of his language, of his promiscuous gift for metaphor and of his ability, in the finest passages of his fiction, to make the love, hurt or terror a protagonist feels seem to be the only emotion the world could possibly have room for, the rightful center of the trembling universe. There's something quintessentially Southern about this, and Conroy is indeed a child of the South. Its mischief and melodrama are in his blood."

Some people really seem to enjoy gorging on this stuff. Personally, when I'm in the mood for violence and Southern-style grotesquerie and drama-- and elaborate metaphors, I'd rather read Cormac McCarthy.

.

.

Masks by Fumiko Enchi

This small book was first published in Japan in 1958. I assume I probably missed a lot of the nuances, because of cultural gaps, but I was engaged anyhow. It explicitly (according to commentary) uses as its structure one of the most famous sections of The Tale of Genji. It is about the indirect revenge and the exercise of power by women.

The story includes a lot of men's speculations about women, and the male characters ultimately choose their friendships with one another over lovers. All the characters, in typical Japanese fashion, are presented as highly sensitive to light, seasons, flowers, fabrics, literature etc.

The story centers on two widows, a mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law, who live together with a mysterious third woman in a beautiful home that has a collection of exquisite kabuki masks. It's definitely worth checking out, to see if it suits your taste.

.

.

The Magic Ship and Mad Ship by Robin Hobb

I love Robin Hobb's sprawling fantasy world where dragons have a supercilious attitude toward the rest of us and are tended by an adoring semi-human race. In the liveships trilogy, where dragons are always in the background, sea-going vessels have figureheads with human personalities. Each ship is tied to one of the trading families of Bing Town, who are related to the strangely physically changed people of the Wild River. There is also a nicely corrupt emperor who makes bad decisions that threaten the traders, and also a lot of feisty women.

The sea writing is entertaining: storms and sea serpents that are more than they seem. There's also an excellent pirate, determined to be evil but so naturally charismatic that the people around him love him and make him better than he wants to be. He's a kind of heroic-foppish Captain Hook who loses a leg à la Capt. Ahab.   I think Hobb must have had a crush in her girlhood on the animated Disney Captain Hook with his Cavalier hair and lacy sleeves.

Hobb offers ethical dilemmas that are surprisingly interesting in the middle of all the action and entertainment. I'm saving the third book for a treat.

.

 

The Mother Hunt by Rex Stout

At my husband's family's summer cottage, there is a complete set of crumbling paperback Nero Wolfe mysteries. I reread one of my favorite ones, The Mother Hunt, written in the early nine-teen sixties. Rex Stout takes a lot of time for his set up (no murder till forty or fifty pages in). These are so dependable in their pleasures: narrator Archie Goodwin is always fresh, in at least two ways; Wolfe always sits in his big chair and tries to get out of work and says "pfui!" when he doesn't like how things are going. As always he sets up a few stunts to catch his bad guys without leaving home, if possible, although every few books he reluctantly does leave home, as in this one. Archie has some romance. Wolfe's ego is wounded when someone is murdered on his watch, wonderful rich meals are described, along with Wolfe's orchid gardening. NYPD Inspector Cramer shows up chewing his cigar hoping to catch Wolfe doing something illegal, but of course always admiring Wolfe's slick successes.

It's a lot of fun-- New York City during whatever decade Stout is writing, and oh yes, there's a clever mystery solution, but that's never been why I read mysteries.

.

 

Under an English Heaven: an Ellie Kent Mystery by Alice Boatwright

This is Alice Boatwright's "cozy" mystery, set in an English village, with an American protagonist. It has excellent Amazon reviews from the fans of "cozies," which are all set in the English countryside without too much blood and gore and sex. Ellie Kent, the sleuth in this novel, is divorced from a prizewinning poet bounder of a husband and has now married a sweet English vicar. She moves to Little Beecham with him, and tries to follow in the footsteps of his beloved late wife-- but everyone still sees Ellie as a foreigner.

When the deaths begin to pile up, the neighbors and the police tend to think Elliemust be the prime "person of interest" for all sorts of reasons, especially including a book of poems on one corpse written in Italian, and Ellie's ex-husband is Italian-American, and she once in Italy for a few months.

Even if it isn't your special genre, you can't miss the draw of all the tea and cake and crisp autumn air and walks with the dog.

After a while, Ellie begins to try to figure out for herself what's going on, and willfully keeps a lot of information to herself. Needless to say, she gets in trouble, and even begins to think her husband has lost faith in her. She discovers that the first wife, too, has a mystery surrounding her death-- and all the time, you know it's going to come right, and the fun is all in the how, and of course the quirky characters.

.

.

.

THINGS TO READ AND HEAR ONLINE

An interesting article in The New Statesman on the value of fan fiction.
 
Phyllis Moore points us to an interesting article especially for fans of To Kill a Mockingbird and Harper Lee– but for everyone else too: a personal reminiscence of growing up with Harper and Truman: http://www.storysouth.com/2014/03/harper-lee-and-words-left-behind.html
 
Jeremy Osner's poems: https://soundcloud.com/the-modesto-kid/the-moment-of-the-poem
 
A free performance sample from Kirk Judd's My People Was Music!   Click here!
 
John Birch's poem about the Aftermath of 9/11 http://www.johnbirchlive.blogspot.com/
 
Terrific l story about a family and monkeys from novelist Thaddeus Rutkowski (See review of his novel TETCHED in Issue 170).
 
Barbara Crooker's poems "Cut" and "At the Poultry Reading" are in the new issue of Light:http://lightpoetrymagazine.com/revamp/barbara-crooker-summer-14/ and "Salt" appears in the late summer anthology of PoetryMagazine.com: http://www.poetrymagazine.com/poets_reunion/ (scroll down for names, and click). Also see Barbara Crooker on Writers Almanac.
Marie Manilla on PBS http://wvpublic.org/post/marie-manillas-patron-saint-ugly

 

.

.

.

 

BACKCHANNEL REPORT

Back Channel likes the movie version of The Dollmaker starring Jane Fonda, "who seems a bit miscast, but she does a serviceable job: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=021jNReJXDQ . Based on the novel, which I'm betting you know about, perhaps have read. This movie isn't bad, especially for TV."

Also, online writing ideas: Write with Fey

.

.

.

JOHN BIRCH E-READER REPORT: TIRED OF PAYING FOR E-BOOKS? GET 'EM FREE FROM YOUR LOCAL LIBRARY.

More than 11,000 public libraries in the US now offer e-books through their websites, for Kindles and Nooks and all shapes and sizes of e-readers, tablets, laptops, smartphones and whatever. They're free, and if you're as surprised as I am by how much I've paid Amazon in the past couple of years, sometimes for books I've abandoned after the first two or three chapters, you may like to visit your local library and ask what they can do for you. They'll be glad to help. Most libraries loan e-books for a couple of weeks, and they'll e-mail you when the loan's about to expire, and again when it's floated off into the ether. If, like my wife and me, you and your partner both have a Kindle on the same account, you can read the same book on your e-readers simultaneously, providing you've both finished it before the loan expires.
Read John's poem about 9/11 on his blog.

.

.

.

WHAT THE NEW YORK TIMES SAYS ABOUT E-BOOK MONTHLY SUBS

NYTimes video on new monthly sub ebook plans: http://www.nytimes.com/video/technology/personaltech/100000003028492/paying-with-your-phone.html?playlistId=100000002688520

.

.

 

ANNOUNCEMENTS, BOOKS RECEIVED, CONTESTS, WORKSHOPS, READINGS ETC.

.

 
Ed Davis's new novel: http://www.davised.com/2014/09/israel-jones-live/
 
 
 
Miguel Ortiz's new collection of stories is At Fortunoff's-- "A collection of short stories dealing with the life of New Yorkers in the second half of the twentieth century."
 
 

.

 

.

Michael K. Lyons Same Same: Marketing Basics from the Streets of Bangkok is now avaiable. Michael Lyons' Same Same may be about arketing but I was sold by the descriptions of a lively and sensual old city.

.

.

 
 
Blair Mountain Press is having a 15th anniversary sale-- all books $10.00 each. See the website at www.blairmtp.net. Latest title is Victor Depta's Poems: What Love Is. Here's a sample:

.

What Love Is on a School Bus

.

If he were less vulnerable, maybe years later, in his thirties when he's

outgrown his scrawny, miserable fourteen-year-old body and has the

strength for objectivity, he would, embarrassed as adults are by love

beyond their ironies, spoil the scene with realism

.

with spring, first of all, comparing the jonquils and forsythias to the

yellow school buses, dingy and mud-spattered, and stinking with

exhaust behind the vo-tech building

.

and then spoil the scene by describing the dreary students, drained of

their joy by the classroom, straggling in lines to board them homebound

to the camp houses, the black dust and burning slag heaps, the tipples

and coal trains in the mountains

.

and spoil it, then, with all the clichés of the adolescent—the acne, the

oily face, the smell of stale, anxious sweat, the burden- some books,

the bullying and blustering, the furtive glances, the awkward profanity

.

he would, as an adult, embellish the scene, perhaps with pathos, or with

hilarious, slapstick absurdities and obscene love, but the boy can't be

touched by any of that, not even by his fourteen-year-old ignorance, not

even by what would follow, flesh to flesh

.

I am not my clichés

I am not my body

I am is what love means

I am love's body

.

.

.

Ellen Bass workshsop in November: A weekend workshop with Roger Housden, author of many wonderful books, including his newest, Keeping the Faith Without Religion . See http://www.noetic.org/earthrise/events/ . This weekend promises to be rich with inspiration—and you are likely to write some poems, stories, and reflections that astonish you! WRITING WILD: TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE A Weekend Workshop November 14-16, 2014 Earthrise at Ions, Petaluma, CA. Both beginning and seasoned writers will find this a fertile environment to deepen your relationship with yourself and listen more intimately to your original voice.
DATE: November 14-16, 2014 TIME: The weekend begins with dinner on Friday, November 14th at 6:00 pm and ends after lunch on Sunday, November 16th at 1:30 pm. LOCATION: Earthrise at Ions, Institute for Noetic Sciences, 101 San Antonio Road, Petaluma, CA 94952
FEE AND REGISTRATION: Non-residential: $497 Double room accommodation: $667 Single room accommodation: $847
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Andrea Livingston at IONS: 707-779-8224 alivingston@noetic.org
 

Above: Links to books and authors discussed in this issue-- authors Stephanie Wellen Levine,
J.G. Farrell, Ed Davis, and S.C. Gwynne's book on Quanah Parker

Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 173

November 18, 2014

When possible, read this newsletter online for updates and corrections. 
 To create a permanent link to this newsletter, click here.  
For Back Issues, click here.
MSW Home

In this Issue:

Susan S. Carpenter on Ed Davis's New Novel The Psalms of Israel Jones
Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers
Phyllis Moore on Daniel Boyd's Graphic Novel Carbon
Ken Chamption's The Dramaturgical Metaphor
Comments from Troy Hill and Ellen Cavanagh

The E-Reader Report with John Birch
Backchannel Report

A List of Political Novels
Things to Read & Hear Online
Announcements and News


For a Free E-mail subscription to this newsletter:

.

.

.

I'm featuring two nonfiction books this month, not new, but definitely worth looking for. Novels are discussed below in "Short Takes" and special articles.

I want to begin with Stephanie Wellen Levine's Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers about teenage Lubavitcher girls. Levine lived in the Crown Heights, Brooklyn area for a year doing the research, which was academic, but the book succeeds and reaches far beyond its substantial academic roots. Anyone who has ever lived in Brooklyn knows the Lubavitcher Hasidic sect--claimed to be the largest Jewish organization in the world. They are the group that does outreach to other Jews, trying to bring the Messiah through an accumulation of good deeds done by Jews, such as lighting candles on Shabbos. They used to drive a truck called the Mitzvah tank around New York City, blasting music and inviting participation in their practice to anyone Jewish.

Today, they are famous for their welcoming Chabad houses all over the world (and the brutal terrorist attack on one of these in Mumbai in November, 2008). Their outreach is unusual, as Jews, unlike Christians, don't generally give a high value to proselytizing. Even a staid, mainstream Protestant church like the one I grew up in had an ideal of going out into the world and witnessing and converting, even though we didn't do it much--everyone in town was pretty much already affiliated with one church or another.

I have always been fascinated by people whose belief is strong enough that they feel privileged to grab people by the lapel and try to convert them. I am also fascinated by closed systems, whether religious or political, that have all the answers. It seems wonderfully comforting to me-- and also stunningly wrong-headed.

The Lubavitchers are one of these groups with a complete, self-referential system and all the answers. They also prove to be, in Levine's book, a varied, warm, intelligent, supportive and enthusiastic community. They welcomed Levine into their homes, confided to her about their lives, and seemed genuinely puzzled and hurt that in the end she returned to her secular life in academia instead of joining them.

The book is organized around representative individual girls who range from those who are deeply enriched by the mystical teachings of Chabad--indeed uplifted, glowing with delight at the insights their study and meditation give them-- to some serious rebels who drink, socialize with men (and Lubavitchers keep high walls between the sexes) and eventually leave Crown Heights, albeit with sadness over the loss of their warm and nurturing community.

One of Levine's fascinating and perhaps broadly applicable insights is how strong and lively the girls are in their largely single sex lives: they make deep friendships, tease their teachers and disrupt their classrooms, delight in clothes and parties-- and then switch quickly to religious studies and rituals. All of them are expected, of course, to marry early and produce many Jewish babies. The complexities of these lives-- the success and the failures-- make up the texture of this wonderful book. I'm so happy Stephanie Levine has told us about her year with the mystics, mavericks, and merrymakers.

.

The second book is similar only in how well it too combines cultural/historical information and the stories of individuals. The book has a long title: Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne. I read this right after a much shorter book, a novel, called I Dreamed I Was In Heaven:the Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter about a group of teenage boys of (native American and black descent) who set out on a nasty crime spree at the end of the nineteenth century. This novel, based on facts, is about boys living in a time and place when they lacked credible adult models and outlets for their dreams and testosterone. They would have done better had they come of age as Quanah Parker did when a warrior culture ruled much of the West.

The Comanches, the greatest warriors of the so-called horse tribes, had an animist religion and relatively simple material culture compared to other tribes (the Kiowa, for example, made magnificent decorated baby boards for carrying their infants).

The Comanches came out of the Wyoming mountains in early eighteenth century, discovered and mastered horse culture, lived by hunting buffalo. This happened quickly too--their change from mountain hunter gatherers to warrior lords of the prairie. They won their wars more often than not, both against other tribes but also against the immigrants from the Eastern United States. They lost in the end through lack of numbers and, of course, disease. Also, a handful of their white enemies figured out how to use the Comanches' own tactics against them--to stampede their horses then attack.

I was especially interested in the lives of the women, who worked hard, sometimes participated in torture, rode as well as the men, and were highly valued. The book emphasizes men's things: battle, scalps, etc., but there is a subtext of the community's deep valuing of all its members. They went to great lengths to avoid the loss of life of their own, especially their children. On the other hand, they were vicious in their raids on white settlers-- yet frequently took white young people captive, and these people, especially the women, rarely wanted to go back to white life.

One of these captive white women was Cynthia Ann Parker, the mother of Quanah Parker, the last great chief of the Comanches. She was kidnapped early and raised as a Comanche woman. When she was stolen back to the whites, unwillingly, she essentially died of a broken heart or at least of inability to adjust to white life.

In some ways, Quanah Parker's whole life is a memorial to Cynthia Ann. He had gray eyes and was taller than others, but he was fully Comanche, and also, I'd maintain,fully American: a fearless nomadic war chief who was able to make the enormous change to sedentary life on the reservation, where he thrived. He ended his life poor, but this was honorable in his culture, because he had given away his considerable accumulation of material goods to his people.

                     

                         Meredith Sue Willis

.

.

New Ed Davis Novel

I read Ed Davis's new novel The Psalms of Israel Jones with great attention and pleasure. Here is a review of it by Susan S. Carpenter. I want to add that I don't think I have ever read a better depiction in contemporary fiction of people who believe in God: God isn't the answer here, but rather part of the texture of the people's existential situations. Highly recommended!

.

Snakes, Religion, Rock & Roll : Susan S. Carpenter Reviews Ed Davis's The Psalms of Israel Jones

With the character Israel Jones, Ed Davis has created, a folk-rock star, a legendary guitar, a howling harmonica, and beautiful ambiguous lyrics. Like other music legends (Dylan, Jagger, Neil Young) this singer-songwriter got his start in the early sixties and is still on tour in 2005. The novel is narrated by his son Thomas, pastor of the Suffering Christ Church of Holy Martyrs. After avoiding his father for five years, Thom receives a mysterious phone call telling him his father is "exciting them to violence." So, in the midst of his own troubles that include a divorce-in-process and pressure from the church deacons to take a leave of absence, Thom joins his father's "eternal tour."

The first stop is a snake-handling worship service in in West Virginia, where Israel Jones has quietly joined the congregation. Thom glimpses a snake held aloft, its coiled body "shimmering obscenely," and spots his father sitting quietly in a pew, "his gnarled hands loosely clasped before him, the veritable picture of unhip humility." This church, it turns out, is where Israel's parents are buried in the graveyard.

The snakes in Israel's religious background are merely the first of many discoveries about this baffling man, whose song lyrics "could mean this, could mean that, in the end probably don't mean anything," whose screeching guitar ("channeling the demons of hell") and howling harmonica excite his audiences to crazy behavior. Thom's mysterious phone caller has referred to a group of young followers Thom calls "the Furies," who cut themselves with razor blades during Israel Jones's concerts.

This is the man, Thom thinks, "who walked out on his fragile wife and five-year-old son in order to live free as the wind and sow his seed across five continents, leaving a score of children and bereft mothers without alimony in his wake." Thom recounts a litany of Israel Jones' flaws, musical, personal, and spiritual. But early on it's evident that this father/son journey will include the son's painful self-discoveries. Thom lurches from crisis to adventure to illumination in what turn out to be his father's final tour and his own life's upheaval.

On a day off, Israel takes Thom to a men's retreat, a Gestalt-type therapy weekend where Thom confesses:

"…one minute, I'd be with my dad, we'd be getting along; then, suddenly, I was stranded on the other side of a wide, gaping gorge."

The group leader urges him into an explosion of fury at his father that ends in a gesture of reconciliation as Israel sings one of his son's songs. They talk about Thom's mother, Israel's wife, and her suicide (she cut her wrists; her son found her body).

Then Israel says, "'But it was her choice. You know that, don't you?'

My hands around his throat will do the job; it will take mere moments.

'You don't think,' I say, 'you played a role in her … choice?'

'Ever'thing did. Me, you, the weather, what she ate that day, what she drank, it all added up: oppressive, temptin'. But to blame somebody's takin' their life on one thing, one person … Nobody's that important to somebody else.'

I clench one fist inside the other. 'I think she loved you that much.'

He laces his fingers atop his old axe, looks at me, and glances at his hands. 'Son, that's hate, not love.'"

For this reader such moments, when rage crumbles as a barrier drops to reveal a more honest layer of awareness, are the most rewarding in the novel. There are also scenes of terror from the increasingly dangerous "Furies," the crossroads when Thom faces the church deacons who accuse him of an "ungodly relationship" with a parishioner, and revelations about both Israel and Thom, who carries a Lee Oskar harp in his shirt pocket and finally earns the right to play it.

The book is tightly woven, every sentence crammed with imagery and allusions. As a writing achievement, it's a tour de force that bears the mark of great care and unflinching self-examination in the painstaking process of its writing. Ed Davis has written his best novel yet, pulling up his love/hate for music and church by their Appalachian roots and spinning a story of adversaries that scrape their rough edges together and generate flares of agony, beauty, and hard-won truths on the other side.

.

.

 

Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses
 

SHORT TAKES  (by MSW Unless Otherwise Noted)

Secret History by Donna Tartt

I read Donna Tartt's 1992 Secret History, which is about a murder and its aftermath. I started out impatient, not liking it-- it seemed like another bunch of entitled kids acting badly-- but it got better, or I got into it. In the end, it is a page turner with interesting characters (in spite of their incredibly narrow world and fatal silliness). The sensual experience here is all drugs and alcohol, plus the narrator's passion for his friends.

The victim of the murder is obnoxious yet oddly lovable. There is a set of twins who are charming and twisted, and the group's elderly mentor, the wealthy scholar Julian, has a heart of ice. I don't think it is a profound novel, but it has great late-nineteen eighties/early nineties stylishness. It's a knowingly intellectual, thriller.

Completely unsurprising that Tartt was/is a friend of Bret Easton Ellis, also Jonathan Lethem and Jill Eisenstadt.

Here's what the New York Times said in 1992: "Of course, many 19th-century writers -- from Dickens to Dostoyevsky -- used similarly melodramatic events to fuel their novels' plots, but the moral resonance of such works is never achieved by 'The Secret History.' Because Ms. Tartt's characters are all such chilly customers, they do not so much lose their innocence as make a series of pragmatic, amoral decisions. As a result, real guilt and suffering do not occur in this novel; neither does redemption. The reader is simply left with a group portrait of the banality of evil. As a ferociously well-paced entertainment, however, 'The Secret History' succeeds magnificently. Forceful, cerebral and impeccably controlled, 'The Secret History' achieves just what Ms. Tartt seems to have set out to do: it marches with cool, classical inevitability toward its terrible conclusion."

.

The Master by Colm Toibin

What a beautiful book, and-- when you come down to it -- a book with a happy ending. It is a novel version of a portion of the life of the great novelist, Henry James. The story begins with a public catastrophe for him-- the failure of his play, publicly and humiliatingly. James is wounded and has sad flashbacks to two men he had sexual feelings for but never (in the novel and by the evidence of many biographers) acted on. There are flashbacks to childhood, to his sister Alice dying, his parents' deaths, how he and his brother William James didn't go to fight in the Civil War, but his younger brothers did, and the horrible suffering brother WIlkie went through. There's also a lot about a woman who probably was in love with him, who killed herself, Constance Fenimore Woolson. She was an American writer, a grand-niece of James Fenimore Cooper.

The novel ends about 4 years after the disaster with the play, with James having moved to a house he loves, with visits from his brother and family, and then Edmund Gosse. There is is a delightful luncheon where everyone is at their best. In the course of this relatively eventful period in James life, he has been constantly imagining two of his greatest books, and it ends with him about to write them.

James is not entirely attractive: his coolness and fussiness are off-putting, and he refuses to take his own advice from The Ambassadors about seizing life and living, but it is a wonderful, engrossing novel. And how did Toibin do it-- make fiction out of James thinking up his ideas for his fiction? Just extraordinary, both the portrait of an artist, definitely the best I've ever read, and the magical drama of what is on the face of it not very dramatic at all.

I have to wonder what someone who hasn't read James or who knows nothing about the James family, would make of it?

.

Time and Again by Jack Finney

I've been hearing about this book for many years, and generally enjoyed it. It has a freshness, even though its present (1970) feels almost as far away as the past that the main character Si visits. Si decides with romantic conviction that 1892 is a better place to live than 1970-- that the girl friend he finds there is more of a soul mate than his 1970 girl friend. The very beginning is deliberate but gripping, some of the middle is more deliberate than gripping, but not much. And the end-- when Si decides to change history-- is very well done.

The attitudes toward women in 1970 seem more 1958 than 1970– Si mentions the Vietnam war and man on the moon, but not student activism or hippies. Finney was too old to be part of the youth culture himself, of course. But at its heart, it is a charming, precisely created and highly entertaining book.

.

The Sand Queen by Helen Benedict

This was at once powerful and sometimes a little clunky in the joining of its pieces. It is about women serving in the armed forces during the most recent Iraq war, and being a woman in a forward position with a lot of angry and generally misogynistic men. It was brutal at best. I was maybe most moved by some of the small scenes like the Muslim women preparing their grandmother's body for burial, and there were also some lovely translations of Muslim prayers.

The main character, Kate Brady, lives through an incredibly grim series of events.

Built on essays and research, it must make for a scathing book discussion subject.

.

.

A Short History of the Jews by Michael Brenner

Brenner is a professor at the University of Munich, and I read this book over many weeks. I'll be keeping it for a reference. It covers a whole lot very compactly, right up to ten years ago or so-- mentions AIPAC and Tikkun, touches on all the long long history. It has the kind of high quality glossy pages I don't get to touch much anymore, and beautiful images of frontispieces of haggadahs from many times and places as well as random but delightful photos of things like Bob Dylan at his son's bar mitzvah.

.

.

Troubles by J.G. Farrell

Troubles is a lovely book about the collapse of at least one part of the British Empire. It is a dark comedy of the Anglo-Irish at the Hotel Majestic in Ireland: a huge building which is physically collapsing around the heads of its classist, ethnicist, jingoistic--but often charming and increasingly pitiful--inhabitants. The Irish Irish are there too, but their lives are told indirectly, partly through the increasing understanding of the main character, known as The Major. The Major is a youngish shell shocked veteran of trench warfare in Word War One. He sees the blindness and errors of his compatriots, their stupidity and hopelessness, but carries on with helping to shore up the physical plant, to get children to safety, never really looking clearly at what he feels happening because his inner life is caught up in a hopeless love affair.

Wildly exaggerated in some ways, it is about the fall of empire, told through the eyes of the losers who were once the privileged class. The novel doesn't excuse them (they are really awful!), but some of the old ladies who have made their homes at the Majestic turn out to have more of a future than seemed likely.

Is there a comparable story from the side of the Irish about those days of "The Troubles?" Perhaps At Swim Two Boys by Jamie O’Ne ill?

.

.

The Dramaturgical Metaphorby Ken Champion

This interesting novella is ostensibly about a psychotherapist's road trip with/for a client with too much money to spend. James, the protagonist, is looking for some extra cash and maybe just something different in his life. He accepts the odd offer to "observe" the rich client, who he meets in person in Paris, then follows to Rome, then back to London.

The client's riches prove to have been a windfall, and his background working class, like the main character's. There's a lot of frustration for James as his client walks out on him repeatedly, whenever they seems to be making progress. James also falls hard for a woman who is part of his client's elaborate role playing games. James and she go to Rome, where the client, who cannot find the center of his self, turns out to have a life as part of a communist party there. He ends up in jail, where James visits him.

It's a dark little novella, the main character wandering through turgid experiences, never able to get where he's going. Much of the work has a dream quality of passing through rooms and public places (James is fascinated by architectural details). Encounters are at once meaningful and never quite finished. The finale has the characters back in London, their home city, and the client takes a kind of action that may or may not be a move forward in his psychical state, but we are left at the end with James and his life.

It's a gripping ride, hard to capture, but deeply worthwhile to experience.

 

.

PHYLLIS WILSON MOORE ON DANIEL BOYD'S GRAPHIC NOVEL CARBON

Carbon, a graphic novel (think, adult comic book), is West Virginia filmmaker/author Daniel Boyd's bid to reach a diverse audience and raise awareness of climate change, the environmental costs of coal mining and fracking, the unsavory history of the extraction industries, and what "we the people" must do to determine the future of our planet. Now that may sound like a lot to expect from a comic book, but art has power and can create a buzz. The novel's art by Brazil's Edi Guedes is lurid enough to attract a reader's attention and to carry the intense story of a land under siege; a land where heroic miners and their families suffer the brunt of years of industrial abuse. Boyd uses biblical images and symbols to tell his story: God; Eden; Hell; evil money grubbers with obedient servants; predictions of an end of time, etc. The character and place names add a touch of humor: Eden Hollow is home to a Hatfield and a McCoy, a failed athlete, and a small group of devout Christians. Living in a coal shaft beneath their desolate town is a band of Sheves, exiled by a God. No one would rejoice over bringing in these Sheves; they are evil mutant females interested only in devouring food and raping seven miners trapped and then abandoned in the mine shaft When a recent explosion adds three miners to the group. the Sheves see the new men as fresh meat. The men think otherwise and join together to ---- bring the heat--, their phrase for decisive action. I think you get the picture: sex, violence, pollution, religion, and big business. Boyd's subject is a serious one. Can we balance industrial needs with environmental concerns? Is it too late to protect our mountains, our water, our air, not just in West Virginia but on the planet? This graphic novel is Boyd 's attempt to turn up the heat while there is still have enough water to put out the fire.

.

.

.

.

COMMENTS FROM READERS

Troy Hill (see my notes on his book A Revelation) writes: "I'm reading The Goldfinch now, so I'll be interested to see what I think. I think I'm still in that first 200-page section that I've heard people refer to (it's hard to say for sure since I'm reading it on the Kindle), but it seems like it. Anyway, thanks for this."


Ellen Cavanagh Has Been Reading....

.... The Lost Wife Alyson Richman. She says it is "intensely realistic/painful story of WWII. Not a chick read. Could make a grown man feel the pain," and "Loving Frank (novel by Nancy Horan)– story of Frank Lloyd Wright having little to do with architecture. Love story. I will say no more. Spoiler potential galore."

.

 

BACKCHANNEL REPORT

A novel written in one sentence: interesting concept; gives an example from the book: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/10/zone-mathias-enard-review-nicholas-lezard .

.

Due to the "absurd" amount of submissions they're receiving, The Unsolicited Press has shut down taking submissions for the time being, but say you can check their blog for when they may open it up again. http://www.unsolicitedpress.com .

.

Great article on Marilynne Robinson’s novels and how political they actually are: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/nov/07/marilynne-robinson-lila-great-achievement-contemporary-us-fiction-gilead Deep into it, Arnow’s The Dollmaker is also talked about in relation to Robinson’s work. 

.

.

.

JOHN BIRCH E-READER REPORT: WHAT'S UP? IS AMAZON GOING RETAIL?

Whoever would have thought it? The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon, probably the biggest name in e-marketing, plans to open its own bricks-and-mortar retail store in New York City, not far from Macy's, in time for the holidays. This seems to be an extension of Amazon's recent efforts to get its products into customers' hands more speedily, developing its sorting and distribution operations in its Amazon Locker pick-up program. This provides pick-up points for purchases, as does its developing same-day delivery service that's already available in "selected cities." It's uncertain whether Amazon will keep the store going after the holiday shopping season, but publishers and booksellers are sure to watch closely to see what happens next.
Read John's blog.

.

READ AND LISTEN ONLINE

Wow! Someone on FB gave this link to possibly the only recording of Virginia Woolf's voice-- http://www.brainpickings.org/2013/04/29/craftsmanship-virginia-woolf-speaks-1937 . It almost sounds like a foreign language, or at least heavy dialect, to me– she's reading an essay from The Death of a Moth and Other Essays.
Fall 2014 issue of Persimmon Treenow up .

While I was in San Francisco last month, I happed upon a local book store and heard a few minutes of Diane di Palma reading (she read a poem to the late Amiri Baraka, her old love and father of one of her children). She appears to be a physical wreck, but read strongly. Here is some of her work online:

.

.

.

ELLEN MEERPOL'S FAVORITE POLITICAL NOVELS (borrowed from her blog of 6-12-2014)

(She defines a political novel as a "work that illuminates injustice by dramatizing conflicts of class, race, gender and the environment. A literature that, rather than the common practice of using the political landscape as background for a dramatic story, is actually in opposition to the status quo. Literature that just might encourage the reader to look more critically at our own neighborhood, our own world, and work to make it better."

.

Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcon
In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam
The Air We Breathe by Andrea Barrett
The Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoi
r Running the Rift, Naomi Benaron
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Civil Wars by Rosellen Brown
Little Bee by Chris Cleeve
Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow
The Ministry of Special Cases, Nathan Englander
The Guest of Honor by Nadine Gordimer
First Papers by Laura Hobson
Solar Storms by Linda Hogan
The Bone People by Keri Hulme
Like Trees, Walking, Ravi Howard
Small Wars by Sadie Jones
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
The Given Day by Dennis Lehane
The Four Gated City by Doris Lessing
The Chosen Place; The Timeless People by Paule Marshall
White Dog Fell from the Sky, Eleanor Morse
A Stranger in the Kingdom by Howard Frank Mosher
The Last Town on Earth, Thomas Mullen
Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien
Strange as this Weather has Been, Ann Pancake
Caucasia by Danzy Senna
Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie
Ties in Blood by Gillian Slovo
I, Amy Waldman
Martyrs Crossing by Amy Wilentz

.

ANNOUNCEMENTS, BOOKS RECEIVED, CONTESTS, WORKSHOPS, READINGS ETC.

Paola Corso's The Laundress Catches Her Breath, won the Tillie Olsen Award for Creative Writing from the Working Class Studies Assn.
Coming soon from Finishling Line Press: two by Reamy Jansen: Two Ways of Not Hearing and My Drive, A Natural History. Two Ways of Not Hearing covers issues of mortality and constancy and the threats of getting older. My Drive is a series of linked prose poems about commuting to work and going solo to the unknown.
Check out Woodland Press with some good Appalachian books-- I especially like the anthology Fed From the Bone and The Devil's Son, a novel about the Hatfield family.
In The Last Conception by Gabriel Constans, passionate embryologist, Savarna Sikand, is in a complicated relationship with two different women when she is told that she MUST have a baby. Her East Indian American parents are desperate for her to conceive, in spite of her "not being married". They insist that she is the last in line of a great spiritual lineage. In the process of choosing her lover and having doubts about her ability, or desire to conceive, Savarna begins to question the necessity of biology and lineage within her parents' beliefs and becomes forever fascinated with the process of conception and the definition of family.
Christian C. Sahner's new book Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present (which I hope to review soon) has just come out from Oxford University Press. This is an introduction to the history and present of Syria. See an interview here.
 
Miguel Ortiz's new collection of stories is At Fortunoff's-- "A collection of short stories dealing with the life of New Yorkers in the second half of the twentieth century."
 
 
The Fall 2014 Issue of the Hamilton Stone Review #31, is now available for your reading pleasure at http://www.hamiltonstone.org/hsr31.html! Poetry by Roy Bentley, Doug Bolling, Rob Cook, Darren Demaree, William Ford, Nels Hanson, Tom Holmes, Ted Jean, Michael Lauchlan, Al Maginnes, Tom Montag, Marge Piercy, Kenneth Pobo, Stan Sanvel Rubin, David Salner, Barry Seiler, Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, Don Thompson, and Laryssa Wirstiuk; Fiction by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois, Richard Kostelanetz, Stacy Graber, Jana Wilson, and Alan Swyer; Nonfiction by Max Bakke, Mike Ekunno, Edward Myers, Diane Payne, Fred Skolnik, and Amber Wildes.
For information about submissions, see http://www.hamiltonstone.org/hsr.html#submissions.
 
Blue Heron Book Works is looking for submissions of book length work. Blue Heron Book Works is an e-pub company looking for outstanding memoirs--unusual personal tales well told, or awesomely well told ordinary stories to publish as ebook, with an eye to print-on-demand later. They would also like to work with fiction writers who have ideas for series fiction of any sort. All costs are born by BHBW. Check them out at http://www.blueheronbookworks.com . Query them at info@blueheronbookworks.com.

 


Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 174

December 27, 2014

.

.

When possible, read this newsletter online for updates and corrections. 
 To create a permanent link to this newsletter, click here.  
For Back Issues, click here.
MSW Home

 

Cat Pleska's Review of Love Palace
at the Charleston-Gazette 
     

.

In this Issue:

"Song of West Virginia" by Marc Harshman

John Michael Cummings's Don't Forget Me, Bro

Christian Sahner's Among the Ruins

Denton Loving's Crimes Against Birds

Madame Bovary
by Gustave Flaubert

The E-Reader Report with John Birch

Canada by Richard Ford

Short Takes

Things to Read & Hear Online

Announcements and News


For a Free E-mail subscription to this newsletter:

.

.

.

I have four very different books to share this issue-- all simply things that interest me for various reasons: an important book of nonfiction about the Middle East; a collection of excellent poems; a novel of what might be called Appalachian Gothic; and a re-read classic.

.

The nonfiction book is Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present by Christian C. Sahner. This 2014 book from Oxford University Press should have received far more attention than it did. Christian Sahner was in the Middle East working on his Ph.D. thesis on the role of non-Muslims in Islamic societies when the Arab Spring and the present civil war in Syria broke out. He is an historian, not a journalist, but his deep knowledge of the history, art, and architecture of the region along with his personal experiences living in Syria and Lebanon, make him a wonderful guide to these places and these events.

This is the book I had been waiting for as a way to address my ignorance: what is the difference between the Sunnis and the Shias?  What is an 'Alawite (the Muslim sect of the Assad family, recent dictators of Syria)? What is a Druze? Why were the Maronite Christians the ruling elite of Lebanon for so long (they were closely associated with colonial France and involved in Lebanon's separation from Syria in the mid twentieth century)? What were the issues of the Lebanese Civil War thirty years ago, and how do they reflect the issues in the present Syrian civil war?

This is a wonderful, informative yet personal introduction to the history of Greater Syria. Sahner tells how Syria was the center of the early Islamic empire, and how, while it is a Sunni nation, the head of Hussein, the prophet's grandson and hero of the Shia, is entombed in Damascus. He alternates this lively, many layered version of history with personal story that center on real people like his Arabic teacher, the pious Muhammad who is later caught up in the vicissitudes of the Syrian Civil War and ends up as a refugee.

The book makes no predictions about the political future, which truly appears grim, but offers us the history and the culture and the people-- and at least a little hope that some of this will be preserved.

.

The poems in Denton Loving's collection Crimes Against Birdshave a freshness and clarity that is never simple but always tremulously open to observation and experience. He names the plants and trees with admirable precision, and turns even the most quotidian lists (what his father likes for breakfast in "Where I'll find My Dad After He Dies!") into something rich and striking. One of my favorite poems comes toward the end ("Elemental"), and it features how "There is no way to tell you..." about so many natural beauties: light, of course, but also April winds blowing blossoms off pear trees. The end of the poem has a Renaissance style turn into a message to the beloved: There is no way to tell how often I think of you, either. You never feel that Loving is showing off his skills, just that he has found the only images (mostly natural) and the only forms for saying what he has to say.

There are a number of oblique but deeply felt love poems: "Morning Light" is about waking and finding last night's dishes cleaned and drying on a tea towel while the lover is absent, perhaps still abed. I also like very much the animal and farming poems like "Reasoning with Cows" in which the narrator's cows shove and bully each other, trying to get the best hay:

I try but can't reason with these brute beasts,
can't make them know this pile and that pile
come from the same bale of hay, and each bale
comes from the same June cutting of summer
grass, fed by the same sun and rains, all
from the same field where their hay has grown
for years and years-- all their many lives.

This poem has a Biblical epigraph and includes an attempt to quote Jesus to the recalcitrant cows. It's charming and witty. There are more cow poems; and bird poems, as the title suggests; dream poems; and lots of poems about light. There are losses of individual people and places, like the wonderful "Horse Cemetery" about a mysterious place on the family farm where past inhabitants executed their old horses, which is also about the subdivision of farms and the end of a way of life.

These are not poems with the natural world as a backdrop, but fully human observations and explorations of a world in which human nature is natural, if often pain-inducing and destructive. As Loving writes in the title poem:

Man cannot walk through life outside the company of birds.

For more information about this collection see the publisher's web site at http://mainstreetrag.com/bookstore/product/crimes-against-birds/

.

.

Well, I re-read Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, and while I know I read it long ago, and while you can't have any kind of literary life and not hear references to its characters and famous scenes, and while I certainly remembered it is about a petit bourgeois doctor's unhappy, romantic wife and her affairs and suicide–it felt like a brand new book to me. I read eagerly, thinking, "How beautiful! How despicable!" I was reacting to Emma herself,  of course, but also to the Bovary's friend the chemist, to stupid husband Charles, to his quarrelsome mother, to Emma's lovers– there is a sense of ugly people and gathering despair through the whole thing.

Halfway through, I stopped to read A.S. Byatt's old discussion of the book online (the introduction to a Norwegian edition), which was very helpful. Byatt says the novel is all surface, there is no depth, there are only objects and things and Emma's vague yearnings and inevitable steps toward ruin. She and the others are objects, Byatt says, and the book "opened a vision of meaninglessness and emptiness, which was all the more appalling because it was so full of things, clothes and furniture, rooms and gardens."

Then she complains about how "Madame Bovary appeared in a British newspaper listing of the 'fifty best romantic reads.' It was, and is, the least romantic book I have ever read."

Amen to that, and yet, I remember reading it as a young girl and thinking I was supposed to identify with Emma (all the other books were like that!) and then being shocked by the ending.

Byatt also has some good analysis of the place of this seminal work among realist novels: "Fairy stories end with the lovers marrying and living happy ever after. Jane Austen's novels keep that pattern. The great realist novels study at length what happens after marriage, within marriages, within families and businesses. One of the great subjects of the realist novel is boredom–narrow experiences in small places and unsympathetic groups. There is no greater study of boredom than Madame Bovary–which is nevertheless never boring, but always both terrifying and simultaneously gleeful over its own accuracy."

Probably I didn't give myself over fully to reading the novel this time until near the end. I was deeply moved by Mme. Bovary's long, slow, ugly dying. This section is the great counterweight: Emma loved beautiful objects and sensuality; now we see the senses and objects in dissolution. It is also a wonderful rendering of the social and cultural aspects of dying in this time and place: people constantly come in and out of the death chamber. The effects of the poison are painstakingly described, and then there are elaborate details of the funeral.

The book ends with the brief sad narratives of the other characters' lives. Emma's daughter (who no one bothered to teach to read), for example, ends up as a factory girl. (There's an alternative literature story to write).

I'll end with a quotation from Flaubert's own letters (taken from the A.S. Byatt piece referenced above) about writing one of the big scenes in Madame Bovary. Flaubert asserts that he spent from July to the end of November in 1853 working on this one scene of an agricultural fair. He spoke of it in terms of orchestration. "If the effects of a symphony have ever been conveyed in a book it will be in these pages. I want the reader to hear everything together in one great roar– the bellowing of bulls, the sighing of lovers, the bombast of official oratory. The sun shines down on it all, and there are gusts of wind that threaten to blow off the women's big bonnets. I achieve dramatic effect simply by the interweaving of dialogue and by contrasts of character."

If you've never read Madame Bovary, give it a try. You can get it in any library and free or almost free as an e-book.

.

.

.

Finally, I read John Michael Cummings' Don't Forget Me, Bro. This novel is set in West Virginia, albeit not the West Virginia I grew up in. He creates a fast-paced, quirky world just this side of Southern Gothic– maybe something more like Appalachian Gothic, which I would suggest is more grounded in this real world than the other kinds.

The novel begins when the narrator, Mark Barr, comes home to a fictional county in the eastern section of West Virginia upon the death of his schizophrenic brother from diseases related to obesity and alcoholism– related also, the narrator is convinced, to the poor management of his medications. The story takes place during the week between Mark's arrival from New York City, where he has an unsatisfying life in a long term but dysfunctional relationship, and the family's final disposal of his brother's remains. There is a lot of event and rich mise-en-scène, which captures the world as Mark apprehends it. The interiors of houses are stuffed with clutter and cluttered with stuff. Cummings gives long, entertaining descriptions of the old furniture and boxes and stacks of magazines. There are also wonderful passages of landscape that never drift from the intense darkly humorous vision of the main character:

An old, familiar melancholy returned. Did sorrow live in these hills, in the black rocks and brittle brown brush? Did it somehow kill Steve? All around me, mountains were streaked brown like stained commodes and skeleton-shell barns flashed by, as if retreating. In that moment, I felt that this land had never stopped waiting for me to return. That like an enemy, it had me for life.

                                                                                                (p. 11 manuscript galleys)

The tight time frame and story line hold together Mark's picaresque rambles through the tiny towns of his youth-- and his memories. He is on a quest for his brother Steve and, of course, for his family and for himself. Along the way he encounters a number of vivid characters like the possibly pederastic wheel-chair bound neighbor who took hundreds of photographs of Steve in symbolic outfits and Steve's mentally challenged girl friend. Most especially there is the angry, abusive father Bill who lives separately from his wife in a mini-survivalist wing--nut world. Mark's mother is vague and weak, but comes into focus as she obsessively arranges the trove of photographs of Steve in costumes. At one point Mark imagines her thoughts as she observes her husband and two surviving sons working on a truck:

....Why her family was working on poor Steve's truck, finally, how nice. So important the men of the family lean over a smelly, dirty truck engine with the backsides stuck out like cows at a watering trough. Mercy, men and their mechanical contrivances!

Mark's father has decided to cremate Steve and not allow the remains to be buried in the family plot, as Steve appears to have wanted. Steve's end-of-life phone calls to Mark and others may or may not have been rational, but Mark is determined to follow his wishes. He cannot bear the idea of cremation for his brother:

....the word didn't sound like itself, but rather something... I might do with food: cremated chicken soup, cremated apple pie. No: fire, industrial-sized oven, Steve vaporized, gone, no casket, no body in the ground, nothing. Poof.

The final phase of the novel is how Mark both fails and succeeds as he tries to get hold of Steve's ashes, and then finds a way to deal with them. In the end, the novel is a comedy in the classic sense of having a kind of happy ending. Mark's neurotic relationship ends, and he thinks he is going to stop wandering around the country and stay in Appalachia. But mostly, the family – amazingly together for the first time in decades– turns a deteriorating parlor in a deteriorating house into a shrine for Steve's ashes.

It's not a lot, but enough for Mark, and to satisfy us readers.

.

                     

                              Meredith Sue Willis

.

.

SHORT TAKES  (by MSW Unless Otherwise Noted)

 

Song of West Virginia by Marc Harshman

.

.

.

This is beautiful limited commemorative edition of West Virginia poet laureate Marc Harshman's long poem was written in honor of the 150th anniversary of the great state of West Virginia. There are only 1,000 copies (numbered), printed on glossy paper with magnificent photos of the state by Steve Shaluta (you can order directly from Quarrier Press at www.wvbookco.com).

The poem sings its song of the mountains, the music, the history, and the ordinary people. It highlights everyone from Chief Logan to Sid Hatfield and Mother Jones, from Chuck Yaeger and Mary Lou Retton to Anna Jarvis and John Henry. It is a poem of celebration, not political protest or even criticism, but near the end, Harshman exhorts us all to

.

                                                                                                                  ...Take up the patterns
of those who've given us their lives. Take up the patches of this history quilt, this
dream-flagged quilt. Wave it high and walk proud these crumpled folds and crags of
mountain and valley, these green, rolling hills. And let no man haul it way, no
coward with a bankroll buy us out, no circus fast-talkers take what's ours.

It's a splendid book and a stirring poem-- even if you don't have the good fortune to be a native of West Virginia!

.

.

.

Canada by Richard Ford

I read this because it came up as a very cheap e-book in a promotion from Amazon. I haven't' read much of Ford's work, so I tried Canada, and generally liked it with a few reservations about too much faux philosophy. It begins as a study of a family that goes extremely wrong when the parents decide to deal with their financial problems by robbing a bank. They do it stupidly, out of a kind of contempt for the people in the small town where the bank is. Their action destroys the family as a family, and comes close to destroying the lives of the children as well, a twin brother and sister.

The narrator of the novel is the boy twin, and his flight from being a ward of the state (in Great Falls, Montana) takes him across the border into Canada and an association with a crime much worse than bank robbery. He survives this too, and the story moves well with its mid nineteen sixties background and wonderful landscapes in Montana and Saskatchewan.

Also, see what The Guardian has to say: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/jun/03/canada-richard-ford-review

.

.

Thomas Eakins by Fairfield Porter

This little monograph has been sitting around in my mother's house for thirty years or so. The reproductions aren't great, but they are ample. A lot to learn about Eakins, whose dates are 1844 to 1916. He was very practical and severe, determined to make his art into work (possibly suffering from guilt over how his father supported him) but also to present a severe truth. His casual but important work on creating a method of using a single camera to photograph motion was seminal but unappreciated by the film industry.

I particularly liked his portraits of Americans, and the famous realistic images of medical events:

.

.

.

Scenes from Village Life by Amos Oz

A collection of Oz's stories, which I admire exceedingly, although I never warm to his work as much as I feel I ought to. I very much recommend the wonderful memoir of growing up in Israel and his mother's death, but even that one feels just a little distant to me. These stories have more magical realism than I expected, and each piece is brilliant and sad. It's also an inside look at Israeli life in a little town that has become popular with weekenders and antiquers. Oz is a life long, patriotic Israeli who also thinks that the government has been largely mistaken in its politics. The political is only peripheral here, though: just sad people struggling in a vaguely twilit atmosphere, thwarted loves, loss and yearning.

.

.

JOHN BIRCH E-READER REPORT: SALES OF E-BOOKS STILL HAVE A WAY TO GO BEFORE THEY OUTSELL TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED BOOKS

More readers this past summer were still reading traditional "old fashioned" hard cover and paperback books than e-books, according to the worldwide ratings firm Nielsen, who report that digital book purchases accounted for only 21% of all industry sales. Paperbacks accounted for 43% of all book sales, while hardcover sales stayed "fairly steady" at 25%.

These figures pretty much prove that digital books still have a way to go before they ever beat print. It seems, too, that readers would rather wait for the traditionally published paperback version to come out, rather than shell out extra money for the hardcover. Nielsen's quarterly book surveys show that out of the 21% of people buying e-books, 57% bought the Kindle editions from Amazon, and that Barnes & Noble's Nook was the only other major competitor, garnering 14% of all digital book sales. Apple had a modest 6% market share.

There's a beautiful meditation of family in John's blog. Read "A CHRISTMAS TO FORGET " in John's December post at www.JohnBirchLive.blogspot.com

.

READ AND LISTEN ONLINE

Several new poems by Barbara Crooker up online: http://www.hippocketpress.org/canary/#405 ; http://www.verse-virtual.com/barbara-crooker-2014-december.html  ; http://www.valpo.edu/vpr/v16n1/v16n1poetry/crookerwomen.php ; and http://www.wordgathering.com/issue32/tinytim/tinytim.html .
New issue of Persimmon Tree: http://www.persimmontree.org/v2/?utm_source=December+16%2C+2014+-+FINAL+VERSION&utm_campaign=Dec162014FINAL&utm_medium=email
 

ANNOUNCEMENTS, BOOKS RECEIVED, CONTESTS, WORKSHOPS, READINGS ETC.

The Ginosko Literary Journal is accepting short fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, social justice, literary insights for Ginosko Literary Journal. See  http://GinoskoLiteraryJournal.com/ . Editorial lead time is 1-2 months; they accept simultaneous submissions & reprints; length flexible, accept excerpts. Receives postal and e-mail submissions—prefer e-mail submissions as attachments in .wps, .doc, .rtf. —or by Submittable, https://ginosko.submittable.com/submit/ . Authors retain copyrights.  Read year-round.
Marlen Bodden suggests submitting to these writing contests: http://www.aerogrammestudio.com/2014/11/27/19-short-story-competitions-2015/
Suzanne McConnell's flash fiction story "The Heavenly Editorial Offices" won first prize in a contest for Prime Number magazine. Read it here: http://www.primenumbermagazine.com/Issue61_FlashFiction_SuzanneMcConnell.html
Review of Peggy Backman's new book coming soon. For now, take a look at The Painter's Bad Day: and Others Stories of Life's Mysteries and Idiosyncrasies
Now available: Valley At Risk: Shelter in Place, a Novel by Dwight Harshbarger, at http://valleyatrisk.com.
See www.longreads.com for the best of the New Yorker, Gawker, etc.–nonfiction of the week
Take a look at https://hourofwrites.com/index/welcome
 
Fred Skolik (writing as Fred Russell) has a new novel, The Links in the Chain. It is available at Amazon or through the publisher at http://www.cclapcenter.com/linksinchain .
In the late 1980s, the Arab-Israel conflict reaches the streets of a pre-gentrified New York City when an Israeli minister visits his sister in Brooklyn and rival assassins play a deadly game of cat and mouse with the minister's nephew, a young horse-playing slacker by the name of Arnold Gross. Gross may be sharp and wise in the ways of the street but finds that he has bitten off more than he can chew when he comes up against the PLO, the Israeli secret service, fugitive Nazis and more money than he knows how to count. Written with stylistic flare and an insider's knowledge of the Middle East, this Elmore-Leonardesque crime caper is a pitch-black yet smartly hilarious look at a bygone age, a droll retro thriller that enhances the growing reputation of American-Israeli author Fred Russell.
Norman Julian's award-winning novel Cheat has gone to a third printing and is available for the first time on Amazon.com. as a new book. An adventure tale first published in 1984, it takes place in the severe winter of 1975-76 in the Cheat River area. Ken Sullivan, head of the West Virginia Humanities Council, called it "a thrilling adventure story set in the upper Cheat River Country...a far more sympathetic portrayal of mountain life than James Dickey's book and movie, `Deliverance.'" Paul Atkins, professor emeritus of the WVU School of Journalism, said, "It has a lot of suspense. You wanted to get back to it after you put it down." The late Ruel Foster, past chair of the WVU English Department, said, "It has something of Jack London's sense of the wild earth and the wild life that moves upon it." Julian says, "It is heartening that `Cheat' continues to sell year after year. The hope is that now that it is available on Amazon, more readers can be reached." The book is published by Trillium Publishing in cooperation with CreateSpace. http://www.amazon.com/Cheat-A-novel-West-Virginia/dp/1468181378

.

.




Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers EXTRA # 175

January 19, 2015

This Issue is an EXTRA: if you haven't read the last full issue, it's available here.

When possible, read this newsletter online in its permanent location .

  For Back Issues, click here.
MSW Home

.

A Word from our sponsors: Cat Pleska's Review of Love Palace at the Charleston-Gazette      

A new book coming February 2, 2015 from Hamilton Stone Editions: Shelley Ettinger's Vera's Will

In this EXTRA Issue:

Review of MOUNTAIN MOTHER GOOSE: CHILD LORE
OF WEST VIRGINIA by Marc Harshman

Suggestions for Your Reading Pleasure from
Janice Eidus, Shelley Ettinger, and Crystal Wilkinson

The E-Reader Report with John Birch

The Painter's Bad Day by Peggy Backman

Reader Comments

Things to Read & Hear Online

Announcements and News


For a Free E-mail subscription to this newsletter:

.

.

.

This issue is an extra, which means it is short on reviews (although it has a couple, including a review of a book of West Virginia child lore by Marc Harshman and John Birch's E-Reader Report as well as fresh announcements and things to read online). If you haven't read the last full issue, it's available here .

.

The main purpose of this extra is to ask your response to some comments I blogged in reaction to an essay at Slate by Daniel Menaker.   Menaker is someone I know socially, ex-fiction editor at The New Yorker as well as ex-editor at Random House. Here's what I wrote.

The question I'd like responses to is this: in this new age of e-books and self-publishing and ever-closing doors to the world of commercial publishing, where do you think we'll go in the future to find out what to read?

It used to be that there were great editors who loved literature more than lucre. There was at least a slim possibility for a writer to be taken on by one of them and brought along by a commercial publisher till her or his work began to make a modest amount of money. There were also book reviews in most newspapers in big cities and medium sized ones as well.

All of this is rapidly collapsing.

Therefore--where do we get ideas for what we read now? And where will we get what we read next year and in the years after? Do you depend for your book choices on The New York Times Book Review?   Here is New York Times Notable Books of 2014: I think I've read none of them. Below are more lists  from some people I respect.

I'm looking for your ideas and books lists, but also ideas for how to create new gatekeepers and book sources. Do you miss the good old days? Were the old days really good? Where do you get your book recommendations now?

What do you predict for the future of literature?

.

                                                                     Please write me at MeredithSueWillis (at) gmail.com.

 

READER COMMENTS ON RECENT ISSUES

Jeffrey Sokolow says (of Madame Bovary discussed in Issue # 174) "Bovary is simply devastating. Infuriating woman, foolish and materialist, an uncaring mother, impossible to forget."

He also comments on a new book about why we keep reading The Great Gatsby:  "Maybe you can find a Gatsby fanatic to review it. Made me want to reread Gatsby again for the umpteenth time. How odd that the two greatest American novels -- both the very long one (Moby Dick) and the very short one (The Great Gatsby) -- were...commercial failures whose authors were nearly forgotten by the time of their deaths. Who says there are no second acts in American letters? Solace to writers everywhere (assuming they're as good as HM or FSF!)"

.

.

REVIEW BY MARC HARSHMAN OF MOUNTAIN MOTHER GOOSE: CHILD LORE OF WEST VIRGINIA – Ruth Ann Musick & Walter Barnes, ed. Judy Prozzillo Byers.

This handsomely produced book is clearly a labor of love for many people but I think especially for its gifted editor, Judy Byers. Of course, it is, as well, the result of the earlier passion of its late authors, Ruth Ann Musick and Walter Barnes, seminal collectors and champions of Appalachian folklore.

What a reader will find here are all the permutations imaginable for child "lore" from WV, from play party games to sobering ghost tales, from Mother Goose-like rhymes to jokes, riddles, and much, much more. The preface alone is uniquely valuable as it provides intriguing historical perspective on both Musick, Barnes, and their life's work, as well as Byers' own intersection with that work.

Personally, I was captivated by the weird darkness to be found in several of the sections. For instance, among the 'Mother Goose' rhymes can be found this: "In eighteen hundred and four, / My grandfather went to war. / He pulled two triggers / And shot ten strangers, / And that was the end of the war." Some of the rhymes are very close to the familiar rhymes from more generic collections such as this one: "Rub-a-dub-dub, / Three men in a tub: / The butcher, the baker, / The candlestick maker, / All jumped out of a rotten potato." And some were as simply mind-blowingly surreal as any French poet: "'Twas a nice day in October, last September in July; / The moon lay thick on the ground, and the mud shone in the sky. / The flowers singing sweetly and the birds were full of bloom, / As I went into the cellar to sweep an upstairs room."

Of course, there is much more here than the "jingles and rhymes" section and I don't have room to point to them all but I will say that the whole of this gathering represents a treasure trove to any enterprising teacher of young children. The songs, group and play- party games alone are numerous enough to keep any group of children captivated. There are, as well, the finger and act-out games of which I've never encountered such a large gathering – the "fist stock" portion of these are a singular treat.

In yet another section readers of a certain age will find stories such as "Tailypo" familiar to readers of Richard Chase's landmark collection THE GRANDFATHER TALES as "Chunk O Meat," as well as other remembered stories from more distinctly European antecedents – all a delight with the special flavor preserved from their dissemination and recording in West Virginia.

I can not recommend this book too highly for parents, teachers, librarians, anyone who might work with young people throughout Appalachia and beyond. Easily accessible, illustrated, and with accompanying instructions for the games, it should be a gift that will demand re-gifting in only the best of ways.

Order MOUNTAIN MOTHER GOOSE: CHILD LORE OF WEST VIRGINIA – Ruth Ann Musick & Walter Barnes, ed. Judy Prozzillo Byers, 2013 Fairmont State University Press, WV from the The Frank & Jane Gabor WV Folklife Center, 1201 Locust Avenue, Fairmont, WV 26554 or email beth.martin@fairmontstate.edu .

.

.

.

JOHN BIRCH E-READER REPORT: JOHN BIRCH E-READER REPORT: KINDLES AREN'T PERFECT

Amazon says it wants to make reading a Kindle easier than reading a traditional book. Well, in my view it isn't. Not yet, anyway. Alright, it's great to change to bigger or smaller type, or to be able to read your Paperwhite in semi-darkness before the movie begins. But a key reason why Kindles aren't perfect is that, without extraordinary gymnastics, you can't turn pages back to remind yourself of a character's name, or confirm some twist in the plot.

Try reading Hilary Mantel's excellent "Wolf Hall" for instance. And it's doubly annoying for nonfiction readers who almost always need to take a quick peek at the index or footnotes. Another thing is that several perfectly honest and decent people I know, especially mystery and romance enthusiasts, enjoy the perverse pleasure of sneaking a look at the last page to discover whether the butler did it, or whether Lady Sybil finally marries her chauffeur. You can't do that easily with a Kindle.

Read John's blog.

.

.

SHORT TAKE

Peggy Backman's The Painter's Bad Day is a charming miscellany of stories, anecdotes and bits of memoir, and poetry. The writer is a psychologist turned fiction writer whose work is set in Manhattan and the Hamptons, with wry observations and imaginings of human behaviors in both places.

My favorites are probably the one about what it is like to face privileged little trick-or-treaters in a high rise on the Upper East Side and the one about hiring a cleaning woman whose degree is possibly more advanced than your own (hint: check out who does the most work in the end). The title story is a wonderfully grim takin- to-extremes of thoughts or daydreams any one might have.

Some of the pieces are inspired by uneasy dreams (day and night), and others are more grounded in waking life. Lots of fun and some shivers as well.

 

SOME LISTS OF THINGS TO READ:

1. BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS BY JANICE EIDUS
She says, " They're in no particular order, and are both fiction and nonfiction. I've very much enjoyed all of these." Thank you, Janice! See her website at http://www.janiceeidus.com/
-- BIG LITTLE MAN: IN SEARCH OF MY ASIAN SELF -- Alex Tizon
-- THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS -- Cristina Henriquez
– FIRE SHUT UP IN MY BONES -- Charles M. Blow
-- FLORENCE GORDON -- Brian Morton
-- THE GIRLS FROM CORONA DEL MAR -- Rufi Thorpe
-- THE GODDESS OF SMALL VICTORIES -- Yannick Grannec
-- I LOVED YOU MORE -- Tom Spanbauer
-- THE HUNDRED-YEAR HOUSE -- Rebecca Makkai
-- THE LIAR'S WIFE: FOUR NOVELLAS -- Mary Gordon
-- THE MEASURES BETWEEN US -- Ethan Hauser
-- THE TRANSCRIPTIONIST – Amy Rowland
 
2. SOME OF WHAT CRYSTAL WILKINSON IS TEACHING IN HER AFFRILACHIAN LITERATURE CLASS AT BEREA COLLEGE
Sable Girls
Black Hill Folk and Brown Country
Teaching the Affrilachian Poets
Beetlecreek by William Demby
Memphis Tennessee Garrison
Saint Monkey by Jacinda Townsend
Alena Hairston's The Logan Topographies
Blacks in Appalachia by William Turner and Ed Cabell
 
3. SHELLEY ETTINGER'S BEST BOOKS SHE READ IN 2014
Fiction & poetry
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Bleak House
by Charles Dickens
Into the Go-Slow by Bridgett M. Davis
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
My Father's Ghost is Climbing in the Rain by Patricio Pron
Philadelphia Fire by John Edgar Wideman
She Rises by Kate Worsley
I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita
A History of the African American People (Proposed) By Strom       Thurmond by Percival Everett
See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
How It All Began by Penelope Lively
I Dreamt I Was in Heaven by Leonce Gaiter
The City of Palaces by Michael Nava
Perla by Carolina De Robertis
Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi
The Unseen by Nanni Balestrini
Long Man by Amy Greene

Non-fiction
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine
Goliath by Max Blumenthal
 

BOOKS RECEIVED

Asking My Liver for Forgiveness by Rob Cook, from Rain Mountain Press (www.rainmountainpress.com)

.

READ AND LISTEN ONLINE

Check out Fractious Fiction–essays on modernism, mostly in the novel: http://www.fractiousfiction.com/index.html

ANNOUNCEMENTS, BOOKS RECEIVED, CONTESTS, WORKSHOPS, READINGS ETC.

Halvard Johnson's newest book is Junkyard Dog: http://gradientbooks.blogspot.fi/2015/01/halvard-johnson-junkyard-dog.html
Listen to an interview of Ed Davis after the publication of his THE PSALMS OF ISRAEL JONES at http://wyso.org/post/book-nook-psalms-israel-jones-ed-davis
Cathy Weiss's piece "The Animals in Our Family" at http://www.prodigalschair.com/the-animals-in-our-family.html . Her memoir is coming this spring. Cathy Weiss, Director The Cathy Weiss Project 203 376 0892 email cathy_weiss@yahoo.com .
It's too late to see this New York City production, but note the good notice received by West Virginia poet laureate Marc Harshman's daughter Sarah Jane Harshman: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/29/arts/the-play-of-daniel-at-trinity-church.html?_r=2

 

 

 


 

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

WHERE TO FIND BOOKS MENTIONED IN THIS NEWSLETTER

If a book discussed in this newsletter has no source mentioned, don’t forget 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 find a bricks-and-mortar store, click the "shop indie" logo left).
To buy books online, I often go first to Bookfinder or Alibris. Bookfinder gives the price with shipping and handling, so you can compare what you’re really going to have to pay.
A lot of people whose political instincts I respect prefer the unionized bricks-and-mortar bookstore Powells (see "About Amazon.com" above) that sells online at http://powellsbooks.com.  
Another source for used and out-of-print books is All Book Stores. Also consider Paperback Book Swap, a postage only way to trade books 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 free, free, free!
Kobobooks.com sells books for independent brick-and-mortar bookstores.

.

RESPONSES TO THIS NEWSLETTER

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.
 

BACK ISSUES click here.

.

LICENSE

Creative Commons License Books for Readers Newsletter by Meredith Sue Willis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.meredithsuewillis.com. Some individual contributors may have other licenses.
To subscribe and unsubscribe, use the form below.

 

"I hereby release my Goodreads review under a Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution License." -- Joel Weinberger

.

MSW Home 


.

.

.

For a free e-mail subscription, please fill in your e-mail address here:
E-mail address:
Subscribe Unsubscribe
 

.

          

BACK ISSUES:

#175 Lists of what to read for the new year; MOUNTAIN MOTHER GOOSE: CHILD LORE OF WEST VIRGINIA
#174 Christian Sahner, John Michael Cummings, Denton Loving, Madame Bovary
#173 Stephanie Wellen Levine, S.C. Gwynne, Ed Davis's Psalms of Israel Jones, Quanah Parker, J.G. Farrell, Lubavitcher girls
#172 Pat Conroy, Donna Tartt, Alice Boatwright, Fumiko Enchi, Robin Hobb, Rex Stout
#171 Robert Graves, Marie Manilla, Johnny Sundstrom, Kirk Judd
#170 John Van Kirk, Carter Seaton,Neil Gaiman, Francine Prose, The Murder of Helen Jewett, Thaddeus Rutkowski
#169 Pearl Buck's The Exile and Fighting Angel; Larissa Shmailo; Liz Lewinson; Twelve Years a Slave, and more
#168 Catherine the Great, Alice Munro, Edith Poor, Mitch Levenberg, Vonnegut, Mellville, and more!
#167 Belinda Anderson; Anne Shelby; Sean O'Leary, Dragon tetralogy; Don Delillo's Underworld
#166 Eddy Pendarvis on Pearl S. Buck; Theresa Basile; Miguel A. Ortiz; Lynda Schor; poems by Janet Lewis; Sarah Fielding
#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.
#130
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 Amazon.com; Molly Gilman on Dogs of Babel
#98   Guest editor Pat Arnow; more on the Amazon.com debate
#97   Using Thomas Hardy; Why I Write; more
#96   Lucy Calkins, issue fiction for young adults
#95   Collapse, Harry Potter, Steve Geng
#94   Alice Robinson-Gilman, Maynard on Momaday
#93   Kristin Lavransdatter, House Made of Dawn, Leaving Atlanta
#92   Death of Ivan Ilych; Memoirs
#91   Richard Powers discussion
#90   William Zinsser, Memoir, Shakespeare
#89   William Styron, Ellen Willis, Dune, Germinal, and much more
#88   Sandra Cisneros's Caramelo
#87   Wings of the Dove, Forever After (9/11 Teachers)
#86   Leora Skolkin-Smith, American Pastoral, and more
#85   Wobblies, Winterson, West Virginia Encyclopedia
#84   Karen Armstrong, Geraldine Brooks, Peter Taylor
#83   3-Cornered World, Da Vinci Code
#82   The Eustace Diamonds, Strapless, Empire Falls
#81   Philip Roth's The Plot Against America , Paola Corso
#80   Joanne Greenberg, Ed Davis, more Murdoch; Special Discussion on Memoir--Frey and J.T. Leroy
#79   Adam Sexton, Iris Murdoch, Hemingway
#78   The Hills at Home; Tess of the D'Urbervilles; Jean Stafford
#77   On children's books--guest editor Carol Brodtrick
#76   Mary Lee Settle, Mary McCarthy
#75   The Makioka Sisters
#74    In Our Hearts We Were Giants
#73    Joyce Dyer
#72    Bill Robinson WWII story
#71    Eva Kollisch on G.W. Sebald
#70    On Reading
#69    Nella Larsen, Romola
#68    P.D. James
#67    The Medici
#66    Curious Incident,Temple Grandin
#65
   Ingrid Hughes on Memoir
#64
    Boyle, Worlds of Fiction
#63    The Namesame
#62    Honorary Consul; The Idiot
#61    Lauren's Line
#60    Prince of Providence
#59    The Mutual Friend, Red Water
#58    AkÉ,
Season of Delight
#57    Screaming with Cannibals

#56    Benita Eisler's Byron
#55    Addie, Hottentot Venus, Ake
#54    Scott Oglesby, Jane Rule
#53    Nafisi,Chesnutt, LeGuin
#52    Keith Maillard, Lee Maynard
#51    Gregory Michie, Carter Seaton
#50    Atonement, Victoria Woodhull biography
#49    
Caucasia
#48    
Richard Price, Phillip Pullman
#47    Mid- East Islamic World Reader
#46    Invitation to a Beheading
#45    The Princess of Cleves
#44    Shelley Ettinger: A Few Not-so-Great Books
#43    Woolf, The Terrorist Next Door
#42    John Sanford
#41    Isabelle Allende
#40    Ed Myers on John Williams
#39    Faulkner
#38    Steven Bloom No New Jokes
#37    James Webb's Fields of Fire
#36    Middlemarch
#35    Conrad, Furbee, Silas House
#34    Emshwiller
#33    Pullman, Daughter of the Elm
#32    More Lesbian lit; Nostromo
#31    Lesbian fiction
#30    Carol Shields, Colson Whitehead
#29    More William Styron
#28    William Styron
#27    Daniel Gioseffi
#26    Phyllis Moore
#25
   On Libraries....
#24    Tales of the City
#23
   Nonfiction, poetry, and fiction
#22    More on Why This Newsletter
#21    Salinger, Sarah Waters, Next of Kin
#20    Jane Lazarre
#19    Artemisia Gentileschi
#18    Ozick, Coetzee, Joanna Torrey
#17    Arthur Kinoy
#16    Mrs. Gaskell and lots of other suggestions
#15    George Dennison, Pat Barker, George Eliot
#14    Small Presses
#13    Gap Creek, Crum
#12    Reading after 9-11
#11    Political Novels
#10    Summer Reading ideas
#9      Shelley Ettinger picks
#8      Harriette Arnow's Hunter's Horn
#7      About this newsletter
#6      Maria Edgeworth
#5      Tales of Good and Evil; Moon Tiger
#4      Homer Hickam and The Chosen
#3      J.T. LeRoy and Tale of Genji
#2      Chick Lit
#1      About this newsletter

.

.

 
 
 
Biography   Blog   Books for Readers Newsletter   Contact   Home   MSW Info
MSW's Books   Online Classes   Order Books    MSW Online   Teens   Writing Exercises     
 
      
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

.

 

.