Books for Readers Archives #181-185

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Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 181

January 8, 2016

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

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In this issue of Books for Readers (# 181):

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Main Article
F. R. Leavis
Hotel Worthy by Valerie Nieman
Chicago by Marilyn Levy
The Beat Years by Ken Champion
Remembrance of Blue Roses by Yorker Keith
The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

Hard Times by Charles Dickens

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Fragile Brilliance by Eliot Parker

Readers Respond
Shelley Ettinger's Best Books of 2015
Short Reviews
E-Reader Report with John Birch
Things to Read & Hear Online

Announcements and News
Irene Weinberger Books
A Journal of Practical Writing
Reviews of MSW's latest Meli's Way

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I finished reading a book I've had on my To Read List for about forty years-- The Great Tradition by F.R. Leavis, which is is his sometimes crotchety and sometimes brilliant analysis of why the greatest writers of the English novel were George Eliot, Henry James, and Joseph Conrad. He also includes Jane Austen in his list, but doesn't analyze her work in this book, and one novel by Dickens, Hard Times. He says, on about page ten of my old paperback edition, " It is necessary to insist that far from all of the names in the literary histories really belong to the realm of significant creative achievement....[I]t is well to start by distinguishing the few really great–the major novelists who count in the same way as the major poets...significant in terms of the human awareness they promote; awareness of the possibilities of life."

Leavis's great interest, then, is awareness, but also moral seriousness in literature. That is his special qualification, that a novel should be serious and deal with the complexities of moral and ethical behavior. I kept wanting to argue with him-- What about a well-turned sentence? What about stunning imagery? What about pushing the envelope and experimenting, or just having fun? But in the end, I had to admit that I value many of the same things Leavis does.  

One of the main reasons to read a book like this, of course, is that you add books to your list of what to read. I added some Disraeli, some Walter Scott, and I tried again with Conrad, never my favorite. (See below for my notes on The Secret Agent and also on Dickens' Hard Times).

I envy Leavis his certitude about what is best and what is a waste of time, and I also miss living in a time when the issue of Which Novels are the Greatest? was the serious project of thinkers. Some of the smartest people I know now, like my Ph.D. software engineer son, like to read, but don't see any particular reason to consider literature more important than, say, film or other story telling media.

If you like reading about literature, though, take a look at Leavis and his opinions. An excellent discussion of the book appears online .

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Then, once you've looked at the Great Tradition, consider all the books being written now that you won't hear about in the New York Times Book Review. Many of these are trash; some of them however, may be great too.

The ones I feature this month come from small presses like Montemayor and Press 53 and even smaller ones. I have, of course, no problem with books from the conventional, commercial presses, but the commercial presses today are the source of only a fraction of the available books. Their project is first, more than forty years ago, to make money for their corporate master. This doesn't stop them from publishing many excellent books of artistic accomplishment and sometimes even books with a social conscience (see Shelley Ettinger's list of best books she read in 2015). But there is far more interesting and experimental material out there than the commercial presses today will take a chance with.

The gap is being filled by the small and smaller presses, university presses, low-tech presses with no expectation of making a profit, cooperative publishers that share costs with authors, and, of course, self-publishing.

Here are a few of those books you might want to take a look at.

For full disclosure, I should point out that Montemayor Press publishes some of my work, and one of the authors reviewed below is a former student of mine..

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Chicago: August 28, 1968 by Marilyn Levy is that unusual thing, a group novel, organized by a particular moment in history. Each chapter traces the life and movements of a different character. Levy's moment is a crucial watershed in twentieth century American history, the events in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic Convention that nominated Hubert Humphrey to run for president. This was the year of student rebellions around the world, and of Martin Luther King's assassination and Robert Kennedy's assassination, as well as the general election in which Richard Nixon won the presidency.

In August, the anti-war demonstrators gathered in Chicago's parks and streets, and many famous people gave speeches and made statements. Levy's novel takes on the admirable and largely successful task of reminding us of, or introducing us to, a lot of history by creating the texture of what people experienced moment to moment during these protests and police riots.

It was shortly after these events that the student left in the United States broke into factions that ranged from the bomb building so-called Weatherman to new recruits for small leftist political parties to long road trips across America or back-to-the-land communes– or to graduate school. The various individuals who are followed in the chapters of this book represent many if not all of those groups, but also include young police officers and national guardsmen who didn't particularly want to be part of that day, but did what they saw as their duty.

My favorite characters (each getting more or less a point of view chapter, with figures we have met in previous chapters coming in and out of other people's chapters) include a slightly dim but extremely good looking male student who is unwillingly in the national guard in lieu of going to Vietnam; a woman who is having a break-down and an abortion at the same time; a woman whose mother is dying, who discovers that she is Jewish. There are Lotharios and political activists, college professors and a couple of students trying to get good grades in their classes for no work. It is a huge swath of people who were or might have been in Chicago that day– mostly young, mostly anti-war or else reluctant warriors.

Names from history come in and out, on television– Dave Dellinger, Reverend Ralph Abernathy, Abby Hoffman are all there that day. People are struck by police billy clubs. Levy's protestors are rarely the ones who threw bottles at the police. It is a striking, fast moving panorama, with a surprising ending.

The final chapters center on the dying mother of one character who has a life review of her escape from Austria during the rise of Hitler, and how she kept a secret of being Jewish. There is also a brief chapter about that woman's grand-daughter, the only chapter of which the actual present time of the story is not August 28, 1968– in which we have the satisfaction of finding out what happened to at least some of the people whose lives have touched us in the novel.

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Poetry, of course, has long been thriving in small presses. In Hotel Worthy by Valerie Nieman each poem is serious–not meaning without humor, because they are witty and often brilliant in their word experiments– but rather always reaching as far as they can go--serious as the opposite of superficial. A poem like "Stratigraphy," for example, starts with an archaeological site and brings us twenty-first century readers back to our ancient progenitors. Nieman makes this identification so smoothly that you feel suddenly that you are one of the ancient makers of the engraved figures.

Another good poem connecting us to ancient archeological sites is "The Guide: Cave Paintings at Fonte de Gaume," which takes another strategy and gives us the story of the guide's grandfather who, with his friends, marked the old cave paintings with graffiti.

We then, in Nieman's poems, are led to identify with the ancient artists, the scientists, and the careless adventuring boys– just for starters.

I have known Valerie Nieman's novels better than her poetry, so I'm not surprised she can tell a story–but I am awed that she can do it so compactly, with such brilliant attention to imagery and dreams and words. The title poem, "Hotel Worthy," written in full-justification chunks, is a splendid evocation of her own childhood (and much of mine!)– not the nostalgic parts, but the parts when you are trained and shaped in ways that your adult self may have to reject.

Balancing this psychological depth are other poems like the wonderful "Live With It" in which a woman takes a stand in favor of her own body:

It's not my hairy body that offends you,
but my hairy mind,
mammalian, full of heat.....

But to focus on the personal poems would be to miss the breadth of Nieman's collection: the archaeological poems are one part; there are also poems drunk on words like "Spandrel;" lots of nature and natural phenomenon for which she has precise language; poems about gardening and harvesting and other work. Even road kill gets a poem. The collection ranges widely, but its intelligence is always grounded in objects and bodies

.Almost at the end is a several part poem with apples called "A Blessing on the Tongue" that describes "the narrow hips of Red Delicious" and then ranges into history and the naming of apples like King Luscious, and the derivation of the word Luscious.

A lush and luscious collection.

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The Beat Years by Ken Champion is a short novel that captures coming-to-adulthood in working class London in the mid-twentieth century with gritty accuracy and a moving story of friendship and the effort to live an intellectual life.

Ben and Johnny are young Londoners whose education ends early by twenty first century American standards, going to work as "decorators," painting buildings.  Ben in particular is also engaged in a long, unhappy battle with his father. He reads philosophy and anything else he can get his hands on, and is especially drawn to Kerouac's On the Road, which he and Johnny yearn to emulate. The plot is both profound and familiar– growing up, trying for a life of the mind, making compromises. It is an evocation of the struggle to create a meaningfully examined life through passionate engagement with ideas and friendship.

                          

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                                                                                 Meredith Sue Willis

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MORE REVIEWS (by MSW unless labelled otherwise)

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Fragile Brilliance: A Ronan McCullough Novel, police thriller by Eliot Parker, was reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert in the Pacific Book Review. She says the book "will keep readers engaged to the last page as they are entertainingly immersed into the entangled, action packed and sometimes emotion piquing world of tenaciously durable police officer Ronan McCullough. Charleston, West Virginia Police officer Ronan McCullough is one tough character, he is thoroughly dedicated to his job and when he pursues a criminal he is relentless, willing to risk life and limb if necessary.

"However sergeant Ronan also has a gentler side, especially when it comes to his family, in particular his mate -Ty Andino. Ty is good looking, younger than Ronan and an emergency room nurse, at Charleston General hospital. The two share a home and a deep harmonious love for each other however; because of surrounding intolerance only a select few know the truth of their relationship while others are shown a friendly facade.

"Already leading a conflicted existence Sergeant Ronan's life becomes completely unsettled after coming to the aid of college student Michael Warner, who was in the midst of being assaulted by some goons outside of a sports bar. The intensely violent incident left Ronan and Michael, severely injured and Ronan questioning the true motives of the assailers. Ronan following his well-developed instincts from 20 years of police experience realizes that the incident may have only been the tip of the iceberg. Inexorably drawn into the case and always the dedicated police officer, Ronan is anxious to get to the truth of the incident.

"Ronan in his pursuit knows no bounds and uses Herculean efforts surpassing his own limits to unravel the growing web of deadly mystery. As the horrifying truth is exposed a diabolical plot involving a dangerous street drug comes to light. Ronan knows he is in the way and soon finds that he is not the only target of this devious adversary and it becomes a fast paced race against time, deadly drugs and murder to save family, limb and the people of Charleston.

"I found 'Fragile Brilliance' to be an easy read to get into it was competently written, featured likable characters had an evenly paced infusion of mystery, action and adult romance. I enjoyed the action scenes, which portrayed a realistic momentum.

"And as for the characters, tough, heroic natured Ronan and caring, nurturing Ty were interesting as individual characters and as a complementary gay couple involved in a believable relationship. Another engaging character is Ronan's estranged sister Melissa, she is angry, bossy, disrespectful, selfish and against her brother's homosexual lifestyle but she needs a relationship with her brother. Author Parker did a great job with portraying the conflicted and touching relationship between brother and sister bringing yet another engaging dimension of realism to the story.

"Overall, I enjoyed 'Fragile Brilliance;' it was a gripping, and gritty gay themed police thriller that kept me rapt in its pages until the end. I definitely recommend this book for adult readers, it was a great read."

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The next review, by Chris Fischer, republished from Readers' Favorite, is of a novel by a former student of mine, Yorker Keith. I am honored and delighted to share this excellent review of his novel, Remembrance of Blue Roses. Everyone who reads this novel comments on the surprising and complex love story among the three main characters, but another special pleasure of the book is reading about the lives of dedicated employees of the United Nations. Yorker Keith captures both their struggles and disappointments and the idealism that keeps them at the U.N.

For more information, click here . For more reviews, click here.

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Chris Fischer writes:

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In an intricately written, well told short novel released by debut novelist Yorker Keith, Remembrance of Blue Roses tells a story that will stay with readers long after they have read the last page. Follow the story of the complex relationship of Mark, Hans and Yukari, a group that has varying involvements from friendship, love, a love triangle, and even obsession. Inspired by the light blue of a dress that Yukari wears one day, Mark and Hans plant blue roses in her honor, and these serve as a reminder of their unique relationship. Many complications and relationships with others, including an ex-wife, ex-girlfriend, and an important friend enter in and out of the lives of the three, but the blue roses can always serve to remind them of what they shared.

I very much enjoyed Remembrance of Blue Roses. Author Yorker Keith has done a wonderful job in crafting a story line that will draw readers in from the very first page and will keep them reading until the very last page. His characters, especially the three that are the main focus of the story, are vividly drawn and seem to leap off the pages. Readers will have no problems in connecting with them, relating to them, and will continue to think of them long after the book is done. If that isn't a hallmark of a great author, I'm not sure what is. Any reader who enjoys a great work of fiction that's concisely drawn and tells a full story within a relatively short number of pages should absolutely read this book. I am pleased to recommend Remembrance of Blue Roses, and look forward to reading more from the very promising author, Yorker Keith, in the future.        

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The Secret Agent Joseph Conrad

I read halfway through before I really got into this Conrad short novel. Then, suddenly, I found myself deeply engaged in the heavy inevitability of the story, especially the small horrors of what happens to certain individuals. There is Verloc, whose easy life of desultorily gathering information for a foreign power who suddenly has a new boss who demands violent action. There is Verloc's mother-in-law, who makes an unnecessary sacrifice, and, especially, there is Mrs. Verloc with her breakdown at the loss of the one thing she loved. The book was published in 1907-- thus after the Victorian era, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised by the interesting psycho-sexual aspects. Strange and sad.

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Hard Times by Charles Dickens

I'm not sure I fully understand why Leavis thinks this is the only Dickens novel sufficiently serious both morally and artistically to count among The Greats, but it was a touching story– and to my taste, not actually so different from other Dickens novels, except that it is tighter, more stripped down, and it doesn't star London.

I remember the first time I read it infinite years ago, maybe while I was at Barnard, and being bored by the whole horse-is-a-graminivorous-animal theme, not liking the people and hating (especially if I was reading it in 1968 or 69) Dickens's politics, which I still find pretty contemptible. He saw the the solution to all problems to be for the upper classes to be kinder. At least to the workers who are sufficiently respectful. So his politics still stink, but Dickens' quirky characters are always alive if not realistic, the great reality being his imagination.

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READERS RESPOND

Judith Moffett says, "I feel the same about Saul Bellow. [See discussion in Issue #180] I taught Henderson the Rain King once and tried really hard to get inside his sensibility, and have dutifully read other novels of his, and even attended his Nobel Lecture in Stockholm (I was there translating when he got the Prize), but it was no use."

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SHELLEY ETTINGER'S BEST BOOKS OF 2015

Shelley Ettinger writes: "The best novels I read this year are: Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald, The Blue Between Sky and Water by Susan Abulhawa, The Residue Years by Mitchell S. Jackson, Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, Song of the Shank by Jeffrey Renard Allen, The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar, Tumbledown by Robert Boswell, and The Turner House by Angela Flournoy.

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JOHN BIRCH E-READER REPORT:   JOHN GRISHAM E-BOOK AND PRINT NOVEL TOPS THE NEW YEAR'S FIRST WEEKLY LIST OF BEST SELLERS, PUBLISHED IN THE NEW YORK TIMES.

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A novel by John Grisham -- he's written more than 30 -- tops the latest list of print and e-book best sellers published weekly by the New York Times. The book, "Rogue Lawyer," is about Sebastian Rudd, an attorney and "lone gunman" who hates injustice and the system, and defends unpopular clients. Here are the first ten of the 15 books in the Times list:

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1. ROGUE LAWYER, by John Grisham. (9 weeks in the Times list)

2. THE MARTIAN, by Andy Weir. (30 weeks)

3. CROSS JUSTICE, by James Patterson. (4 weeks)

4. ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, by Anthony Doerr.(65 weeks)

5. THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, by Paula Hawkins.(46 weeks)

6. SEE ME, by Nicholas Sparks. (10 weeks)

7. THE GUILTY, by David Baldacci. (5 weeks)

8. THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS, by Stephen King.(7 weeks)

9. THE BONE LABYRINTH, by James Rollins. (1 week)

10. THE NIGHTINGALE, by Kristin Hannah. (34 weeks)

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John Birch's blog has as its latest piece "The Little Boy Who Couldn't."
 

 

READ AND LISTEN ONLINE

Paola Corso's piece in The Christian Science Monitoron the seven fishes holiday tradition from Southern Italy.
John Birch has been running a blog for the past few years, and it now contains several dozen of his fiction and nonfiction stories, many of which have been published here and there in the U.S. and Europe.
Barbara Crooker's poems updated regularly on her website.
Check out Cathy Weiss's website for writers and readers: http://www.armoredoxfords.com/
Ingrid Hughes's blog has a story of one woman's journal through serious mental illness.
 

 

ANNOUNCEMENTS, BOOKS RECEIVED, CONTESTS, WORKSHOPS, READINGS AND MORE.

Coming soon: Troy Hill's new book Myxocene! See Troy's website at http://www.troyernesthill.com/
Bill Luvaas's new novel Beneath The Coyote Hills will come out with New York literary press Spuyten Duyvil in 2016.
See the Pedestal Magazine 15-Year Anniversary Issue-- Now Online at http://www.thepedestalmagazine.com/ .
Evelyn Walsh has won the SEÁN Ó FAOLÁIN SHORTSTORY COMPETITION for her story "White Rabbit !" Also see her work in the current issue of The Hamilton Stone Review.
Check out the BUY buttons at Hamilton Stone Editions
 

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IRENE WEINBERGER BOOKS:

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Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 182

February 12, 2016

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

  Back Issues    MSW Home     Who is Meredith Sue Willis?

 

Something new: Are you looking to trade manuscript readings with another reader?

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In this issue of Books for Readers (# 182):

Want To Upgrade Your E-Reader?
See the John Birch Report: TIME SENSITIVE!

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A Poem by Phyllis Moore

Trade Manuscripts for Reading and Critiquing?

Article on Using Social Media

for Book Publicity by Rita Sims Quillen

Main Reviews
Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean: Essay Collection
Reviewed by Belinda Anderson
Myxocene by Troy E. Hill
Short Reviews
The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

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Hiding Ezra by Rita Sims Quillen

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Illness as Metaphor by Susan Sontag

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The Mutual Friend by Frederick Busch

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The Residue Years by Mitchell S. Jackson

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Star Gate by Andre Norton

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Tita by Marie Houzelle

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More:

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Victor Depta on BLAIR MOUNTAIN PRESS

and BOTTOM DOG PRESS

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E-Reader Report with John Birch

Things to Read & Hear Online

Announcements and News

Chela by Saurabh Kumar

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Irene Weinberger Books

A Journal of Practical Writing
Reviews of MSW's latest Meli's Way

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Welcome to the one hundred eighty second issue of Books for Readers. It seems like a very large number!

This issue begins with a guest review by Belinda Anderson of an excellent collection of essays called Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean: Meditations on the Forbidden from Contemporary Appalachia. Best title ever. We also have reviews of books by Troy Hill, Charles Dickens, Frederick Busch (his novel about Dickens), by Marie Houzelle, and Mitchell Jackson, among others. Also, Don't miss Rita Sims Quillen's piece on learning (successfully, I might add) to use social media in her literary life or a poem by Phyllis Moore. There's also a special money saving offer that John Birch has found for us in his regular column, The E-Reader Report. Finally, I have a request from a friend for someone who might be interested in trading in-process manuscripts for mutual reading.

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Please write with your suggestions and reactions:

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Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean reviewed by Belinda Anderson

It can be challenging to make essays charismatic, but shortly after starting Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean :Meditations on the Forbidden from Contemporary Appalachia ( edited by Adrian Blevins and Karen Salyer McElmurray, Ohio University Press), I was slain in the spirit by Silas House's "The Forbidden Gods." He engaged me right away with plain but telling detail such as "her stockings produced from a plastic egg." (How did he remember that? I had forgotten those.) Zooming me back to a certain time were other telling details, such as his mother's hands snagging on her hosiery, "causing small tears she repaired with dabs of clear nail polish." All that remained to totally hook me was this metaphor: "…prayers eating their ways through the ceiling ..."  His experiences as an Appalachian targeted for prejudice resonated with me: "A whole lot of Americans have bought into the media's portrayal of the rural dialect to equate to ignorance, racism, homophobia, misogyny, outright stupidity."

In the essay "Confessions of a Halfalachian," Mary Crocket Hill writes, "What culture in the current age of hypersensitive political correctness is it still acceptable to mock? Hillbillies, of course. The same person who would never think of making a rude remark about someone else's race or religion has no problem telling a West Virginia joke." Richard Currey offers similar sentiments: " … one way of maintaining Appalachia's status as an impoverished sideshow of American life has been through humor. … it is more than a passing note that Appalachia continues to hold the lead for a demeaning brand of humor where incest, bestiality, sodomy, and single-digit IQs are the core (and apparently only) subjects of humor. … the wider stereotyping of mountain people seems to persist."

And then there's the challenge of being an outsider within Appalachian. I expected to read about race, about LGBT issues. But what I hadn't expected was to be thrust into a backwards time warp reading in "Outsider Appalachian" about how Melissa Range grew up being derided for displaying what she was learning, for violating the perceived offense of putting on airs.

The book's title is taken from an essay by Jessie Van Eerden. She sets the stage: "I walk till the dogs get mean, far up the road through the little houses in the black trees, past the trailers pinned with lattice and past the cinder block ruins. The dogs come out of the shadows – part pit bull, all mange, different color eyes, no collar, no chain …" Later in the essay, she writes about how her marriage had fallen apart and she found herself writing on a scrap of paper, "Walk till the dogs get mean then walk a little further. …" She adds, "This metaphor is not a neat one. The dogs aren't neat symbols for things that terrify me and clamp me down ..." But I found it a neat metaphor, a call to courage for Appalachians, for anyone facing barriers: Walk a little further.

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Myxocene by Troy Ernest Hill reviewed by MSW

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Myxocene by Troy Ernest Hill is a speculative fiction novel set in the very near future, or perhaps even the present. It is a kind of medical/neurological thriller, only instead of the conventional thriller's constant upping of the danger ante (the narrator's daughter, for example, never gets kidnaped by the bad guys), the tone is more wryly humorous than frightening. The bad guys are not entirely bad–indeed, they can be fairly convincing. Part of the pleasure of this novel is following the arguments about how to and whether to stop the coming population growth and concomitant mass suffering from global warming. Should we– rationally speaking– commit suicide as individuals and a species? This would be a wonderful book choice for a book group that likes to talk about ideas.

At the same time, balancing the ideas, is the inner life of the first person narrator, a woman who writes free lance copy for Big Pharma companies. She has been many things in the past, including an actor and director. Presently, she is a single mother who has to deal with a grumpy eleven year old and an irritating evangelical Christian mother who can't bear the narrator's atheism and sexual freedom. My favorite minor character is an ex lover who is an attractive but rather sweetly narcissistic actor who wants to get involved in his daughter's life, but blows his one chance because a casting director from New York shows up at the last minute.

The people on the bad guy side are scientists with some experimental pills that can erase traumatic events from our brains and cause us to become frightening clear in our thinking, able, in fact to embrace the idea of suicide as a constructive choice. There is one superb scene towards the end– the classic crisis– when the narrator coolly weighs whether the life of someone she loves should be saved or not–does the person in danger have any redeeming social value, as it were? Chilling and believably done, and very dramatic.

Troy Ernest Hill has a way of looking at the world that is sharp, well-observed, and just a fraction off plumb in a way that is endlessly entertaining. See Troy's website at http://www.troyernesthill.com/

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Special Notes for Writers About Using Social Media for Publicty by Rita Sims Quillen

Rita Sims Quillen is a poet and novelist. Her novel, Hiding Ezra (reviewed below), is set during WWI in southwest Virginia. Published by Little Creek Books, Hiding Ezra has the unusual history of having sold as well its second year as its first. This is remarkable in an industry where novels are said often to have a shelf life shorter than yogurt.

Rita Quillen writes here about the experience of publishing her novel:

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"When I came to the heartbreaking conclusion that I was never going to get my novel Hiding Ezra placed with an agent or academic press, I knew that I was undertaking a journey where I'd be a stranger in a strange land– a poet peddling a novel. But I was determined to do all I could to get my story read by as many people as possible, given the very real obstacles I would face.

" I knew that social media was my only means to find readers. Neither I nor my small publisher could come up with a big advertising budget or afford to buy reviews from all the usual "big league" literary sources. So I used Squarespace (http://www.squarespace.com/) and created a decent website, created an author page on Amazon, created an author Facebook page and a Goodreads author site. I review others' books there and I also blog on Goodreads. I learned to tweet, and have about 1000 followers now!

I'm on Instagram as well. I also found that book giveaways are good promotion. I gave away a couple of copies each on Goodreads, Amazon, and on my FB author page.

"To be effective in using social media to promote your writing or any other creative endeavor, it's got to be more than an electronic billboard. You have to be interesting, engaged, real, funny, humble, grateful—if people like you, feel comfortable, are curious about you, if they sense you are interested and engaged with THEM, they will want to read your writing or listen to your music or whatever it is you do. In other words, you will have to devote some time to it and make yourself available and vulnerable, to some extent. It has worked for me pretty well."

 

See Rita Sims Quillen's website at http://www.ritasimsquillen.com/ .

 

TRADE MANUSCRIPT READINGS?

Is anyone looking to trade manuscripts with a long time professional journalist who is writing a first novel?  The journalist is looking for someone to do a straight-through reading of a manuscript in digital format for story line, pacing, etc.– not line editing!   In return, the writer will do the same for you. If you're interested, e-mail MSW for an exchange of e-mail addresses.

MSW makes no promises or representations beyond what's detailed above!

 

VICTOR DEPTA ON BLAIR MOUNTAIN PRESS AND BOTTOM DOG PRESS

Victor Depta writes, "We at Blair Mountain Press recently published Poems: What Love Is, in which I attempted to re-create the sound of the voices from my home country of southern West Virginia. Earlier on, we published Azrael on the Mountain, my poems in protest of mountaintop removal coal mining, again in voices from our Appalachian coal fields.

"Now Bottom Dog Press (P.O. Box 425, Huron, Ohio, 44839 http://smithdocs.net) has published Voices from the Appalachian Coalfields, interviews with coal miners from southern West Virginia in the 1970s and 80s....

"I was very much moved by the book. Not only were the people interviewed from my area of West Virginia (I'm from Logan County) and a period of time in my life when the issue of mining was intense (I was writing A West Virginia Trilogy in the 80s), but several of my other books have people from that world as speakers (Plays from Blair Mountain: Four Comedies and Mountains and Clouds: Four Comedies).

" My thought was, and my hope is, that the voices in my books are nearly as authentic as those collected by the Yarrow family.

"Voices from the Appalachian Coalfields is listed on amazon. All Blair Mountain Press books are available from the Press and from amazon. "

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SHORT REVIEWS

(by MSW unless otherwise noted)

I am considering using Illness as Metaphor by Susan Sontag in a class on Literature and Medicine. It's a famous book, published in 1978, but really more of a treatise than a book. Or, better yet, an essai of the type Montaigne wrote: loose in style, with lots of quotations from literature and philosophy. In the end, like Montainge's essais, it is highly personal.

Sontag was herself recovering from cancer when she wrote it and feeling, I surmise, that her suffering and experience were being misused in media and the culture at large. She handles this with high intellectual flair and an insistence that metaphors for disease cut at least two ways: they express the speaker or writer's thoughts with a powerful image, but at the same time, they twist our thinking about the disease and damage the lives of real human beings.

 

 

The Residue Years by Mitchell S. Jackson feels like autobiographical fiction even though the words "a novel" are crossed out on the cover. I began less drawn in than admiring of the language and how it enhances and uplifts the energy and poetry of street dialect. I did some light research afterward (reviews in the NYTimes and elsewhere) and found out that the book is, in fact, highly autobiographical, that Jackson did go to jail for selling crack, that his mother was addicted to crack. That he has in recent years visited his old prison (where people he played basket ball with are still incarcerated).

Some of the chapters seemed repetitive in the action covered, as they switch between the main characters, the mother and the son, but the longer I read, the more its music drew me, and its strong structure. It begins with a prologue (Champ in jail, Mom visiting) and then goes back to the time before this crash. It is in many ways a love story between a son and a mother, and between an older brother and his youngers. Champ endangers his love relationship, his freedom, trying to buy a house where his family was once happy, and is swindled by a sleazy white real estate dude.

There's one oddity, which is that the book-- the novel-that's-not-a-novel-- has a sadder ending than Jackson's actual life, which is much more productive and happy. Are we expected to know the real life story in order to get the full juice from the book?

Interesting in any case, and stunningly rich language.

 

 

Hiding Ezra by Rita Sims Quillen is another family love story, in this case set among mountain farm people in the early twentieth century in southwestern Virginia--Scott County, just over a couple of mountains from where my father's people came from in Lee County. The folkways described--the quilting and selling quilts, the shooting a rabbit and cooking it for lunch on the trail, the descriptions of the landscapes, especially the mountains-- are all beautifully done, but the real strength is the story, which is different from anything I've ever read.

Ezra Teague, the main character, is a griendly, social, well-regarded young man who goes into the army to train to fight in World War I. Pegged as an excellent marksman and possibly slated for special duty, he deserts when his mother dies. His disabled father and widowed sister need his help, so he chooses family over patria, and hides out in the hills, occasionally coming down to chop wood or put a metal patch on the roof of the family home. In return his sister brings him bundles of clothes and other necessities. We learn her sad story of loss, and we meet the woman who loves Ezra.

The story covers two years of Ezra's hiding. His choice is largely supported by the community, even though there is a $50 price on his head. How he comes back to join the community is the main thrust of the story.

Interestingly, the epilogue is not a happy ending in this book either. Ezra and his beloved marry, but she dies with that brutal suddenness of illness in past centuries. We are thus reminded that this is not romance, but a real story of real people and the real tensions between family loyalty, community loyalty, and relationships to a distant government.

 

 

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Tita by Marie Houzelle is a small delight to read. A reviewer on Goodreads  spoke of the sense you have of being drawn into French culture, which I'd agree is a large part of the pleasure-- feeling like you're learning something from the inside out. The main character is the precocious little girl Tita, who lives with her little sister, her frivolous fashionista mother, (who turns out to be afraid of having her lower class roots show), and her father, older and divorced. He worries about his business failing. Meanwhile Tita and her little sister have older half-sibs who live in Paris and are super cool to the little girls, and the older sister makes close friends with the second wife, Tita's mother. The father's family is traditional--Catholic school for the girls even if it isn't a very good school. Real struggles, but all told with a light touch, and très français.

 

 

What to say after reading David Copperfield once again?  It's the whole Dickens ball of wax: So much sentimental feeling, so much invention, so much vindication of the suffering of young people, the wonderful Phiz illustrations, and so many memorable characters. There are the awful, soul destroying Murdstones, the inimitably 'umble Uriah Heep. Noble Dan'l Peggoty, the awful child-wife Dora, the magnificently dramatic and impecunious Micawbers, David's friend Traddles, the tragically flawed Steerforth

I read it on my Kindle (free or almost free!), forgetting for a while it was a triple decker--vast number of pages, over 800. I also had my old hard copy available for the illustrations and a sense of how massive it was. There is also a lot to deplore in Dickens: especially his disapproval of women's sexuality, but I just can't help smiling at the momentum and the cornucopia of people tumbling through the pages.

 

While discussing Dickens, I ought to mention that I also read a book called The Mutual Friend by Frederick Busch, which fictionalizes the last days of Dickens, particularly his famous public Readings, which were extremely lucrative and also devastating to his health. The idea of this book is that the story is being told by DIckens' assistant for the Readings, George Dolby, who is dying of TB in a charity ward, writing his memoirs and drinking too much, thanks to the ministration of an orderly. The NYTimes review  agreed with me that it is admirably written but too static-- a series of set pieces. Some of the point of view characters, namely the women but also the attempt at Dickens' own voice seemed to me to be an exercise in high quality padding–padding with carefully written sentences, highly polished, etc. Ellen Ternan, the actor and Dickens' great love, is imagined primarily as a sexual being. This seems to be the specialty of a certain type of male writer: to expropriate the voice of a woman, and then imagine her as wanting the kind of sex the writer likes. An interesting premise, but too writerly for my taste.

 

 

Two Old Science Fiction Novels: Favorites of mine when I was fifteen:

The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke captured me when I was in high school. The writing isn't terrible, but like a lot of other science fiction, it speeds up towards the end, in this case with a lot of quick trips around the universe that feel thinly imagined and written.

In the end, the most famous science fiction isn't really about people but about ideas. This one, published in 1956, has the usual casual sexism of its time, but it isn't space cowboys shooting at each other. What is beautifully imagined is the City and ditto a few non-human creatures. There's a lot to like, but also that vaguely insulting science fiction tendency to speak about Man meaning all of humanity–I'm not speaking here of sexism particularly, but of the gall of speaking for all of us. The strokes are broad too, everything done a little too quickly, too little explained. Maybe that's just Science Fiction of the nineteen-fifties. I remember, though being uplifted by the whole idea of humanity's destiny of "reaching the stars."

I looked up Arthur C. Clarke on the internet. He is, of course, the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, a closeted gay guy, which is perhaps why the best (only?) remotely human relationship in the book is between two young men.

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Star Gate by Andre Norton was my absolute favorite science fiction novel when I was in high school, and this one holds up pretty well, although this one too speeds up the action toward the end.

It is also the novel that my first science fiction novel The City Built of Starships began as a kind of fan fiction response to.

(For more on fan fiction, see the link to an interview with NancyKay Shapiro below).

I'm now, in official old age, drafting a prequel to The City Built of Starships. Anyhow, I didn't have very high hopes for this re-reading of Star Gate. I was afraid I would find it unbearable, the prose awful, etc.-- and that I would have stolen everything from it!  But it turns out to be pretty cleanly written, with the caveat about the final quarter. Also, it is probably at least as much sword and sorcery fantasy as science fiction.

I had a wonderful time picking ou the bits I stole.  It is a bildungsroman, a young person setting out on a search /quest /adventure, encountering secrets about his origins. There are interesting indigenous life forms. I especially liked the mords, the hero's hunting "pet," a big headed four legged dino-bird, a prototype for my own flying dragon pterodactyl yaegers. There are two suns, the servant class are called "hands." Oh, my novel just flatters the heck out of this one with my little borrowings and imitations..

Anyhow, the first three quarters was delightful, and I had forgotten the alternate worlds conceit in which you can conceivably meet a corrupt, hateful version of your own ethical self.  I'm happy I still liked it, and also happy to see that while it influenced me a lot, my book was still my own.

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JOHN BIRCH E-READER REPORT: WANT TO UPGRADE YOUR E-READER? TIME SENSITIVE!

If you've got a Nook -- Barnes & Noble's successful response to the Kindle -- and are in the market for an upgrade to your e-reader or tablet, take a look at some of the substantial offers and trade-ins B&N are making in February.

For a limited time, B&N are offering a $50 reduction for all nine of their Nook e-readers, and $50 off the price of their range of Samsung Galaxy tablets. For example, their Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook 7 is reduced from $139.99 to $89.99, and their top of the range Galaxy Tab S2 Nook from $349.99 to $299.99.

These offers end on March 5.

John Birch's blog is at http://www.johnbirchlive.blogspot.com/ . His latest piece is "In the Dark."
 

 

READ AND LISTEN ONLINE

Listen to Rita Sims Quillen and others singing "Will You Miss Me?"
Samples of Randi Ward's translation and photography: http://ohioedit.com/2015/11/30/trafika-europe-corner-by-andrew-singer-featuring-randi-ward/
An interesting interview with a young professional pianist (who happens to be my nephew!), Alex Kato Willis. He does classical improvisation, something very unusual today, although Mozart and Beethoven excelled at it. Click on the radio show, then move in to the 35 minute mark to hear it.
Mary Oliver's lovely poem about illness: "Fourth sign of the Zodiac:"   
Most of this interesting podcast is an interview of NancyKay Shapiro about her years as a fan fiction writer: http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/rewind-again/e/42318561?autoplay=true .
John Birch has been running a blog for the past few years, and it now contains several dozen of his fiction and nonfiction stories, many of which have been published here and there in the U.S. and Europe. See it at www.JohnBirchLive.blogspot.com. His latest post is "In the Dark."
Barbara Crooker's poems are updated often on her website.
Check out Cathy Weiss's website for writers and readers: http://www.armoredoxfords.com/
Ingrid Hughes's blog has a story of one woman's journal through serious mental illness.
 

 

ANNOUNCEMENTS, BOOKS RECEIVED, CONTESTS, WORKSHOPS, READINGS AND MORE.

Chela: The Adventures of Jack and Ty is in part a tribute to one of the greatest writers and humorists of the twentieth century, Sir P.G. Wodehouse, and a spoof on the fantasy genre where anything and everything can happen at any given moment and time. Jack is a hungry jackal, booted out of his clan for being lazy and incapable of providing for himself. One night while wandering a patch of forest he accidentally steps on the tail of a tiger that is understandably furious at the jackal. The tiger Ty, confronts the jackal with the latter begging forgiveness. The commotion dies down and they soon go their separate ways. Fate, however, brings them together again and and they soon realize they are both facing a similar predicament – an acute shortage of food. The two strangers soon become comrades and along with Herbert, a cross between a wolf and a pariah dog, set out on a journey through the vast woodland of Baganpore and beyond in search of food. On the way they face perils aplenty in the form of diabolical relatives, cunning scavengers, a mysterious banyan tree and a lake that isn't what it appears to be.
Saurabh Kumar, 23 years old, lives in Mumbai. He has a degree in Fashion Marketing and Management from Raffles Design International, Mumbai. He attended the Film, Television and Media Studies program at the University of Auckland, New Zealand and is currently pursuing a Certificate in Creative Writing from the New York University. One of his short stories 'A Red Rose' has been published in an anthology by Penguin India. It is edited by Sudha Mur thy. When not staring at a laptop screen and writing he enjoys reading the works of P.G. Wodehouse and watching the TV sitcom, Seinfeld.

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Suzanne McConnell's wonderful story "Neighbors" is now available from https://www.ohio.edu/nor/current.htm . It came out this fall, and there's a podcast coming!
Deborah Clearman's new story "Tulip Tears" at Lascaux Review: http://lascauxreview.com/tulip-tears/
 
The Masters Review contest through March 31: https://mastersreview.com/the-masters-review-volume-v-judge-amy-hempel/
PJ Laska @AWOLanalyst MORNING IN AMERICA "returns American poetry to its avant-garde critical function."
Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction & Poetry Deadline: March 15, 2016 . Prizes Winners will receive $3000 and publication through the University of Nebraska Press. Eligibility The Prairie Schooner Book Prize Series welcomes manuscripts from all living writers, including non-US citizens, writing in English. Both unpublished and published writers are welcome to submit manuscripts. For more information and full rules, see: http://prairieschooner.unl.edu/book-prize?q=submit To submit: https://prairieschoonerbookprizeseries.submittable.com/submit .  For questions, email our Book Prize Coordinator at psbookprize@unl.edu
See the Pedestal Magazine 15-Year Anniversary Issue: http://www.thepedestalmagazine.com/ .
Evelyn Walsh has won the SEÁN Ó FAOLÁIN SHORTSTORY COMPETITION for her story "White Rabbit !" Also see her work in the current issue of The Hamilton Stone Review.
Check out the BUY buttons at Hamilton Stone Editions
 

Don't Forget-- A Few  Books Recently Reviewed Here:

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IRENE WEINBERGER BOOKS:

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Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 183

March 28, 2016

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

  Back Issues    MSW Home     Who is Meredith Sue Willis?

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In this issue of Books for Readers (# 183):

John Birch Report Retires!

Updated Biography of Meredith Sue Willis

Main Articles

Short Reviews

Memoir by Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun

How We Write by Hilton Obenzinger

Fraccidental Death by Donna Meredith

Belchamber by Howard Sturgis

The Bostonians by Henry James

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

The Deep Link by Veronica Sicoe

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Things to Read & Hear Online

Announcements and News

Free Book!

Irene Weinberger Books

A Journal of Practical Writing

 

For a Free E-mail subscription to this newsletter, click below:

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Meredith Sue Willis's Books for Readers # 183
March 28, 2016

There are these days about as many uncredentialed walk-ons in our literary fiction as there are walk-ons in major league baseball.
                                                                     -- Gerald Howard

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That quotation and the full article linked give a grim look at the publishing world today. it is, it turns out, a very small world, led by a handful of people who include those who know how to make money from books and a smaller handful who see themselves as fighting for high art in literature.  If I had to choose sides, my allegiance would go with the second group, but they can be as provincial in their tastes as anyone else. Also, I find myself, in my advancing age, drawn less to beautiful sentences and the exuberance of experimentation and more to the powerful momentum of story. I like to take a trip when I read.

I also have a low tolerance for bad writing of any kind-- I try to read a little poetry every day (to get free poems for National Poetry Month, go to Poem-a-Day), but I am deeply cognizant of how much writing is not getting through to the public or-- an equally big problem-- is getting to the public but is sloppily written and edited. I refer here mostly to self-published work which can be really bad, but sometimes quite good. The stigma of self-publishing, however, is fading fast, although distribution as well as editing remain huge problems, as they do with small and university presses.

A few days ago I came across an interesting science fiction novel (first of a trilogy) that is frankly and honestly self-published and available in e-book format for only $2.99-- three bucks with as much bang as Trader Joe's famous three buck Chuck. See my comments below.

While we wait for publishing to sort itself out, there is still the writing itself, and the reading itself. One of the things I've read since the last issue is a wonderful book about writing, How We Write: The Varieties of Writing Experience by Hilton Obenzinger. This is based on many years of Obenzinger's interviews with people through the "How I Write" Project at Stanford University. I had assumed that this would be interesting comments from poets and fiction writers on their process, and indeed they appear in the book. I especially enjoyed a  wonderful passage about David Henry Hwang's process of structuring his famous play M. Butterfly-- how an idea took form as a drama.

But perhaps what I liked best here were the other writers--the scholars and professors. Writing is– why don't we think more about this?– an essential part of many, many professions. For scholars, as for so-called creative writers, a great deal is explored and discovered in the process of writing. Included here are writers from the social sciences, but also from the hard sciences, in which visuals like graphs and charts become the backbone of an article, and words are mostly used to link the parts. Data, in other words, is the structuring element of the piece of writing.

How We Write also has, along with excellent examples of the great variety of processes of writing among various people, an interesting subplot, as it were, about the tensions for scholars between writing articles acceptable to the scientific world of journals and other scholars and the desire to share their insights and writing with lay people. There is, according to several of these writers, a danger of being "Saganized," which is having your career taken less than seriously in your profession (as apparently happened to astronomer Carl Sagan) if you become a popularizer. Claude Steele, who named "stereotype anxiety" (the destructive socio-psychological force that can trammel members of racial and gender minorities), talks well about the division between the experiments and research in his work and how he gets his work out to the public.

Generally, Obenzinger himself takes a back seat here, featuring his admirable and delightful guests at what must have been a terrific series of live interviews. He is himself, of course, an accomplished and excellent writer (see my review of his memoir Busy Dying ), and there are a number of hints of techniques he has developed in his teaching of writing to all kinds of students, including a passage on editing out over-used words that is really about how the over-used words are part of the process of thinking through writing.

This is an exciting and useful book for teachers of writing and anyone who writes. You'll dip into it often to refresh your thoughts about one of the most deeply human ways of exploring and sharing experience.

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Next is a novel especially for the kind of readers who consider learning something to be part of the entertainment of reading.  Fraccidental Death by Donna Meredith combines a beautifully observed Harrison County, West Virginia setting with a lot of research about the mineral extraction business today–especially the dangers of so-called fracking in the Marcellus Shales of the Eastern United States– plus a gripping murder mystery.

The plot line is that graduate student Summer Cassidy discovers that her thesis advisor is either having a nervous breakdown or running away from danger. Summer, a Florida native, arrives in West Virginia as winter comes on to study water quality near fracking sites. She meets lots of interesting people (and reignites an old relationship with a veteran who has become an anti-fracking activist).

The residents are friendly and welcoming, but they begin refusing to let her test their water-- and then she meets an elderly woman who has become ill after exposure to foul-tasting well water. Then a trucker whose job is hauling chemicals is badly injured in a chemical explosion.

Summer, a dedicated scientist, wants to hear both sides of the story--and ends up hearing at least seven or eight. A smooth, good-looking business man, who purports to do the extractions cleanly, is interested in her both as an employee and as a possible lover. She is tempted, but cares more for the anti-fracking veteran.

She brings up her best friend from Florida, a computer whiz who engages mano a mano (figuratively speaking) with an industry-hired hacker. Meanwhile, Summer is also forced to engage with her pill-addicted, unsupportive mother.

It's a big book that explores one woman's psychology, gives you a rousing good mystery story, and has just the right amount of love--the course of which doesn't run smooth at all. Even the bad guys are under a lot of pressure, and the good guys don't always take the high road. Meanwhile, you learn a lot about gas and oil extraction and local politics. It's a solid, worthwhile read.

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As you can see, I've been doing my favorite thing these last weeks: impulse-reading wherever a friend or another book sends me. After seeing an excellent exhibit of the work of the portraitist Elizabeth Vigée-LeBrun at the Metropolitan Museum in New York (see my blog entry ) I ordered a copy of her memoir for my e-reader from the wonderful and free Gutenberg,  Memoir by Elizabeth Vigée-LeBrun, translated by Lytton Strachey (yes, the dear friend of Virginia Woolf and the rest of the Bloomsbury gang).

Vigée-LeBrun was a total royalist during the French Revolution, but reading the memoir gives that a context for me. She is not an aristocrat herself, but rather an extremely talented artist who made her own living and supported her family by painting the queen and the aristocrats. There is no theoretical underpinning of politics, only her loyalty to the people who are (according to her optimistic view) kind, graceful, and give her commissions.

She fled to Italy with her daughter (the great love of her life) and then worked for seven years in Russia, and three years in England, coming back to Paris in between, and living out the rest of her life in Louveciennes, north and east of Paris. She doesn't like the Bonapartists, of course, when they become the leaders of society, and is especially critical of the way the men and women don't mix socially under the Bonapartes (who knew that?), but she is careful what she says about them too-- indeed, about anyone with power. I think in many ways her psychology must be that of a high level servant– that is, totally dependent on the upper classes, and totally identified with them, even though she herself was a hard worker.

She painted prodigiously, a true working woman, who left her gambler-art dealer husband, but stayed in mostly amiable touch. Her real love, as I said, was her daughter, who did her wrong in the end and married a Russian with little money, and then ran away from him.

Vigée-LeBrun also loved her many friends, and her memoir is full of lively descriptions of them and the countries where she lived, and the bone wracking journeys between them. Some but not all of her paintings are quite wonderful, the life in certain faces, mostly women but men too. Her writing is clear and to the point. Like most people, in the end, she loved those who were kind to her.

This short memoir would be an excellent entryway into understanding the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries-- the story of a first rate portraitist, who wanted to be a history painter, but found that path largely denied to a woman, and and lived a long, active life during a time of great turbulence.

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THE JOHN BIRCH E-READER REPORT: JOHN BIRCH STEPS DOWN

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We are sorry to report that John Birch, who has provided us with a report on the state of e-reading for many issues, says that since e-books and e-readers have now been around for several years, his monthly computer searches reveal very little new, interesting, or unusual about e-books, Kindles, Nooks and "the whole e-phenomenon." He adds that, after making a real effort in the last month or two, he's drawn a total blank, because there's "precious little new to write about."

You can still read John's postings on his web site.  Read his bio piece about growing up in England and giving tea to a homeless man, "Mr. Sparks."

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Thank you John for all the excellent reports!

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SOMETHING FREE!

Yorker Keith is giving away 50 copies of the Kindle edition of his novel Remembrance of Blue Roses, reviewed in Issue #182 of this newsletter. The offer expires on April 16, 2016. Learn more here. 

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SHORT REVIEWS

Belchamber by Howard Sturgis

I really enjoyed this quirky early-twentieth-century novel with a neurotic sad sack of a hero-- a young marquis who feels he should have died so his hearty sportsman of a brother could have been the heir. He faints at crucial moments and is tricked into marrying a woman who refuses to have sex with him. All the characters except for "Sainty" himself and one or two minor exceptions have very little in the way of socially redeeming characteristics. Even Sainty's Cambridge mentor turns out to be a garden variety snob.

The final lines are a letter to Sainty from a woman he finds repellently vulgar, but who turns out to be the only person who truly appreciates his loss of a child he loves. Another of the handful of decent people is his earliest governess, a lady who ends up marrying (perish the thought) a widowed Jew who has two daughters, one of whom marries the fascinating snake in the grass, Sainty's cousin Claude-- smooth, sinuous, and sexually attractive to all genders. It's a book like no other I've read.

For more commentary, see the London Review of Books article by Alan Hollinghurst

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The Bostonians by Henry James

Sturgis was a good friend of Edith Weirton and Henry James, and I read Belchamber after a recommendation in Lea vis's The Great Tradition. Lea vis also ranks James's The Bostonians as a top choice, so I reread it, in spite of a memory of having despised it many years ago. This time, when I finished, I realized that I had absolutely no memory of how it ended.

What I seem to have missed back then is (a) the comedy and (b) that the ending frankly predicts unhappy days ahead for the couple. The whole end section is a lot of fun, a dramatic and comic scene in the "retiring" room at the Boston Music House where the unreconstructed Southern lover Basil Ran some comes to save the inspirational speaker Verona Tar rant from plunging into a career as a public speaker for the Feminist Cause. There is an amusing stand-off between Basil and a cop and the reappearance of Verona's awful, Dickensian parents, along with most of the other major characters. Olive Chancellor, the ideologue who has been battling with Basil during the whole novel for Verona's soul and body, sees she has lost, and there is some indication that she may be going on stage in place of Verona, to speak for the Cause, which is what she should have done in the first place instead of try to train Verona to do it.

The main question in the book is always whether the handsome Southerner's fatuous arrogance and general male chauvinist pig-headed ness are endorsed by James. I had always assumed that it was a wholly reactionary novel, but as the book goes on, James evinces more sympathy for Olive's suffering, and definitely likes a couple of the other women characters, especially the vague but lovable old campaigner Miss Birds eye as well as a woman doctor who takes Basil Ran some fishing.

The biggest problem for me is that while all "messages" and "ideologies" are disdained, Basil's conservatism is presented as quixotic, silly, and idiosyncratic whereas the feminist "Cause" is a parody of real issues. The bits of speeches about oppressed women have no depth, and are treated as if they were as idiosyncratic as Basil Ransom e's hobby-horses, when, indeed, they are part of a movement that has become part of today's accepted beliefs. There is no depiction of anything near the real work that was done by people like Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Lady Stentorian latter of whom even had a husband and children. That would be a fun novel-- about friendship and political change, but James never could have written it, nor would he have had any interest in it.

So I'm still not sure why Lea vis thinks it's one of James's best, but it's much more interesting and complex than I remembered.

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The Deep Link by Veronica Sicoe

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This novel, The Deep Link is the first of a trilogy, and it is self-published. Available in e-book format for only $2.99 as well as in paperback, it gives at least as much bang for buck as Trader Joe's famous three buck Chuck. Author Veronica Sicoe calls herself an "authorpreneur," and makes no apologies about it. She wants to keep control of her work, and to sell it directly to readers.

The novel is at least as well written as commercially published science fiction I have run across. There is in the front matter acknowledgement by name of the cover artist (not unusual) and the editor. I wonder if acknowledging the person who edited the book is a new trend-- I like the idea, actually, because serious writers these days are often having to hire or trade for editing, and it makes sense to know that a book has not simply come straight from the writer's computer with no gatekeepers at all, but has rather been vetted by someone you can look up, get evaluations of. Is this a new way of separating the well-written wheat from the unreadable chaff?

The novel itself is fast moving with an adventuring, ethical woman hero I liked a lot. It has a little too much cyber-jargon for me-- but that is taste, not a criticism-- and there is also a quirky mixing of present and past tenses that I am sure is chosen consciously, but annoyed me. Maybe I've taught too many fiction writing classes where I emphasized consistency in tenses.

But mostly I just went along for a compelling ride: slipping through space, experiencing a rebellion in a dystopian human city, and lots and lots of colorful, sometimes slimy, aliens (always my favorite part!).

Best of all was an especially powerful inter-species love story: a kind of alien-human version of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. He, way beyond human beings in his abilities, does a mind meld exploration on her to get information-- and is blown away by a mutual link more powerful than either of them can imagine. Really nice! And explosively, electronically sexy.

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Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

The considerable strength of this young adult novel is the Caribbean/African ancestors/spirituality/ mural painting and Bedford-Stuyvesant characters and setting. It's about a moment during gentrification when the teen characters both like the expensive new hipster coffee shops and feel pushed out of their neighborhood. The language beautifully mixes an artful and conscious street slang and literary imagery. The villain is a white guy, of course, corrupted by envy of relationships with the spirts. The dead here, if I get it right, have power and their memories, but no future. There's lots of dancing and music and nice distinctions between Puerto Rican and Haitian and from Martinique and Dominican Republic. Oh, and while heroine Sierra is definitely a leader, she always needs her friends and family. The importance of the group is inspiring and believable. The plot is a little clunky in places-she seems to figure out who the villain is a little too easily, for example, but, on the other hand, I didn't care much as I read fast and with pleasure.

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Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Odd for me, to read a book after seeing the movie. The movie of this, with Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman, caught me up with its atmosphere--the Soviet Union under Stalin, and I wanted more. So I got a paperbackswap copy of the book. It was a a best seller when it came out, although I'd never heard of it: it's about an officer of the secret police who tries to do the right thing, acts the sleuth when children are murdered--and the power structure won't admit that such things could happen in a happy country.

There are lots of required plot turns and connections, but also a lot of emotional resonance and the exploration of what you will do to survive-- including betraying anyone, and how everyone understands that. The movie really changed a lot, including Leo's childhood gory back story. It was also a striking example of what books have that movies don't and vice versa.

What the movie had was Tom Hardy, of whom I'm a big fan. Unlike a lot of actors, he totally disappears in each part, but the part always excites me, whether it's this Russian state security officer or Mad Max.  The movie also has Gary Oldham-- lots of faces . As Norma Desmond famously says in Sunset Boulevard, "We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!" It also has a beautiful long shot of a train running through some Hungarian woods, or no I believe Czech.

What the book has is more vicious and detailed violence and a more complex plot. The extra plot complexities enriched the novel and made it feel like a more important book than it probably is. The book also takes the privilege of the thriller writer (influenced by the movies of course) and flips point of view a lot.  Oh, and the book has a lot of its big scenes of the novel in winter, which the movie just skipped over, probably too hard to film. There is, for example, a good action scene of breaking through a frozen stream that's skipped in the movie, and this kind of action–from the inside, how long you have before your body shuts down from the cold– is just about impossible to do in the movies, which are a sense experience in themselves, whereas books are largely a demand on the reader to imagine the senses. Anyhow, a good thriller.

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READ AND LISTEN ONLINE

Read a discussion in the SOUTHERN LITERARY REVIEW about a book reviewed last issue: Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean in Issue #182 . Comments from Belinda Anderson, June Langford Berkley,Phyllis Wilson Moore, Donna Meredith, Edwina Pendarvis, and Pat Spears.
Interesting essay by Michiko Kakutani
New issue of Persimmon Tree is up.
Listen to Rita Sims Quillen and others singing "Will You Miss Me?"
Samples of Randi Ward's translation and photography.
An interesting interview with a young professional pianist (who happens to be my nephew!), Alex Kato Willis. He does classical improvisation, something very unusual today, although Mozart and Beethoven excelled at it. Click on the radio show, then move in to the 35 minute mark to hear it.
Most of this podcast is an interview of NancyKay Shapiro about her years as a fan fiction writer..
John Birch, just retiring from a regular column in this newsletter, has been running a blog for the past few years, and it now contains several dozen of his fiction and nonfiction stories, many of which have been published here and there in the U.S. and Europe. See it at John Birch Live.
Barbara Crooker's poems are updated often on her website.
Check out Cathy Weiss's website for writers and readers: Armored Oxfords.
Ingrid Hughes's blog includes a report on a journey through serious mental illness.
 

 

ANNOUNCEMENTS, BOOKS RECEIVED, CONTESTS, WORKSHOPS, READINGS AND MORE.

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Now available in hard copy!
Yorker Keith's Remembrance of Blue Roses:

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From Amazon

From Barnes and Noble

 
 

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Chela: The Adventures of Jack and Ty is in part a tribute to one of the greatest writers and humorists of the twentieth century, Sir P.G. Wodehouse, and a spoof on the fantasy genre where anything and everything can happen at any given moment and time. Jack is a hungry jackal, booted out of his clan for being lazy and incapable of providing for himself. One night while wandering a patch of forest he accidentally steps on the tail of a tiger that is understandably furious at the jackal. The tiger Ty, confronts the jackal with the latter begging forgiveness. The commotion dies down and they soon go their separate ways. Fate, however, brings them together again and and they soon realize they are both facing a similar predicament – an acute shortage of food. The two strangers soon become comrades and along with Herbert, a cross between a wolf and a pariah dog, set out on a journey through the vast woodland of Baganpore and beyond in search of food. On the way they face perils aplenty in the form of diabolical relatives, cunning scavengers, a mysterious banyan tree and a lake that isn't what it appears to be.
 
Suzanne McConnell's wonderful story "Neighbors" is now available fromThe New Ohio Review.
Deborah Clearman's story "Tulip Tears" at Lascaux Review.

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Evelyn Walsh has won the SEÁN Ó FAOLÁIN SHORTSTORY COMPETITION for her story "White Rabbit !" Also see her work in the current issue of The Hamilton Stone Review.
Check out the BUY buttons at Hamilton Stone Editions
 

IRENE WEINBERGER BOOKS:

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Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 184

May 10, 2016

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

  Back Issues    MSW Home     Who is Meredith Sue Willis?

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anthony trollopeSuzanne McConnellamazon primeGermaine de StaelLaura Tillman
Images of Anthony Trollope, Suzanne McConnell, Amazon warehouse, Germaine de Staël, Laura Tillman

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In Issue# 184

Two Views of Amazon:
Donna Meredith and Darryl Bollinger

Main Article
Kimmelman on Bronk


Short Reviews:

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer
reviewed by Joel Weinberger
The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts:
Murder and Memory in an American City
by Laura Tillman
The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker
Blood Sisters: The French Revolution
in Women's Memory
by Marilyn Yalom
Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope
 

Recommendations from Readers

Things to Read & Hear Online

Announcements and News

Updated Biography of Meredith Sue Willis

Irene Weinberger Books

A Journal of Practical Writing

French Revolution women
Women of the French Revolution

For a Free E-mail subscription to this newsletter, click below:

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Meredith Sue Willis's Books for Readers # 184
May 10, 2016

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Issue # 184 of Books for Readers begins with some celebratory news. First, my friend Pamela Erens got a stellar review for her new novel Eleven Hours in The New York Times Book Review.

Second, Burt Kimmelman has an article in Talisman on William Bronk that is partly about the longstanding strain of anti-intellectualism in the United State.

Third, my friend Suzanne McConnell's story “Neighbors,” first prize winner in the New Ohio Review contest, is now available online from The New Ohio Review and as a podcast as well! won the 2015 New Ohio Review Fiction contest. The story is now online to read as a text and as an audio podcast from New Ohio Review’s website. Set in gritty 1970’s downtown Manhattan, it's a story of friendship with a brilliant and beautiful woman who is also schizophrenic.

And, finally, for something a little less celebratory, here's a quotation from  Ed Myers, author of 37 published books . He says, "I can't seem to stop [writing], and I enjoy the craftsmanship of the task, but I'm skeptical about where any of the books will go once they're done. Writing feels somewhat like woodworking or cooking a good meal: I create something pleasant or even good, and a very small number of people enjoy it. But that's the end of it. There seems to be no 'out there' any more."

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Which brings me to the guest essayists for Issue #184. Donna Meredith and Darryl Bollinger discuss the effect of Amazon-dot-com on writing. Has the influence of this International Octopus of a commercial giant been positive or negative? And if it's here to stay, what do writers do about it?

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AN UPDATED DISCUSSION ABOUT AMAZON.COM

Amazon: A Writer’s Best Friend or the Devil Incarnate?

By Donna Meredith

It’s hard to believe now, but Amazon-dot-com started as a bookstore before expanding into selling almost anything that fits into a shipping box. Now they dominate the print book market with around two-thirds of all sales. And they have moved into printing and publishing with CreateSpace, a print-on-demand operation; Kindle, which claims two-thirds of ebook sales, and Audible and ACX, which produce audiobooks. And even though Amazon reviews are one of the biggest drivers of book sales, the company also bought Shelfari and Goodreads, online sites where readers can share their opinions on books. They control everything about content these days—which is a little scary.

As an active member of writing associations, I’ve encountered varied points of view concerning donna meredithAmazon. For years I coordinated a literary contest, and we often gave judges—accomplished writers themselves—an Amazon gift card. The recipient could use it on a wide array of products, from the obvious choice for writers (books) to the practical (yoga DVDs and hemorrhoid cream to counteract all those hours sitting in front of a computer). The gift cards worked well. Until one judge told us to keep it. She, for one, boycotted Amazon. And she was not alone.

I was aware, of course, that writers had mixed opinions on the marketing behemoth. Stephen Colbert raised quite a ruckus when his latest book was listed as not immediately available because of a dispute between Amazon and his publisher. I thought the problem had nothing to do with me, that it would only affect New York Times Bestsellers. I thought Amazon had better things to do than try to corner more sales from bottom-feeders like me. I was wrong.

Several years ago without warning, my titles showed up as not available for immediate shipment. I realized all those hours spent luring potential readers through promotions and book talks were wasted if they couldn’t click that BUY NOW button and see the book drop into the shopping cart. Online shoppers expect immediate gratification. Not many would return a second time.

My primary book distributor, Ingram Content Group, is one of the largest in the world, but Amazon is nothing if not fiercely competitive. Its nefarious plan was to push writers into using its own printing services. It worked. I uploaded my books to Amazon’s CreateSpace, as well as continuing to use Ingram. Immediately my books showed up as available for purchase again. I’m sure this means when an online shopper buys my book, it is printed and shipped by Amazon, rather than Ingram. I still buy bulk copies from Ingram to sell myself.

While I don’t like Amazon’s aggressive business model, I also have to credit them for making books easily available to customers worldwide. People can and do buy my books all over the country—and once in a while overseas. Barnes and Noble lists my books, too, but I don’t sell nearly as many copies there. Online books ales have pushed many brick and mortar stores out of business. But for writers, the online store has key advantages. If a potential reader sees a review of your book, he can immediately go online and purchase it. To some extent, books are impulse buys. Miss the impulse, you miss the sale. Books are not products a person has to purchase, like groceries or medicines.

The majority of writers and small publishing companies I know use CreateSpace to print their books. As one friend told me, “I've never had any problems with Amazon. The process is easy to understand and execute. I especially like the preview process both on the computer and in print. It lets me see immediately where I've messed up.”

She’s right—the Kindle spell check is stronger than those included in very expensive editing software I’ve purchased. I have to admit Amazon has gone out of its way to make book production simple with almost any software you have on your home computer. They have MS Word templates and a Cover Generator available.

The upside for authors is they can bypass the traditional publishing route, which consumes time and eats up potential profit. The downside is that the market is flooded with titles, some of which are poorly written and edited.

Nonetheless, the bottom line for writers is this: it’s almost impossible not to work with Amazon if you want to sell books.

    

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Amazon: Is it the Best or Worst Thing to Happen to Books and Writers?

By Darryl Bollinger

As a writer, I am frequently asked this question, especially by other writers. Some tend to view Amazon as the proverbial 600-pound gorilla, constantly shoving lesser players around the playground. Others see Amazon as the great liberator, making publishing available to those who might not have had a chance to publish works via the traditional route. Each side is quick to brandish examples that support their opinion.

     I think the answer is neither simple nor binary. Overall, I believe Amazon is good for readers and writers. They have streamlined the publishing process and reduced the entry cost, enabling writers like myself to get books to market easier and faster. Many would also argue that Amazon has been instrumental in putting a bigger piece of the sales price into authors’ pockets.

The number of books published has increased, leading to more competition. I also believe the quality has suffered. Too many times I’ve heard self-published authors proclaim that they don’t need an editor or a cover artist or other professional help. This has conspired to give indie publishers a tarnished reputation. For the free-market advocates, though, the Amazon model allows the market to be the ultimate arbiter, which I see as desirable.

 At the same time, giving any one player too much power can be dangerous. According to reliable estimates, E-books represent one-third of all book sales. Amazon has two-thirds of the E-book market. They continue to place tremendous price pressure on traditional publishers, both large and small, not hesitating to use their clout.

They also put pressure on authors. On more than one occasion, I’ve heard complaints about Amazon’s increasingly restrictive attitude on reviews. Again, they have the market presence to dictate the rules. 

Last, we are down to basically two nationwide bookstore chains: Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million. According to Forbes, the number of indie-owned bookstores has declined by over fifty percent in the last twenty years and now represent less than ten percent of all book sales. More books and fewer potential retail outlets mean more pressure on writers.

In conclusion, no author can afford to ignore the Amazon behemoth, like them or not. The industry is changing rapidly, and I like having a gorilla on my side as long as I pay attention to where he steps. 

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(For a discussion about Amazon several years back, click here.)

 

RECOMMENDATIONS FROM READERS

Martha Moffett recommends her favorite book about Appalachia: East 40 Degrees: An Interpretive Atlas by Jack Williams. She says, "It's a beautiful book, with old and new maps and great photographs, but most remarkable, it's by a geographer at Auburn University in Alabama who has the most beautiful, unclouded writing style. I have the oversize paperback edition, and have given it as a gift to a couple of people who are notoriously hard to shop for."

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Susan Lindsey (of Savvy-comm) wrote: "Since you've read Elizabeth Vignee-LeBrun's memoir, you might also want to read The Fountain at St. James Court, or Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman by Sena Jeter Naslund. It's a novel within a novel that follows a writer living in contemporary Louisville who is writing about Elizabeth Vignee-LeBrun's life.".

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Janet MacKenzie recommends the work of Lucia Berlin. "I have her collection of short stories, A Manual For Cleaning Women, whose title story is very funny. I had not heard of her but she was married to one poet and one jazz musician. She had four sons but died of scoliosis, after defeating cancer and alcoholism. I've also just finished Jane Smiley's Some Luck, which I hope to get my book group to read. Tom Keneally's Daughters of Mars, the novel about two sisters who became nurses in WWI to escape their Australian dairy farm, js a lovely work, filled with fascinating and well-drawn characters."

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SHORT REVIEWS (BY MSW UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

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Joel Weinberger reviews The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany by William L. Shirer ( (republished from Good Reads)

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(Note: I listened to the unabridged Audible version of this book.) .

A very dense and detailed history of the Third Reich that suffers from a few issues, many of which may be attributed to the proximity of the writing to the events that occurred. The author focuses in great depth and detail on several events which, while fascinating, perhaps have little bearing on the actual outcome or politics of the War or of the state.

Most famously, Shirer focuses a very detailed section on the Valkyrie Plot. It is a fascinating attempt at Hitler's life, but ultimately had almost no bearing on history, and I question whether it was the best use of space in this already massive tome. Additionally, there are many notable absences from the book, especially around the war crimes that were committed by the Nazis. While there is a chapter on the death camps and concentration camps, it is rather short given the length of the book, and it misses many important details, such as, for example, the great numbers of non-Jews killed in the camps. This may simply be because it was written so soon after Nazi Germany fell, and a full understanding of their horrors wasn't understood yet, but it certainly makes the reader question other details.

On another note, there are several extreme cases of homophobia expressed by the author that made be very uncomfortable with the book, nearly to the point of putting it down. This includes parts where he states out of hand that certain Nazis were gay and that this explains their horrible actions. Perhaps this is an artifact the era it was written in, but it is jarring none the less.

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The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts: Murder and Memory in an American City by Laura Tillman

laura tillman

The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts is a journalist's journey tracking down the details of an appalling crime (the murder of three small children by their parents). The book is about the crime and the city of Brownsville, Texas, and many other matters. Tillman starts with the building where the children were killed, and which is her first assignment dealing with the crime, committed several years before she came to work for the The Brownsville Herald.

She opens up her exploration to the city itself, to the sad stories of the killers, to the general background of curanderismo (there was some talk that witchcraft and possession were involved in the deaths), and to poverty in this border town and across the border in Mexico. She interviews and writes about the lives of people who lived near where the murders occurred, and, gradually, we begin to share her written correspondence with death row inmate John Allen Rubio, the father and stepfather who did the killing, with help from his common law wife. His story occupies a lot of the book, and the climactic sections are her in-person visits with him on death row. The description of what it is like to visit someone on death row is wonderful, as is her ability to capture John Rubio's charm and his profound sadness.

Tillman, manages to do all this by taking us with her on the path that she follows in researching the story without foregrounding her own emotions (although she gives us just enough of her relationships, her family, her feelings about being a Northeasterner living in Texas, etc.). She is our Virgil leading us through the many levels of a hellish crime which came out of great suffering as well as causing great suffering. She takes care to examine her own prejudices and only very rarely gets lost in a little unnecessary philosophizing.

For me, the story and city were fascinating, but the real high point was the gentle probing she does into a man who did monstrous things: our imaginations are stretched by being face-to-face with the human being behind the almost unimaginable deeds..

 
The Denial of Death by Ernest BeckerErnest Becker

This Pulitzer prize winning book published in 1973 was recommended to me by a psychiatrist friend who has read it several times. Becker, a multi-disciplinarian, public intellectual like Susan Sontag, has a deep and abiding faith in philosophy and reason-- and psychoanalysis. Becker is far from uncritical of Freud--he sees him as a genius and great thinker, but hardly right in all or maybe even most particulars. He is also critical of Adler and Jung, likes Otto Rank better. He writes at length in dialogue with Kierkegaard and Paul Tillich.

Becker's book is dense and passionate. It emphasizes disgust with the animality of our bodies, but finds transcendence and even nobility in the attempt of conscious human beings to be heroic in the face of the death we alone of the animals know is coming. Becker himself died shortly after the publication of The Denial of Death. He died, by the way, of colon cancer, which makes me wonder if some of his emphasis on the filth of our bodies grew out of personal experience.

I didn't get everything-- I want to go back and reread some parts I underlined-- so much of it moving and interesting. Becker's style of thinking and the thinkers he engages are still important, but not as central to the life of the mind as they once were. Also, the confident erudition displayed here stands on many assumptions that have been at least partially undermined: that Western culture is supreme; that homosexuality is a perversion, that women are beside the point. These limitations of the thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth century do not mean we should dismiss them, but they do make us aware that they are one part of the really big picture.

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Blood Sisters: The French Revolution in Women's Memory by Marilyn Yalom

This is a book I learned about while reviewing Hilton Obenzinger's book Why We Write (Issue # 183). Yalom was one of his interviewees, and her study of women's views of the French Revolution is build around old memoirs and letters. She has passages from Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun's memoir, which I also reviewed last issue (Vigée-Lebrun right). Yalom's book includes a majority of aristocratic writers or admirers of the aristocracy, but also Madame Roland, a Republican who wrote a lot of her husband's material and died on the guillotine during the Terror.

Among the aristocrats, Madame Tour de la Pin has a particularly striking story. She was young and energetic and fled with her husband to various European countries and America during the revolution. They farmed and made a popular hard cider. So she was aristocratic but not afraid of work. There is also a conservative peasant French Revolution womenwoman who was a soldier of the Vendée. No one fits neatly in a box. My only caveat, and it is one that Yalom is very aware of herself, is that there is very little to represent the truly poor (and most likely illiterate) women who supported the Revolution.

So one has to make do with the endlessly entertaining Liberal and enemy of NapoleonGermaine de Stael, Madame de Staël (right). Unlike most of the writers here, she was a theorist even more than a recorder of her own experience, although she gets that into her writings too. She was one of the richest women in Europe and always worth reading for her sharp observations and her quasi-feminism-- or at least De Staëlism.

Yalom has great notes and a bibliography, of course, and is also good on the position of women in the eighteenth century, all classes. The work began as a scholarly piece, but is very readable, with excellent images and choice quotations from the various memoirs and letters and journals.

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Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope (first of the Palliser novels)

I just had my Victorian fix for the month. This is the first book of Trollope's six Palliser novels centering on a wealthy, aristocratic British family and on life in and out of Parliament. I've read this before, and like it, even though when it was published, the satirical magazine Punch referred to it as anthony trollope"Can You Stand Her?" and another commentator called it "Can You Possibly Finish It?" Both jokes have some truth. It's long, and the most prominent character, Alice, isn't particularly likable. The best thing here is the difficult marriage of Lady Glencora and Mr. Palliser. Glencora is one of those spirited young women beloved of 19th century male authors like Trollope and Tolstoy. She is an heiress who also wants to have adventures, falls in love with a bounder, and is persuaded by her family and friends to marry the solid if dull Plantagenet Palliser instead. He is delighted with her; she feels trapped.

Both Glencora and Alice Vavasor made me want to give them professions or a university education or a war zone to be brave in. Anything to use their energy and passion and intelligence to worry about something besides love and marriage. Alice's problem is that her true love is so good and loyal that she makes a fetish of insisting that she doesn't deserve him. I found myself wanting her to stand by her guns, but of course in the end he bulldozes her with his devotion, and she accepts him-- or maybe lets him tell her she has..

He also, to give Trollope his due, does what Alice hoped for and runs, or rather, "stands" for Parliament. There is a kind of happy ending, with the marriages in place and Lady Glencora finally producing an heir for her husband, who is himself the heir to a great duke.

So here's the thing with Trollope: he does very well in capturing the yearnings and struggles of young women (and one must remember that all the leading roles here, male and female, are 30 or younger), but he just can't seem to imagine, or doesn't want to imagine, a way for them to become anything but Victorian gentlewomen, wives and mothers. George Eliot's female characters are often thoroughly chastised by experience and the real world, but their aspirations are taken extremely seriously, and they at least attempt to act in the world in ways other than half-heartedly trying to run off with a lover.

So what do I like here? I like how hard Lady Glencora flails against her fate. I like the comic relief of Aunt Greenow and her suitors-- and her choice of a fancy man she carefully arranges NOT to have access to her money. I also like the satisfyingly melodramatic George Vavasor with the eloquent color-changing cicatrix on his face. And Burgo Fitzgerald who is about as useless and hopeless a human being you can find--but wildly handsome.

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READ AND LISTEN ONLINE

Excellent article by Matthew Neill Null about literature and West Virginia.
Suzanne McConnellSuzanne McConnell's "Neighbors,"  first prize winner in the New Ohio Review contest, is now available online from The New Ohio Review and as a podcast as well!   Suzanne (picture left) says about the process of posting the podcast: "Wrong audio sent in November, another unavailable for weeks, then that one sent without enough capacity. At last [an angelic friend], an expert sound guy who works in film, brought professional recording equipment, instructed me, and left it. That was January. I had a bad cold. [He] edited out a 7 second coughing fit. More technical difficulties ensued on the other end. But now it’s up! Lessons in persistence, trust, and patience."
Burt Kimmelman's article in Talisman on William Bronk, "Our Anxiety in Reading William Bronk"Crystal Wilkinson
PBS interview with Crystal Wilkinson (right) as well as a 2001 clip of her reading a powerful poem called "Dear Johnny P."
Some beautiful photographs on Mark Wyatt's page.
An amusing article about the romance novel self-publishing scene-- and the male models who want to be the Fabio of the digital age!
Here's a good blog post from Ed Davis on the writer's life--there's more to it than keeping your keister at the computer....
Ingrid Hughes's blog includes a report on a journey through serious mental illness.
John Birch, just retiring from a regular column in this newsletter, has been running a blog for the past few years, and it now contains several dozen of his fiction and nonfiction stories, many of which have been published here and there in the U.S. and Europe. See it at John BIrch Live at Blogspot.
Barbara Crooker's poems are updated often on her website.
Check out Cathy Weiss's website for writers and readers: http://www.armoredoxfords.com/
 

 

ANNOUNCEMENTS, BOOKS RECEIVED, CONTESTS, WORKSHOPS, READINGS AND MORE.

Krkus Reviews praises Yorker Keith's novel!
Marc Harshman has a new poetry podcast: Upcoming are Robert Morgan, Jeff Mann, and Maggie Anderson.
Matthew Null's new story collection Allegheny Front is out from Sarabande


A FEW EVENTS WITH ELLEN BASS:
  • SALON AT GABRIELLA'S CAFE with Tess Taylor and Ellen Bass June 7, 2016 Dinner at 6 PM Reading at 7:30 PM Sponsored by Catamaran Literary Reader Gabriella's Cafe, Santa Cruz, CA For more info, email Catherine Segurson .
  • PACIFIC UNIVERSITY MASTER OF FINE ARTS IN WRITING Residency dates: June 16-26, 2016 Residency location: Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. If you are interested in learning more about the program, please contact the director, Shelley Washburn or Ellen Bass at with your questions.
  • POETRY READING & WORKSHOP with Ellen Bass August 19, 2016 Workshop 1:30 to 5:30 Poetry reading 7:30 California Poets in the Schools Annual Conference, Los Gatos, CA. Contact Tina Areja-Pasquinzo.
  • THE GLINT OF LIGHT ON BROKEN GLASS A Workshop in Writing Stories, Essays and Poems with Pam Houston and Ellen Bass August 21 - 27, 2016 The Inn at Lake Connamarra, Hope, B. C. Canada
 

Buy a Book from Hamilton Stone Editions-- Now with BUY buttons!

 

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IRENE WEINBERGER BOOKS:

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Donna Meredith is the author of five books, including Fraccidental Death.

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Darryl Bollinger is the author of five medical thrillers, including Satan Shoal.

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

 


Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 185

June 24, 2016

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

  Back Issues    MSW Home     Who is Meredith Sue Willis?

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In This Issue

MSW Interviews Monique Raphel High
Quill: A New Queer Publication Series from Red Hen Press
Text of the 2016 JUG award presented by Cat Pleska to Marc Harshman
Reviews          Recommendations from Readers
Things to Read & Hear Online          Announcements and News
Coming Soon from Irene Weinberger Books         A Journal of Practical Writing

Article about saving drafts in the Journal of Practical Writing

Summer Special! E-book versions of Meredith Sue Willis's
Blair Morgan trilogy
$1.99 each!

 

For a Free E-mail subscription to this newsletter, click below:

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Books for Readers # 185

 

This issue has an interview with a wonderful writer of historical and contemporary novels, Monique Raphel High, as well as reviews of books by Crystal Wilkinson, Elizabeth Jane Howard, and Phil Klay.

Enjoy your reading this summer whether you are posing for a Kindle ad (reading in bright sunlight on a beach) or carrying an old paperback with a broken spine on the subway, or sitting in a wing back chair with a limited edition of poems on creamy paper with the French doors open to your English garden-- enjoy your reading!

                                                                            -- MSW

 

 

 

A Conversation with Monique Raphel High

  Monique Raphel High and I were in the class of 1969 at Barnard College, although we didn’t know each other then. We became personally acquainted at one of our reunions, and she was my literary agent for a while. She gave the book she was representing a superb revision.

  I am not going to explore her background and that of her family here, but she has a fascinating history, and one that she uses repeatedly in her fiction.  To learn more, see her website.  She was born in New York City to French parents and raised in Europe.  Her father is a scion of the de Günzburg family, ennobled by Tsar Alexander II and considered among the most notable Jewish dynasties in the world. Growing up, Monique knew film and literary celebrities and eventually went to Barnard, graduating with a double major in Renaissance Studies and English literature. She married Soviet psychiatrist/psychologist Grigorii Raiport, and with him wrote a book about methods of mentally focusing athletes that still has a following around the world.  Her second husband was Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Ben Walter Pesta, II.

  Monique has published several excellent and popular novels and taught writing at UCLA.  She became a literary agent in the 2000's with offices in Beverly Hills, New York, Paris, and London.  This year, Penner Publishing has the good fortune to be bringing out new editions of her work, beginning with The Four Winds of Heaven (which I reviewed in Issue #136  of Books for Readers ), a gripping and beautiful fictionalizing of her family during the Russian Revolution.

 

 

MSW:  Monique, an outline of your family’s history and your own life reads like the summary of an epic novel trilogy or a multi-part t.v. series: two continents; a rich and sometimes violent family past;  famous friends; New York and Los Angeles; courtroom drama. What out of all this living life made you a writer rather than, say, an actress or business woman or movie executive or lawyer?

 

MRH:  The answer to that is complex. I was a film brat, because my parents and two grandfathers were involved in the film world.  My mother’s edict always was: “Do not become an actress; that life will destroy you.  Stay away from our world.”  My father’s deep passion for running the business side of film production and distribution did make me think of becoming an executive, and my father had a number of young protégés. But I was an arrogant young woman: I wanted to succeed on my own, in my own field.

  Because I was reared in such a strange way, as an only child, a mini-adult thrust into my mother’s salons and accepted there as an equal, while, at the same time, prevented from going about my own life with friends my own age, I became more comfortable with the wits and literary people who gathered like moths around my mother.  I became an observer.  I would then weave tales about what I had observed, and by the time I was five, I was telling stories that later, at nine, I turned into handwritten novels and short stories.

   As for becoming a lawyer, my father’s escape from Nazi-occupied France at the age of 17, and having to give up his dream of entering the legal profession… yes, I was very drawn to that.  I would have become a lawyer had I not been mentored at Barnard by Professor Maristella di Panizza Lorch, who turned me, instead, into a medieval and Renaissance scholar.  At first I thought I would follow in her footsteps and enter academia.  But quickly, I started to ask myself, “Why would you spend your life researching and dissecting other writers, when you could be a writer yourself?” The answer was: I didn’t want to do that; I wanted to be that writer.

 

MSW:  That helps me understand your career path, but not a certain quality of your life I’d like to explore.  Following you from afar-- as a reader and social media friend-- I am struck by how you carry your heart on your sleeve, as the cliché goes.  Most writers I know, me included, tend to hold a lot back, whereas you always seem to be living full speed ahead.  Do you ever hold back?  Do you think this personal style of living has an effect on your writing?

 

MRH:  I wasn’t always like that, Meredith Sue.  I grew up very shy, and in my family, problems were covered up. Mother “didn’t feel well” meant that she was knee-walking drunk.  We hid our frailties.  I never even discussed the volatile nature of my childhood—the diva mother who was alternately “the good mommy who encouraged me to read and write,” and the “ghastly mommy who beat me, demeaned me, prevented me from blossoming into a normal teen” until well into my marriage to my attorney husband (in the late eighties).  I have learned that there is nothing to be ashamed of except cruelty and stupidity, and I try, sometimes failing, never to do something that will make me ashamed of looking in that mirror.  Having a crazy family has made me part of who I am.

     I realized early on that readers desperately want to connect with their favorite writers.  I would receive letters, then emails, then messages on my blog and Facebook pages that asked me personal questions.  Mostly, readers wanted to connect, to feel the person who had created characters they liked.  They asked me some of the questions you are asking now.  And I felt I owed it to them to answer fully and honestly.  Nothing shameful, nothing embarrassing.  But snippets of my life, bits and pieces to make them see how absolutely human I really was.

    I’ve been asked many times to write about myself and my life, but until now, I couldn’t do this.  I simply didn’t find myself that interesting!  So I place what I’ve learned, what I’ve observed, and how I feel into my characters.  Most often, readers and even dear friends think I’m the obvious protagonist, whereas I may be a supporting one with whom I personally relate. 

  Recently, however, my fiancé, Paul Harrison, has been encouraging me to explore comedy, and to use some of the episodes in my life as short stories in a collection. I think it might be fun, though I might have to use a pseudonym in order not to shock my public, which is accustomed to greater reserve and decorum.

  I can’t help being open.  It tends to make other people respond by being open back, and then, after hearing their stories, I gather new material.

 

MSW: I love that-- that your openness has opened people who openly give you their stories.  Beautiful!  I also want to ask about the part of your life when you and I were in the same place at the same time, from our extremely different backgrounds.  What was it like for you to come to Barnard College in New York City from Europe at the end of the 1960's?

 

MRH:  Oh, my God! It was a dream come true. Suddenly I could be the person I was, and I could thrive, make friends, wander through a new city, soaking up experiences.  During Freshman Orientation, I decided to explore Harlem.  I was followed and reprimanded by my Barnard Big Sister’s sweet boyfriend, although I still can’t imagine what was so “dangerous” about wandering uptown.

  Can you believe that I’d come to feel Europe was parochial, and that I found New York so much vaster and more mysterious?  And the accents!  Later, of course, the ’68 revolt was absolutely magnetizing.  We did what we pleased, what we ardently believed in, and we were young women, not girls, anymore.

 

MSW:   And then you began to write and publish.  If you were to recommend an order for a reader to approach your work, what would it be?  Should we start with Four Winds of Heaven, or elsewhere? 

MRH:  Yes, definitely, one should begin with Four Winds, because that is my family history. I would then read Thy Father’s House, because the house in question, a manor house owned by Napoleon III, lies at the center of the French branch of the Günzburg family.  The three cousins about whom I write are based on real cousins, or composites of several cousins.  The next book I would recommend reading is The Keeper of the Walls. Nobody who doesn’t know me would figure out that Prince Mikhail is really my father’s scoundrel of a dad, but it gives one an impression of how my grandmother, father and aunt survived World War II. The Eleventh Year and Between Two Worlds depart the most from my grandmother’s journals.  They fulfill my desire to dig deeply into Paris in the Twenties, and my personal fascination with that film world in which I grew up.  Additionally, my Russian husband is the star of Between Two Worlds, although, of course, his stardom arose through coaching the USSR Olympic team, and not through acting.

Last, I would recommend Encore, because it’s my favorite.  I started taking ballet at the age of two.  I wasn’t much good at it, but I loved it. Additionally, it depicts a truly liberated heroine, even though she came of age between 1905 and 1927.  Best of all, the best character I ever created, Count Boris Kussov, is based on my great-uncle Dmitri de Günzburg, who really did finance the Mariinsky Theatre and Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and who certainly was bisexual.

Sexuality fascinates me, and so do the mores that allow, or prevent, that sexuality from evolving naturally.

 

MSW: I’m ready to continue my exploration of your novels!  Now, please tell us a little about your new project, a courtroom novel based on the work of your late husband, Ben Pesta?

 

MRH:  Irrevocable Trust takes place in Los Angeles in from 1985 to 1987—before Nazi criminals and camp survivors were too old to bring to life, and before DNA was used in court and Anita Hill saved women from sexual harassment. Yet 1985 is still the recent past that many readers can vividly remember.  Very little has changed since then, except, of course, from everyone’s familiarity with the Internet.

    I’ve had that title in mind for decades.  When my late husband practiced law, I used to watch him.  He was very much an actor, a courtly orator, and he could demolish specious arguments by sheer wit and irony, as well as impeccable research.  I came upon the idea of Irrevocable Trust when I became close friends with Kathy Perow, whose obsession for World War II stories and the Holocaust makes her the leading expert in my eyes in those fields.  One day, while visiting me during my late husband’s illness, she told me about child survivors, and how she listened to tapes of interviews of children who had been hidden by gentile families.  I asked her, “Were any of these hidden children kept by their new families? Did the gentile foster parents ever refuse to return them to their birth families?”  Kathy said she thought this had happened.  And so I decided to write the story of one of these children, and to make him come into his own through a series of cases that, as a Franco-American defense lawyer, he is forced to take on.

    I was terrified of writing a legal thriller.  Legalese isn’t one of the languages I thought I could speak.  But twenty-eight years with Ben had affected me more than I’d ever realized.  Once I began, I channeled his experience and even his words into the book, and I found myself totally fluent. Ben worked on some significant cases, and even had his name placed into case law.  Most of all, it was his ardent belief that everyone, even those accused of the most heinous crimes, deserves the best defense he/she can be given, that helped me create my protagonist’s value system.

 

MSW:  That book sounds like it’s going to pull together so many of your themes as well as your moral passion. I want to end this conversation, which is really only a beginning, with a couple of questions about your writing process, and your reading.  Could you speak a little more about the trajectory of your writing career?  You published books that were commercial successes and critically acclaimed.  There have been major changes in publishing over the last fifteen to twenty years.  What changed in your career?  Have you experimented with any of the newer ways of bringing your work to the public?

 

MRH:  Yes, I have. It would be foolish not to keep up with publishing trends—a little like a couturier choosing not to listen to what men and women want to wear right now, for the lifestyles the majority of them are choosing.  My historical novels needed to become accessible in eBook format. And so, I asked my literary manager to sell them to a publisher who would reissue them both as “real books” and eBooks.  That was Penner Publishing. Next step, obviously, will be to seek to make them available as audiobooks.

  What really has changed the most is my style. Readers today want fewer descriptions and more action, more drama. No one has the patience to be led up to peak points in small ballet steps. They want Olympic sprinting. So my sentences are shorter, carrying more punch, and I get to the point much faster and with more dramatic edge. My writing is more cinematic; I visualize my scenes as scenes on a screen. When I’m at the movies, I wear a special watch that lights up, and I press the mechanism that activates this each time the film hits a key scene—so I may learn how to build my books in the same way, with a pace that keeps up with readers’ attention spans.

 

MSW:   My final questions are about your reading.  No serious writer, in my opinion, is not also a reader.  And, unlike poor me, you are able to read in several languages.  So my question is, what books do you go back to for study and pleasure?  For me, it’s the Victorians– George Eliot, especially, but any Dickens or Trollope.  I’m also a fan of Mrs. Gaskell, and I am always rereading Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, in translation, of course. 

 

MRH: Oh, my! I too reread Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, Meredith Sue.  Some of my favorite novels are French: Liaisons Dangereuses, on which two films were based (Dangerous Liaisons), is a brilliant novel of letters that explores evil, manipulation, and the mores of the French court in the eighteenth century (when the novel first appeared); Tant que la Terre Durera and Les Eygletières, by Academician Henri Troyat, who was, like me, a Russian Frenchman; The Red and the Black, by Stendhal; and Madame Bovary, the twin of another favorite, Anna Karenina.

   I think my favorite novels are a series by another French Academician, Maurice Druon, entitled The Accursed Kings. I reread Fitzgerald, and yes, I reread Chaucer, Boccaccio, and Shakespeare… many times over.

 

MSW: Excellent– Maurice Druon– a new author for my To Read list!   Finally, for all of us who write and teach, please share the best writing advice you ever had, and the  best writing advice you ever gave.

 

MRH:  The best I received came from Epictetus: “If you want to be a writer, write.”  And the best I gave was read, read, read good books, but avoid all the how-to-write ones.  Each writer is an individual, with his/her own needs, obsessions, passions, and voice.  Simply because one writer, or worse, unpublished writing teacher, says you need to follow his or her specific yesses and nos, doesn’t help a new writer at all.  There is a format, yes.  But first, you have to know what you really want to say, and what medium fits your theme.

 

MSW: Thank you, dear Monique for your time and consideration!  May you write and publish many, many more books for our delight and edification!

 

 

 

 

REVIEWS (BY MSW UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

 

 

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard is a fine old-style character novel of London and the English countryside just before the beginning of World War II.  Howard, who was married for a while to novelist  Kingsley Amis (and credited by his son Martin Amis with encouraging the younger man's writing), wrote many novels. This one begins the Cazalet chronicles. It moves admirably among many characters of all ages, doing perhaps especially well with the children. I liked its leisurely quality--appropriate to a novel of holidays at a family homeplace.

This is not meant to imply that it is in any way loose or sloppily written.  It just takes its time with a typical British confidence in its own story-telling, circling around the large cast of characters, trying them out in various combinations, checking in with what is happening historically at the same time.  It has a whiff of (without the difficulty of) Virginia Woolf's The Waves. Both have characters with a shared sense of language and imagery. In Woolf's, four young voices are present as streams of consciousness that blend into one another. Howard's characters share family idiosyncrasies, private references, and class culture, but the characters are vividly delineated. I liked both outsiders to the family like Zoe, the very young second wife of Rupert, who teases her way into an ugly date rape, and insiders like the cousins Polly and Clary who are respectively morally and literarily precocious. The common diction and mental landscapes are part of the strong group portrait.

I love the places and life style, too-- lots of improvised meals and out-door activities-- heaven for kids.

The book demands a reading strategy of stepping in feeling the book swirl around your ankles, then your knees, and right up to your neck. The fascinations are with its texture and threads of interacting personality. And oh those personalities-- even the minor characters (but are they really?) are sterling creations like the Cook and her dictator/busybody counterpart above stairs, the patriarch known as the Brig.

You have to love those British nicknames.

 

 

 

Redeployment by Phil Klay is a solid collection of war stories. It was a Ten-Best-Books at the New York Times and a National Book Award winner. It has an interesting emphasis on soldiers who were there-- in Iraq, mostly-- but did not do all that much actually fighting, and on those suffering in the aftermath of war. Some of it is about trying and failing to communicate with civilians, some about trying to reconnect with those the point of view characters fought alongside.

"Ten Kliks South," the last story, is about a young artillery man after his first "kills," which are done from a great distance. He goes around base looking for evidence of who/what they killed. It's dryly horrifying in its blankness. 

I also especially liked "Prayer in the Furnace," from the point of view of a chaplain who has a loose, fraught relationship with a particularly haunted soldier. Finally, take a look also at Klay's essay, not in this book, but available online here.  Scroll down to "After the War, A Failure of the Imagination.")

 

 

 

The Birds of Opulence by Crystal Wilkinson is paragraph-by- paragraph as masterfully written a work as you can find. It is rich with beautiful images of the generations of a family in a town called Opulence, with many graceful appearances of real birds and symbolic birds. One bird appears in the house just before a particular character's death. Wilkinson uses such common beliefs and folk ways as well as skillful touches of dialect to enrich her story.

The book centers on a pair of young girls growing up like sisters (and it isn't ruled out that they actually are half sisters). One becomes the kind of woman who uses her sexuality both for pleasure and to move through the world. The other is more conventional, but getting pregnant and having babies is central to everything in the story.

Most striking is the gorgeousness of the prose and the evocation of an African-American-Appalachian family and community.

 

 

 

MORE RECOMMENDATIONS

NancyKay Shapiro says she has read all of Edna O'Brien and is "astounded by her. This book [LITTLE RED CHAIRS], written in her early 80s, is being called her masterpiece, and I'd have to agree except that I don't like the sense of diminishment of the other work that the word seems to imply to me. This was a compulsive read, and informed me about things I didn't know, as well as immersing me in a burbling exuberant fearless use of language that is O'Brien's specialty. It's a cruel story, in places nearly unbearable, which is part of its importance, but never less than beautiful."

 

 

Ernest BeckerJane Lazarre on Ernest Becker: "Long ago, I guess when it came out, I reviewed Becker's book [The Denial of Death] for the Voice. Just getting started publishing and reviewing during those early years, I remember criticizing it for not being sensitive to women's issues. The women's movement was just in its beginning heyday -- and [I criticized] some of the things he said about menstruation not specifying the differences in history of gender. I also remember admiring much of what he did say about the body, all much more profoundly dissected some years later by Dorothy Dinnerstein, who was steeped in gender issues as well as in the same wing of psychoanalysis as Becker-- the human body and its destiny."

 

NOW AVAILABLE!

 

Judith Moffett's science fiction novels are now available as e-books as well as hard copies. See her website and click on the left column book names. Judy writes wonderful, prize-winning science fiction but is also a powerful poet (see my review of Tarzan in Kentucky ) as well as translator from the Swedish and student of the work of James Merrill. All of her work is worth reading.

 

 

 

 

QUILL, A NEW QUEER PUBLICATION SERIES AT RED HEN PRESS

Queer literature is often found in the side stacks, in the back of the bookstore, under "Gay and Lesbian." These authors are put into a genre that barely fits them, excluded from mainstream funding, and alienated by submission questionnaires and prying questions about identity and the underlying, "What are you?" Red Hen Press seeks to work against the negative politics of labeling while honoring and empowering authors who identify as queer.

Quill will publish literary prose by a queer (LGBTQ) author once per year, chosen by rotating judges through award submissions, with a $5 entrance fee and a minimum of 150 pages. The chosen author will be awarded $1,000 in addition to having their work published by Red Hen Press.

  • Submissions will open June 1, 2016 and close September 15, 2016.
  • Quill Mission: To publish quality literature by queer writers.
  • Guidelines: Prose, minimum 150 pages
  • Deadline: September 15, 2016
  • Submission Fee: $5
  • Award: $1,000 and publication by Red Hen Press
  • Inaugural Judge: Celeste Gainey
  • Submit here.

 

 

OPEN ROAD MEDIA

Open Road Integrated Media is a global ebook publisher and digital content company  that publishes and markets ebooks by legendary authors, including William Styron, Pat Conroy, Alice Walker, James Jones, and Laurie Colwin. Open Road also oversees a network of social websites built around authors, books, and the love of reading. It has now begun to acquire the backlist for digital editions of a number of Britain's greatest writers of the 20th and 21st centuries. These writers include Beryl Bainbridge, Bruce Chatwin, Clare Francis, Patrick Gale, Rumer Godden, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Hammond Innes, and Piers Paul Read.

Open Road also offers an Early Bird special newsletter that allows you to get special prices and even free ebooks, such as a recent ebook of Alice Walker's The Color Purple for $2.99.

See their website.

 

 

 

READ AND LISTEN ONLINE

A Conversation About Keeping Drafts in The Practical Writer with Suzanne McConnell, NancyKay Shapiro, Diane Simmons, and Meredith Sue Willis.
Ed Davis has an insightful piece in his blog about men talking together.
Matthew Neill Null  on literature and West Virginia.
Suzanne McConnell's "Neighbors" is available online from The New Ohio Review and as a podcast.
Burt Kimmelman's article on William Bronk, "Our Anxiety in Reading William Bronk is in Talisman.
Ingrid Hughes's blog includes a report on a journey through serious mental illness.
John Birch, just retiring from a regular column in this newsletter, has been running a blog for the past few years, and it now contains several dozen of his fiction and nonfiction stories, many of which have been published here and there in the U.S. and Europe. See it at John BIrch Live at Blogspot.
Barbara Crooker's poems are updated often on her website.
Check out Cathy Weiss's website for writers and readers: http://www.armoredoxfords.com/
 

 

ANNOUNCEMENTS, BOOKS RECEIVED, CONTESTS, WORKSHOPS, READINGS AND MORE.

On June 11, 2016, at the West Virginia Writers Conference, Cat Pleska presented the JUG Award ("Just Uncommonly Good") to West Virginia's poet Laureate, Marc Harshman, with these words: "Choosing talented poets as laureates is an indication of the value society places on literature. Most states choose laureates, and the nation chooses gifted writers every two years. The state of West Virginia has chosen laureates for a long time, and we have been fortunate in the last few years that our poet laureate, Marc Harshman, diligently and honorably represents his and our respect for literature. Marc is a friend to all, a good man who says and writes beautiful words. His literary arts are prolific, deeply and thoughtfully written, sometimes with a fierce voice in his poems and at other times a gentle voice in his children's books. The depth and breadth of his literary accomplishments are astounding. But ever and always, Marc is someone we can point to proudly as our laureate. West Virginia Writers, Inc. is pleased to award Marc Harshman with its highest award, the JUG, which stands for Just Uncommonly Good.  Because Marc Harshman truly is."
Barry Zack has published his first novel, Jewish Lightning: the Book.
Joan Liebovitz's story"A Bad Day in the Promised Land," has been accepted for publication in Persimmon Tree.
Yorker Keith's novel Remembrance of Blue Roses is featured in the June 1, 2016 issue of the Kirkus Reviews magazine as one of about 40 reviews on Indie Books (independently published books). Fewer than 10% of the reviews are selected to be featured in the magazine (see page 140).
Marc Harshman has a new poetry podcast: Upcoming are Robert Morgan, Jeff Mann, and Maggie Anderson.
Matthew Neill Null's new story collection Allegheny Front is out from Sarabande.

Hamilton Stone Editions-- Now with BUY buttons!
 

 

Summer Special! E-book versions of Meredith Sue Willis's Blair Morgan trilogy $1.99 each! Through July 15, 2016 only! To get the special price, go to http://www.smashwords.com or smply click on the book cover below.  

At checkout, put in the coupon code below (not case sensitive) for each book.

 

HIGHER GROUND Code: REW50 Promotional price: $1.99 Expires: July 15, 2016
ONLY GREAT CHANGES:   Code: GP53X Promotional price: $1.99 Expires: July 15, 2016
TRESPASSERS Code:    SWS50  Promotional price: $1.99 Expires: July 15, 2016

 


 

 

COMING SOON FROM IRENE WEINBERGER BOOKS:

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Also from IRENE WEINBERGER BOOKS:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


A NOTE ABOUT AMAZON.COM
I have a lot of friends and colleagues who really despise Amazon. See the discussion in Issue # 184, as well as older comments from Jonathan Greene and others here.
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.

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 use Bookfinder or Alibris. Bookfinder gives the price with shipping and handling, so you can compare what you’re really going to have to pay.
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.
Still another place to buy books: Ingrid Hughes suggests "a great place for used books which sometimes turn out to be never-opened hard cover books is Biblio.. I've bought many books from them, often for $4 including shipping."

If you are using an electronic reader like Kindle, Nook, or Kobo, don't forget free books at the Gutenberg Project—mostly classics, and free, free, free!
Kobobooks.com sells e-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.
 

 

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           Meredith Sue Willis, the producer of this occasional newsletter, is a writer and teacher and enthusiastic reader. Her books have been published by Charles Scribner's Sons, HarperCollins, Ohio University Press, Mercury House, West Virginia University Press, Monteymayor Press, Teachers & Writers Press, Hamilton Stone Editions, and others. She teaches at New York University's School of Professional Studies.

 

BACK ISSUES:

#185 Monique Raphel High; Elizabeth Jane Howard; Phil Klay; Crystal Wilkinson
#184 More on Amazon; Laura Tillman; Anthony Trollope; Marily Yalom and the women of the French Revolution; Ernest Becker
#183 Hilton Obenzinger, Donna Meredith, Howard Sturgis, Tom Rob Smith, Daniel José Older, Elizabethe Vigée-Lebrun, Veronica Sicoe
#182 Troy E. Hill, Mitchell Jackson, Rita Sims Quillen, Marie Houzelle, Frederick Busch, more Dickens
#181
Valerie Nieman, Yorker Keith, Eliot Parker, Ken Champion, F.R. Leavis, Charles Dickens
#180 Saul Bellow, Edwina Pendarvis, Matthew Neill Null, Judith Moffett, Theodore Dreiser, & more
#179 Larissa Shmailo, Eric Frizius, Jane Austen, Go Set a Watchman and more
#178 Ken Champion, Cat Pleska, William Demby's Beetlecreek, Ron Rash, Elizabeth Gaskell, and more.
#177 Jane Hicks, Daniel Levine, Constance Fenimore Woolson, Ken Chamption, Patricia Harman
#176 Robert Gipe, Justin Torres, Marilynne Robinson, Velma Wallis, Larry McMurty, Charlotte Brontë, Henry James, Fumiko Enchi, Shelley Ettinger
#175 Lists of what to read for the new year; MOUNTAIN MOTHER GOOSE: CHILD LORE OF WEST VIRGINIA; Peggy Backman
#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

 

 
 
 
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