I have not yet finished Azar
Nafisi's READING LOLITA IN TEHERAN, but I was inspired to try one of the
books she discussed– INVITATION TO A BEHEADING by Vladimir Nabokov. Nafisi
is a big fan of Nabokov, but he has never been my favorite– such a high
priest of art, full of an aristocratic playfulness, and all those endless
language games! These are not things that are simpatico to my lower-middle-class
nature. I believe there really are temperamental differences in how individuals
and also classes of people approach the world. Thus, Nabokov has always
made me feel pedestrian, quotidian, and generally too serious. I was raised
in a home where the Word was valued as the place to discover the rules for
living– certainly the Word as it appears in the Bible, but by extension
the word in schoolbooks, in newspapers, and in novels as well.
This is the lead-up to saying
that I was totally blown away by sad, comic INVITATION TO A BEHEADING. There
are a few too many golden hairs on white dancer's calves and tiny plump
hands in elegant gloves and quivering blonde moustaches– but after a few
pages you begin to feel that you have been privileged to enter the dream
of someone with an imagination of truly magnificent vitality. The novel's
storyline follows the psychological tortures leading up to the main character's
ceremony of execution in punishment for the crime of being, it appears,
different from the crowd. It is a bizarrely inspiring and upbeat story.
You have to give yourself over to it– but I'm so glad I did. I guess now
I have to reread and read more Nabokov.
I also read the short story
collection LET THE DEAD BURY THEIR DEAD by Randall Kenan. Like many short
story collections, this one has several knock-outs, some that win on points,
and a few that don't match up. My favorite is the tour de force "This Far;
Or, A Body in Motion," written in the second person, which addresses its
main character, Booker T. Washington in the last months of his life. It's
an interesting and unusual use of fiction to explore some issues– in this
case, the longstanding W.E.B. Dubois/Booker T. Washington debate about the
future of African-Americans. Each story in the collection is told through
the eyes of a different type: one is from the point of view of a trailer-trash
white boy who is used to bring down a successful bi-sexual black man. There's
also a young, heterosexual lawyer with a debilitating history of incest;
a grandmother coming to terms with her beloved grandson's sexuality, and
a whole gallery of other interesting folks. I'll watch for Kenan's work
– Meredith Sue Willis
Ardian Gil writes that he just
finished THE BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN by Wallace Stegner. It is, he says,
the "story of a family from about 1900 to 1932. Interior monologue stunningly
inventive...he even has a closet answering a characters questions. The father
Bo, keeps looking for the big killing, has a bar, then a hotel, then a homestead
in Canada, then becomes a bootlegger, then owns part of a gambling casino
in Reno, then part of a gold mine...all minor successes and ultimate failures.
Not a s complex as ANGLE OF REPOSE or as wrenching as CROSSING TO SAFETY,
but much broader in scope."
Allan Appel thanks us for the
reminder about THE PRINCESS OF CLEVES in Newsletter #45. "It's been on my
list for years, and with a retired emeritus professor of French from Yale
as a father-in-law, there's only so much I can dilly-dally....mmm summer
reading: a term I've never gone for or quite understood. Do people read
more or less in the summer? Do they change their reading habits? I guess
the beach novel is a kind of genre but I don't get that either. ON THE BEACH,
a book I like, is not, of course, something to read on the beach....my summer
reading will be BLEAK HOUSE, which I've avoided many years due to length.
But in rereading some of the essays in Edmund Wilson's THE WOUND AND THE
BOW, I came across Wilson's appreciation of Dickens (the essay is called
‘The two Scrooges' I believe). He calls Dickens the inventor of the ‘group
novel'– that is, a book that explores all of the people around a social
setting, in the case of BLEAK HOUSE, of course, the courts– and has remotivated
me. And, of course, any novel that begins with that first great sentence
about the day being so muggy and cloudy and threateningly bog-like that
it would not be surprising, so goes my poor paraphrase, to see a Megalosaurus
turn the corner near Picadilly....well how can you not go on?"
"Your suggestion about THE PRINCESS
OF CLEVES," says Ingrid Hughes, "looks interesting-- she sounds like Clarissa
-- Richardson's heroine who dies when she loses her ‘virtue'-- her hymen."
Bill Robinson writes to say:
"Enjoy your newsletter, and would like to mention a book, nearly all of
which I found deeply moving, powerful, accurate, honest, and insightful
because I grew up in Atlanta and was involved....I found one brief comment
quite out of line: In GROWING UP KING: AN INTIMATE MEMOIR, by Dexter Scott
King with Ralph Wiley (Warner Books, 2003, page 267) we are told that ‘There
is validity to the statement that integration opened up doors and avenues
that left indigenous home businesses in the lurch. A lot of this has to
do with the fact that some black businesses were not operating competitively.
Free enterprise means competition.' This statement," says Robinson, "I find
downright unfair and unjust to integration. We can not blame integration
that in a two-whole-block area in the next town from where I live [now]
there opened a Home Depot, and in all of the towns around mom-and-pop hardware
stores went out of business. Not Adam Smith nor Karl Marx would blame FREE
DEPARTMENT OF GOOD NEWS
Rochelle Ratner, editor of BEARING
LIFE: WOMEN'S WRITINGS ON CHILDLESSNESS, was interviewed live on WSW Internet
Radio, Total Wellness Radio. You can hear the interview at , or go to Rochelle's website.
Ardian Gill's historical novel
THE RIVER IS MINE about John Wesley Powell's 1869 exploration of the Green
and Colorado Rivers and the Grand Canyon was a finalist in the Independent
Publishers' contest in the fiction historical/military category. It's an
excellent and well-researched adventure story of ten men shooting rapids
and painstakingly carrying heavy wooden boats though cascades, cataracts,
Shelley Ettinger has a new poem
up at Poetz.com.
We mentioned last issue that
a segment of Tom Butler's novel-in-progress has won the Reflections Short
Fiction Award (from REFLECTIONS LITERARY JOURNAL at Piedmont Community College
in North Carolina). The published version will be in the next issue of the
journal, Volume V, due out in late August. You can order a copy by mail
at Reflections Literary Journal, Piedmont Community College, P.O. Box 1197,
Roxboro, NC 27573. (It's $7.) More info on the journal is at: http://www.piedmont.cc.nc.us/Publications/reflections.asp.
KIND WORDS FOR THE MANAGEMENT
Allan Appel says, "I don't think
I told you how much I enjoyed reading your ORADELL AT SEA. Her poignant
and occasionally even tragic naughtiness makes her very memorable; I actually
thought that she was going to seduce the young waiter at the beginning of
the story (unless she did and I missed it!), and I think I was slightly
disappointed she lived so much in her head and did not take such actions
as that with, of course, the consequences. But certainly the alliance of
the very old and the very young is a wonderful theme that you do very interesting
turns with, so thanks again, and I hope the book is making its way out there."
Daniel Hill Zafren has two books,
IN A WORLD WE NEVER MADE and A DOOR NEVER CLOSED, called "scholarly novels."
For more information, go to: http://www.booknote.com/zafren.htm.
Ingrid Hughes reminds us "that
both Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble avoid unions, and do what they can to
keep their labor costs down. Also, they have pushed most independent booksellers
out of business. But they are very convenient, and I too sometimes resort
to them. I try elsewhere first though."
August 1, 2003
We're now in the
damp, hot heart of summer. It was not, apparently, George Eliot's favorite
season. In ADAM BEDE she wrote that it was "... surely not the best time
of year to be born in. Nature seems to make a hot pause just then–all the
loveliest flowers are gone; the sweet time of early growth and vague hopes
is past; and yet the time of harvest and ingathering is not come, and we
tremble at the possible storms...." This is foreshadowing of what is going
to happen between the wealthy birthday boy and a vulnerable young lower
class woman. But, in spite of George Eliot, I still think it's a great time
of year! The vegetable garden is starting to bear, and I've begun to relax
a little– seeing friends, reading, drafting new material– a fecund season
It's also a time
when I finish books that I've been working on for a while, and the one I
want to recommend here is THE MIDDLE EAST AND ISLAMIC WORLD READER edited
by Marvin E. Gettleman and Stuart Schaar. I bought this book at a public
appearance by Professor Schaar. He was an engaging speaker, given to rambling,
amusing anecdotes about his exploits in Tunisa and Algiers. I think, because
he was entertaining and rambling, I was not expecting the book to be so
succinct and serious. It is thoroughly accessible, but not easy. It has
lots of passages of original material (translated of course), but everything
is prefaced and explained and introduced in the way of very good professors:
when you get to the actual documents, you feel smart enough to handle them.
This is not, of
course, a book you gobble up. It's part reference work, ( I expect I'll
be going back to it for years), part text book, and all a well organized
pathway from one important theme to the next. It leads the reader well–
and the underlying meaning of "educate," of course, is to lead out or bring
up. So just as I would start to ask, "What is this Balfour Declaration they
keep talking about?" the Balfour Declaration itself would turn out to be
the next reading. (It's a rather brief 1917 letter– a memo, really– from
the British foreign secretary to a leading Zionist stating the British government's
support of the idea of Palestine becoming a "national home for the Jewish
The book includes
materials by everyone from Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) to the George Bushes
and Osama Bin Laden, from Zbigniew Brzezinski to Brent Snowcroft and Edward
Said, as well as various UN resolutions and passages from the Quran: "Things
beyond your knowledge He has created also." It is a remarkable volume for
getting a little bit of a grip on the Middle East and the Islamic world.
Some of the things that have begun to make sense to me include: how Britain
and France used their victory in the First World War to grab territory from
the Ottoman Empire; some reasons why young Muslim men have turned to radical
Islam rather than, say, socialism; why the vicious Christian versus Christian
wars in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries made separation
of church and state more reasonable to the West than to the Islamic countries.
Americans tend to
dislike history and avoid studying or reading it, and are thus constantly
surprised when history bites them in the ankle. It occurs to me that the
fact so many of us know so little about these things is probably just fine
with our political leaders. Whether or not you ever read this book cover-to-cover,
I highly recommend that you get a copy of it to keep around and turn to
for background when the next appalling and confusing events flash across
the tabloids and television screens.
– Meredith Sue Willis
SUGGEST IONS FOR
Tiersten sends her summer reading recommendation: "Having been a
reader all my life, it's hard to believe that it's only in the last month
that I've begun to read John McPhee's books. I'd read his articles in the
NEW YORKER, but never one of his books. The good part of this previous deprivation
is that now I can look forward to reading his many books. Already read ANNALS
OF THE FORMER WORLD and COMING INTO THE COUNTRY. McPhee is a wonderful stylist,
keen observer, has a terrific ear for dialogue and a droll sense of humor
which includes the subtle - and sometimes not so subtle - use of word play.
Read his books and find out about geology, geography, sociology, psychology,
ethnography, the beauty of nature and human beings."
Konecky says she has been
reading "Rohinton Mistry's FAMILY MATTERS, really good, and Joseph Heller's
GOOD AS GOLD, not very good except for some laughs, which I needed. I've
taken down Nabokov's INVITATION TO A BEHEADING from a shelf and plan to
reread it.... Nabokov was always a great favorite of mine, as soon as I
finish MIDDLESEX, which should be soon."
For more book ideas,
don't forget our friends the Reading
SPECIAL NEWS FOR
The deadline for the next issue of EPIPHANY
MAGAZINE is September 15, 2003. This is the literary magazine of New
York University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies, but it
is open to other writers as well. Send submissions of fiction, poetry, and
nonfiction by snail mail to Willard Cook, Editor, Epiphany, New York University
SCPS 10 Astor Place, #502, New York City, NY, 10003. Before submitting,
take a look at the guidelines.
A cosmetics company offering a poetry contest for women over twenty one?
Real poets for judges? Real money for prizes? Take a look!
For writers in the New York City area, this semester ONLY, you can take
the same exact course Roberta Allen has been
giving for 14 years at The New School in her downtown Manhattan studio for
$100 less! It seems that The New School fouled up its catalog and left her
course "Short Short Stories" out of their listing. The class starts Wednesday,
Sept. 17th. If you are interested, write Roberta
Allen before August 15.
MORE ON ROBERTA
As well as being
a member of the faculty of the New School, Roberta
Allen writes fiction and is a visual artist with work in the collection
of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her books include THE PLAYFUL WAY TO
KNOWING YOURSELF and the especially wonderful THE PLAYFUL WAY TO SERIOUS
WRITING. This self-help writing workbook is full of ways to start writing
including evocative photographs and sketches. For more about Roberta and
her books, visit her web
DEPARTMENT OF GOOD
THE CIRCLE Y, a
collection of fiction edited by Marie Argeris and Lauren Grossman is now
available. Writers represented include the editors, plus Greg Sanders, Robin
Martin, Jonathan Sills, and others. The opening story, "My Happy Faces"
by editor Argeris, is a razor- edged but hilarious story about a woman who
works for an entrepreneurial plastic surgeon. Did the new t.v. show steal
Krista of the Reading
Divas (see above) has a new novel out: DEGAS MUST HAVE LOVED A DANCER. Buy
signed copies from the source by dropping her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
William J. Kearney
of Convent Station, New Jersey has just published a novel, THE LAST CONFESSION.
Bill says that he intended his book to be his tenth screenplay, but "I couldn't
stop writing." THE LAST CONFESSION is a story about the relationship of
three young men of various ethnic groups whose friendship is tested, especially
by the presence of a beautiful young woman. To read an excerpt, click here.
Daniel Hill Zafren's
two books, IN A WORLD WE NEVER MADE and A DOOR NEVER CLOSED, are called
"scholarly novels." For more information, go to: http://www.booknote.com/zafren.htm.
BEST 100 BOOKS
An online publication
called FEMINISTA! has a list of its choices for the 100 best books of the
last century by women at http://www.feminista.com/v2n3/100.html.
September 4 , 2003
did it get to be September? My August was full of personal business and
trips: a vacation in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts; a visit to
my parents in West Virginia; seeing my son off to college in Rhode Island.
It was an emotional roller coaster, with writing, reading, and my first
private online writing class keeping me on an even keel. I try to avoid
nautical metaphors, but I really did feel like a vessel buffeted by the
waves of change this summer.
Notes on a couple of novels I enjoyed: One of the main reasons I read is
to visit different worlds, and the worlds of these books are remarkably
different from each other and from the world as I see it. First I reread
Vladimir's Nabokov's LOLITA, so famous for all the wrong reasons! Nabokov
loves language far more than sex, and the thing that keeps us reading here
is not the titillating descriptions of twelve year old girls and not the
pathetic solipsism of Humbert Humbert. Rather, it is the flow of words–
and the wicked, painful humor. The book also has an excellent ending: however
little you like Humbert in the abstract, in the end, he moves you with a
certain kind of dignity as he tries as best he can to take an interest in
the real Lolita
also read Richard Price's new novel, SAMARITAN, passed on to me by my brother-in-law,
internet guru David Weinberger (see his online
magazine). Price goes down easy, with lots of dialogue and cinematic
vividness. The novel has all the requisite novelistic elements– interesting
characters, a sharp setting, worthwhile themes, but the book centers on
its story, using a highly functional narrative technique of alternating
chapters between ones that work forward from the Big Action and ones that
work toward the Big Action. In only a few places did I get a little impatient–
some of the scenes between the main character Ray Mitchell and his daughter
get somewhat sentimental or at least repetitive, and the major African-American
characters tend to be unreasonably attached to Ray. There are, on the other
hand, some terrific parts for actors of color when they make the movie--
especially women actors, including those who are not necessary long, lean,
and glamorous. Central to the book are questions about doing good– what
kind of change does the main character cause with his efforts to help people?
And what about the cop who is responsible for a family that includes the
demented as well as the poor, the criminal, and the immature?
has of late been setting his novels in a gritty, fictional New Jersey city
called Dempsey that is more or less tucked in around Jersey City. This is
a mild sort of alternative-world writing, but if you really like the idea
of infinite parallel worlds, some similar to ours and some different, try
a book suggested to me by Ed Myers, Philip Pullman's THE GOLDEN COMPASS.
This novel is possibly in the young adult category, but in no way does it
write down to anyone. It is an adventure with a few more battle scenes than
I like, but it has wonderful ideas for a world somewhat like ours, but definitely
different. Human beings, for example, go around with little embodied souls
called "daemons" that are small companions or familiars that change shape
during the human being's childhood, but settle into a single form (a dog,
a monkey, a wolf, an eagle) at adolescence. I love the idea of this little
companion who can whisper information in your ear or warm your hands if
you're cold– I was maybe in the mood for this because my parakeet died this
summer. It's a lot of fun– with a sequel!
the end, however serious or intellectually stimulating a novel is, I believe
it should also captivate and delight.
– Meredith Sue Willis
WHAT THEY ARE READING....
is always interesting to hear what book discussion groups are choosing for
their reading material. The book discussion group of the Summers County
West Virginia Public Library has an interesting list for the coming year.
They are a varied group with good taste in books (I had the great pleasure
of visiting them this past May and listening to them discuss my novel ORADELL
AT SEA!). Their list includes: July–THAT OTHER BOLEYN GIRL by Phillipa Gregory;
August– A MULTITUDE OF SINS by Richard Ford; September– A CONFEDERACY OF
DUNCES by John O'Toole; October– BEL CANTO by Ann Patchett; November– SALT:
A WORLD HISTORY by Mark Kurlansky; December– readings by members; January–
THE CONSTANT GARDENER by John LeCarre; February– FOR THE TIME BEING by Annie
Dillard; March– OF HUMAN BONDAGE by Somerset Maugham; April– THE SUPPER
OF THE LAMB by Robert Farrar Capon (this is their yearly food book); May–
THE LIFE YOU SAVE MAY BE YOUR OWN: AN AMERICAN PILGRIMAGE by Paul Elie.
"A remarkable novel.... THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME
by Mark Haddon. To say that it deserves every encomium on the jacket is
rare praise indeed. The story is that of an autistic adolescent of 15, who
is a genius at math and physics but who cannot understand human emotions
and thus is doomed to navigate his world like a blind man with a tapping
cane, always in a panic he will misstep and fall into an abyss. His discovery
of a neighbor's dead dog, obviously murdered, entices him to emulate his
hero Sherlock Holmes and discover the killer.The
effect of his investigations is to reveal his father's lies and destroy
all the security he has felt (a lie being the one thing he cannot forgive
since he can engage with people only on the most literal terms, utterly
dependent on his trust in what people say. )
remarkable aspect of this novel is the first-person voice--that of a perfectly
rational intelligent mind that cannot comprehend or tolerate the ambiguities,
the pure messiness of human emotion. It is a voice which invades us to the
point of almost complete identification so that we feel with Christopher
all the confusion, the panic, the terror of the unfamiliar and even when
nothing is happening, the all-pervasive anxiety the he is never free from.
His father's lie, occasioned as it is by love for him, threatens his entire
world., the tragedy being that although he recognizes the lie, he cannot
fathom the love.
jacket copy calls it a comedy and a heartbreaker--and it is indeed both.
The wonder is that even though Christopher's voice is limited to the most
basic English, stripped of all metaphor (metaphors are to him nothing more
than another kind of lie), the reader is always aware of the thick fog of
emotions the boy is surrounded by and understands, as Christopher cannot,
the motivations as well as the actions of those nearest to him. Remarkable
how Haddon manages this using only that dry flat monotone of a voice. I
would call it a tour de force except that term always sounds to me like
a begrudging compliment."
SOURCES OF REVIEWS
CRITIC is an online poetry review at: http://www.constantcritic.com/new_reviews.cgi.
check out "Recommended Reading" at NARRATIVE MAGAZINE at http://www.narrativemagazine.com/.
MAGAZINE has an orderly list of 220 reviews of poetry and prose at http://www.jacketmagazine.com/reviews-db/reviews-a.html.
NEWS FOR WRITERS
The deadline for the next issue of EPIPHANY MAGAZINE is September 15, 2003.
This is the literary magazine of New York University's School of Continuing
and Professional Studies, but it is open to other writers as well. Send
submissions of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction by snail mail to Willard
Cook, Editor, Epiphany, New York University SCPS 10 Astor Place, #502, New
York City, NY, 10003. Before submitting, take a look at the guidelines at http://www.epiphanyzine.com/.
TWO: A cosmetics company offering a poetry contest for women over twenty
one? Real poets for judges? Real money for prizes? See http://www.total-effects.com/contest/index.shtml.
DEPARTMENT OF GOOD NEWS AND GOOD READING
Crooker's lively poem about running into Elvis Presley
in the mall was featured by Garrison Keillor on THE WRITER'S ALMANAC August
29 at www.writersalmanac.org.
Winthrop has a new book for children: THE RED-HOT
RATTOONS with drawings by Betsy Lewin. The book is about tap-dancing country
rats in New York City!
Kendrick's new book of poems is SCIENCE IN YOUR OWN
BACK YARD. The poems chronicle her experience with breast cancer.
And Ginny MacKenzie's book of poems SKIPSTONE is
the winner of the 2002 Backwaters Poetry Award.
September 22, 2003
to new Books For Readers readers! If you want to know why I put out this
newsletter, go to the Archived issues #1 and #7 at back issues .
thank you to the subscribers who invited the new readers!
I want to begin this issue with a recommendation for a commercially published
first novel that is the choice for a community-wide discussion where I live.
We call it the Two Towns One Book Discussion, and the two towns in question
are South Orange and Maplewood, New Jersey. These towns share a school system
and a commitment to making integration work. For the second year, a committee
has chosen a book that touches on issues of race in America, and there will
be discussions at libraries and in schools and private groups. For those
of you who live in northern New Jersey and think you might like to attend
some of these programs, you can get details at Two
This year's book is CAUCASIA by Danzy Senna. Published in 1998, it is a
largish novel with a strong story line and lots of narrative momentum. The
narrator is a young girl in a mixed race family in the late 1970's. Her
white mother and black father split up, and because of political circumstances
and a possible crime, the mother takes the narrator, Birdie Lee– who looks
white– underground with her. Meanwhile, Birdie's father takes her sister–
who looks black– out of the country.
of the story is about Birdie's experiences in schools and with people who
make incorrect assumptions about her race. Ultimately, she goes on a quest
to find her father and sister. Some of my favorite scenes in the book are
when Birdie attends a working class New England secondary school. She hangs
out with poor, casually racist teenagers and learns how cruel they can be–
and yet she finds their racism at least open and thus less dangerous than
that of the rich liberals who only talk a good game.
book has some wonderful characters, representing many permutations of race
and reactions to race. For example, the mother of Birdie and her sister
Cole (for Colette, not Coletrane!) is a foul-mouthed Boston Brahmin who
hates her roots yet strides through the world with a sense of confidence
that comes from the class she has rejected. The girls' father is an intellectual
who is presented as almost always right in his ideas but far too often wrong
in his life choices. Less central but no less vivid characters include the
girls' elderly white grandmother who can't quite hide the fact that she
prefers her light skinned granddaughter to her dark one and their father's
girlfriend who doesn't try to hide the fact that she prefers the sister
who looks like a sister.
a thoroughly entertaining book– the one big hole in it for me is what Birdie's
mother did that forced her underground. Political radicals on the run have
become a fairly common type in novels and movies, so one wonders why Senna
chooses– in a novel where she has the space to go beyond generalities– not
to specify the politics or events that led to this part of the novel. And
if she isn't interested in politics, then I wish she had at least answered
Birdie's own question about what her mother really did, and whether or not
she truly had to go into hiding.
it's a gripping book that offers splendid possibilities for thinking about
and focusing discussion on race in America.
– Meredith Sue Willis
TO A MAN OF ACTION
September 20th papers carried obituaries of a great defender of civil rights,
Arthur Kinoy. I wrote about his 1983 memoir RIGHTS ON TRIAL: THE ODYSSEY
OF A PEOPLE'S LAWYER in Issue # 17.
His causes ranged from a last-ditch effort to save the lives of the Rosenbergs,
to inventing legal strategies for fighting for voting rights in Mississippi,
to the defense of all of our rights against unwarranted wire-tapping by
Richard Nixon's White House.
TO NEWSLETTER # 48
Appel writes: "I particularly note your appreciation
of Nabokov, and it mirrors mine, which grows all the time. Just knowing
he's there, without reading him, is inspirational. [I] ...have been searching
out short stories and recently read Nabokov's ‘Spring in Fiala.' It's in
a collection, which you may know of, called YOU'VE GOT TO READ THIS, stories
chosen by notable writers with one criterion: the stories take the respective
readers' breaths away. I forget who chose the Nabokov, but he indeed packs
so much into these few pages ---love, death, humor, nostalgia --- and it's
all powered above all by diction, by words....If it was Babel who famously
said (in his story about translating de Maupassant?) that a period carefully
placed, to paraphrase badly, carries the power of life and death, well,
then, Nabokov carries that through word for word, sentence for sentence,
as well as in the pauses between the words and other units of the story....Have
you seen the film version, not of ‘Spring in Fiala' (!) but LOLITA, with
James Mason? Superb, and last night I couldn't sleep and saw DEADLY AFFAIR,
a Sidney Lumet film in which James Mason plays the hero in a John Le Carre
novel-based film; also worth the time....the words are spoken and the scenes
are framed with the same kind of respect that Nabokov brings to the words
so that the book to film ‘translation' feels honest and the loss is more
Tom Schloegel writes to say that he read "THE
GOLDEN COMPASS (and its two sequels) this summer too. The first half of
the book is the best part of the whole, in my opinion, because of the wonderful
setting -- Lyra, her daemon, the college "townies" and the gyptians. For
another grown-up/YA/fantasy I highly recommend SUMMERLAND by Michael Chabon."
Crooker also writes about THE GOLDEN COMPASS: "Philip
Pullman's book is part of a trilogy...called HIS DARK MATTER, which I thought
was one of the best reads ever, right up there with LORD OF THE RINGS, the
Narnia series, and Susan Cooper's THE DARK IS RISING. I wonder if these
books resonate so much because our times are dark indeed . . . . Mark Haddon's
book THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT is also one terrific book,
and I say this as the mother of a son with autism who's done an enormous
amount of reading in the field. He really got the voice down right, and
did amazing things with a limited narrator point of view. I'm so glad you
called this to everyone's attention." (See below for information on Barbara's
of Barbara Crooker's poems appeared on Garrison Keillor's Writers Almanac
on September 9, 2003– you can read it and also hear it here: http://www.writersalmanac.org/docs/03_09_08.htm
a new love poem by Shelley Ettinger in FACETS at http://www.facets-magazine.com/ettinger.html
POETRY REVIEWS FROM DANIELA GIOSEFFI
Gioseffi writes about new poetry: "These were two collections of poetry
which I read over the summer and enjoyed immensely. Enid Dame's new book
of poems STONE SHEKHINA is such an enjoyable read. Dame's humor is audacious
and wise, kind and painful. Her understanding of Biblical characters and
the psychology of their stories is full of poetic vision. She makes the
old stories fresh and live in her poems. Lilith and Eve, Sarah and Hagar,
Noah and his family are witty incarnations brought to life by Enid Dame's
inventive style. She brings us into their reality and makes it entertaining
as she disclosed their survival tactics with humor and a wry smile.
Sirowitz's new collection MOTHER SAID is a book of poetry for anyone who
has ever had a mother, and that's most of us. The book concerns families
and relationships and offers that dark Jewish New York humor that seems
to sport a taste of horror along with laughter. Though the poems are deceptively
simple, that are all too familiar to anyone of any background, while at
the same time they are brutally funny. We read and weep as we laugh. Then
we contemplate what he said with a wry smile." And don't forget Daniela
Gioseffi's most recent book, WOMEN
ON WAR; International Writings of poetry and prose.
GOOD NEWS ABOUT BOOKS
Kane's WHAT IS POETRY: CONVERSATIONS WITH THE AMERICAN
AVANT-GARDE . WHAT IS POETRY contains a series of interviews with 12 poets
(including John Ashbery, Fanny Howe, Robert Creeley, and Bernadette Mayer)
about their work, accompanied by an introduction to the American avant-garde
tradition, a series of biographies, and an extensive bibliography of primary
and secondary sources.
of E. Lee North's books are available from
Discount Books, Box 422, Brightwaters, N.Y. 11718 : FOR THIS ONE HOUR, a
historical thriller centered in Poland, Germany, and Russia.; THE FIFTY-FIVE
WEST VIRGINIAS, biographies of outstanding persons from all 55 West Virginia
counties are included in a collection of history and exhaustive data offered
in this pictorial edition including biographies of Stonewall Jackson; Robert
Byrd, Jennings Randolph., Jay Rockefeller; Sam Snead, Jerry West, writers:
Pearl Buck, AIberta Hannum, and Mary Lee Settle; THE RHODE ISLAND WONDER
DOG about a dog that could solve math problems; BATTLING THE INDIANS, PANTHERS,
AND NITTANY LIONS, a century of football history; MARK OF THE WHITE WOLF,
an electronic novel about two fugitives; one, a powerful woodsman, the other
a magnificent white wolf; SNOWFLAKES ON THE DON, a electronic historical
FOR WRITERS Sylvia Kramer recommends to writers Sol Stein's books on writing,
especially HOW TO GROW A NOVEL: THE MOST COMMON MISTAKES WRITERS MAKE AND
HOW TO OVERCOME THEM. For some sample advice of Stein's to famous writers,
take a look at http://www.writepro.com/ssadvice.htm.
If you're looking for ideas for jump-starting your writing, I've begun a
page of writing starters– free one-shot exercises for anyone who stumbles
across them. I'm putting them out partly to publicize a class I'll be running
(for a fee) in January, but also in the spirit of the Internet as a place
for exchange and discovery. You can find them (and I'll be adding more from
time to time) at Writing Exercises.
WRITERS IN AND AROUND NEW YORK CITY:
you're looking for an excellent teacher, I can recommend Suzanne McConnell,
who has a long list of credentials as a writer and teacher and is beginning
a private, reasonably priced class on ten Tuesday evenings starting October
14, 2003 in the west 23rd Street area. For information, call 212-620-4196.
Pepys Diary is still being serialized at http://www.pepysdiary.com.
Daily offers a poem a day at http://www.versedaily.org/index.shtml.
October 15, 2003
I don't try to keep up with the
latest novels, depending on friends for suggestions for books in the last
five years. Evelyn Codd, for example, told me I had to read ATONEMENT by
Ian McEwan. She says that everyone she knows adores the book- from her college
student daughter to her college professor husband to all of her sisters
and friends. I wanted to be different and not like it, but here I am recommending
In the best tradition of Big
Novels, it has a large cast of characters, and covers a broad span of time
(1935 to 1999) that encompasses some wonderful historical material, in particular,
a soldier's eye view of the British retreat at Dunkirk and the bloody aftermath
in the hospitals in London that received the soldiers.. It also has a wonderful
moral center around a single important action that changes lives.
The novel also has some touches
of meta-fiction-- for example, an important character who is putatively
the writer of the novel we're reading speaks in her own voice in the final
section and hints at having played with the ending. But McEwan uses his
modernist and post modernist techniques not- in the end- as commentary on
the art of narrative, but in the service of story telling. So what really
matters is what Briony sees, or thinks she sees, and the ramifications of
that into the future. Simultaneously what matters is how history shapes
our lives and personal catastrophes, and how aging and disease further modulate
what history and our personal decisions leave us with.
And, now, just for something
completely different- I'd like to suggest that you keep an eye open for
Mary Gabriel's biography of Victoria Woodhull, NOTORIOUS VICTORIA. It's
worth reading for anyone but especially for those with an interest in 19th century history or New York City history or women's history. It covers the
most public years of Woodhull's life, the post Civil War period, when she
and her sister were at the center of every movement from Women's rights
to spiritualism to fighting for the eight hour day for working people. It
uses lots of quotes from periodicals and speeches and includes Woodhull's
involvement in the famous Henry Ward Beecher-Tilton scandal, in which the
extremely successful pastor of a fashionable Brooklyn church is accused
of an affair with one of his parishioners. Beecher, of course, was the baby
brother of the author of UNCLE TOM'S CABIN, and the admirable but conventional
Harriet Beecher Stowe thoroughly hated Victoria Woodhull.
Most striking to me were (a)
that Woodhull's origins were lower class, and thus her story is about someone
who, without much initial investment in the system, scrambles to the top
as best she can, and (b) that her ideas were incredibly modern. Victoria
Woodhull most consistently fought to free women from economic and sexual
slavery, but she wanted a fair shake for everyone. She worked hard, too,
supporting an extensive family that included an "imbecile" son she had in
her teens, her largely-crooked father "Buck" Claflin, her probably insane
mother, and her drunken first husband. She was remarkably loyal to people
in her life, and had a clear-eyed view of the major flaws in the social
system. In later years, she lost her wealth, then married a rich Englishman,
outlived him, motored around Europe and England, and with her daughter founded
a school- altogether a complex and wonderful life, a delight to read about!
As usual, there is too much great
stuff to read, but even so, please keep sending me your suggestions!
– Meredith Sue Willis
THINGS TO READ ONLINE Barbara
Crooker has two new poems on the DREXEL
Meredith Sue Willis has a new
short short story "Recessional"
online at COELECANTH journal.
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
Pat Arnow ( http://arnow.org)
likes this quotation from Laura Miller in the NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW,
"The Great Books Workout," Sept. 7, 2003: ". . . I can't say I've seen much
evidence to support the notion that reading is good for us. Some of the
most voracious readers I know are also some of the most rigid thinkers.
An individual can be remarkably insensitive to the feelings of others despite
having studied stacks of great novels. As in the case of Emma Bovary, reading
can even spoil your appetite for real life. There's not much indication,
either, that reading substantially improves anyone's character—in fact,
it often seems to have the opposite influence. Nor does it sweeten the disposition.
The imperious Harold Bloom could well serve as Exhibit A to that effect,
which may be why I like his take on reading best. 'The pleasures of reading
indeed are selfish rather than social,' he writes in How to Read and Why.
If great books enlarge us, we also find such 'augmentations' enjoyable.
Solitary pleasure is finally the only real reason for reading, which makes
it sound more like a vice than a virtue. Now if we can only convince everyone
else of that, it might really catch on."
Belinda Anderson offers this
from novelist Kevin McIlvoy: "The writing I most value - and envy - is that
in which the author's visceral commitment to the fictional character is
complemented by her/his conscious artistry. I believe that at every stage
in a writer's career the first must take precedent over the second in order
for the work to have moment-by-moment integrity and intensity. The reason
for perfecting technique is not to become more invulnerable as a writer,
but in order to consciously invite greater vulnerability into your own writing
MORE BOOKS— POETRY AND PROSE
Kevin McIlvoy, quoted above,
has published four novels, all "worthy reads" says Belinda Anderson: A WALTZ
(Lynx House Press, 1981), THE FIFTH STATION (Algonquin Books,1987 and Collier
Macmillan, 1989), LITTLE PEG (Atheneum, 1991), and HYSSOP (October 1998,
TriQuarterly Books, October 1999, Avon/Bard).
Phyllis Moore suggests "three
extra-good recent books by/or including West Virginians: LIKE THE MOUNTAINS
OF CHINA, poetry of Eddie Pendarvis of Huntington, CRACKPOTS: A NOVEL by
Sara Pritchard of Morgantown, and LISTEN HERE: WOMEN WRITING IN APPALACHIA,
edited by Sandra L. Ballard and Patricia L. Hudson (includes many of the
best writers of WV and Appalachia). These books are ‘keepers' as far as
I'm concerned." Department of Truth-in-Advertising from MSW: I have a story
in LISTEN HERE, as do a number of people I know and respect!
More West Virginia Writers: Kate
Long's wonderful Public Radio series on West Virginia Writers (including
Richard Currey, Jayne Anne Phillips, Denise Giardina, Stephen Coonts, Davis
Grubb and many others) is now available on CD– write to the West Virginia
Library Commission at 1900 Kanawha Blvd. East, Charleston, WV 25305.
Naomi Replansky's THE DANGEROUS
WORLD: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS, 1934-1994 is not a new book, but it is an
extremely good one— Replansky's first book of poems was nominated for the
National Book Award– all the way back in 1952! If you haven't heard of her,
give her work a try. Two college freshmen,
Jacob Winkler at Swarthmore and
David Johnston at Rutgers, have published a joint book of book of poetry,
THE WATER WILL NOT VANISH. Take a look at a sample
Also, don't forget Daniela Gioseffi's
most recent book, WOMEN ON WAR: INTERNATIONAL WRITINGS OF POETRY AND PROSE.
If you enjoyed Garrison Keillor
reading Barbara Crooker's "Ordinary Life," the book of the same name won
the ByLine Chapbook contest a few years ago. There are only about twenty
copies left (like THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT, it has a
theme about autism), available from Barbara at email@example.com
For people who enjoy history,
columnist Gerald Swick recommends a new book from John C. Waugh, ON THE
BRINK OF CIVIL WAR: THE COMPROMISE OF 1850 AND HOW IT CHANGED THE COURSE
OF AMERICAN HISTORY for "anyone who wants a better understanding of the
issues that ultimately led to civil war. It's informative and, as always
with Waugh's books, very readable." The book is part of The American Crisis
Series about the Civil War era, published by SR Books, an imprint of Scholarly
ESPECIALLY FOR WRITERS
If you're looking for ideas for
jump-starting your writing, I've begun a page of writing starters– free
one-shot exercises for anyone who stumbles across them. I'm putting them
out partly to publicize a class I'll be running (for a fee) in January,
but also in the spirit of the Internet as a place for exchange and discovery.
You can find them (and I'll be adding more from time to time) at Writing