**Books for Readers Archives**

Numbers 46-50

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Newsletter # 46
July 11
, 2003

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 now.

                                                 – 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 enterprise!"



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, and waterfalls.

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.



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."




Newsletter # 47
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 for me.

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 people.")

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



Irene 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."

Edith 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 Divas.


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.



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 site.



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 her idea?

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 krista@readingdivas.com.



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.


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.



Newsletter #48
September 4 , 2003


How 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

I 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?

Price 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!

In the end, however serious or intellectually stimulating a novel is, I believe it should also captivate and delight.

                                                                – Meredith Sue Willis



It 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. )

"The 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.

"The 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."



CONSTANT CRITIC is an online poetry review at: http://www.constantcritic.com/new_reviews.cgi.

Also check out "Recommended Reading" at NARRATIVE MAGAZINE at http://www.narrativemagazine.com/.

JACKET MAGAZINE has an orderly list of 220 reviews of poetry and prose at http://www.jacketmagazine.com/reviews-db/reviews-a.html.


ONE: 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.


Barbara 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.

Elizabeth 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!

Leantha 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.


Newsletter #49
September 22, 2003


Welcome 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 .

Also– 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 Towns.

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.

Much 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.

The 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.

It's 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.

Still, it's a gripping book that offers splendid possibilities for thinking about and focusing discussion on race in America.

                                                                – Meredith Sue Willis



Saturday, 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.


Allan 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 than tolerable...."

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."

Barbara 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 poetry).


Another 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


There's a new love poem by Shelley Ettinger in FACETS at http://www.facets-magazine.com/ettinger.html



Daniela 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.

"Hal 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.



Daniel 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.

Several 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 novel.

ESPECIALLY 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.


If 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.    



Samuel Pepys Diary is still being serialized at http://www.pepysdiary.com.

Poetry Daily offers a poem a day at http://www.versedaily.org/index.shtml.



Newsletter #50
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 ATONEMENT too.

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 ONLINE JOURNAL.

Meredith Sue Willis has a new short short story "Recessional" online at COELECANTH journal.


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 process."


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 poem.

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 bcrooker@ix.netcom.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 Resources, Inc.


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.






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



If a book discussed in this newsletter has no source mentioned, don’t forget your public library and your local independent bookstore.
To buy books online, I often go first to Bookfinder or Alibris.   Bookfinder has a feature that tells you the book price WITH shipping and handling, so you can compare what you’re really going to have to pay.
A lot of people whose political instincts I respect prefer the unionized bricks-and-mortar bookstore Powells (see "About Amazon.com" above) that sells online at http://powellsbooks.com.  Another good source for used and out-of-print books is All Book Stores at http://www.allbookstores.com/ .
Take a look also at Paperback Book Swap, a low cost (postage only) way to get rid of your old books and get new ones by trading with other readers.

If you are using an electronic reader like Kindle, Nook, or Kobo, get free books at the Gutenberg Project-- most classics, and other things as well. Libraries now lend e-books too!




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

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#146 Henry Adams AGAIN!
#145 Henry Adams, Darnell Arnoult, Jaimy Gordon, Charlotte Brontë
#144 Carter Seaton, NancyKay Shapiro, Lady Murasaki Shikibu
#143 Little America; Guns,Germs, and Steel; The Trial
#142 Blog Fiction, Leah by Seymour Epstein, Wolf Hall, etc.
#141 Dreama Frisk on Hilary Spurling's Pearl Buck in China; Anita Desai; Cormac McCarthy
#140 Valerie Nieman's Blood Clay, Dolly Withrow
#139 My Kindle, The Prime Minister, Blood Meridian
#138 Special on Publicity by Carter Seaton
#137 Michael Harris's The Chieu Hoi Saloon;The Professor and the Madman; Game of Thrones; James Alexander Thom's Follow The River
#136 James Boyle's The Creative Commons; Paola Corso, Joanne Greenberg, Monique Raphel High, Amos Oz
#135 Reviews by Carole Rosenthal, Jeffrey Sokolow, and Wanchee Wang.
#134 Daniel Deronda, books with material on black and white relations in West Virginia
#133 Susan Carpenter, Irene Nemirovsky, Jonathan Safran Foer, Kanafani, Joe Sacco
#132 Karen Armstrong's A History of God; JCO's The Falls; The Eustace Diamonds again.
#131 The Help; J. McHenry Jones, Reamy Jansen, Jamie O'Neill, Michael Chabon.
Lynda Schor, Ed Myers, Charles Bukowski, Terry Bisson, The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism
#129 Baltasar and Blimunda; the Underground Railroad; Navasky's Naming Names, new and recommended small press and indie books.
#128 Jeffrey Sokolow on Histories and memoirs of the Civil Rights Movement
#127 Olive Kitteridge; Urban fiction; Shelley Ettinger on Joyce Carol Oates
#126 Jack Hussey's Ghosts of Walden, The Leopard , Roger's Version, The Reluctanct Fundamentalist
#125 Lee Maynard's The Pale Light of Sunset; Books on John Brown suggested by Jeffrey Sokolow
#124 Cloudsplitter, Founding Brothers, Obenzinger on Bradley's Harlem Vs. Columbia University
#123 MSW's summer reading round-up; Olive Schreiner; more The Book Thief; more on the state of editing
#122 Left-wing cowboy poetry; Jewish partisans during WW2; responses to "Hire a Book Doctor?"
#121 Jane Lazarre's latest; Irving Howe's Leon Trotsky; Gringolandia; "Hire a Book Doctor?"
#120 Dreama Frisk on The Book Thief; Mark Rudd; Thulani Davis's summer reading list
#119 Two Histories of the Jews; small press books for Summer
#118 Kasuo Ichiguro, Jeanette Winterson, The Carter Family!
#117 Cat Pleska on Ann Pancake; Phyllis Moore on Jayne Anne Phillips; and Dolly Withrow on publicity
#116 Ann Pancake, American Psycho, Marc Harshman on George Mackay Brown
#115 Adam Bede, Nietzsche, Johnny Sundstrom
#114 Judith Moffett, high fantasy, Jared Diamond, Lily Tuck
#113 Espionage--nonfiction and fiction: Orson Scott Card and homophobia
#112 Marc Kaminsky, Nel Noddings, Orson Scott Card, Ed Myers
#111 James Michener, Mary Lee Settle, Ardian Gill, BIll Higginson, Jeremy Osner, Carol Brodtick
#110  Nahid Rachlin, Marion Cuba on self-publishing; Thulani Davis, The Road, memoirs
#109 Books about the late nineteen-sixties: Busy Dying; Flying Close to the Sun; Looking Good; Trespassers
#108 The Animal Within; The Ground Under My Feet; King of Swords
#107 The Absentee; Gorky Park; Little Scarlet; Howl; Health Proxy
#106 Castle Rackrent; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; More on Drown; Blindness & more
#105 Everything is Miscellaneous, The Untouchable, Kettle Bottom by Diane Gilliam Fisher
#104 Responses to Shelley on Junot Diaz and more; More best books of 2007
#103 Guest Editor: Shelley Ettinger and her best books of 2007
#102 Saramago's BLINDNESS; more on NEVER LET ME GO; George Lies on Joe Gatski
#101 My Brilliant Career, The Scarlet Letter, John Banville, Never Let Me Go
#100 The Poisonwood Bible, Pamela Erens, More Harry P.
#99   Jonathan Greene on 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
   Ingrid Hughes on Memoir
    Boyle, Worlds of Fiction
#63    The Namesame
#62    Honorary Consul; The Idiot
#61    Lauren's Line
#60    Prince of Providence
#59    The Mutual Friend, Red Water
#58    AkÉ,
Season of Delight
#57    Screaming with Cannibals

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