In this issue, Guest Editor Eva Kollisch gives us an interesting
review of G.W. Sebald's novel, AUSTERLITZ. Then, thanks to those
who wrote with their responses about their reading habits.
Also, a reminder– I'm offering a three session online writing
class for people writing novels, memoirs and other kinds of
prose. For detailed information and how to enroll, go to http://meredithsuewillis.com/julyhigh.html , but note that enrollment is extremely limited, and no applications
will be accepted after June 30, 2005. The class will close earlier
if it fills up.
I am getting more
and more frustrated, reading G.W. Sebald's AUSTERLITZ. All that
meticulous evocation of buildings, objects, railroad stations,
streets, artifacts, to create the feeling of loss, nostalgia,
the sense of suffocation among so much past. And always the
sense of mystery. Where did all that vanished life go, where
did those train trips lead to: Later you learn, if you haven't
already guessed it: to the death camps and exile. Loss of memory;
the small boy, saved by a Kindertransport but uprooted, his
history repressed, growing up in a windy, desolate place in
Wales, in the home of a puritanical minister .And then the "discovery."
He is not the child of the minister, his name is "Austerlitz"–
he is not British but European to his bones. For decades there
was his learned, restless searching and traveling to various
countries in Europe, – searching for what? When he is already
in his 60's, he discovers in ways that are quite shadowy, that
he is a Jew born in Prague, torn up by his roots and sent to
Britain at age five. His mother was a beautiful actress, his
father a trade union organizer and socialist. He was loved by
both but raised by a wonderful "nanny." His parents, he learns,
have both perished during the holocaust.
He meets his mother's
best friend, Vera, (not Jewish), the "nanny", who all these
years has continued to live in Prague, in the old apartment
of his parents (without a life of her own, cast into the role
of the "confidante," as in the French tragedy, or like the shepherd
who harbors the hidden child in a Greek tragedy and knows his
identity. Vera, not your typical "nanny", but an educated woman,
a linguist, has in the most exquisitely sensitive way raised
A. until the age of five.
The urgent yet curiously
affectless words of the protagonist, Austerlitz, are transmitted
through the respectful, courteous voice of a narrator, about
whom we know nothing except that he is 5 or 10 years younger
than Austerlitz, a German living in Britain, also some kind
of academic and exile who is fascinated by the protagonist..
When A. finally has his great recognition scene, stumbling into
awareness of his identity, in Prague, through the encounter
with Vera, the pace quickens, Austerlitz is articulate but still
emotionally numb, as he recounts Vera's words to the narrator–Vera,
the only warm, "feeling" presence in the book.
A good deal of awkwardness
goes with this mode of telling the story. The narrator frequently
has to inject, "said Austerlitz," in order to distance the first
narrator even further from the reader, but now, with the encounter
with Vera, he is forced to say, "as Austerlitz said Vera said."
I could put up with this if I thought that the long postponement
of Austerlitz ‘s coming to know his identity is necessary: he
is highly educated, he travels extensively in Europe, but his
repression of the past seems to be so deep (yet psychologically
not accounted for since he is only a "voice," not a character)
that he knows nothing, can bear to know nothing of the Holocaust.
This in the 1990's. when he is already, as I have said, over
sixty years old.
And what is the
point of all this? Sebald is not a Jew . He was born in Germany
in 1945, about five years after the birth of the fictive character
"Austerlitz." The story of being taken into the home of a strict
god-fearing minister who denies him all knowledge about his
identity, is based on an actual story of a little girl brought
over to Britain...on a Kindertransport, and taken into the home
of a...minister and his wife; the child discovers her identity
only as a young woman: she is a Jew, uprooted from a small town
in Germany, to which she later returns to pick up the pieces.
No acknowledgment of this source is given by Sebald.. In the
actual story there is a sexual motive, for revealing nothing
about her identity: it is the minister's emotional /sexual attachment
to the young girl. In the case of Austerlitz, no motivation
for the secretiveness of the minister is given. (He is a cold
but rather decent man. Perhaps he just didn't know anything
about Austerlitz's origins.) More implausible is the fact that
Austerlitz, traveling all over Europe on his many voyages of
research, somehow manages to avoid Germany and Czechoslovakia,
without a word of explanation given. (It turns out that his
mother tongue was Czech., both his parents were Francophiles,
Vera spoke only French to the young boy whose first name he
learns, is "Jacques".
In other words there
is too much contrived and not explained in terms of realism
and plausibility, neither have I yet been able to discover a
psychological or metaphysical basis for telling the story this
G.W. Sebald has
been compared to Proust–I suppose in the sense of the "recherche
du temps perdu.." But whereas Proust is able to imaginatively
return to that "lost" time which he evokes it with great poetic
sweep as well as with the finest psychological and historical
minutiae, Sebald, or I should say his fictive protagonist, "Austerlitz"
recoils from the past and can only in the most haphazard and
unilluminating way uncover parts of it– the parts that have
been public knowledge to everybody else in our century for a
The refined dreary
tone and drone (even in its poetic moments) of the narrator's
voice, withholding of all emotion, – all passion spent– a voice
filtered through two narrators, does not bring us (or him) closer
to the past; it adds to its irretrievably elusive distance.
Sewald transmits a sense of ennui and impotence and vagueness
(coupled with a collector's obsessiveness) in everything I have
read by this author– it is a world weary sadness, which I am
sure, is connected with being German and with the Holocaust.
But I sense self pity in it, as well as some form of self-aggrandizement,
the way he forces himself on this material , which has been
so well served by others who have actually witnessed and suffered
through these events.
Sebald has received
a great deal of admiration in this country. He is seen as the
great post-modern European writer, but I think his reputation
is inflated: his learned, distanced, allusive voice and his
often inscrutable plots – accompanied by the insertion of some
inscrutable amateur snapshots of places and people, may have
impressed, puzzled, and intimidated some of his readers and
critics. Maybe there are also other reasons for this Sebald
cult which have escaped me. Boring, is the word some of my students
would use, if they didn't fear they would reveal themselves
as "boors". So I'll say it on their behalf: boring.!
Arlene "Patsy" Bricken writes: "Enjoy your BookNewsLetters, look forward to them &
thank you very much. Am still ‘reading' & as am in my 80's –
read any time of day or night that I'm not trying to write or
am running errands for my dogs. Read fiction mostly – novels
and short stories in NEW YORKER and Lit Mags like MISSOURI REVIEW,
PLOUGHSHARES, OTHER VOICES etc. Also essays in N. YORKER, NY
REVIEW OF BKS. Coincidence: just finished THE END OF THE AFFAIR,
enjoyed it but not passionately and didn't ask myself Why. Am
now in middle of Stegner's CROSSING TO SAFETY and am as wrapped
up in it as I was with MIDDLEMARCH & its ilk in my salad days.
"You asked about
reading habits in the newsletter," writes Barbara
Cohen, "and that made me start thinking about my own
reading patterns. As a child I read voraciously and purely for
escape. Whether I was immersed in a story by Elizabeth Enright
or Edward Eager or whether I was deeply into the fairy tale
world of the Grimm brothers or Andrew Lang, I read in order
to be part of another time and place, a different reality. I
read the same books over and over again, like visiting with
friends, only I spent much more time with books than I did with
"I continued reading
all through high school, and of course I was an English major
in college. I had no concept that reading could lead to any
sort of future occupation, I just wanted to keep on reading
and talking about books. I liked English courses because they
saturated you with a particular author or period; I'd always
been a binge reader who would get hooked on William Faulkner
or Charles Dickens and have to read everything he wrote, one
book after another, like an addict who can't stop. Then I went
to graduate school in English Literature. My friends and I spent
hours discussing characters from novels by Jane Austen or Virginia
Woolf with the same relish we applied to analysis of our classmates
have changed in the last ten years, maybe the result of marriage
and motherhood. I read fiction less and less, find fewer authors
whose work is compelling. Most of my reading now is history,
biography, and creative nonfiction. In recent years I've enjoyed
SOULS ON FIRE, Elie Wiesel's account of the early Hasidic masters;
THE NAPOLEON OF CRIME, about the Victorian era's most infamous
thief, Adam Worth (by Ben Macintyre); and have just completed
a biography of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, by Amanda Foreman.
These are all great works of nonfiction, as fascinating and
intricate as novels. I suppose in the end, I simply love a good
story and read to find a satisfying tale."
Writes Phyllis Moore: "The current newsletter (#70) is extra
interesting. I'm glad your mom is having some reading time.
Let me say, if I don't get to read on a regular basis I'm not
fit to live with. My time to read has traditionally been from
8-11 PM. However, retirement gives me daytime hours, which I
treasure. Now I often read a couple of hours in the morning.
My preference: nonfiction, history, biography, memoir, and poetry.
I'm too picky to enjoy much fiction. I often read the first
two pages of books and then the ending before settling-in to
read it in its entirety and once read a required novel backwards.
It was more interesting that way."
Phyllis also reports
on "Recent audios: bio of Virginia Woolf; CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES;
A FAREWELL TO ARMS. Recent books: IGNATIUS RISING: THE LIFE
OF JOHN KENNEDY TOOLE; THE POETRY HOME REPAIR MANUAL; FIRE FROM
THE FLINT: THE AMAZING CAREER OF THOMAS DIXON; and a glorious
book of poetry by West Virginia's Cheryl Denise (Miller) of
Philippi, I SAW GOD DANCING....I think you'd especially like
Cheryl's poetry. She's a member of West Virginia's small community
of Mennonites and also a registered nurse, quite young and lovely.
Her poetry is sensual, honest, artistic, and offers a unique
perspective of many facets of life....We are having company
and (since I spent the AM reading) I'm late getting dinner on
the move!" Adds Phyllis later (maybe after dinner?): "Another
peculiar reading habit I share with many, I like to have about
4 books in progress at a time. They are usually in different
locations in the house, car, etc. Like ‘Rainman,' I don't want
to be book-less. Unlike Rainman, reading the telephone book
is not quite good enough and I would not be able to memorize
IF YOU'RE GOING TO BE IN NEW YORK CITY– OR CLARKSBURG, WEST
There will be a reading
and book party, sponsored by O.W.N. (Older Women's Network)
to celebrate the publication of Edith
Konecky's VIEW TO THE NORTH (Hamilton Stone Editions).
It will take place on Thursday, May 19th, 2005, 3.30 - 5.30
P.M., at Westbeth Community Room. (155 Bank St., between Washington
and West Street).
Hawk Press is having its Book Launch reading for spring
titles: SOMEHOW by Burt Kimmelman,
SKINNY EIGHTH AVENUE by Stephen Paul Miller,
and WATERMARK by Jacquelyn Pope.
The event takes place on Wednesday, May 25, 2005 at 7:00 pm
at Teachers & Writers Collaborative 5 Union Square West New
York, NY 10003-3306.
Sunday, June 12,
2005 is the "Three at Three" reading at Waldomore, Clarksburg-Harrison
County Public Library. This free reading/celebration features Cheryl Denise, Anna Egan Smucker,
and Susan Sheppard.
Susan Sheppard has
been awarded the 2005 Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Writing Award
from the Poetry Society of Virginia. Sheppard's poem "Black
Swan" won First Place in the competition and she also received
honorable mention in the Fred Chappell Poetry Writing Award
category. Her recent books include Cry of the Banshee: History
& Hauntings of West Virginia & the Ohio Valley, and the
truly scary novel The Gallows Tree: A Moth Man's Tale.
Eva Kollisch notes
that W. G. Sebald wrote in German and was translated into English,
which is how she read AUSTERLITZ. "It is very difficult now
to get German books here. But one of the books I want to tell
you about IS in German (untranslated.) A big fat book of journal
writing by Christa Wolf. She kept a journal on one day a year
(September 27th) from 1960 -2000. The book fittingly is called,
ONE DAY OF THE YEAR. You learn a great deal about her personal
life, her writing life, and the politics of the GDR with which
the first two are richly intertwined. I'm reading it slowly
because I want to l i v e that one day a year with her."
The Academy of American
Poets' website has a map of the U.S. where you click on a state,
and get linked to organizations and events about poetry! It's
at http://www.poets.org/map .
PLACES TO SUBMIT
These thanks to
poet Ellen Bass for
SILK CREEK REVIEW
is a new on-line Zine "of arts and letters" looking for submissions
of poetry, prose, art, and photography relating to nature or
the spirit of nature. It is now accepting submissions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paste submissions into the message or send jpegs of art and
photography as attachments. Write Submission in the subject
and the submission name.
BloodrootZ is another
new on-line zine that looks for submissions of quality work
in any genre that will display on-line. Write them at email@example.com.
features a true story from World War Two from novelist
Bill Robinson. Bill's memory was jogged by mention in
Newsletter # 70 of a book called IN OUR HEARTS WE WERE
GIANTS about a family of Jewish dwarfs in Romania. Co-incidentally,
I just read the popular World War II novel with a dwarf
for a main character, STONES FROM THE RIVER. But first,
Bill Robinson's war story....
ou have sparked
a comment from me with the last issue of your newsletter.
Just before the end of WWII, my Third Army outfit was in the
Black Forest in Bavaria, moving toward the Czech border in
convoy, and out of drinking water for a week or two. There
was water there but you couldn't drink it because of dead
German soldiers, etc. in it. But we were fortunate enough
to come upon a house with a basement vat of something we knew
not–but drinkable. The part of the vat where there would have
been faucets had been buried in a cave-in from a bombing,
so we cut a hole in the floor, down into the vat, and filled
a truck with five gallon cans of whatever it was. Our best
guess, some type of German champagne. And each of us had his
own five gallon can to wash, shave, whatever.
The only problem
with the stuff was the hangovers, which soon began to be accompanied
We were moving
along off-road because the bridges were all destroyed and
the roads were in bad shape, trying to find our way to the
east among hills and mountains, frankly quite lost, probably
crossing our own tracks more than once in the rain, day and
night and with nothing clean to collect it in. Finally the
sun came out and we found a little path of a road that took
us through a village were houses were about six or eight feet
tall, and the people were about half that. And we kept on
going having all settled it individually in our minds that
the village and the people were a result of what we were drinking,
until the village was about an hour behind us, and we stopped
and got out of our trucks and spoke to each other and found
out that we had all had the same identical hallucination.
Years later, I
met Gunter Grass, told him this story, and he said that he
knew where we were. That early under Hitler, the Little People
in show business and night clubs realized that they had no
future under Hitler, and hid out in the Black Forest and built
themselves a village, protected by the local administration,
and never found by the Nazis.
I saw a wonderful novel in this, and made various efforts
to get my hands on information about it, including becoming
a card-carrying Little Person of America, with their organization
questioning East German and West German organizations, about
the village. Finally the West German organization asked Gunter
Grass what was it he had told Robinson, and he shut his mouth.
I am still trying to find that village. Currently a Maplewood
opera singer living there (because with gray hair tenors don't
get regular work in New York) is working on the problem for
We did get to the Czech border, and our lead jeep crossed
over and returned with a barrel of beer. We were lying on
the ground, drinking from a hose, chasing that bad champagne
out our bodies, when they came and told us the war was over.
leads me to comment briefly on Ursula Hegi's STONES FROM
THE RIVER. This was recommended to me by members of a book
reading group I visited at the end of May (see below).
The heroine of STONES FROM THE RIVER is a young woman named
Trudi, who is a dwarf. The novel is gripping, if a bit on
the long side– occasionally what I would call undisciplined,
although always richly written. Trudi the Zwerge is a really
fine character, and the details of life in her small German
town before, during, and after the Second World War is worth
the price of admission alone: what people ate, the lending
library that is Trudi's family business, the careful delineation
of the difference between enthusiastic Nazis and Germans
who are afraid to oppose authority. The various Jewish characters
are equally diverse in their reactions to events. There
is a Catholics versus Protestants thread. The story adds
more and more local characters and often their whole life
stories. It is good news to me that a rangy, old-fashioned
novel like this one can still be a best seller.
I also just
read (twice) A SUNDAY AT THE POOL IN KIGALI because Alice-Robinson
Gilman and I presented the book as a talk at our local Ethical
Culture Society (http://www.essexethical.com). The author,
Gil Courtemanche, is a Canadian journalist, and he insists
in a preface that the characters in his book, even their
names, are factual. It is set in the days before and after
the genocide in 1994 in Rwanda, and it is not an easy book
to confront. The parts I take to be nonfiction (public events,
various personal stories recounted to the main character)
are superior in my opinion to the slightly sentimental love
story which is the fictionalized part (or so I surmise).
One of the great strengths of this book is how it both personalizes
the enormity of events that largely reached the American
public as a blur of horror and also touches efficiently
on some of the background and history of the events. In
particular, it is fascinating to learn about the careful
propaganda and preparation that the perpetrators of the
genocide made– the Rwandan genocide was not some wild upsurge
of barbarism, but rather carefully planned, organized, and
prepared. It was, indeed, a sort of low-tech Holocaust.
Anyhow, I recommend the book as one way into that painful
is a new novel by Marie Myung-Ok Lee about a young adopted
girl who leaves Minnesota to visit Korea and look for her
birth mother. The parts in the girl's voice seem a little
too flip at the beginning, but soon there is an excellent
balance between the girl's story and sections about the
birth mother and her life. I found myself quite convinced
of that Korean world, and once the reader feels the reality
of that world and the woman's small but not unsatisfying
life in it, then the daughter's voice clearly becomes a
girl's protective device. The novel also portrays an interesting
variety of east-west characters and relationships: there
is an American college student with Korean parents, raised
in the U.S., who calls the main character a Twinkie–yellow
on the outside, etc.; there is a boy whose mother was Korean
but his father western; there is the mother's memory of
her own east-west love affair. Race is far more complicated
in this novel than it seems at first. The ending is a satisfying
disappointment, if that makes sense–you hope that these
two splendid women will get exactly what they want, but
what they get instead is something less that is convincingly
real. It is good news that Marie Myun-Ok Lee, who has published
young adult fiction in the past, has expanded her repertoire
to include us older folks!
Also, I read
A SOLDIER'S DAUGHTER NEVER CRIES by Kaylie Jones. This is
a nice novel-memoir by the accomplished Kaylie Jones, whose
father was novelist James Jones (FROM HERE TO ETERNITY).
The main character's family are expatiates, bohemian and
fascinating. There is a nice conflict between the main character
and her adopted brother, and lots of colorful neurosis.
The adults all drink too much. One of the unusual things
about this book is how love, which is amply present here,
is not enough to stop anyone from making bad decisions.
The book also has an interesting ending, which is a substantial
English version of a diary written in French by the teenaged
birth mother of the adopted brother. I thought at first
that this was going to be a big mistake–to go off into an
entirely different character who has made only the briefest
appearance previously, but the gamble pays off and opens
the story to a bigger world. All in all, this is a book
with a more interesting exit strategy that ninety per cent
of what I read.
Finally, in my
latest small fad, I've been reading some odds and ends of
American history: THE NEGRO PRESIDENT by Garry Wills purports
to be about Thomas Jefferson but is really more about his
abolitionist nemesis, Thomas Pickering. Jefferson and his
party don't come out looking too good here–depending for
access to power on the infamous count of un-enfranchised
slaves as 3/5 of a vote, which thus increases the power
of the Southern states.
After some technical
difficulties, the ETHICAL REVIEW OF BOOKS is up at a new
The lead review is mine of NO LONESOME ROAD about poet activist
Don West, edited with supplementary material by George Brosi
and Jeff Biggers.
TO "HOW DO WE READ?"
writes, "One of your recent newsletters really got me to
thinking about how I, too, often save pleasure reading until
I'm too worn out to really enjoy it and benefit from it.
I'm trying to rethink how I might change that habit."
Ardian Gill just
returned from Italy ("Padua–marvelous Giottos") and Venice.
He responds to Newsletter #71: "I'm reading [Wallace] Stegner
at the moment: THE SPECTATOR BIRD and ALL THE LITTLE LIVE
THINGS. It resonates with me as the narrator (same in both
books) is an older man dealing with his past and with his
current ills, including relationships, death and just coping.
He's a bit crotchety, which resonates as well, and he's
very talkative. These aren't as complex as CROSSING TO SAFETY
and THE ANGLE OF REPOSE, but they're a good read."
READING GROUP LIST
A group of New
Jersey readers who have been meeting for ten years shared
their book list for 2005 with me. They honored me by reading
one of my novel and by inviting me in to hear their discussion.
Their 2005 list includes READING LOLITA IN TEHERAN, Azar
Nafisi; MOON TIGER, Penelope Lively; THE LOVE OF A GOOD
WOMAN, Alice Munro; THE GOOD EARTH, Pearl Buck, ORADELL
AT SEA, Meredith Sue Willis; STRAPLESS, Deborah Davis, KAATERSKILL
FALLS, Allegra Goodman, SISTERHOOD OF SPIES, McIntosh, COMFORT
ME WITH APPLES, Ruth Reichl, and THE SHIP OF FOOLS, Cristina
There are several
new subscribers with this issue of BOOKS FOR READERS,
so first of all, Welcome New Readers! This newsletter is a place for reading ideas that go beyond
what is being reviewed in the major media. I am interested
in material that is old, new, light, serious, hardcopy
and online. I depend on readers to supplement my suggestions–
and to give me ideas for my personal reading! So please
tell me what you're reading, whether it is junkfood for
the mind, old classics, or some experimental site online.
hit the Reply button– you actually have to write me
an e-mail at MSueWillis@aol.com.
want news about you– especially publication news,
but I'll consider your grand-daughter's
piano recital as well. I'll include appropriate links
in the online version of the newsletter. Don't
forget, you may read this when it comes to you by
e-mail, or go online for live links and occasional
to me that summer is winding down– the grass is crisp
from lack of rain and the cicadas are out there singing
their love songs. My vacation is over, as is the Appalachian
Writers Workshop in Hindman, Kentucky, where
I taught short story writing. This is a wonderful
workshop for writers– highly serious while maintaining
a non-hierarchical family feeling. There I met and/or
reconnected with a whole raft of terrific poets and
prose writers who were on staff with me– Marie Bradby,
David Dick, Joyce Dyer, Leatha Kendrick, Dr. Jack
Higgs, Silas House, George Ella Lyon, Lee Maynard,
Mark Powell, Rita Quillen, Barbara Smith as well as
George and Connie Brosi of APPALACHIAN HERITAGE. There
was a 40th anniversary celebration of Jonathan Greene
(see some of his poems at http://www.oysterboyreview.com/issue/18/GreeneJ-poems.html)
and his Gnomon Press. Jonathan's wife Dobree Adams
was there too (see some of her fiber
art) and poet-photographer Ann
Olson. As well as these folks, I met
many wonderful participant writers who may be less
published than the staff, but are no less dedicated
to craft and writing. Here are two of their blogs: Fred
B. First's and Sherry
of interest to me was how many people this year were
studying memoir with Joyce Dyer (see photo). She is
a professor and scholar as well as well as a memoir
writer. Her first memoir was IN A TANGLED WOOD: AN
ALZHEIMER'S JOURNEY, and she also edited a lovely
collection of essays about place by Appalachian women
writers, BLOODROOT. (Caveat emptor: I'm in
it). Her latest book, which I just finished, is GUM-DIPPED:
A DAUGHTER REMEMBERS RUBBER TOWN.
is an interesting combination of the history of Akron,
Ohio, its relationship to the Firestone Tire Company,
and an intense portrait of Dyer's father, who loved
about equally his wife, his daughter, and the Company.
It is an extremely good book, although you may need
a little patience at the beginning as Dyer accumulates
her data. She believes in research as an aid to memory
as well as a journey of discovery in itself, and in
this book she accumulates a lot of information about
the rubber business (her father worked many years
in reclamation of rubber tires). Soon, though, it
becomes apparent that the trajectory of the story
is about the rise and fall of both company and the
man who devoted himself to it. As the book goes on,
the history and the personal story become powerfully
entwined and necessary to each other. The shocking
turn is that the Company rejects her father. You get
a sense of what it really means when a big company
dominates a town (or a country) and a sense of how
downsizing and lay-offs affect the human beings they
happen to. In this case, Dyer's father probably becomes
a better man after his demotion– he rejoins the union,
making common cause with other people, and he takes
on the challenging care of Dyer's mother. This is
one of those not-common-enough books that gets stronger
as it goes along. I don't know when I've ever read
a better interweaving of the public and the personal,
which is, in the end, what life is really about.
some short notes on more of my summer reading:
SEEN THE MOON: THE TRIALS OF EDITH MAXWELL by Sharon
Hatfield, is an account of the then-famous but now-forgotten
1930's murder trials in Wise County, in southwestern
Virginia where I used to visit my grandmother. This
was an early example of media hysteria– especially
how the Hearst organization sold a lot of newspapers
following Edith Maxwell's story and selling a portrait
of Appalachia as backward and barbarian.
KEMBLE'S CIVIL WARS by Catherine Clinton is a biography
of the nineteenth century British actor Fanny Kemble
that is focused on her disastrous marriage to an American
slaveholder (she was an abolitionist). About halfway
through, the book moves away from Kemble to her two
daughters, one a northerner and the mother of Owen
Wister, author of a famous best seller called THE
VIRGINIAN, and the younger daughter committed to her
father's Southern ways. She tries to run his plantation
during Reconstruction and gets engaged in a struggle
with a free black man named Tunis Campbell. It is
an interesting look at a familiar historical period
from a new point of view.
I want to mention BREAK, BLOW, BURN, a popular book
of poetry and commentary by the controversial Camille
Paglia. I had a vague feeling I didn't like her much,
but I loved this book, a sort of do-it-yourself-introduction
to reading poetry. Paglia presents poems she thinks
are superb, and then spends a few pages talking about
each of them. It's roughly chronological and includes
a lot of famous guys like Shakespeare and Whitman
and Emily Dickinson, but it also introduced me to
some poets I didn't know like Wanda Coleman and Chuck
Wachtel. The last piece in the book is the words to
a Joni Mitchell song. This shows Paglia's true colors
as a sixties gal but also her commitment to popular
expression. Is this book really as brilliant as I
think? Or was I just hungry for a good professor to
guide me through some poems?
way, I did read some books by men this summer too:
my first Robert Stone novel plus the rest of Phillip
Pullman's gripping science fiction trilogy, but this
is about enough for one newsletter!
Christine Willis says she is reading READING LOLITA
IN TEHRAN as well as Glenn Gould's and [her son] Alex's
favorite book: THREE CORNERED WORLD. She and son Alex
are also reading aloud, just for fun, Wodehouse's
LAUGHING GAS– this after finishing THE WASTELAND and
some portions of FINNEGAN'S WAKE!
Moore, who knows more about West Virginia literature
than anyone else, recommends The Oxford American Summer
Issue, 2005 for an essay by West Virginian J. T. Leroy
and a poem by West Virginia University professor James
also reminds us that the Maggie Anderson issue of
THE IRON MOUNTAIN REVIEW is now available from the
Department of English, Emory and Henry College, Box
64, Emory, VA. 24327. "Both Jeff Mann and Kate Long,"
she writes, "participated in the Maggie Anderson Literary
Festival and their words can also be found in the
issue devoted to Anderson and her work."
Crooker's book RADIANCE is the winner of the 2004
Word Press First Book Prize. The notice says that
"Barbara Crooker's RADIANCE is a book bursting with
abundance, with joy. Crooker's lyrics, ranging in
tone from hushed to exuberant, catch the richness
and grace of the world in their varied lines about
art, about nature, and about experience." To read
sample poems, go to http://www.word-press.com/crooker_poems.html.
Says Garrison Keillor of the book, "RADIANCE is a
pleasure to read, straight through, for its humor
and intelligence and for the sheer bravery of sentiment.
It dares to show deep feeling, unguarded by irony.
It's a straight-ahead passionate book by a mature
poet and rather suddenly I've become a fan."
new book THE UNITED STATES OF APPALACHIA is due out
in a few months.
Madsen of READING
DIVAS literary magazine fame has a new novel out!
It is called FOUR CORNERS and is published by Livingston Press ), as was her previous novel,
DEGAS MUST HAVE LOVED A DANCER. If you want
a signed copy, she invites you to visit her at her
bar, Stain in Williamsburg in the Independent
State of Brooklyn (see http://www.stainbar.com),
where she sells both books, one for $15, both for
$25. She also writes that her books are available
at various Barnes & Noble stores in New York City.
second poetry collection, MORE OF ME DISAPPEARS, has
just gone to the printer and will be released in early
September by the New York press Cross-Cultural Communications!
The book will be available on various websites, including
his own at http://www.johnamen.com/ and in stores. He'll be doing a series of readings
and musical performances this fall, on both the east
and the west coasts, so watch for his appearance in
OF E. LEE NORTH
North has a new book out– EYES THAT HAUNT from Inkwater
Press. The publisher describes is as "the gripping
story of a falsely-accused trapper's flight from the
authorities during one of the coldest winters ever
known in northern Canada. This flight takes the reader
through the rugged backcountry of Canada and into
the Arctic Circle where the fugitive trapper befriends
an injured wolf."
also writes us a note about the late great West Virginia
newspaper man, Jim Comstock: "Comstock was great,
as you probably know. Pearl Buck called him... ‘a
country editor as a country editor should be.' He
was tough tho'... did you ever see his early Hillbilly
[THE WEST VIRGINIA HILLBILLY] digs? He had a stairway
going up to the many volumes of stuff... stairs so
worn that I fell pretty good. He was already down.
(Note, I had a bad knee even then.) Guess I was a
little slow getting up. He said, ‘Lee, hurry up, we
have the coffee clatch in five minutes.' I dragged
myself up and followed him up the street.
another vignette for ya... he did set up a nice author's
party for me, advertised in the Hillbilly, etc., my
REDCOATS, REDSKINS, AND RED-EYED MONSTERS (A. S. Barnes,
1979) -- he said it was best West Virginia history
to that date (this was before his encyclopedia). Had
my books in window and all."
William Zinsser at a party earlier this year. He is
one of our elders now, but his book ON WRITING WELL
is still a standard for anyone who wants a practical
grasp of how to write English. Here's an interesting piece by him from several years ago about the important
of type faces!
RATNER, POET AND PHOTOGRAPHER
Ratner has some striking photographs of flowers at the World Trade Center site, at
REVIEW OF BOOKS and DON WEST
of George Brosi and Jeff Biggers' book about activist/poet
Don West, NO LONESOME ROAD, has been re-posted at
THE ETHICAL CULTURE REVIEW OF BOOKS at http://www.ethicalreview.org/ . THE ETHICAL REVIEW
has been having technical difficulties, but is up
again and available for perusal.
for Submissions for CRAB ORCHARD REVIEW's special
issue on "Defining Family." The submission period
for this issue is August 1, 2005 through November
30, 2005. They say they are open to work that covers
any of the multitude of ways that our world, our media,
and ourselves define family and that explores the
possibilities which exist within the ties which bind,
bend, break, and heal. All submissions should be original,
unpublished poetry, fiction, or literary nonfiction
in English or unpublished translations in English.
For guidelines, go to Crab
# 74 September
8 , 2005
If you live in
the New York area, take a look at the writing
courses at NYU's School of Continuing and Professional
Studies, including my "Beginning Your Novel."
While there are
many wonderful books being published every day by the big
commercial presses, there are also a lot of truly trashy books
being commercially published. This is not news: what troubles
me much more is how much good work is not finding publishers
at all, or is being published by feisty little presses that
are not getting the recognition they deserve. Let it also
be said that there are multitudes of incredibly bad, unedited,
ego-boosting books coming out from old fashioned vanity presses
and the New Wild Publishing West of businesses that print
anything you send them– and make it look really nice. The
problem for us as readers is to find some of the work from
the small places, but also simply to distinguish the various
types of presses. If you are interested, I've written up a
note that tries to distinguish at least the terminology for
the different kinds of publishers. It's at http://meredithsuewillis.com/resources.html#publishingtypes.
this newsletter, I don't pan books from tiny presses, but
I have no compunction, however, about panning commercial ventures–
like my first novel by Robert Stone. I hope someone will suggest
a good book of his, because THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT was pretty
bad. I bought a used copy from a bricks-and-mortar book store
while I was on vacation because I was in the mood for a certain
kind of sleazy atmosphere that I enjoy in crime books like
Elmore Leonard's. The trouble with the Stone novel was that
it didn't even have a crime, just weary men boozing and sleeping
with whatever female walks on the scene, plus doing cocaine
to make sure the sex gets consummated. The characters are
all involved in the movies in one way or another, and the
highlight (seriously– this part was well done) is the heroine's
schizophrenic hallucinations. She has neat discussions with
the embodied voices she calls the "Long Friends."
The novel trumpets
what's going to happen from the very beginning. I'm not one
who demands conventional plot twists, but I love to be surprised,
and in this one it is totally obvious that the hero is going
to resume his destructive relationship with the heroine, an
actress on location playing Edna in a movie version of Kate
Chopin's THE AWAKENING. And, since the novella/movie character
Edna walks into the ocean in the end, it's also obvious what's
going to happen to the fragile, schizophrenic heroine. Also,
it is one of those novels where the author sacrifices the
heroine in order to shock and deepen the hero's psyche. The
hero survives, his wife comes back, he begins to get his life
together, he mourns the beautiful lost love who will stay
beautiful forever in his memory.... Still, I did keep reading:
Stone knows how to tell a story, and I got my stomach full
of boozy self-destructive atmosphere. Much better for the
liver to read it than live it, I guess. But, please, can someone
recommend me a better Robert Stone novel?
completely different, I highly recommend Yehuda Koren and
Eilat Negev's book IN OUR HEARTS WE WERE GIANTS. This non-fiction
book was suggested by Alice Robinson-Gilman in Newsletter
#70 , and a few weeks ago I received a friendly e-mail
note from the authors themselves! The Internet is so great
for that kind of thing– total strangers will give you a little
chip of themselves in random acts of connectedness. Take a
look at Israeli journalist Negev's website.
Anyhow, the e-mail
inspired me to read the book, the true story of the family
Ovitz, seven dwarf siblings and three tall siblings, who make
a living as a traveling Yiddish vaudeville show in Romania
in the 1930's. Then, under the Nazis, they are shipped off
with the other Jews of their town to a ghetto, then to the
death camps, where they were saved, or maybe "collected" is
a better word, by Dr. Mengele himself, who was fascinated
by inherited characteristics like dwarfism. The amazing thing
is that almost all of the family survive. Part of the interest
here is in their relationship to Mengele, who both petted
and gave privileges to "his" dwarfs– and then tortured them
with medical tests.
It is indeed a
remarkable story, as all the blurbs say, and it's told in
a direct, engaging style by Koren and Negev. I ended with
an odd feeling that I was reading about my own relatives–this
is one of the strengths of the book, that you feel not only
the horror of the Holocaust, but the everyday ups and downs
of the Ovitzes' lives. I imagine this might be a good introduction
for young readers to the Holocaust, both because the Ovitzes
survive, but also because while their sufferings are intense,
they are imaginable. That is to say, while we recoil from
the enormity of the ninety per cent of the arrivals at Auschwitz
who are not even tattooed but hurried straight to the gas
chambers, we can come much closer to imagining what it would
be like to be taken day after day to have your blood drawn,
to have painful, blinding drops put in your eyes, measurements
taken absurdly often of your legs and arms, to be made to
stand naked on a stage for the amusement of Nazi officers.
At any rate, it's
a wonderful book, Koren and Negev have done a service by capturing
this piece of history.
has been mostly a bust," writes Shelley Ettinger. "A rash
of books that turned out to be duds. The worst of the
lot was THE HISTORIAN by Elizabeth Kostova, which is now
#2 on the Times list. It's a Dracula story set mostly
in Eastern Europe in the 1930s, 1950s and 1970s. The writing
is adequate, sort of at a DA VINCI CODE level. The 1950s
sections that take place in republics or allies of the
Soviet Union are drenched in anti-communism. I was willing
to endure the dull writing in search of a fun vampire
story, and I was even willing to ignore the anti-communism
since I'm well-practiced at that given that most books
published in the U.S. are anti-communist to varying degrees.
So I plodded through, all the way until some 150 pages
to the end, when, in a laughably bad scene, the 1950s
characters expound upon their newfound realization that
the USSR is literally allied with Dracula, that socialism
is literally vampirism. At which point I closed the book
... although I have since wondered whether it ends with
a heroic, garlic-garlanded Ronald Reagan plunging a stake
into Nicolae Ceaucescu's heart.
she continues, "I had James Kelman's HOW LATE IT WAS,
HOW LATE ready as an antidote. I'd loved this Scottish
writer's recent YOU HAVE TO BE CAREFUL IN THE LAND OF
THE FREE. This earlier novel doesn't disappoint. Kelman
writes angry, funny tales of poor, tossed-about men trying
to survive in the grips of a savage, inequitable system.
I find the stream-of-consciousness momentum breathtaking.
"I also read
SMALL ISLAND by Andrea Levy. Absolutely wonderful. An
exquisitely rendered story about Jamaican immigrants in
Britain in the post-World-War-II era that, not at all
by accident, casts an equally clear eye at U.S. racism.
I thought it was really well structured. Levy is a generous,
thoughtful writer who lovingly renders each of the main
characters, Jamaican and British.
"And I read
Hari Kunzru's THE IMPRESSIONIST, which, though a few years
old, turned out to be a great corollary to Levy's book.
THE IMPRESSIONIST is a scathing satire of British colonialism.
Set in the early 20th century in India and Britain, it's
a picaresque whose main character, an Indian who can pass
as white, takes on various identities. In these guises
he observes then enters British society, penetrating further
and further until ultimately he finds himself at the colonial
heart of ... let's just say a place where there is no
more opportunity for pretense."
recommends the first volume of Doris Lessing's autobiography,
UNDER MY SKIN. "It's a rich description of her childhood
and teen years in Africa, and her two marriages, which
also took place in Rhodesia. As a fan of hers I had always
wondered how much of her Children of Violence series,
the books focusing on Martha Quest, was autobiographical,
and this book tells you. It's inspiring..." Ingrid continues:
"I also read THE LAST CHRONICLE OF BARSET, Trollope's
final novel of the Barset series which begins with THE
WARDEN and BARCHESTER TOWERS. I think it's the best one.
The main character-- of course there are many important
characters, most of whom he has already written about
in the earlier novels in the series-- is a half-crazed
cleric accused of stealing a check for twenty pounds.
It's a very convincing description of his mental state
I too was reading some Trollope this summer: MARION FAY.
This was a late novel of his, exploring a brother and
sister, children of a British peer, both of whom fall
in love with someone several social classes below them.
It has a terrific start, then lags.
Ed Myers' excellent
young adult novel ICE was the Silver Award Winner, Book
of the Year Awards (Young Adult Fiction Category), ForeWord
Magazine. Read a chapter at of this unusual story about
a young man who was driving the car on the night his girl
friend was killed and learn more at http://www.montemayorpress.com.
of poetry by Ed Davis has just been published by Pudding
House Publications (http://www.puddinghouse.com).
The book is called HEALING ARTS, and it is Davis's fourth
poetry chapbook. He is also the author of the novel I
WAS SO MUCH OLDER THEN.
has a nonfiction piece called "Hair Today" coming out
in an anthology called HERSTORY - WHAT I LEARNED IN MY
BATHTUB...AND MORE TRUE STORIES ON LIFE, LOVE, AND OTHER
INCONVENIENCES. This is due October 1, 2005, and you can
learn more here.
to E. Lee North on his new novel, EYES THAT HAUNT! Its
all-American hero known as The Trapper, is on the run
from the authorities in the North Country. He is supported
in his adventure by a magnificent white wolf— and his
own survival skills and indomitable spirits. Before the
novel is over, he has created a sort of utopia called
"Home Free" and reconnected to his daughter. He also has
some surprise visitors in his mountain fastness who reinforce
our understanding of him as a unique representative of
RETREAT IN WEST VIRGINIA
Anderson at where you'll learn about a beautiful resort
in the mountains and also about a writing retreat she is leading there, at the Creekside Resort, September
22 through 25, 2005.
DO YOU HAVE
FAVORITE BOOKS THAT YOU THINK ARE TOO LONG?
says that she would like to edit lots of novels she has
read. She once wrote this ditty about one of them:
help, help me quick!
She did not,
however, want to edit CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY. "I just
finished CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY and wouldn't change
a word. An over zealous editor could have ruined it by
altering the speech patterns (repetitious) of the native
Africans. The novel requires readers to adjust to its
unusual style. Rapid readers like me have to slow down
and be patient, but the novel is well worth the effort."
So my question
to readers is, do you have any books that you respect,
or like, or perhaps even love– and yet you wish someone
had given them a good crew cut? Don't forget Ben Jonson's
famous line when he was told that Shakespeare didn't edit--
never blotted a line: "...would he had blotted a thousand,"
was in Ireland this summer, and spent a lot of time reading
Joyce. "The stories in DUBLINERS, so full of daily life
in his era, were intriguing and informative. "Ivy Day
in the Committee Room" was one of my favorites. When I
read the title. I expected Ivy Day to be a person. At
first I wondered what all the Joyce commotion grew out
of but I soon saw he was exploring all things Irish: political
history, activist, religion, constraints, folkways, foodways,
etc. Joyce would be glad to know I became an admirer of
Parnell and that I basically agree with his ‘take' on
religion. The stories are multilayered, for sure, and
I found myself looking up the words of the songs mentioned,
asking Catholics about their reaction to the dropping
the chalice of communion wine, etc. ULYSSES was a challenge.
I decided to listened to the BBC audio and followed along
in the text. Lo and behold, the BBC version left out almost
all the sexual content. Dahhh. However, the voices of
the readers were excellent, perfect for the work. And,
I had fun reading whatever they left out. ULYSSES led
me to the biography of Joyce's wife Nora Barnacle, NORA:
THE LIFE OF THE REAL MOLLY BLOOM. It is well researched
and full of interesting insights. I was sorry to come
to the final page. Now I'm more of a Nora fan than a Joyce
fan. Unfortunately, the biography of their daughter LUCIA
JOYCE: DANCING IN THE WAKE is not as crisp. Many sections
dragged, but it was worth reading. I haven't found a bio
on his son or grandson. So, I guess I'm Joyced-out."
EDITOR Rusty Barnes reminds us that the Richard Yates
Short Story Award Competition (judged by Ed Falco) begins
September 1st and runs through November 18th. See http://www.nighttrainmagazine.com/home.html.
A Call for
Submissions for CRAB ORCHARD REVIEW's special issue on
"Defining Family." The submission period for this issue
is August 1, 2005 through November 30, 2005. They say
they are open to work that covers any of the multitude
of ways that our world, our media, and ourselves define
family and that explores the possibilities which exist
within the ties which bind, bend, break, and heal. All
submissions should be original, unpublished poetry, fiction,
or literary nonfiction in English or unpublished translations
in English. For guidelines, go to Crab
TAKE A LOOK
And here is
an interesting new effort to create ways for authors and
agents to find one another through the World Wide Web: http://www.bookner.com/ .
A NEW SITE
FOR BUYING BOOKS
I received an
e-mail from a business that looks worth a click of your
mouse to check it out: Http://www.booksprice.com is a free service for finding the best price on a purchase
of several books together. They also offer what they call
a "book news" service. This service gathers book related
news from major online newspapers and presents them in one
central location enabling book lovers to save time on keeping
track of ongoing book related news.
# 75 September
I have a beloved
book to report on, and then a proposal to satisfy your gift
giving needs easily and at the same time to support literature.
First, I reread
a book that was introduced to me years ago by Phillip Lopate
when we worked together for Teachers & Writers Collaborative.
The MAKIOKA SISTERS by Junichiro Tanizaki was,
apparently, published first as a serial, and Japanese friends
tell me that it is at the present time most popular as a stage
drama. This is a book with a strange quality that is somehow
analogous to flatness– but a flatness that is like a great flowing
river with many eddies of events and powerful, deep currents.
The novel takes
place during the early stages of the Second World War, long
before the American nuclear attacks, back when upper class Japanese
admired their clever German allies, and when affluent families
in Osaka were still living a generally comfortable and graceful
life. The plot line is about the marriage possibilities of the
two younger of four sisters whose family has come down in the
world but is still very choosy about who it marries. The question
of a husband for Yukiko opens the novel, and the answer to the
question closes it, but the real point is the lives, relationships,
and sensibilities of the sisters– and unsettling changes in
their world. Yukiko, the older of the unmarried sisters, is
described as an old style Japanese lady (and potential husbands
comment on whether or not they have a taste for this style).
The youngest sister, on the other hand, is quite modern and
has a small business of her own– and affairs with men. There
are squabbles and illnesses, the selection of kimonos for particular
events, a miscarriage, cherry blossom viewing, meals out with
the special Osaka delicacy of sea bream, a great flood with
physical danger and heroism, and above all the endless marriage
negotiations that involve everyone in the family. The pace–
what I called above analogous to flatness– takes a little getting
used to, but was totally addictive to me. Towards the end of
my reading, I began to fall asleep thinking I could hear
voices in Japanese endlessly discussing, debating, and dissecting
the various candidates for Yukiko's husband.
And now, Part
II, a Special Proposal:
I wrote a little
in an issue of this newsletter earlier this month about how
hard it is to find readers for small presses, and my idea is
to ask you to help me come up with a special Gift Book edition
of this newsletter in which there are recommendations for books
from small presses and perhaps commercial books that were never
publicized very well. My idea is to create a list of books that
people might not have heard of but which would be perfect gifts
for certain people: for example, a small press children's book
for a boy who is a fan of HARRY POTTER or a book for a great-aunt
who loves to read but is often unhappy with graphic sex . Or,
for that matter, a book for a great-aunt with a taste for feminist
The rules are: Books
from small presses (or books that have been forgotten), plus
a guess as to who might like the book. Also, while you are welcome
to recommend your best friend's book, you may not recommend
your own book. I am totally open to sharing news and reviews
sent by authors (and I use this newsletter to publicize my own
work too), but for this particular project, I want recommendations
of other people's books.
Here's my first
go at a list that I hope will get much longer. To recap: Please
send me suggestions for books from small, very small, and university
presses, or commercial books that were ignored and should not
have been. Include a short description of who you think would
love to get this book at a gift.
1. For anymore who
reads Kafka or literary science fiction or general literature,
I cannot recommend highly enough Carol Emshwiller's I LIVE WITH
YOU from the small science fiction press Tachyon (website at http://www.tachyonpublications.com.)
Some of Emswhiller's stories are stunners: she has a whole set
of war stories in which people have forgotten why they started
fighting, and my favorite is a love story called "The General."
Another love story about attraction across species (sort of)
, is "Gliders Though They Be," in which strange gopher-like
creatures, some pink with wings, some blue with no wings, live
in constant danger from "the sky people" who snatch the occasional
exposed child or adult. Emswhiller's world moves in and out
among locations in science fiction, modernist experimentation,
and the wide, wild blue yonder of her rich, quirky individual
3. Valerie Nieman's
new collection of short stories called FIDELITIES is published
by Vandalia Press, an imprint of West Virginia University Press.
This book has a lot of emotional punch, and Jennifer Lynch's
review at GRAFITTI NEWSPAPER (http://www.grafwv.com/)
says, "No matter where you open FIDELITIES, a collection of
short stories by Valerie Nieman....it's full of intriguing people
[and] interesting puzzles that leave the reader wondering about
their complexities long after reading it.....Taken individually,
each story looks at the life of characters so real and intricate,
I felt I knew someone just like many of them. Taken as a whole,
the collection is an interpretative look at the motivations,
loyalties and obligations of a group of ordinary individuals.
" To learn more about Valerie Nieman, go to http://www.wvwc.edu/lib/wv_authors/authors/a_nieman.htm.
To buy the book, use the online booksellers or go to the Vandalia
press site at http://www.wvupress.com/catalog/product_info.php?cPath=41&products_id=17
4. Are you looking
to buy books for children and young adults about real life adventure?
From the small Montemayor Press come three excellent stories
by Ed Myers, a writer who has published over forty books for
children and adults with presses of all sizes. I mentioned his
young adult novel ICE last issue (see http://meredithsuewillis.com/bfrarchive71-75.html#ice ) , but his books for slightly younger children are also excellent.
I especially like his novel about children lost in the rain
forest, SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST and, for something really different,
DUCK AND COVER, a story about a boy who lives during the days
of the Cold War– and gets involved in a cold war of his own,
right on his own street. Check these out at http://www.montemayorpress.com.
5. Finally, a special
treat for people who like to listen while they drive! MountainWhispers.com
has released its 7th audio drama on CD– LOST HIGHWAY by Richard
Currey, performed by Ross Ballard II. A nuanced and poetic first-person
narrative, Richard Currey's novel tells the story of Sapper
Reeves, a gifted country music singer/songwriter working the
rainy backroads and smoke-filled taverns of the southern mountains
after World War II. The performer, Ross Ballard, is an actor
and producer with a mastery of regional dialect and the age-old
art of fine storytellng. The story's fictional song "Miranda"
comes to life along with additional award winning bluegrass
music. Learn more at www.mountainwhispers.com.
That's the idea.
You can always, of course, recommend best sellers and classics
as well, but for this special page I'm looking for books that
people might miss.
writes to say: "I wonder if you'd consider a section now and
then for a review of work for children. Many creative, talented
writers pen novels that are exquisite (just check out the years
of Newberry winners), books such as Kate Di Camillo's THE TALE
OF DESPEREAUX and Sharon Creech's WALK TWO MOONS, both with
a depth adults can appreciate. And who can challenge the popularity
of the HARRY POTTER books when readership spans ages 9 to 80?
Of course it's because beyond the surface wizard's tale there
are layers of human conflict to think about....Your newsletters
always remind me there are more books written than can be read
in a single lifetime– but you offer a path, often to little
known jewels that enrich the everyday. Maybe some of those jewels
can come from the juvenile section of the library."
"I read a wonderful
book over the weekend," writes Shelley Ettinger, "again by a
Scottish writer, HOTEL WORLD by Ali Smith. She's nominated for
the Booker Prize for her latest book, but HOTEL WORLD is from
a couple years ago. It's very sad and true. The writing is exquisite,
blew me away. The last five pages in particular are just heart-achingly
perfect, left me stunned and breathless. She seems to me to
be a, if not the, successor to Virginia Woolf."
And Fran Osten writes
that she was pleased to have SMALL ISLAND suggested in last
issue "I recently finished it." said Fran, "and was going to
recommend it myself! It was the best book I have read in quite
a long while!"
Last issue I complained
about not liking my first novel by Robert Stone. Ardian Gill
says, "Well, you had bad luck in starting with Stone's weakest,
a Hollywood potboiler. With New Orleans so much in the news,
Stone's A HALL OF MIRRORS would be a good choice. I remember
it as wonderful. DOG SOLDIERS is similarly very good and A FLAG
FOR SUNRISE worth the time."
(Jack) Higgs is one of the authors of a new text book called
TOUCHING ALL BASES, A RHETORIC OF SELF DISCOVERY. This new publication,
a creative literature anthology for readers and students, includes
work by a medley of emerging American voices. Among the Appalachian
writers included are Rita Sims Quillen, Linda Parsons, Nan Arbuckle,
Elizabeth Hunter, George Ella Lyon, Jim Wayne Miller, Fred Chappell,
Ray Hicks, Kathryn Stripling Byer, Marilou Awiatka, Lynn Powell,
Judy Odom, Garry Barker, and Jo Carson. The book uses strategic
questions to stimulate the reader to think by using different
functions of the mind: sensing, rational thinking, symbolic
thinking, and valuing. As a textbook, it is suitable for college
freshman composition, or for Advanced Placement or research
courses. To learn more here.
WINS THE 2004 WORD PRESS FIRST BOOK PRIZE
says of Barbara Crooker's RADIANCE: "A pleasure to read, straight
through, for its humor and intelligence and for the sheer bravery
of sentiment. It dares to show deep feeling, unguarded by irony.
It's a straight-ahead passionate book by a mature poet and rather
suddenly I've become a fan." Crooker is the author of many poems
published in places like YANKEE, THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR,
NIMROD, and many more. She is the recipient of the 2004 W. B.Yeats
Society of New York Award, the 2004 Pennsylvania Center for
the Book Poetry in Public Places Poster Competition, the 2003
Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, the 2003 "April Is
the Cruelest Month" Award from Poets & Writers, and, again many
more! The author of ten chapbooks, she lives with her husband
and son in rural northeaster Pennsylvania, and has two grown
daughters and one grandson. See her website at http://www.barbaracrooker.com/.
NIGHT TRAIN EDITOR
Rusty Barnes reminds us that the Richard Yates Short Story Award
Competition (judged by Ed Falco) begins September 1st and runs
through November 18th. See http://www.nighttrainmagazine.com/home.html.
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 .
WHERE TO FIND BOOKS MENTIONED IN THIS NEWSLETTER
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!
RESPONSES TO THIS NEWSLETTER
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.
#146 Henry Adams AGAIN! #145 Henry Adams, Darnell Arnoult, Jaimy Gordon, Charlotte Brontë #144 Carter Seaton, NancyKay Shapiro, Lady Murasaki Shikibu #143Little 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. #134Daniel 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. #131The Help; J. McHenry Jones, Reamy Jansen, Jamie O'Neill, Michael Chabon.
#130 Lynda Schor, Ed Myers, Charles Bukowski, Terry Bisson, The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism #129Baltasar 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 #127Olive 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 #124Cloudsplitter, 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 #115Adam 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 #108The Animal Within; The Ground Under My Feet; King of Swords #107The Absentee; Gorky Park; Little Scarlet; Howl; Health Proxy #106Castle Rackrent; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; More on Drown; Blindness & more #105Everything 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 #101My 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 #93Kristin Lavransdatter, House Made of Dawn, Leaving Atlanta #92Death 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 #87Wings 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 #78The 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 #74In 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 #67The Medici #66Curious
Incident,Temple Grandin #65 Ingrid Hughes on Memoir #64 Boyle, Worlds of Fiction #63The Namesame #62Honorary Consul; The Idiot #61Lauren'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 #55Addie,
Hottentot Venus, Ake #54 Scott Oglesby, Jane Rule #53 Nafisi,Chesnutt, LeGuin #52 Keith Maillard, Lee Maynard #51 Gregory Michie, Carter Seaton #50Atonement, Victoria Woodhull biography #49Caucasia #48Richard Price, Phillip
Pullman #47 Mid-
East Islamic World Reader #46Invitation to
a Beheading #45The Princess of Cleves #44 Shelley Ettinger: A Few Not-so-Great Books #43 Woolf, The Terrorist Next Door #42 John Sanford #41 Isabelle
Allende #40Ed Myers on John Williams #39 Faulkner #38 Steven Bloom No
New Jokes #37 James Webb's Fields
of Fire #36 Middlemarch #35 Conrad, Furbee,
Silas House #34 Emshwiller #33 Pullman, Daughter
of the Elm #32 More Lesbian lit; Nostromo #31 Lesbian
fiction #30 Carol Shields, Colson Whitehead #29 More William Styron #28 William Styron #27 Daniel Gioseffi #26 Phyllis Moore
#25 On Libraries.... #24Tales of the
#23 Nonfiction, poetry, and fiction #22 More on Why This
Newsletter #21 Salinger, Sarah
Waters, Next of Kin #20 Jane Lazarre #19Artemisia 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
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 #5Tales 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