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Newsletter # 71
May 19, 2005


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 , 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.

                                        – Meredith Sue Willis


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 way.

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 long time.

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.!

                                             – Eva Kollisch

Eva Kollisch's memoir is GIRL IN MOVEMENT .


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. Thanks again."

"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 people.

"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 and acquaintances.

"Those patterns 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 it overnight."


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).

Marsh 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."


A website on "The Book That Changed My Life:"

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 .


These thanks to poet Ellen Bass for this information:

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 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

Newsletter # 72
June 20, 2005

This issue 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....

                                                                                                 – Meredith Sue Willis


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 by hallucinations.

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 me.
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.

                                                                                                  Bill Robinson


Bill's story 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 ( 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 history.

SOMEBODY'S DAUGHTER 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.


Good News!

Ed Myers' Young Adult novel ICE won a silver medal in Foreword Magazine's Book of the Year contest: See . Learn more about this dark but extremely strong story of how young people deal with death and guilt at .



After some technical difficulties, the ETHICAL REVIEW OF BOOKS is up at a new website, The lead review is mine of NO LONESOME ROAD about poet activist Don West, edited with supplementary material by George Brosi and Jeff Biggers.



Belinda Anderson 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."



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 Peri Rossi.



Has anyone tried this expensive but intriguing course in marketing for writers at


Newsletter # 73
August 12, 2005

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.

But don't hit the Reply button– you actually have to write me an e-mail at

I also 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 pictures.

It feels 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 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 Chandler's.

One thing 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.

This memoir 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.

Here are some short notes on more of my summer reading:

NEVER 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.

FANNY 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.

And finally, 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?

By the 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!

                                                                                                 – Meredith Sue Willis


My sister 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!

Phyllis 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 Harms.

Phyllis 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."


Poet Barbara 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 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."

Jeff Biggers' new book THE UNITED STATES OF APPALACHIA is due out in a few months.

Krista 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, 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.

John Amen's 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 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 your hometown.


E. Lee 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."

E.Lee 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.

"Here's 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."


I met 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!


Poet Rochelle Ratner has some striking photographs of flowers at the World Trade Center site, at


My review 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 . THE ETHICAL REVIEW has been having technical difficulties, but is up again and available for perusal.


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 Orchard Review

Newsletter # 74
September 8 , 2005

Warning! Commercial immediately ahead!

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."

Okay, Commercial over...

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

Generally, in 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?

For something 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.

                                                                                           – Meredith Sue Willis


"Summer reading 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.

"Luckily," 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."


Ingrid Hughes 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 and behavior."

By coincidence, 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

A chapbook of poetry by Ed Davis has just been published by Pudding House Publications ( 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.

Ginger Caudill 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.

Congratulations 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 humanity....


Visit Belinda 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.


Phyllis Moore says that she would like to edit lots of novels she has read. She once wrote this ditty about one of them:

                        Somebody help, help me quick!
                        I am sick
                        Moby Dick.

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," said Jonson.


Phyllis Moore 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."


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

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 Orchard Review.


And here is an interesting new effort to create ways for authors and agents to find one another through the World Wide Web: .


I received an e-mail from a business that looks worth a click of your mouse to check it out: Http:// 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.

Newsletter # 75
September 27, 2005

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 erotica.

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.

Some sample recommendations follow my sign-off.

Thanks for reading!

                               – Meredith Sue Willis


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 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 imagination.

2. An excellent gift book for a reader with an interest in American history and/or adventure would be Ardian Gill's fast moving and carefully researched historical novel THE RIVER IS MINE, based on John Wesley Powell's exploration of the Colorado river. Learn more at and

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 ( says, "No matter where you open FIDELITIES, a collection of short stories by Valerie'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 To buy the book, use the online booksellers or go to the Vandalia press site at

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 ) , 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

5. Finally, a special treat for people who like to listen while they drive! 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

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.


Carol Brodtrick 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."


John Amen, publisher of THE PEDESTAL online magazine ( has just finished a book tour for his second poetry collection, MORE OF ME DISAPPEARS. The book is now available at his website ( with sample poems and ways to purchase. Also, if you visit his music page at, you can sample tracks from his CD.


Professor Robert (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.


Keith Maillard has a new set of four books coming out now and in the next few months. See his publisher's web page about RUNNING at


Garrison Keillor 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


Elizabeth McCord is a finalist in the New Jersey Romance Writers' "Put Your Heart in a Book" contest in the historical division! See



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




The largest unionized bookstore in America has a webstore at Powells Books. Some people prefer shopping online there to shopping at An alternative way to reach Powell's site and support the union is via 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" above) that sells online at  Another good source for used and out-of-print books is All Book Stores at .
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 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; Molly Gilman on Dogs of Babel
#98   Guest editor Pat Arnow; more on the 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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