I have a few thoughts about Richard Powers, a major new talent I seem to have missed until now. For Christmas, my son gave me a hardback copy of Powers’s THE ECHO MAKER. One review of the book that I read suggested that although Powers is praised for his fine writing, this one actually works better read fast for the story. Powers is also known for how much information he puts in his novels, making us feel we’re learning something. For example, THE ECHO MAKER has a lot of scenes and information about the magnificent Sand Hill cranes who mass in the Midwest at certain seasons, and also about exotic brain damage, especially Capras Syndrome, suffered by one of the main characters, which causes a person to believe that those closest are strangers playing the part of loved ones.
I liked the information, and I liked the story, but except for Mark, the man with the Capras syndrome, the characters seemed oddly incomplete to me. Mark is presented with much less inner life than his sister Karin or the Oliver Sacks-like doctor. Mark is built from the outside of quirks of his syndrome and verbal play, and he is to my taste a more moving character than the ostensibly less damaged people. Powers seems to believe that human personality is fluid, so perhaps his clearest character is then the one constructed of tics and deficits.
There are a lot of passages of strong writing, but I think, in fact, Powers is most deeply engaged with the mystery about what really happened the night Mark flipped his truck and mashed up his brain. Who gave Mark a mysterious message on his bed? Whose were the several sets of skid marks at the accident scene? Why is highly educated Barbara working in a nursing home practically as a volunteer? For me, the book is most entertaining when it is not trying for maximum profundity.
After THE ECHO MAKER, I read an earlier Powers novel, GALATEA 2,2. Again, I felt I was reading a really good story that had pretensions– in this case to an edgy post modernism. It is a several- layered love story, in places pumped up and pimped out as an intellectual tour de force. Am I being, as my son would say, harsh? Or is it just sour grapes? As in–why is this guy getting all the adulation and a MacArthur grant while I my friends are struggling to find publishers?
Still, I do feel that Powers has these stories he wants to tell but he also feeds the need for a lot of superstructure and paraphernalia and tricks. The human love interests and cities in this book, for example, are called by their first initial only, while the computer program is called Helen. The computer love story has a good helping of science fiction, and once it gets rolling, it’s quite touching with some of the tear jerker quality of an old science fiction novelette, later a novel and movie, called “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes. In this, a mentally retarded man named Charlie volunteers to have his intelligence enhanced as the lab has already done with a mouse named Algernon.
So far, then, I’ll say admire Powers for his stories and his research and his ambition, but a lot of the fancy writing and game playing don’t seem worth the candle to me. Does anyone have a favorite Powers book or more to say about these?
Lots of good news about Thaddeus’s readings and new online stories at his website.
TILLIE OLSEN DIES
Tillie Lerner Olsen, internationally honored writer, human rights and anti-war activist, and a formative voice of the women's movement,died January 1, 2007, two weeks shy of her ninety-fifth birthday. Tillie Olsen is internationally known and honored for her powerful, brilliantly crafted, poetic writing depicting the lives of working-class people. Her books, TELL ME A RIDDLE, YONNONDIO FROM THE THIRTIES, SILENCES and her essays and lectures have been translated into twelve languages. Her works are considered by many to be central to working class literature, women’s studies, and the understanding of creative processes and the conditions, which permit imagination to flourish. See the New York Timesobituary .
STOPPING SELF DEFEATING BEHAVIORS–CLASS FOR WRITERS
Elizabeth McCord recommends Margie Lawson’s online course “Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors:Allow Writing Productivity and Creativity to Soar.” To learn about when this class runs next, visit http://www.writeruniv.com .
Alice Robinson-Gilman read BLACK HAWK DOWN by Mark Bowden and recommends it. She says, “I always thought was pro-war, but is very anti-war and a very personal view from the soldiers. It's also so totally perfect for this time of war, because the book is about the unsuccessful battle in Mogadishu.... It shows the guerilla war tactics of the people/clans and the pathetic U.S. Army which won't give up in spite of casualties and deaths of the serviceman on the ground.”
MSW recommends: "I finished Alfred Kazin’s 1951 A WALKER IN THE CITY, which was highly praised in the little INVENTING THE TRUTH: THE ART AND CRAFT OF MEMOIR book. Several of the other essayists in that book spoke of A WALKER IN THE CITY as an exemplary memoir. I really adored all the recapturing of Brownsville in the twenties up through the beginning of the Great Depression. He roils up a regular seething stew of sensation– although you have to wonder how the kid ever made it through the day with that incredible heightened, overheated sensibility."
"I also read/looked at a catalog from a Dahesh Museum exhibit from 8 or 9 years ago, ROSA BONHEUR: ALL NATURE’S CHILDREN. Bonheur was the great French academic painter of animals. A print of her famous and wonderful “Horse Fair” hung in the hall of my grade school, one of those things I was aware of in passing as important, old, and exotic, fascinating, but not in some strange way for me. It had a semi-religious presence in our school, but I never got to look at it long, as we were hustling on to class or eager to get free of the school building. Now, when I see the enormous painting at the Met. Museum, I am excited by it, glad I’m old enough to like it again– Bonheur fell WAY out of favor with everything from the Barbizon School to the Impressionists and on. Her love of the real is beside the point for modernists. She was also old fashioned in her use of assistants to share the painting: a friend did her skies, her brother did something else, etc. The book has interesting articles about the tradition of animalier painters, about her family, the women in her life, her feminism–how she admired George Sand and dressed from time to time like a man, smoked cigars, etc."
DRAWINGS FROM A WRITER...ROBERTA ALLEN SHOW
ArtOnWall at 288 Wall St., Kingston, NY. Hours Sat. 1-5; Thurs/Fri. 1-5, or by appointment. Phone 845.331.1269 or 845.679-8239 Email information from firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s a web site called Meetup.com dedicated to putting people in touch around interests ranging from scrapbookers to bikers. One of the largest groups is writers. It would be a useful way to find and organize writers in your area. Take a look at http://writers.meetup.com.
NEW YORK READINGS FEATURING BOB HEMAN
If you’re in New York City...on Friday February 2nd, Bob Heman will be featured at Jackie Sheeler's legendary Pink Pony West series at Cornelia St. Café 29 Cornelia St. (a block from the W. 4th St. station) 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. A $6 donation includes a free drink plus a great open mic - come early and sign up.
...On Wednesday February 28, Laura Vookles ("L.V") and Bob Heman will read at The Green Pavilion 4307 18th Avenue in Brooklyn (a block from the 18th Ave. "F" train station) hosted by Evie Ivy and Sol Rubin plus an open mic $3.00 donation plus $5.00 minimum
FREE DOWNLOAD OF BOB HEMAN’S PROSE POEMS
Quale press has just published a collection of 33 of Bob Heman’s prose poems written between 1975 and 1990. It's available as a free download.
SUPPLEMENT OF JANUARY 28, 2007: MORE ON RICHARD POWERS AND MORE
People responded to my comments about Richard Powers, and I wanted to send them out while the comments were at least a little fresh in everyone’s mind. Barbara Crooker wrote to say that she “just finished this book [Powers’ THE ECHO MAKER], and couldn't articulate (partly because I also have some terrible thing going on with my neck and am in severe pain) what exactly was wrong with it, but you hit the nail on the proverbial head! I was particularly interested in it because a) I'm a birder, and b) my middle daughter also had a TBI, but her recovery was quite different than [the character Mark’s] (probably because she was 18). . . .(She's fine now, a fully-functioning adult; okay, a bit "different" but we just roll our eyes and say "brain damaged" in that sick sort of way you can, when you know it's not really true).”
And Shelley Ettinger says: “Just read and enjoyed your latest newsletter, thought I'd send a word or two about Richard Powers. I've read several of his books over the years, starting with GALATEA 2.2. I think your take on his writing is dead-on. Across his career he's been writing about ideas, big or ostensibly big, and his books tend to have intriguing premises and much interesting material but are, alas, emotionally uninvolving. Which ultimately renders them intellectually unexciting as well. I tried to read his last book, THE TIME OF OUR SINGING, about an interracial family, but was disappointed to find myself bored and gave it up after 50 or so pages. His novel GAIN is the one that, for me, came closest to success and at the same time is the one where his central problem is clearest because he separated out the two strands
of what he's always trying to do so the failure is manifest. The novel consists of two parallel stories; one is basically the history of a corporation and the other is the tale of a contemporary woman with terminal cancer caused by this corporation's products. I became deeply caught up in and deeply moved by the woman's story while I was more and more bored with the corporation's, to the point where I skimmed over the corporation chapters so I could get on with the woman's.
“As to why he gets all these awards, I think it has to do with his being this Big Idea Man, lauded for the attempt to grapple with the ideas even though the execution is so flawed. I do admire him for his continuing effort to address various social questions via fiction but I can think of Big Idea WOMEN who are writing intellectually fascinating fiction that does succeed and who are not getting the awards and attention. One is Lynne Tillman, whose most recent novel AMERICAN GENIUS is, well, brilliant. It's a challenging read, by turns deep, sad and hilarious, that basically consists of a woman's ruminations during her stay at some sort of institution--writers' colony or insane asylum, it's the reader's guess. In the way it addresses so many issues, political and personal, working with a small palette from inside one person's consciousness, it strikes me
as a MRS. DALLOWAY for the 21st century. Then there is OH PURE AND RADIANT HEART by Lydia Millett, which has Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard and Enrico Fermi come back to life in the present day New Mexico and set about a crusade to ban nuclear weapons. (Both Tillman's and Millett's books are published by Soft Skull Press, a house that's doing great things in my opinion.) Then there are Tayari Jones, Michelle Truong, A.L. Kennedy, Julia Alvarez, Kiran Desai (well okay she is getting attention and award nominations), Lydie Salvayre, Scarlett Thomas, etc. etc. Women thinking big thoughts and writing deep, engaging fiction that takes on big issues.
Finally, Shelley adds: “A related note: A few Sundays ago I watched a C-Span special about the NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW. It was an hourlong "behind the scenes" look, with NYTBR editor Sam Tanenhaus giving a guided tour. The entire NYTBR staff was introduced. Every single top editor is a white man. The entire editorial staff, except for one person, is white. The one exception is a Black man who was shown sorting mail but who it was said does have some editorial role. The only other person of color in the office was the secretary, a Latina, who was introduced with the "she runs this whole place" condescension with which I as a secretary am very familiar. “
Anyone have anything to add on this subject?
ONLINE MAGAZINE OPEN TO SUBMISSIONS
Accepting short fiction & poetry for the 4th issue of the literary journal GINOSKO. Editorial lead time 1-3 months; accept simultaneous submissions and reprints; receives email & postal submissions. Length flexible. Copyright reverts to author. Publishing as semiannual ezine--summer & winter. Moving towards printed version distributed throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Downloadable issues on website: http://www.ginoskoliteraryjournal.com/
ezine circulation 2000+. Also looking for artwork, photography, CDs, links to post on website.
GINOSKO, Robert Paul Cesaretti. PO Box 246, Fairfax CA 94978.
NEW YOUNG ADULT BOOK FROM GRETCHEN LASKAS!
Gretchen Laskas’s new young adult novel is THE MINER'S DAUGHTER, set in the 1930's coal camps and the Homestead town of Arthurdale, West Virginia. SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL for February 2007 says,“Richly drawn characters and plot make this an excellent novel that explores the struggles endured by many in America in the 1930's. The integrity of the character and their resourcefulness show readers how, with hard work and determination, adversity can be overcome.”
TEACHERS & WRITERS COLLABORATIVE RADIO WITH LARISSA SCHMAILO
WNYE 91.5 FM– Thursday, February 1 at 6:30-7:00 PM– Larissa Shmailo presents “Exorcism” (Found Poem) about the Vietnam My Lai massacre and other selected work. (Repeated Tuesday, February 27 at 6:30-7:00 PM) The text of the poem “Exorcism” can be found in the 2007 issue of Big Bridge at http://www.bigbridge.org/deathlshmailo.htm
CORNELIA STREET CAFÉ READINGS SCHEDULE NYC
Cornelia Street Café, 29 Cornelia Street, NYC-- featured poet & open mike, every Friday night from 6-8pm
2/02 – Bob Heman
2/09 – Cheryl Boyce Taylor
2/16 – Jack Wiler
2/23 – Elizabeth Harrington
3/02 – Mark Nickels
3/09 – Claus Ankersen
3/16 – Jee Leong Koh
3/23 – Daniela Gioseffi & Pat Falk
3/30 – Randall Horton
Newsletter # 92
March 2, 2007
I seem to have reacted to February’s snow and ice by reading old books and books about old books. I went through several of Tolstoy’s shorter works, including “The Cossacks,” “Family Happiness,” and “Father Sergius.” The thing about reading Tolstoy, who I will read and reread as long as my brain has sufficient cells, is that you have to deal with the fact that he almost always has some truth he is eager to spread to the world. And what is most remarkable of all is that his work usually transcends his didactic truth-telling.
For example, “Family Happiness”is about how to make marriage work. It’s told in the voice of a young woman who marries an older man, and it’s all about how she falls from passion into boredom and social climbing. She almost slips into adultery, but returns to her husband, yearning for the perfect communication of their early days, but finally accepting quiet love with him and devotion to her babies. “Father Sergius” is the tale of a proud and ambitious man who stays proud and ambitious even as a hermit and saint-in-training. The end is ambiguous– has Sergius changed or not? His life consists of finding the answer, embracing it, and then having to fight off his nature– more than a little like Tolstoy himself.
And then, of course, there is the magnificent “The Death Of Ivan Ilych,” which is exactly what it says: the story of how one man dies. It is heady and depressing, one of the world’s great works of literature, perfect length, nothing extra. The first fifth or sixth sets up the situation and the world of Ivan Ilych, and the rest takes us through the stages of his dying. There is a possible religious conversion at the very end, but mainly it’s a heart wrenching humanization of a figure Tolstoy starts out not liking very much– a fatuous and thoroughly ordinary fellow.
Hoping to get a little background on the novella from Wikipedia (whose greatest strength, I’ve discovered, is NOT literature), I found a partisan Christian interpretation of the piece, so I added the following: “Christians have often embraced the apparent conversion or redemption of Ivan Ilych at the end. Ivan Ilych sees the light, cries out ‘What Joy!’ etc. Indeed, the novella was written soon after Tolstoy had a conversion experience. Tolstoy's Christianity, however, was always a quirky one, focused on the life of Jesus as a model of love in action. There is, for example, no definite indication of life after death in ‘The Death of Ivan Ilych,’ only the powerful depiction of the man’s experience of dying. Many non-Christians and secularists have different interpretations of the end of the novella. One such interpretation is that Ivan Ilych's whole struggle and agony ends with the great gift of a cessation of suffering. Another interpretation is that Ivan Ilych's breakthrough is the freedom that comes with truth, in his case, seeing the falsity of his life, which enables him to have a brief moment of unselfish love or at least compassion for his wife and son. Tolstoy almost always had an ideological or religious ax to grind in his fiction, but the power of his imagination and humanity usually overwhelms his theories.”
Then I read Donald M. Frame’s MONTAIGNE: A BIOGRAPHY. It includes lots of long passages from Montaigne’s ESSAIS, but I liked best the insights into history through the lens of Montaigne’s life. He was in the same age cohort as Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots and half a generation younger than the powerful queen of France, Catherine de Medici.
Montaigne was deeply involved in the brutal religious wars between Catholics and Protestants. He personally knew Henri of Navarre, the Protestant, who became Henri IV, the Catholic (famous for saying, “France is worth a mass...”). Henri was unusual in his pragmatic approach to religion. Too many people were full of the arrogant righteousness of being so sure their religion was right that they felt duty-bound to run through with a sword anyone who disagreed with them. The really neat part of this was that when you killed one of the enemy, they died without an opportunity to change their religion, and thus went directly to hell.
By the next one of these newsletters, I should have finished the thousand page trilogy by Sigrid Undset, KRISTIN LAVRANSDATTER, so I’m now looking for suggestions for short, contemporary, breezy-easy reading!
Katherine Manley recommends two of her favorite memoirs: “Anyone who hasn’t read Jeanette Walls’ memoir, THE GLASS CASTLE is definitely missing a good read. Walls is a born story teller, and her book deserves your time. Her incredible story of escape and triumph from a dysfunctional family is not just about overcoming adversity. It is much more. She innocently describes her nomadic family (parents and three siblings) as they survive hunger, homelessness, and false hopes from the Southwest to Appalachia. One striking scene I will never forget is when her penniless father leads her out into the desert on Christmas Eve and asks her to look up and select a star. She does. That is her Christmas gift. It is one of the best books I have ever read, and I would gladly read it again. Her story is a wake-up call to appreciate what you have.
“Another excellent memoir that I recommend is Homer Hickam’s ROCKET BOYS that takes place in a southern West Virginia coal town in the 1950’s. His story is told as a teenager as he and four other friends are inspired by the launching of Sputnik to build rockets and win the science fair. They face several obstacles along the way including Homer’s stubborn father who insists that he give up the idea and become a coal miner. However, their math/science teacher, Ms. Freida Riley, gives them the support they need to continue with their goal and actually win the National Science Fair. Homer eventually ends up working for NASA. This book was important because it reminds us that dreams can and do come true if you stay the course.”
As a point of information, Katherine also mentions that there is now a Freida J. Riley Teacher Award (http://www.www.nmoe.org) that is administered by the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation ( http://www.columbusfdn.org/freidajriley/default.asp). This award is given annually to a teacher who is impacting students’ lives and is either working with a physical handicap (Ms. Riley had Hodgkin’s disease), or is teaching in an especially challenging educational environment, or has performed a heroic act by making an exceptional, personal, or physical sacrifice in the line of duty.
AW SHUCKS DEPARTMENT!
Leatha Kendrick sent these extremely kind words: “Thanks so much for your newsletter. This supplement to issue 91 gave me food for thought and good suggestions for reading. I am working on a novel now, so reading fiction has taken on a different kind of urgency for me. I have always enjoyed your newsletter, and I wanted you to know that the news you bring and the forum you create in it mean more to me as time passes.”
APPALACHIAN WRITERS GUILD COLLECTION NOW AVAILABLE
The APPALACHIAN SHORT FICTION ANTHOLOGY is now available at Four Seasons Bookstore in Shepherdstown, West Virginia and Taylor Books in Charleston, West Virginia. For information on ordering, write the Appalachian Writers Guild at email@example.com. I had the honor of blurbing the book, and said that, “in true embracing Appalachian style, [it] includes both short stories by famous writers from the past and new, contemporary voices.” AWG is also looking for a volunteer webmaster, if you are interested, email them.
THERE ARE WORDS by Burt Kimmelman, published by Dos Madres Press, is now available, pre-publication date, at http://www.dosmadres.com. A CD of Kimmelman reading the poems in this chapbook is available separately.
Editions Rodopi is pleased to announce a new publication in the Costernus (Cos) series THE SECRET COUNTRY: Decoding Jayne Anne Phillips’ Cryptic Fiction, by Sarah Robertson.
THE SECRET COUNTRY is the first monograph on the work of the contemporary American novelist Jayne Anne Phillips. Through detailed and innovative textual analysis this study considers the southern aspects of Phillips’ writing. Robertson demonstrates the importance of Phillips’ place within the southern literary canon by identifying the echoes of William Faulkner, Katherine Anne Porter and Edgar Allan Poe that permeate her work.
Wind Publications( http://windpub.com/) will be publishing a collection of Georgia Green Stamper’s newspaper columns later this year.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION by Harvey Havel. Set in the suburbs of present-day New Jersey and also New York City, FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION traces the lives of three talented poets and their determination to continue their work despite overwhelming odds. Part comedy and part interracial romance, Freedom of Association has direct appeal to those who love poetry and the poets who write it, those who appreciate high quality literary fiction, and those who crave remarkable storytelling about equally fascinating characters. See Mr. Havel’s blog at www.harveyhavel.blogspot.com or look for his book online.
Gretchen Laskas’s new young adult novel is THE MINER'S DAUGHTER, set in the 1930's coal camps and the Homestead town of Arthurdale, West Virginia. SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL says,“Richly drawn characters and plot make this an excellent novel that explores the struggles endured by many in America in the 1930's. The integrity of the character and their resourcefulness show readers how, with hard work and determination, adversity can be overcome.”
MORE GOOD NEWS
PEDESTAL founder and publisher John Amen has finished recording his new CD, RIDICULOUS EMPIRE, and it should be ready for release in late March or early April. He recently set up a MySpace page at http://www.myspace.com/johnamen and posted one song, "One of These Days," from the new CD. He also has five poems in the current issue of OFFCOURSE at http://www.albany.edu/offcourse/
Poetic Diversity Awards went to HARD COUNTRY by Paul Christensen (Thorp Springs Press) and to GUIDE TO THE TOKYO SUBWAY by Halvard Johnson (Hamilton Stone Editions).
STORYGLOSSIA FICTION PRIZE 2007, This year's contest, which will open for submissions in June, will again pay $1000 for first prize. Finalists will be published in the October issue and in the print version, and receive review and interview coverage in the Storyglossia blog. So get busy revising those contest entries. A total of 21 entries from the 2006 contest were published in Issues 16, 17, and 18. More details as the contest nears. In the meantime, be sure to check out the PRINT VERSION OF 2006 PRIZE ISSUE, now available at http://www.storyglossia.com/press.html .
Newsletter # 93
April 14, 2007
Undset Momaday Jones
Don’t forget National Poetry month! Several poetry organizations are sending out a poem a day– check out Poetry Daily and the Academy of American Poets). I also want to suggest one lovely book recommended to me by Phyllis Moore. The book is I SAW GOD DANCING by Cheryl Denise. This is my idea of religious poems: an embrace and celebration of this life, including husbands and sheep and crazy ladies and shoo-fly pie. The poet is a Mennonite, and her earthy love of life is enormously uplifting. Learn more here.
I finished the redoubtable and magnificent KRISTIN LAVRANSDATTER by Sigrid Undset, a remarkable, enormous book, which I had repeatedly tried to read but couldn’t get into until I finally bought a new translation by Tiina Nunnally. The previous standard translation of the Norwegian trilogy set in the 1300's had been written in fake olde englisshe, whereas Undset had written her novel in regular twentieth century Norwegian.
It is rambling, omniscient, and engrossing like life. Generally ignored by feminist scholars, possibly for its religious sentiments, or because the women and men's’ roles are so sharply differentiated, Undset’s book centers on a woman who can do anything: she rides, she reaps, she sews, cooks, runs an estate, collects herbs, reads, heals, delivers babies, and has seven sons of her own. One of the strengths of the book is how you feel the full weight of convention and culture and nature. Kristin has a surprising amount of personal freedom, and her culture has respect for the women’s realm. She is, however, trammeled by custom, by her own narrow interpretation of righteousness, and by her struggle with her own sensual nature. The story of a marriage based firmly on physical passion that never really dies down is worth the price of the book all by itself.
Kristen tries to be a good woman and a good daughter and Christian, and yet she is as proud as her chieftain husband. She tries repeatedly and fails to become humble. She dies in the end of a quintessentially 14th century illness, but her final acts in a time of plague are heroic. It is an exhausting read, but it’s all the things I want a book to be.
Moving into the later twentieth century, I read the now nearly 40 year old novel HOUSE MADE OF DAWN by N. Scott Momaday, a lyrical and violent book that centers on a Navajo soldier returned from war and unable to find a place in the world. You get landscape, you get stories, you get beautiful writing that I thought at first was too elaborate and impressionistic, but gradually I got accustomed to Momaday’s rhythms and in the end, the beauty of it got to me.
I did wish I had a book as lovely as the words: I was reading a cheapo old Signet edition I’d bought online with acid crisp pages shedding as I read. So beware the used $2.95 paperbacks that cost more to ship than to buy. They leave book dandruff wherever you’ve been reading.
And, finally reaching the twenty-first century, I read LEAVING ATLANTA by Tayari Jones . This was recommended by Shelley Ettinger in a previous issue of this newsletter. I deeply admired a powerful structure of three consecutive first person narratives of ten year old children living in Atlanta at the time of the child murders. One of the narrators is a middle class girl struggling to fit in with the mean girls; one is a sad little boy who is probably clinically depressed and talks himself through his section in the grammatical second person. The third narrator, probably the most engaging of the three (although you certainly love all of them), is a girl who tells people she does NOT live in the projects, but rather across the street from the projects. She lives with her mother who works the night shift and is forced to leave her alone much too often. She would like to fit in too, but she sees things very clearly and deals with her life admirably by making friends where she can, including a fruitful relationship with her old second grade teacher. The portraits of the adults are all through ten year olds’ eyes, and you get the powerful effect of the communal catastrophe of the times.
Ardian Gill writes to say, “I just read The Death of Ivan Ilych and re-read your contribution to Wikipedia. Your ‘what joy’ analysis seems spot on. It's Nietzsche's ‘Happiness is the absence of pain’ which, of course, informs Becket's HAPPY DAYS. Thanks for the instigation to revisit Tolstoy. Have you read THE POET OF TOLSTOY PARK? A good example of bad writing, but a lot about Tolstoy.”
RECOMMENDATIONS– LIGHT AND OTHERWISE
In the last issue, I asked for recommendations of some light hearted reading. Ardian Gill says that he read something perhaps not light, but “at least funny...I re-read Joyce Cary's THE HORSE'S MOUTH recently, and it's a joy. Not exactly contemporary but, a fun read. One has to be inspired by someone who will do anything for his art, lie, steal, connive, but he's always seeing things like the sky and the river in terms of colors on canvas. I may go back to the rest of the trilogy, HERSELF SURPRISED and TO BE A PILGRIM. They don't write 'em like that anymore.”
Margaretha Laurenzi wrote to say, “I've just finished THE POWER OF ONE by Bryce Courtenay. It's not breezy or light, but it is good, a story about growing up in WWII era South Africa told from the perspective of a young boy as he is growing up. It's beautifully told, the characters are very real and memorable, the relationships complex and interesting, and the message of finding within oneself the power to persevere and follow your heart's desire is compelling. The backdrop of Africa adds to its expansiveness.”
And Phyllis Moore recommends THE LAND BREAKERS by one of North Carolina’s best novelists, John Ehle. The book, says, Phyllis, “ provides an intriguing view of pioneers settling an isolated and mountainous section of North Carolina. There are no stereotypes here. The novel's characters are multidimensional, the plot is gripping, and the language and depiction of daily frontier life rings true. The novel could serve as a blue print for how early settlers cooked, created tools, hunted, dressed, buried their dead, celebrated, etc. Now in reprint, [see http://www.press53.com/] THE LAND BREAKERS could be quite useful in Appalachian Studies Programs. It contains all the essential elements of an interesting novel and provides a close-up view of a bygone culture.”
Last fall I read Ehle’s novel THE WINTER PEOPLE, and join in Phyllis’s recommendation of his work.
Phyllis also recommends Eavan Boland 's new book AGAINST LOVE POETRY. “One of the leading poets of our time, Irish or otherwise. Her poems often deal with what one critic has referred to as ‘women's secret history’; her latest book confronts and refutes the myths and conventions of traditional love poetry. Born in 1944 in Dublin, Eavan now teaches at Stanford University while also maintaining a home in Ireland.”
Belinda Anderson sent this: “You have to love a publication that encourages homeowners to decorate with book piles. HOUSE BEAUTIFUL DECORATING WITH BOOKS, by Marie Proeller Hueston, is a fun coffee table book with lush full-color photography featuring books in every shot, whether it’s a living room, bedroom, potting shed or the official home library. Not only are you given permission to stack books on a hall table, but ‘if you’d like, rest books beneath the table on a small stool or on the floor to continue the theme down below.’ Even better is allowing the books themselves to serve as furniture: ‘Stacks can be . . . as tall as you please as long as there is no risk of toppling. They can be placed on any number of surfaces including the floor, where substantial stacks can act as side tables, telephone tables, and even pedestals for pieces of sculpture.’ You know how your bookcase becomes filled, so you cram a few volumes sideways on top of a row of books? This is now called punctuating with a few horizontal volumes. And what book hoarder would ever dream of seeing this photo caption in a coffee-table book? ‘In this lively living room, open shelves brimming with a haphazard arrangement of volumes blend well with the owner’s copious and colorful collections.’”
RECOMMENDED, BUT NOT LIGHT AT ALL
David Weinberger has been reading a variorum text of HAMLET (a cheap Dover reprint) which he recommends. See why here.
Christine Willis writes: “Have you read DEMONIC MALES: APES AND THE ORIGINS OF HUMAN VIOLENCE by Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson? It is a book [my son] Alex was assigned for an anthropology class...scholarly but quite readable. It is one of the most fascinating books I have ever read, and in fact addresses many issues I have thought about. The issues have relevance in today's global problems. It is worth reading. (1996 publication).”
Bob Heman’s chapbook CONE INVESTIGATES is now available from Poets Wear Prada for the quite reasonable price of $6 including postage and handling. It features a collage he did for the cover. Order from Poets Wear Prada, c/o Roxanne Hoffman, 533 Bloomfield Street, 2nd floor, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030. Checks payable to Roxanne Hoffman.
Diane Lockward is the featured poet in the spring issue of the online journal, VALPARAISO POETRY REVIEW. There are 3 new poems, an interview by Sondra Gash, and a review by Judy Montgomery of Diane’s new book, WHAT FEEDS US. See the journal at http://www.valpo.edu/english/vpr/v8n2.html .
Tamara Baxter’s first collection of short stories ROCK BIG AND SING LOUD has just been published by the Jesse Stuart Foundation at http://www.jsfbooks.com/newreleases.asp .
Robert Morgan says of the collection, “The past decade has been an exciting time for American fiction in general and Southern Appalachian fiction in particular. ROCK BIG AND SING LOUD by Tamara Baxter is a significant addition to this surge of new writing. Writing truly about the world of eastern Tennessee Baxter also writes about the world at large, about humanity.”
Iris N. Schwartz and Madeline Artenberg’s book of poems, AWAKENED has a new review by Thaddeus Rutkowski in BOOK/MARK, A QUARTERLY SMALL PRESS REVIEW (P.O. Box 516, Miller Place, NY 11764). "Madeline Artenberg,” writes Rutkowski, “demonstrates a gift for description and knack for juxtaposition. In 'Chosen Seats,' about her grandfather. The effect is a portrayal that is almost heroic....The sweep of her topics is impressive." And of Iris N. Schwartz, he says, "With relatively few words, Schwartz tells us a lot. There's no circling, no concealment. She has a talent for presenting loaded details"
Jeff Biggers book THE UNITED STATES OF APPALACHIA: HOW SOUTHERN MOUNTAINEERS BROUGHT INDEPENDENCE, CULTURE AND ENLIGHTENMENT TO AMERICA is just out in paperback from Shoemaker and Hoard. Studs Terkel says, "Biggers’s inspiring book should be a best-seller immediately. It is a how-to book--how to assert your fundamental rights and how to speak out in the manner of the American Revolution footsloggers, whose descendants they are. Read it and your faltering hopes will rise." For more information, visit http://www.jeffbiggers.com .
Neva announces the Clinch River Days to Feature Literary Readings on June 2, 1:00 p.m., at the Oxbow Center in St. Paul. Regional authors will read selections from their works: Jane Hicks, author of BLOOD & BONE REMEMBER; Rita Quillen author of the poetry collection COUNTING THE SUMS; Joe Tennis, author of SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA CROSSROADS, and Peter Crow, author of DO, DIE, OR GET ALONG: A TALE OF TWO APPALACHIAN TOWNS. For details, please call Neva Hamilton at 276-762-5619 or write her at firstname.lastname@example.org .
UPCOMING READING IN NEW YORK
Burt Kimmelman will be reading in Manhattan from his new collection, THERE ARE WORDS (Dos Madres Press, 2007), on Sunday, April 22nd (details below), at 2 PM. All are welcome to attend. High Chai Café, 18 Avenue B (between 2nd and 3rd Streets), Manhattan, Phone: 212.477.2424).
The Writing Life, June 8-10, 2007, at Esalen with Ellen Bass. “ This weekend will allow us to leave the rush of our busy lives and be still enough to hear the stories and poems that gestate within us. We'll write, share our writing, and hear what our work touches in others. We'll help each other to become clearer, go deeper, take new risks. With the safety, support, and inspiration of this gathering, you will have the opportunity to create writing that is more vivid, more true, more complex and powerful than you've been able to do before.” Register directly with Esalen at 831-667-3005 or at http://www.esalen.org
NARRATIVE MAGAZINE announces that they have lowered their reading fee for all submissions of all lengths to five dollars. They are issuing a call for nonfiction manuscripts
for a forthcoming nonfiction issue of Narrative. They are interested in receiving articles, memoirs, profiles, essays, commentary, satire, humor, and other nonfiction works of interest to literary readers. To see their Submission Guidelines, log on at http://www.narrativemagazine.com.
The Nimrod/Hardman Awards competition for two annual awards given by Nimrod International Journal has a deadline of April 30, 2007. The Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction and The Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry offer first prizes of $2,000 and second prizes of $1,000, along with publication of the winning stories and poems, and a trip to Tulsa to receive the awards and take part in our annual writing workshop. For rules and other information, visit http://www.utulsa.edu/nimrod.
Newsletter # 94
May 3, 2007
This issue’s guest column by Alice Robinson-Gilman is from a presentation on reading and books given at the Ethical Culture Society of Essex County of April 15, 2007. The presentation was interactive, and you, too, are invited to send in your thoughts about reading and books too.
NOTES ON BOOKS AND READING BY ALICE ROBINSON-GILMAN
The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul (Douglas Adams)
The Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys)
A Severed Wasp (Madeline L’Engle)
Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri)
A Live Coal in the Sea (Madeline L’Engle)
A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali (Gil Courtemanche)
Hearts in Atlantis (Stephen King)
Carry Me Across the Water (Ethan Canin)
A Wrinkle in Time (Madeline L’Engle)
In Sunlight in a Beautiful Garden (Kathleen Cambor)
A Ship Made of Paper (Spencer Scott)
A Primate’s Memoirs (Robert Sapolsky)
Girls in Their Married Bliss (Edna O’Brien)
In the Heart of the Sea (Nathanel Philbrook)
The Farming of Bones (Eldwidge Danticat)
A Swiftly Tilting Planet (Madeline L’Engle)
Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury)
In the Castle of My Skin (George Lamming)
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? ( Phillip K. Dick)
Ever since I can remember I have loved books. I loved looking at the pictures and I loved reading them. I loved holding them and turning the pages. I loved the quiet and privacy of being involved in a different place with different people, places and ideas. Growing up in Queens, NY, my family made trips to our local library and each person took out the limit allowed, 10 books each. We’d go home and put all our books in piles on the coffee table in the center of the living room. As a family we spent a large amount of time reading, all in the living room or in our individual spots. We lived in a 5-room apartment. There was literally no place to be alone (except in the bathroom and you couldn’t stay in there long). Reading offered me the one “place” to be alone by shutting out everyone else and at the same time being involved in a larger world.
I also read in bed. I had a fantasy book which had those old beautiful color plates printed on that smooth and shiny paper.. There were two plates I can still see today. Both were from the King Arthur legend. One showed the boy before he became king, kneeling at the rock where the sword was stuck as if praying. I can see the large boulder, the sword, the clothes he was wearing and the hope and longing reflected in his eyes. Something I could relate to as a young, lonely girl. The other plate in this book was of “the lady of the lake” She had just risen from the lake which was enveloped in fog and seemed mysterious and slightly menacing. She wore a diaphanous blue dress which was slightly blown by the wind. I could project all kinds of fantasies and longings onto this image.
There was one particular book from the children’s room I remember in detail to this day. For years I had no idea why it stuck with me. But 25 odd years later, when I became pregnant, I realized why. As an adult, I rarely read a book more than once. But over the past few years, I have read THE FIFTH CHILD by Doris Lessing five times and THE DANGEROUS HUSBAND by Jane Shapiro four times. I had no idea why these particular books have intrigued me so much. Last night it came to me. The three books I’ve mentioned all contained hints about issues I would come to deal with further on in my future. The children’s book was about the ambivalence of becoming a parent and one’s ability to parent. THE FIFTH CHILD and THE DANGEROUS HUSBAND deal with relationships within the family and how different things can turn out from one’s earlier expectations.
The list of books above was chosen not because they are my favorites– in fact there are some I haven’t even read, but to illustrate the magic of books for me and the beauty of words. A title suggests all the possibilities as to what the book is about. I then have the thrill of finding out what that is. My feelings about books and what they offer remains stronger than ever. I can’t imagine life without reading. I have come to believe that if one can read, one can learn almost anything. This is one of the strongest convictions I have.
I remember the day I was finally able to get my adult library card and the excitement and joy I felt. I can clearly see myself walking through the little turnstile by the checkout counter into the large room and feeling infinitely proud.
MAYNARD ON MOMADAY
Lee Maynard writes to say “You have touched upon one of may all-time favorite books [HOUSE MADE OF DAWN, Issue # 93] , by one of my all-time favorite authors. (Yeah, I know, I'm partial to dark material.) I carry a copy with me every time I present a workshop. In the section titled "The Priest and the Sun" there is a paragraph that begins "My grandmother was a storyteller . . . " It is one long paragraph that illustrates the power of storytelling better than I ever could. Momaday could have been writing about my grandmother. Shortly thereafter there is a paragraph beginning ‘In the white man's world, language, too . . .’ Two paragraphs that really lay out the importance of words, the right words. Have you read any of Momaday's poetry? He wrote something called ‘The Earth and I Gave Her Turquoise’. My wife is part Native American and I can not read this poem without crying. I'm glad Mr. Momaday has given us these gifts.”
And speaking of Lee Maynard-- Ross Ballard at the MountainWhispers.com audiobooks has just come out with a 5 CD version of Lee's wonderful CRUM. CRUM makes a terrific audiobook. Its rambling series of incidents totally engrossed me as I drove over the Allegeny Front from West Virginia through western Maryland and then north on I-81 through Pennsylvania. You totally trust the storyteller (that's Lee channeled by Ross) to twist and snake around all those characters and funny and tragic incidents and then return to the themes of escape and extremely reluctant celebration of a time and place. If you haven't read CRUM, do– but even if you have, enjoy it again by ear.
Bob Bender writes to say, “A dear old friend strongly recommended ARC OF JUSTICE , a nonfiction book about the murder trial of Ossian Sweet and his colleagues in Detroit who in 1925 protected Sweet's new home in a white neighborhood from a threatening crowd by shooting into the crowd. The defense, led by Clarence Darrow and Arthur Garfield Hays was undertaken by the national NAACP which was coincidentally contesting restrictive housing covenants. The historian author does a wonderful job of setting the context for this: national and Detroit social and racial history, Sweet family background in northern Florida, Wilburforce and Howard Universities, Reinhold Neibuhr's role in Detroit, presiding judge later US Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy, the KKK, riveting trial description. I read the 375 pages in 24 hours.”
Phyllis Moore recommends “one of my favorite ‘coming of age’ books by a WV author. The novel is not set here but Brenda lived here for many years....THE BRIDGES OF SUMMER by
Brenda Seabrooke.” The book has just come back in print through the Authors Guild program, http://www.backinprint.com.
Shelley Ettinger writes about “the latest entry in my occasional dead-white-men-I-never-read-in-college series: JUDE THE OBSCURE by Thomas Hardy. Loved it! What a fabulously bitter indictment of the stifling, hypocritical social and religious mores of class society.”
And, coincidentally, I’ve been reading Hardy too, with great pleasure, RETURN OF THE NATIVE and THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE. The last one I had the pleasure of buying off the shelf at NYU’s book store in a very reasonably priced Barnes & Noble Classic edition with an introduction by Phillip Lopate and lots of notes (maybe a few too many footnotes). It was fun to buy a book off the shelf for once, feeling it was a bargain, also to have the introduction written by an old friend, and then, of course, the book itself: late Victorian and cutting right through what I’ve always liked least about my beloved Victorian novels– the condescension to lower classes and the extreme repression of women’s actions. If a Dickens woman makes one slip, she is by the next chapter a street walker dying of consumption. Hardy’s women may fall, but their tragedies get detailed, sympathetic treatment. They also move more freely, in the MAYOR walking about in an admittedly provincial market town, even at night, and in the case of one young woman, earning her way by working with her hands, but also reading and studying. Everyone is, of course, in the middle to lower middle and below classes, and it’s such a relief and pleasure. Of course, there’s still a lot of melodrama and coincidence, but the Mayor himself is a terrific portrait of a man who is conflicted, self-made, and self-destroyed. So glad I read it.
MORE FROM SHELLEY:
I just read a couple very good books. ANGELICA by Arthur Phillips, whose THE EGYPTOLOGIST I'd adored a couple years ago. This one's a moody, atmospheric study of a Victorian family and its demons, real, psychological, sexual and/or sociological. It reminded me of Sarah Waters' AFFINITY in that its real subject is women's role and social/sexual repression, highlighted by the Victorian fascination with mediums, spirits, hauntings and the like. Then I read ARLINGTON PARK by Rachel Cusk, also set in London, well a London suburb, but in the present day. It's a study of female anomie as exemplified by several women variously coping with their roles as wife and mother. It's funny, biting, painful. The writer is an absolute master of metaphor, with breathtakingly original imagery tumbling down the pages. Really really sharp, evocative writing.
Here's one I don't recommend: REMAINDER, by Tom McCarthy, a first novel that was reviewed on the front page of the NYT Book Review recently. It's a strange book, very readable with a straightforward writing style but ultimately unsatisfying. The main character, recently recovered from devastating injuries incurred when some never specified thing fell on him from the sky, suffers from an alienated sense of not being truly engaged in his life. When he wins a mega-bucks settlement from the lawsuit about his injury, he uses the money to stage a series of incredibly elaborate re-creations of scenes or events, eventually devolving to staging recreations of incidents occurring during the recreations themselves! I was intrigued for a good long while, and not averse to the creepy discomfort the story engendered, but at the end I felt I'd been set up with no payoff. We never find out what actually happened that nearly killed him or why he feels so disengaged, and the bloody climax disappointed me. Maybe a more astute reader would get this book but, though I'd been willing straight through to the end to take it on its own terms, I didn't get it.
GOOD NEWS!! GOOD BOOKS!!
Juanita Torrence-Thompson has a new book of poetry out, NEW YORK AND AFRICAN TAPESTRIES. See her website at http://www.poetrytown.com , and sample poems at http://home.earthlink.net/~poetrytown/nyafrican.html . She is also the new editor/publisher of the 25-year old MOBIUS, THE POETRY MAGAZINE, which has published the work of outstanding poets such as US Poet Laureate & Pulitzer Prize winner, RITA DOVE & award-winning poets like NIKKI GIOVANNI, MARGE PIERCY, DIANE WAKOSKI, SIMON PERCHIK, DANIELA GIOSEFFI, HAL SIROWITZ and many, many more as well as gifted emerging poets and students.
The audiobook of CRUM mentioned above is getting some national attention: it is reviewed very positively in FOREWORD MAGAZINE’s May-June issue. "Crum - The Music Soundtrack" ($14.95) is also just out.
Stephan Geng’s memoir THICK AS THIEVES has just been published. It’s about the contrast between his life and the life of his sister, a well-known writer for THE NEW YORKER. He’s getting lots of good reviews and a book tour!
David Weinberger’s EVERYTHING IS MISCELLANEOUS will teach you everything you need to know about the philosophy of Knowledge in the age of the Internet. His book is officially published this week– be sure and take a look.
Ed Lynskey’s second P.I. Frank Johnson mystery, THE BLUE CHEER, is due out from Wildside/Point Black Press (http://www.pointblankpress.com/). Set in West Virginia, it has received a starred review in BOOKLIST ("Top-of-the-line hard-boiled fare.") as well as positive reviews in PUBLISHERS WEEKLY and many other places.
And finally, don’t miss Carol Emshwiller’s new novel, THE SECRET CITY, from Tachyon Publications, the small science fiction press. In this one, a group of extremely human aliens who came here as tourists have been abandoned on Earth. The older generation dies off, and the younger ones have to decide if they want to stay or go. Even if you aren't a science fiction fan, you'll enjoy the gripping quirky worlds Emswhiller creates.
Colette Inez, Larissa Shmailo, and John Amen are reading at the West Side Y in New York on May 4 at 7:30PM. We'll be in the George Washington Lounge; the address is 5 West 63rd (between Central Park West and Broadway).
There will be a PEDESTAL Magazine event in Philadelphia on May 6, an engaging line-up of Pedestal friends and contributors. Thanks to Peter Krok, poet and editor of Schuylkill Valley Journal, for thinking this up. Address: The Manayunk Art Center. 419 Green Lane (rear); Philadelphia, PA 19128. This will be an afternoon event, starting at 3PM.
And, if you’re going to be in London, Ken Champion & Juli Jeana’s MORE POETRY Upstairs at the Stoney Street Café takes place Thursday, May 3 at 7:45 PM. at 8 Stoney Street, Borough Market, 1 minute from London Bridge Underground (Borough High St. west exit) next to Market Porter pub. There will be an open mic plus Tamar Yoseloff. Admission free – drinks included! Food available before and afterwards Contact: email@example.com
BOB HEMAN READS...
Bob will be reading on Friday May 11 with Iris Berman at the Symposia Bookstore, 510 Washington St. (btwn. 5th & 6th Sts.) in Hoboken, NJ (201.963.0909) at a reading sponsored by Poets Wear Prada to celebrate our new chapbooks. 7-9 PM and will include an open mic.
Saturday May 12, Bob will be reading with some of the other contributors at the rescheduled launch for Mike Graves' new magazine, PHOENIX, at High Chai, 18 Ave B in the East Village (212.477.2424) - the reading will start at 2 PM .
Mother's Day, May 13, Bob will read for about 10 minutes at Mindy Levokove's annual Mother's Day Celebration in the Avenue B Garden (at Av. B and E. 6th St.) - the other performers will include Marquerite Van Cook, Patrick Brennan, Fauxvia, Lee Schwartz, Mindy Matijasevik, Zinko Propolus and Mindy Levokove and maybe some others as well- it will start at 2:00 PM and run until at least 4:00.
Phyllis Moore recommends books Frog Creek Books at 800 Smith Street in Charleston, WV 25301 at http://www.frogcreekbookswv.com . Among the newest are TALE OF THE ELK by W.E.R. Byrne from Quarrier Press, articles that capture the physical beauty, political climate, and a way of life found in rural West Virginia in the late 1920s. They also have GIVING GLORY TO GOD IN APPALACHIA : WORSHIP PRACTICES OF SIX BAPTIST SUB-DENOMINATIONS from the University of Tennessee Press and WEST VIRGINIA: AN EXPLORER'S GUIDE by Leonard Adkins as well as TWO CONTINENTS ONE CULTURE: THE SCOTCH - IRISH IN SOUTHERN APPALACHIA by Stephen Brown, Elizabeth Hirschman, and Pauline Maclaran and— MOONSHINE!: RECIPES - TALL TALES - DRINKING SONGS - HISTORICAL STUFF - KNEE-SLAPPERS - HOW TO MAKE IT - HOW TO DRINK IT - PLEASIN' THE LAW - RECOVERIN' THE NEXT DAY by Matthew B. Rowley.
WORKSHOP FOR WOMEN IN MEXICO
HEART AND CRAFT: A MEMOIR WORKSHOP FOR WOMEN, taught by author/journalist Anndee Hochman in La Barra de Potosi, Mexico. November 3-9, 2007. The group will spend six days together (classes in the morning, writing/exploring in the afternoon) in the small, vibrant fishing village of La Barra on Mexico's Pacific coast (near Zihuatanejo). For beginning and experienced writers: $1200 (early bird registration by June 1) includes tuition, accommodations in the magical Casa del Encanto, six days' breakfast and dinner and van to/from Zihua Airport. More info about Casa del Encanto and La Barra at www.casadelencanto.com/index.html; learn about Anndee Hochman at www.anndeehochman.com, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for details and application.
Newsletter # 95
June 10, 2007
I’ve just finished an excellent best selling nonfiction book, COLLAPSE by Jared Diamond. The last third was a little harder to get through– maybe it was that I prefer the collapse of ancient societies to learning about present day declining fisheries, bleached coral reefs, poisoned streams, and clear-cut rainforests. But the message was like a blast of antihistamine for a stuffed nose: the collapse of societies has happened before, due to many factors almost always including destruction of resources, and we’re facing possible collapse now on a world-wide scale unless we change our ways. This is not new news in 2007, but Diamond’s clearly reasoned delineation is excellent.
It somehow reassures me that human beings have been causing environmental change, both neutral and catastrophic, for tens of thousands of years. It isn’t that the earth was pristine or people kind to the soil and air and plant life up until fifty years ago. The Norse Greenlanders, for example, despoiled their little corner of the world in the 1300's in a multitude of ways, and failed to learn lessons that might have saved them from another group of immigrants, the Inuit. The Easter Islanders, immediately after the high point of their statue building and complex religious cults, cut down the last of their trees, and their population dropped to almost nothing with an extremely low standard of living. Diamond also discusses the fall of the Mayans and the Anasazi in the Southwestern U.S. Often what he records is how political hubris (especially the ambitions of the warrior classes trumping the interests of farmers) has often been destructive.
There are, however, lessons to learn and models for changing our ways. There have been positive reversals of destruction that came both from grassroots efforts and from above. In Tokugawa Japan, the shogun saved the forests by decree; in the New Guinea highlands, the people 1200 years ago saw their land deforested, and, individually and in small groups, collected plants, experimented, and reforested. China is an environmental mess, but a sign of possible hope is how the government did stop population growth. Individualistic Montanans are beginning to see they need government regulation to save their land and their life style. Excellent book.
And, for something completely different– I read my first Harry Potter! For my birthday, my son Joel gave me HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE (which had a title with much more sense of history in the UK: HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE). HARRY was, as Joel said, an incredibly easy, fast, and fun read. One of the things that strikes me about wildly popular books and movies and games is that they usually have a lot of delightful surface innovation and spectacle but a dependable, conventional heart. And, of course they have skillful storytelling. The plot here includes the ever-dependable oppressed childhood followed by spunky new kid at school, complete with mean girls, or in this case, mean wizards. There are supportive friends and a nemesis plus mentors and guides for the hero’s quest. All of this is totally obvious, which is to take nothing away from it, because it all works together and is clever without being jokey. Also, as my son pointed out, Rowling is great on names: Draco Malfoy indeed! A monstrous guard dog called Fluffy.
Finally, I want to mention a memoir that has been getting good reviews in the New York media, THICK AS THIEVES. It is by a former student of mine, Steve Geng, and I was delighted to have a walk-on in the final pages. Steve writes about a difficult life and serious illness in a way that is raw and sharp. He has lived on the edge, hustling, stealing, selling and doing a lot of drugs. The special hook of the story is that while he was living a hustler’s life in New York City, his much-admired older sister was in the same city writing for THE NEW YORKER magazine. Their relationship is sustaining but difficult, and the story of his reconciliation with his retired-military father is touching. The real strength of the book, though, is how directly and energetically, but without romanticizing, he shares the highs and lows of his life. Part of his honesty is a grand joie de vivre even after all he’s been through: and he does not deny the pleasure of jazz, sex, drugs– all of his experiences. He manages to show a life that he is not proud of, but that was lived with gusto. Had he not contracted AIDS, had he not hurt people, inevitably lost the bounce-back of youth, you wonder if he might not have continued boosting and shooting up for the rest of his life. The description of his big fall after eight or nine years of sobriety is excellent and believable. As one reviewer remarked, Geng knows that under the same circumstances he would likely have done it all again. I wonder of the rest of us are ever so honest.
A RESPONSE TO ALICE ROBINSON-GILMAN’S “NOTES ON BOOKS AND READING”
“The place of reading in my life,” says Shelley Ettinger, “ ... you have no idea .... it's a sickness, really, because it's not just the constant reading but the obsessive, panicky compulsion to have enough books on my to-read shelf. I'm like someone who grew up poor hoarding canned food – but I grew up in a house full of books and readers so I don't have the excuse of early deprivation. One evening last week as I was falling asleep I realized that I'd been to every single one of the libraries (four) and bookstores (five) that I frequent in the past two days. Some more than once. Oy.”
Ingrid Hughes writes: “Myra Shapiro's memoir, FOUR SUBLETS: BECOMING A POET IN NEW YORK, is about a woman who moves to New York in middle age from her home in Chattanooga to study poetry and make a life as a poet for herself in the city she's longed for, and about how her marriage makes this transition with her. It's a good depiction of contemporary attitudes– the celebration of individual growth, the delight in its nuances. The best single scene was the death of her sister-in-law.”
Margarethe Laurenzi’s book group discussed THE KEEP by Jennifer Egan. She says, “THE KEEP is really good. It is great fodder for writers, because it weaves a tale between the story being told about a castle and some cousins, a writer (who is writing the castle/cousins story) from jail, and his teacher, who goes to the jail to give 'writing classes' to selected prisoners. There are quite a few twists and turns in the story, which ultimately weaves together, and we had a great time discussing it.”
And, another from Margarethe’s group: “My book group is batting 1000 this year in picks: WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, by Sara Gruen, tells the story of a young man, Jacob, who leaves college in crisis in the early 1930s and joins the circus. The book tells the story of his 3 month stint with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, and weaves back and forth between that time of his life and his present day circumstance as a 93-year-old man in a nursing home, recalling the story. It's beautifully done. It has all the vivid, coarse, seamy side of traveling circus life, along with some well-formed characters who reaffirm that even alongside evil there is humanity and decency. I read it in two nights. Couldn't put it down, and while I am not usually a fan of the tacking back and forth between two stories (and time frames and casts of characters), I thought that Gruen used this writer's technique successfully and even nimbly.”
Phyllis Moore writes to say, “I'm reading the memoir WARM SPRINGS: TRACES OF A CHILDHOOD AT FDR'S POLIO HAVEN by Susan Richards Shreve. It is painfully honest, no pun intended. Her childhood memories start at about 1 ½ years of age. Pearl Buck had infancy memories. So do I. (That is the only similarity between Buck and me.) Both [my husband] Jim and I have early childhood recollections too. Do some people have a special ability to recall childhood or infancy? I think scientific studies rules out much memory recall from before the age of three. But science isn't my cup of tea. What do you think? George Ella Lyon's DON'T YOU REMEMBER? is just out. My copy hasn't arrived yet but it will go to the top of my ‘to read’ stack when it does.”
Norman Julian, in one of his always worthwhile columns in the Morgantown, West Virginia DOMINION-POST recommends STUMBLING ON HAPPINESS, by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert.
Well, here’s a new way to judge a book. Take a look at this interesting experiment of using an idea from Ford Maddox Ford about judging a book by its page 99.
Leora Skolkin-Smith says, “I wanted to tell you...about Carolyn Howard-Johnson. Carolyn has written a treasure of a book called THE FRUGAL PROMOTER. Carolyn is also quite miraculous when it comes to advising literary writers how to survive this climate which too often is more based on promotion than quality, and I highly recommend checking out her web site, book, and advice column. The link to her blog is www.sharingwithwriters.blogspot.com , and she has a web page called How To Do It Frugally. Just wanted to write and tell you, in hopes of helping other authors who were as in the dark about publicity, etc as I was (and still am). Right now, publicists are charging is thousands of dollars and Carolyn is a teacher at UCLA who focuses on how to understand and thereby manage one's own publicity, sparing the innocent.”
GOOD NEWS!! GOOD BOOKS!!
LEADS by Rochelle Ratner is now out. “The germs of this book began in 1977,” says Ratner, “when I visited friends in London. As a child, I’d been told I had a speech impediment, but I vehemently refused voice lessons. Then, in a London pub, talking with a friend from the Lancashire/Yorkshire border, it was almost as if I fitted in at last. Without realizing it, I’d probably inherited aspects of my grandmother’s accent. And I’d never missed her as much as I did at that moment. That was when I began planning a trip to Leeds, where my grandmother was born and spent her childhood. I knew I had to write about it, and began a series of poems as the journey took shape. Once there, I copied from books and records I’d found in the Leeds library. I began writing down what people said. What I hadn’t expected was that, as I later tried to shape the materials, I would find other peoples’ words more powerful than my own. Poem? Journal? Memoir? Found text? Think of Olson’s Maximus or Paul Metcalf’s writings." See www.rochelleratner.com .
The audio version of Richard Currey’s LOST HIGHWAY from Mountain Whispers aired on XM on Memorial Day. http://richardcurrey.com/events.html. MountainWhispers Audio will go out to, well, more than a few listeners on that day. And those listeners will be everywhere on the planet. It should subsequently air two more times after Memorial Day, although XM is still working out how they want to do it, but probably in daily "chapters" over a week, or possibly 2-3 nights back-to-back. So check XM.
Red Hen Press will be publishing a collection of 21 short stories by Greg Sanders in spring 2008. Keep an eye on his web site www.gregorysanders.com and his MySpace page http://www.myspace.com/greg_nyc.
Hanging Loose Press has been publishing for more than thirty years. Look at their web site at http://www.hangingloosepress.com . 2007- 2008 catalog includes books by Joan Larkin, Charles North, Hettie Jones, Paul Violi, Terence Winch, Sherman Alexie, Bill Zavatsky, Steve Schrader and many more.
Chris Grabenstein’s award winning murder mystery series continues with WHACK A MOLE. An innocent discovery on the beach in Sea Haven leads to a string of gruesome clues and one chilling conclusion: a long dormant serial killer is poised to strike again! LIBRARY JOURNAL said "Whack A Mole is as engaging and enjoyable as the debut Tilt-a-Whirl. Certainly more fun when read as part of a series, this title nevertheless stands on its own as a well-written mystery, complete with humor, humanity, a fast-moving plot, and memorable characters. Highly recommended."
Ellen Bass’s new book, THE HUMAN LINE, has just been published by Copper Canyon Press. It's available at your local bookstore or online. Look at some sample poems at http://www.ellenbass.com .
Thad Rutkowski has a lot of new work coming out: "Learning Curve," story, in Dislocate, No. 3, Spring 2007 (University of Minnesota, Minneapolis) (http://www.dislocate.org ) ; "Beautiful Youth," spoken word, on Family Affairs CD (recorded at Eureka Joe cafe, 1995), now with audio samples at: http://cdbaby.com/cd/familyaffairs; "The Speech of Cretans," prose poem, Barbaric Yawp, Vol. 11, No. 1, March 2007 (BoneWorld Publishing, 3700 County Route 24, Russell, NY 13684). For more, see his website at http://www.thaddeusrutkowski.com .
RESOURCES FOR WRITERS
Margarethe Laurenzi recommends what looks like a stellar site for writers, Erika Dreifus’s THE PRACTICING WRITER at http://www.practicing-writer.com/ For more sites for writers, see my resources page at http://www.meredithsuewillis.com/resources.html#links.
READ IT ONLINE!
There is a small but wonderful selection from Carole Rosenthal’s new memoir, CLOSE FINISHES on the HUFFINGTON POST.
Belinda Anderson and Phyllis Moore are part of a West Virginia Book Festival presentation through Elderhostel this fall!
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