Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Poem About Living All the Way to the End


Here's a beautiful Stanley Kunitz poem (via poem-a-day) about living till it's all over. It says, among much else:


I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Books for Readers #171


Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 171

July 15, 2014

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MSW Home

In this Issue:
Guest Editor Ingrid Hughes on Robert Graves' Goodbye to All That;
Marie Manilla's The Patron Saint of Ugly;
Johnny Sundstrom's For Spacious Skies;
Kirk Judd's New Poetry Collection My People Was Music ;
Some Suggestions for Summer Reading from Democratic Left;
Places to Submit Your Creative Work;
Backchannel Report;
The E-Reader Report with John Birch;
Things to Read Online;
Announcements

Special! Indiegogo Campaign for a Bookstore on the South Shore of Long Island!

For a Free Email subscription to this newsletter:






  This issue has as its guest editor Ingrid Hughes. She writes about the autobiography of Robert Graves and gives a short but essential list of novels and other books about the First World War.

                                                                                         Meredith Sue Willis


Ingrid Hughes on Robert Graves

Goodbye to All That is the only autobiography among Robert Graves's many volumes of poetry, fiction, biography, retellings of myth, translations and critical works.  Goodbye covers the first thirty years of his life, and is a terrifically good read, especially riveting in the two hundred pages devoted to his experiences serving in the Royal Welch Fusiliers during World War I.
Wanting to put off his enrollment at Oxford, outraged by the German violation of Belgian neutrality, and believing predictions that the Germans would be defeated within a few months, Graves volunteers in the fall of 1914. The most ludicrous of his stories comes from the period he spends in training in Wales. The Regimental goat-major, a corporal, is charged with disrespect to an officer, the officer being the king, who had given the regiment a goat from his herd at Windsor. For hiring the goat out as a stud the goat-major is busted to the ranks, despite pleading that he did it for the goat’s sake.
The issue of the British caste system is even more appalling on the front.  After serving for several months with the Third Battalion, Graves is transferred in July of 1915 to the Second, where he is greeted coldly when he reports at headquarters.  Later he asks another junior officer why. 
"The senior officers are beasts.  If you open your mouth or make the slightest noise in the Mess, they jump down your throat.  Only officers of the rank of captain are allowed to drink whiskey or turn on the gramophone....  We've even got a polo-ground here....Subalterns who can't ride like angels have to attend riding-school every afternoon.... They keep us trotting around the field, with crossed stirrups most of the time, and on pack-saddles instead of riding saddles....   You notice everyone's wearing shorts?  The Battalion thinks it's still in India. The men treat the French civilians just like n------s, kick them about, talk army Hindustani at them."'
"All this is childish.  Is there a war on here, or isn't there?'  Graves asks. "'The Royal Welch don't recognize it socially," he's told.
Graves is interested in everything about the war: the men he commanded, his fellow officers, the upper echelons; the conditions in the trenches, the battles he fought in. His narration of the slaughter is matter-of-fact. At their briefing for the Battle of Loos, Graves and other company officers recognize the impossibility of the plans they are to follow for a subsidiary attack with no support intended as a diversion.  As they begin to laugh at their orders one of them says, "Personally, I don't give a damn.... We'll get killed whatever happens."'  They laugh even more. Most worrying is the plan to use poison gas, despite the fact that none of the various types of respirators issued work, though the Germans' respirators did.  The young commanders (Graves is twenty) are told to make sure their men press forward, since the gas is heavy and will sink into the trenches. The battle is one deadly snafu after another. (Snafu, a World War II term,stands for situation normal, all fucked up, which seems like the right word here.) In the subsidiary attack alone, total casualties are nearly 11,000. Though the captain commanding the gas-company telephones headquarters with the message that in the dead calm it's impossible to discharge the gas, the response is 'Discharge at all costs.' The costs, of course, are British lives.  The gas is released and gradually collects in the British trenches. 
After the failure of the first initiative, orders come down to try again.  "We waited on the fire-step from four to nine o'clock, with fixed bayonets, for the order to go over."  The acting CSM, or Command Sergeant Major protests to Graves: "It's murder, Sir."  "Of course, it's murder, you bloody fool. And there's nothing else for it, is there?" ' Graves tells him. Fortunately, that particular part of the attack was called off.
Graves is clearly a kind and sensitive man.  He describes the enlisted men he commands with compassion and agrees with his friend, a fellow-officer and poet Siegfried Sassoon, that the worst crime an officer can commit is to abuse his men. In his free time he plays with French children or writes poetry. (His first book of poems is published in 1916.) In the course of the war he marries a feminist and later has four children with her, sharing childcare and housework. But while knowing that the war is a hideous and unjustifiable slaughter he believes he must put his own life on the line and lead his men to almost certain death in battle. That's what I don't understand. How can such a sensible person buy the idea that an essential  male attribute is the willingness to kill and be killed at war? (Not that Graves wants to die.  He describes working out his chances of surviving the war: best to be wounded, best to be wounded while above ground at night, since the chance of a head wound is less then than when only his head is exposed over the top of a trench during the day, and so on.)
While he's on light duty in a training camp in Harlech, Wales, after a long interval on the front, he meets a captain from another regiment who tells him: "'In both the last two shows I had to shoot a man of my company to get the rest out of the trench.  It was so bloody awful I couldn't stand it. That's why I applied to be sent down here.' I felt sorrier for him than for any other man I met in France.  He deserved a better regiment."
Here I am amazed that his sympathy goes not to the soldiers killed by their commanding officer, but to that officer, for the cowardice, as he sees it, of his men. Yet during this same period at Harlech, when Graves is required to lecture 3,000 Canadians being prepared for the front, he tells them the "real story of Loos...." This despite the fact that he is supposed to inspire the troops to fight the Germans, not undermine confidence in the army's leadership.
When Graves is wounded it is at the Somme in July of 1916. The worst of several wounds is caused by a piece of shell penetrating just below his right shoulder blade and exiting through his chest.  "Old Gravy's got it, all right," he hears the stretcher-bearer say. In the dressing-station he is left in a corner to die and his colonel sends a condolence letter to his mother, saying how gallant Graves was, and what a loss to the regiment his death is.  Next morning when it turns out he is still alive, he's sent by train to hospital.  There he receives a letter from the colonel: "I cannot tell you how pleased I am you are alive.... I also wish to thank you for your good work and bravery, and only wish you could have been with [your men.] .... I have never seen such magnificent and wonderful disregard for death as I saw that day.... "
Following this Graves had a long period of convalescence in various places, and did not return to the battlefield.  While in London he spent time with a number of writers and intellectuals, including Bertrand Russell. Russell, an ardent pacifist:
[Russell] turned sharply on me one afternoon and asked, "Tell me, if a company of your men were brought along to break a strike of munition-makers, and the munition-makers refused to go back to work, would you order the men to fire?"
"Yes, if all else failed.  It would be no worse than shooting Germans.
"Would your men obey you?"
"They loathe munition-workers... They think they're all skrimshankers."
"But they realize the war's wicked nonsense?"
"Yes, as well as I do."
He could not understand my attitude.

Grave's assertion may have been more bravado than an assessment of how he would act.  He didn't hold with "anti-war idealism," though when Sassoon spoke out against the war, Graves protected him from a court-martial by having him sent to a convalescent home.  Still, like Bertrand Russell, I don't understand the attitude of this fascinating and complicated man.
NOTE: The best late twentieth century novels about World War I are Pat Barker's Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road. Major novels of the war from earlier in the century include All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek, and The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford.  Siegfried Sassoon's memoir, Memoirs of an Infantry Officer is also interesting for its portrait of Graves, though it doesn't hold a candle to Goodbye to All That in its descriptions of the war itself. 
           

SHORT TAKES  (by MSW Unless Otherwise Noted)


Marie Manilla's novel The Patron Saint Of Ugly, set in industrial, northern West Virginia, has been described as a blend of "Southern Gothic and Sicilian malocchio." It is an earthy magical realist novel, with a couple of the best family dinner scenes I've ever read– especially the raucous, realistic, hilarious one when the mother of the narrator ("Saint" Garnet), is introduced to her in-laws. The family-- almost always referred to as la famiglia in one of many nice touches of Italian language and culture that bring the heritage of Sicily and Calabria into the forefront of the story-- is eager to please the WASPY blonde beauty their son Angelo brings home, until they realize the young couple is already married– and not by a priest!
She says blithely, "...we didn't need a priest because I'm not even Catholic."
Another favorite of mine, not so funny but capturing the family dynamic beautifully, is when the heroine young Garnet is forced by her grandpa to eat a piece of bloody steak. Perhaps even better than individual scenes are the ongoing characters: Garnet's Sicilian grandmother Nonna, whose history and actions are essential to the novel, but also poor wall-eyed Betty, Nonna's other daughter-in-law, who is good hearted and loving, but whose menfolk cause general pain and catastrophe. Betty is the mother of the completely awful Ray-ray and married to the almost-as-awful Dom.
There's an interesting nineteen fifties proto-feminist, or perhaps simply woman-centered theme to the whole novel. All the men aren't bad people, but patriarchy is destructive. Even Garnet's Anglo-Saxon grandmother who is a horror of bad values and misused wealth, can be seen as a woman of talent and energy twisted by a world in which women are so severely limited in their activities.
But Nonna and her Old Religion are always celebrated, and the amulets and "portafortunas" are richly rendered. The fantasy and folkloric elements move the story along with rollicking wish fulfillment (Don't you wish you could cause a volcano to get rid of your enemies?).
Even though the center of the story is Garnet's strange pattern of birthmarks like a red map of the world over her body (and a map that mysteriously changes with world events), we are so much inside Garnet's consciousness that it is the world around the Patron Saint of Ugly, and her family's past, that engage us most.
It's extremely inventive novel, often very funny, always full of deep affection for the powerful grandmothers of the world.
For more on the novel, see The Pittsburgh Gazette article.



Johnny Sundstrom's latest novel For Spacious Skies is about the settling of Eastern Oregon in the second half of the nineteenth century. It is made up of a lot of good stories that tend toward the quotidian rather than the dramatic, but when violence does occur, it comes as it does in real life, unexpectedly, with no scary music to manipulate the reader.
The story begins in the aftermath of the Civil War in Virginia with a wounded Confederate veteran who is hiding his name because he was briefly a low level aide in the administration of the Confederacy. It then moves to the Oregon trail (which is slightly less dangerous that it was before the war). There is a wagon train and some rough and ready cowboy types as well as Mormon settlers, both fine people and some pretty nasty ones. There are native Americans who are human and interesting but not especially noble-- a tale of the old west, in other words, much more like what it really was.
It is a highly readable book. I looked forward to returning to it, to being in the lives of people. The largest plot knot is the possibility that the most important woman, Sarah Beth, can't have children. The passionate desire for children comes on gradually to Abe and Sarah Beth, and it isn't completely clear to me what cultural patterns and folkways make their need for children so intense. Sundstrom assumes we understand this, but I could use a little more sharpness about the cultural folkways of the protagonists to match up with those of the Native Americans and Mormons in the book.
Sundstrom structures the novel with the Biblical story of the patriarchs Abraham and Sarah, and their relationship with Hagar, who appears in this novel as Helga, a runaway from oppression by the bad Mormons. Sundstrom ends the novel with the story line hanging: What appeared to be a reasonable way to get a baby for Abe and Sarah Beth is suddenly causing emotional storms and unexpected abysses between the people. Questions abound: what will happen to Helga's baby? Is Abe more in love with his beautiful Eastern Oregon valley than with any of the women in his life? Sundstrom has at least one more volume of the story underway, and he invites our responses.
I look forward to the next one!

 

KIRK JUDD'S NEW COLLECTION

My People Was Music by Kirk Judd is an excellent collection of poetry by a lifelong writer, creative writing instructor, and performance poet who co-founded a number of important Appalachian institutions including West Virginia Writers, Inc. and the Allegheny Echoes Bluegrass Music Summer Workshops. Praised by national figures including the late Gwendolyn Brooks and Lee Maynard, Judd's work is rich and solid, using precise descriptions of the natural world and physical activities to lift up words and the reader's spirits toward something transcendent. For example, in "Hill Sailor" he begins,
He was like the wood of the mast
he brought from the ship
to make the four foundation logs.
He saved the unsalted top
to spoke-shave the Norway Spruce
down for his fiddle-box.
Judd often also writes celebrations of people who have passed on, especially figures in blue grass music, but also family members and friends. In "For Richard" he says,
It's not much,
but the air is changed
now that you're not breathing it.
The streams
fall down the mountain differently
now that you're not standing in them,
trying the hit a trout in the head
with your sinker.
The deer are a bit more wary,
somehow already knowing
that someone else
who really wants to kill one of them
has taken your place in the woods.
Perhaps my favorite thing about this book, however, is that it comes with a cd recording of Judd performing his works with a number of well known musicians and once with a mountain clogger. He also collaborates with one of his poems and a friend's poem. All this is wonderfully communal, poems brought to vigorous life with his strong, flexible voice carrying us on, lifting us up. Kirk Judd's performance poetry is a national treasure.

The book also has beautiful photographs throughout by Dave Lambert. Order from Mountain State Press, or Amazon or any of the other usual suspects.

 

More Short Takes: Summer Reads Recommended by Democratic Left

I’ve read some of these, and look forward to the ones I haven’t yet:
  • The Green Corn Rebellion William Cunningham About 1917 rebellion by Oklahoma’s tenant farmers
  • Tell me a Riddle Tillie Olsen
  • The Dispossessed Ursula LeGuin Political science fiction
  • Strumpet City James Plunkett Dublin working class 1907 – 1913
  • Sugaree Rising J. Douglas Allen-Taylor 1930′s South Carolina Gullah story
  • Rosa Jonathan Rabb Serial killings: is one of the women Rosa Luxemburg
  • The Regeneration Trilogy Pat Barker

Where To Submit Your Creative Work: Suggestions from Jason Schneiderman

I would start with journals that are published by creative writing programs-- WASHINGTON SQUARE, COLUMBIA POETRY REVIEW, GULF COAST, LAKE EFFECT, etc. These have student editors, and so are often amenable to student writing. The students can also research MFA/PhD program by looking at their publications, which means that you can give them a way to control the search, and you are not the oracle providing lists of journals to which they can submit. Many of us were schooled on the logic that publication is something one does after one has established a mature voice. This is clearly no longer the case: my eleven year old nephew recently recommended that I read stories on blog by one of his classmates.
The most important thing is always read/see/know the journal before you submit. Editorial staffs tend to have a high turn over rate, especially at student run journals, but the basic look and feel is important to know. I was just on a publishing panel at which one of the audience expressed frustration that she had "aimed too low" in publishing a poem, and wanted to know if she could republish the poem in a "better journal." My response was-- and I said this as nicely as I could-- that you should never insult the people who have selected your work, and that while the poem may appear in anthologies or her own books, insulting your previous editors is as unwise as complaining about former bosses on a job interview.
In terms of the logistics, make sure [you] know to keep a spreadsheet and to check submission rules regarding simultaneous submissions. The postal problem of crossed letters has essentially disappeared, and many journals now accept simultaneous submissions-- but you must withdraw the poem as soon as it is selected elsewhere. I am somewhat agnostic regarding submission fees. They are becoming common, and I suspect are a reaction to 1) the fact that you no longer have to buy envelopes or stamps and 2) the ease of electronic submission has created an overwhelming situation for editors. On principle, I am against submission fees, but in practice, it allows editors to keep the magazine going. On the other hand, submission fees for contests are standard and normal.
But... be warned against the sort of scams where you submit to a journal that publishes everything and charges $60 to get a copy of the book. But then, we owe the Flarf movement to such a scam, so these scams are not without *some* merit in the larger universe.
The submissions calendar at Poets and Writers (http://www.pw.org/toolsforwriters) is fantastic. CLMP (the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses) can also be helpful in terms of standards and fairness.


More Sources for Submitting

Don't forget to email CRWROPPS-B@yahoogroups.com and get on their list. They send out almost daily lists of places to submit poetry and prose. To add yourself to the list, send a blank email to crwropps-b-subscribe@yahoogroups.com . You will receive a return message with further sign-up instructions.

1. Poets & Writers (http://www.pw.org)
2. Poets Market (a book that you have to buy, but worth the investment for new writers: http://www.writersdigestshop.com/2014-poets-market-group
3. Duotrope.com (has a fee)
4. http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/pbonline.html
5. CLMP's Member Directory: http://clmp.org/directory/
6. Calls for Submissions on Facebook, (Poetry, Fiction, Art) https://www.facebook.com/groups/35517751475/
 

FREE E-BOOK!!


Summer Special through July 31, 2014: Meredith Sue Willis's Oradell at Sea. Get it free in any e-book format. Go to Smashwords.com (You may have to register first). At check-out, put in this coupon code for your free copy: 

YZ48G

(The physical book is still available as well from  WVU Press)





The Continuing Amazon Hachette Dust Up

Below is an open letter fro Richard Russo in his role as Co-Vice President of the Authors Guild. If you want my take, see my blog post here:
The primary mission of the Authors Guild has always been the defense of the writing life. While it may be true that there are new opportunities and platforms for writers in the digital age, only the willfully blind refuse to acknowledge that authorship is imperiled on many fronts. True, not all writers are equally impacted. Some authors still make fortunes through traditional publishing, and genre writers (both traditionally published and independently published) appear to be doing better than writers of nonfiction and “literary” mid-list fiction. (The Guild has members in all of these categories.) But there’s evidence, both statistical and anecdotal, that as a species we are significantly endangered. In the UK, for instance, the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society reports that authors’ incomes have fallen 29 percent since 2005, a decline they deem “shocking.” If a similar study were done in the U.S., the results would be, we believe, all too similar.
On Tuesday, Amazon made an offer to Hachette Book Group that would “take authors out of the middle” of their ongoing dispute by offering Hachette authors windfall royalties on e-books until the dispute between the companies is resolved. While Amazon claims to be concerned about the fate of mid-list and debut authors, we believe their offer—the majority of which Hachette would essentially fund—is highly disingenuous. For one thing, it’s impossible to remove authors from the middle of the dispute. We write the books they’re fighting over. And because it is the writing life itself we seek to defend, we’re not interested in a short-term windfall to some of the writers we represent. What we care about is a healthy ecosystem where all writers, both traditionally and independently published, can thrive. We believe that ecosystem should be as diverse as possible, containing traditional big publishers, smaller publishers, Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores, as well as both e-books and print books. We believe that such an ecosystem cannot exist while entities within it are committed to the eradication of other entities.
Over the years the Guild has often opposed Amazon’s more ruthless tactics, not because we’re anti-Amazon but because we believe the company has stepped over the line and threatened the publishing ecosystem in ways that jeopardize both our livelihoods and the future of authorship itself. There’s no need to rehash our disagreements here. But it is worth stating that we are not anti-Amazon, or anti-e-book, or anti-indie-publishing. Amazon invented a platform for selling e-books that enriches the very ecosystem we believe in, and for which we are grateful. If indie authors are making a living using that platform, bravo. Nor are we taking Hachette’s side in the present dispute. Those of us who publish traditionally may love our publishers, but the truth is, they’ve not treated us fairly with regard to e-book revenues, and they know it. That needs to change. If we sometimes appear to take their side against Amazon, it’s because we’re in the same business: the book business. It may be true that some of our publishers are owned by corporations that, like Amazon, sell a lot more than books, but those larger corporations seem to understand that books are special, indeed integral to the culture in a way that garden tools and diapers and flat-screen TVs are not. To our knowledge, Amazon has never clearly and unequivocally stated (as traditional publishers have) that books are different and special, that they can’t be treated like the other commodities they sell. This doesn’t strike us as an oversight. If we’re wrong, Mr. Bezos, now would be a good time to correct us. First say it, then act like you believe it. We’d love to be your partners.


BACKCHANNEL REPORT

Curious way to get a book deal: http://www.theguardian.com/music/shortcuts/2014/jun/22/one-direction-harry-styles-fan-erotic-fantasies-publishing-goldmine
Article has a link to the online "book," which got the author a 6-figure book deal. I couldn't get into it myself: guess other people having sex just doesn't appeal to me. I haven't seen so many cliches bunched up together since the last political speech I heard. And I didn't even get to any of the sex bits. Good grief, wonder what they're like? So the message...is: adopt a pseudonym, write a sex book online, retire in style.... Does it irritate you as much as it does me to see crap writing making the authors of it rich? When great writers languish?


THE E-READER REPORT WITH JOHN BIRCH: HOW FAST DO YOU READ?

John Birch is traveling this month in England--in Brontë country!
 

THINGS TO READ ONLINE

Deborah Clearnman's short story "The Bicyclist" is now up on Witness, a terrific online magazine. You can read it at their website. Set in New York City, says Deborah, "this is a tale told by an unreliable narrator that in no way reflects my attitude toward Michael Bloomberg, CitiBike, or any other hot-button transportation issue of our times. Just so we get that clear!"

MSW's take on the Amazon Hachette dustup: http://meredithsuewillis.blogspot.com/2014/06/my-take-on-amazon-hachette-dispute.html .

Summer issue of Persimmon Tree is not available here: http://www.persimmontree.org/v2/?utm_source=June+17%2C+2014+-+FINAL&utm_campaign=June072014Final&utm_medium=email


Timewell magazine offers a monthly theme with a mix of excerpts from classic literature with contemporary stories, poems, and art. The past year themes: Women, Youth, War Stories, Law/Justice, Infidelity, Power, Marriage, Before/After, Speculative Fiction, Deceit, Revelation, Crime, Stupidity—and the next issue will be Elegance: http://www.timewell.us/





ANNOUNCEMENTS, NEWS, CONTESTS, WORKSHOPS, READINGS ETC.

Don't forget MSW's latest novel Love Palace , now available as a paperback!   Take a look at some New reviews! Buy it from Irene Weinberger Books  Buy it online -- Buy it as an e-Book from Foreverland Press Kindle --  Nook --  iBook --  All Digital formats


MSW's short story "Sheherezade and Dunzyad," collected in Re-Visions, was translated into Arabic by Mohammad Abd alhalim Khanyam and appeared online in Elaph, London :2415, Dec. 2012, republished online 4524, Oct.10, 2013 http://www.elaph.com/Web/Culture/2009/2/409952.htm, republished in AlHilal Magazine (Cairo , Egypt, as a hard copy)-- and used in a comparative literature class at Kuwait University!
The professor says that the students are impressed to see the influence of their culture on American literature in the twenty first century!


Fran Simone says of her new book Husband of Joys and Sorrows, "Alcoholism, widely recognized as a wasteland that sucks addicts and their loved ones dry, is a disease that fosters fear, diminishes dignity, and compromises love. Left untreated, alcoholism destroys families and lives. I was one of its causalities." Learn more at : http://centralrecoverypress.com/books/blog/husband-of-joys-and-sorrows/


Halvard Johnson has a new book of poetry SONGS MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME from Gradient Books: http://gradientbooks.blogspot.fi/2014/06/halvard-johnson-songs-my-mother-taught.html



Time is Running Out! Help a new bookstore café! Before July 26, 2014-- Turn of the Corkscrew Bookstore has an Indie gogo campaign. Two Long Island women are raising money to open a bookstore-café on the South Shore! See https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/turn-of-the-corkscrew-books-and-wine .

I reviewed a novel by one of the entrepreneuses, Carol Hoenig, in Issue 152 of this newsletter: http://www.meredithsuewillis.com/bfrarchive151-155.html#oflittlefaith)


Sad News: End of Gently Read Literature: Daniel Casey wrote, and Deborah Clearman passed on, that Gently Read Literature's Fall 2014 issue, which will go out on September 1st, will be its last. He thanks readers, contributors, writers, agents, publishers, and presses that made the this tiny electronic magazine possible. He says, "I began GRL in 2008 and have had a very fruitful and engaging time editing it over the years. I hope you have enjoyed the reviews and essays GRL has provided. I hope that the final issue of Gently Read Literature leaves you with pleasant memory of a review that tried to bring more discussion of poetry and fiction into the world." http://about.me/danielcasey


ABOUT AMAZON.COM
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 of 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 that you may be able to borrow it from your public library as either a hard copy or a digital copy. You may also buy or order from your local independent bookstore. (To find a bricks-and-mortar store, click the "shop indie" logo left).
To buy books online, I often go first to Bookfinder or Alibris. Bookfinder gives the 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 source for used and out-of-print books is All Book Stores. Also consider Paperback Book Swap, a postage only way to trade books with other readers.

If you are using an electronic reader like Kindle, Nook, or Kobo, don't forget free books at the Gutenberg Project—mostly classics, but free, free, free!
Kobobooks.com sells books for independent brick-and-mortar bookstores.

RESPONSES TO THIS NEWSLETTER

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

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BACK ISSUES:

#171 Robert Graves, Marie Manilla, Johnny Sundstrom, Kirk Judd
#170 John Van Kirk, Carter Seaton,Neil Gaiman, Francine Prose, The Murder of Helen Jewett, Thaddeus Rutkowski
#169 Pearl Buck's The Exile and Fighting Angel; Larissa Shmailo; Liz Lewinson; Twelve Years a Slave, and more
#168 Catherine the Great, Alice Munro, Edith Poor, Mitch Levenberg, Vonnegut, Mellville, and more!
#167 Belinda Anderson; Anne Shelby; Sean O'Leary, Dragon tetralogy; Don Delillo's Underworld
#166 Eddy Pendarvis on Pearl S. Buck; Theresa Basile; Miguel A. Ortiz; Lynda Schor; poems by Janet Lewis; Sarah Fielding
#165 Janet Lewis, Melville, Tosltoy, Irwin Shaw!
#164 Ed Davis on Julie Moore's poems; Edith Wharton; Elaine Drennon Little's A Southern Place; Elmore Leonard
#163 Pamela Erens, Michael Harris, Marlen Bodden, Joydeep Roy-Battacharya, Lisa J. Parker, and more
#162 Lincoln, Joseph Kennedy, Etel Adnan, Laura Treacy Bentley, Ron Rash, Sophie's Choice, and more
#161 More Wilkie Collins; Duff Brenna's Murdering the Mom; Nora Olsen's Swans & Klons; Lady Audley's Secret
#160 Carolina De Robertis, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Ross King's The Judgment of Paris
#159 Tom Jones. William Luvaas, Marc Harshman, The Good Earth, Lara Santoro, American Psycho
#158 Chinua Achebe's Man of the People; The Red and the Black; McCarthy's C.; Farm City; Victor Depta;Myra Shapiro
#157 Alice Boatwright, Reamy Jansen, Herta Muller, Knut Hamsun, What Maisie Knew; Wanchee Wang, Dolly Withrow.
#156 The Glass Madonna; A Revelation
#155 Buzz Bissinger; reader suggestions; Satchmo at the Waldorf
#154 Hannah Brown, Brad Abruzzi, Thomas Merton
#153 J.Anthony Lukas, Talmage Stanley's The Poco Fields, Devil Anse
#152 Marc Harshman guest editor; John Burroughs; Carol Hoenig
#151 Deborah Clearman, Steve Schrader, Paul Harding, Ken Follet, Saramago-- and more!
#150 Mitch Levenberg, Johnny Sundstrom, and Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns.
#149 David Weinberger's Too Big to Know; The Shining; The Tiger's Wife.
#148 The Moonstone, Djibouti, Mark Perry on the Grimké family
#147 Jane Lazarre's new novel; Johnny Sundstrom; Emotional Medicine Rx; Walter Dean Myers, etc.
#146 Henry Adams AGAIN!  Also,Fun Home: a Tragicomic
#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; 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.
#130
Lynda Schor, Ed Myers, Charles Bukowski, Terry Bisson, The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism
#129 Baltasar and Blimunda; Underground Railroad; Navasky's Naming Names, small press and indie books.
#128 Jeffrey Sokolow on Histories and memoirs of the Civil Rights Movement
#127 Olive Kitteridge; Urban fiction; Shelley Ettinger on Joyce Carol Oates
#126 Jack Hussey's Ghosts of Walden, The Leopard , Roger's Version, The Reluctanct Fundamentalist
#125 Lee Maynard's The Pale Light of Sunset; Books on John Brown suggested by Jeffrey Sokolow
#124 Cloudsplitter, Founding Brothers, Obenzinger on Bradley's Harlem Vs. Columbia University
#123 MSW's summer reading round-up; Olive Schreiner; more The Book Thief; more on the state of editing
#122 Left-wing cowboy poetry; Jewish partisans during WW2; responses to "Hire a Book Doctor?"
#121 Jane Lazarre's latest; Irving Howe's Leon Trotsky; Gringolandia; "Hire a Book Doctor?"
#120 Dreama Frisk on The Book Thief; Mark Rudd; Thulani Davis's summer reading list
#119 Two Histories of the Jews; small press books for Summer
#118 Kasuo Ichiguro, Jeanette Winterson, The Carter Family!
#117 Cat Pleska on Ann Pancake; Phyllis Moore on Jayne Anne Phillips; and Dolly Withrow on publicity
#116 Ann Pancake, American Psycho, Marc Harshman on George Mackay Brown
#115 Adam Bede, Nietzsche, Johnny Sundstrom
#114 Judith Moffett, high fantasy, Jared Diamond, Lily Tuck
#113 Espionage--nonfiction and fiction: Orson Scott Card and homophobia
#112 Marc Kaminsky, Nel Noddings, Orson Scott Card, Ed Myers
#111 James Michener, Mary Lee Settle, Ardian Gill, BIll Higginson, Jeremy Osner, Carol Brodtick
#110  Nahid Rachlin, Marion Cuba on self-publishing; Thulani Davis, The Road, memoirs
#109 Books about the late nineteen-sixties: Busy Dying; Flying Close to the Sun; Looking Good; Trespassers
#108 The Animal Within; The Ground Under My Feet; King of Swords
#107 The Absentee; Gorky Park; Little Scarlet; Howl; Health Proxy
#106 Castle Rackrent; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; More on Drown; Blindness & more
#105 Everything is Miscellaneous, The Untouchable, Kettle Bottom by Diane Gilliam Fisher
#104 Responses to Shelley on Junot Diaz and more; More best books of 2007
#103 Guest Editor: Shelley Ettinger and her best books of 2007
#102 Saramago's BLINDNESS; more on NEVER LET ME GO; George Lies on Joe Gatski
#101 My Brilliant Career, The Scarlet Letter, John Banville, Never Let Me Go
#100 The Poisonwood Bible, Pamela Erens, More Harry P.
#99   Jonathan Greene on Amazon.com; Molly Gilman on Dogs of Babel
#98   Guest editor Pat Arnow; more on the Amazon.com debate
#97   Using Thomas Hardy; Why I Write; more
#96   Lucy Calkins, issue fiction for young adults
#95   Collapse, Harry Potter, Steve Geng
#94   Alice Robinson-Gilman, Maynard on Momaday
#93   Kristin Lavransdatter, House Made of Dawn, Leaving Atlanta
#92   Death of Ivan Ilych; Memoirs
#91   Richard Powers discussion
#90   William Zinsser, Memoir, Shakespeare
#89   William Styron, Ellen Willis, Dune, Germinal, and much more
#88   Sandra Cisneros's Caramelo
#87   Wings of the Dove, Forever After (9/11 Teachers)
#86   Leora Skolkin-Smith, American Pastoral, and more
#85   Wobblies, Winterson, West Virginia Encyclopedia
#84   Karen Armstrong, Geraldine Brooks, Peter Taylor
#83   3-Cornered World, Da Vinci Code
#82   The Eustace Diamonds, Strapless, Empire Falls
#81   Philip Roth's The Plot Against America , Paola Corso
#80   Joanne Greenberg, Ed Davis, more Murdoch; Special Discussion on Memoir--Frey and J.T. Leroy
#79   Adam Sexton, Iris Murdoch, Hemingway
#78   The Hills at Home; Tess of the D'Urbervilles; Jean Stafford
#77   On children's books--guest editor Carol Brodtrick
#76   Mary Lee Settle, Mary McCarthy
#75   The Makioka Sisters
#74    In Our Hearts We Were Giants
#73    Joyce Dyer
#72    Bill Robinson WWII story
#71    Eva Kollisch on G.W. Sebald
#70    On Reading
#69    Nella Larsen, Romola
#68    P.D. James
#67    The Medici
#66    Curious Incident,Temple Grandin
#65
   Ingrid Hughes on Memoir
#64
    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
#49    
Caucasia
#48    
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
#25
   On Libraries....
#24    Tales of the City
#23
   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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Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Pocahontas County, West Virginia

     I'm just back from visiting my mother in Shinnston, but also several days doing workshops and presentations in Pocahontas County, which is an extraordinarily beautiful, rural, and national-forested-section of my home state that I had never visited before.
    I did a writing workshop and reading at the 18th annual Allegheny Echoes Bluegrass Music Summer Workshops and heard really good banjo and fiddle and guitar and all the rest of it.  I worked at a special camp for young women from three West Virginia Counties called High Rocks:  what great girls!


And I gave a talk on my old home girl  Pearl S. Buck.  Well, she was born in West Virginia anyhow.  The town of Hillsboro  had a festival with a tractor parade.  The view down in that valley is just stupendous:



So I learned a lot about parts of West Virginia I hadn't seen-- would love to go back soon for the hiking and biking on former railroad right-of-ways.  And stay at the excellent Old Clark Inn Bed and Breakfast in Marlinton!

Sunday, June 22, 2014



Summer Giveaway!
Free e-book for your summer reading
Meredith Sue Willis's novel Oradell at Sea

Through July 31

"Oradell Greengold...the brassy narrator of Meredith Sue Willis' Oradell at Sea....spends her days and her deceased husband's fortune cruising on first-class luxury liners where young Greek deckhands wait on her hand and foot-rub."

                   -- Hal Jacobs, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Not since Carson McCullers has anyone given us a Southern bell-ringer as scabbed and admirable as this motherless widow from Shacky Hill."

                    -- Big City Lit

Free Till July 31, 2014

To get it free in any e-book format, go to Smashwords.com.
(You may have to register first)

At check-out, put in this coupon code for your free copy:

YZ48G

( Physical book available from WVU Press)

Friday, June 20, 2014

My Take on the Amazon-Hachette Dispute

    First of all, I don't see any good guys here, and I'm including the Authors Guild, of which I'm a member.  The Amazon/Hachette dispute is about profits.  Lining up with Hachette are richly compensated writers like J.K. Rowling, Michael Connelly, Malcolm Gladwell and many others, and our Authors Guild, a narrowly defined organization that supports writers who make money. There are, of course, also some non-rich writers who see their interests aligned with the publishers.
    I'm speaking from the perspective of a serious writer who does not make serious money.  I am a member of the Authors Guild (and have been for well over thirty years).  My first novel was acquired by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1978.  At that time, Scribner was a humanly owned company: there was a Mr. Charlie and a young Charlie. They published three of my novels, even though they made relatively little profit from them.
    Then my editor left, and the next editor didn’t love my work.  Scribners joined with Athenaeum, then Macmillan, later was scooped up by Paramount, who lost a takeover battle with Viacom who revived the name of Simon and Schuster-- whew.  Only if you believe giant corporations are people like you and me will you believe that this roller coaster ride has been good for midlist fiction, literary experimentation, regional voices, or– for that matter– the broad marketplace of ideas. As Andre Schiffrin pointed out in The Business of Books more than ten years ago, literary novels are now expected to earn the same rate of profit as the big conglomerates’ biggest sellers– and, often, at the same rate they expect from commodities that have nothing to do with books.
    The Big Five remaining publishing companies have done nothing for me and my writer friends.  Barnes and Noble with its famous subsidized stacks at the ends of the aisles didn’t help our sales either. Obviously there are still literary publishers out there, and obviously some lovely books still get published even by the Big Five, but for the large group of us whose books don’t make the required return on the dollar, there are very few commercial opportunities.
    Amazon is a bully and a profit-taking monster (or hopes to be someday), but they have also made it possible for some of the small publishers who have supported my work to stay in business.  Since Scribner dumped me (and also HarperCollins, after my children’s books didn't sell well enough to suit them), I have been published by Mercury House, Gnomon Press, West Virginia University Press, Montemayor Press, Hamilton Stone Editions, and Ohio University Press.  Foreverland Press brought back my first novel as an e-book.  And oh yes, I have a reprint book with Xlibris through the Authors’ Guild’s own “Back-in-print” program– and I do thank you, Authors Guild, for that, at least.
    My sales have been small.  In some cases, I share production costs to get my work available. I have never made a living strictly from my writing, although my writing has allowed me to get teaching jobs.
    This new world of publishing has been a shock, but also unexpectedly pleasurable.  I like having input into the production of my books.  I like it that all my finished books are presently available in print and nine of them so far in e-book format.  They are available from publisher’s web sites, from local book stores, from online stores like the Apple store and Barnes & Noble– and, oh, yes, from Amazon.com.
    If Amazon were the only bad guy here, I’d happily go picket.  But the Authors Guild and Hachette are, from where I sit, no more interested in me and other small-selling literary artists (not to mention the enthusiastic hordes of genre self-publishers at Smashwords.com) than Amazon is. I hope J.K. and Stephen and Malcolm and Michael and all the others who are making a nice living at it continue to be able to do so, but don’t ask those of us who do it for love to choose between evils.
    Amazon.com may turn out to be the lesser.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Monday, June 09, 2014

Robot Cars: who will they save?

David Weinberger has a cool thought experiment about self-driving Google cars:  what is they are networked and decide in favor of the greatest good for the greatest number in a dangerous situation-- and that means I get sacrificed?

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Train image


I went into New York today, an hour an a half at the Museum seeing the Goya paints the Altamira family room plus a big calm gallery of buddhas and vishnus from the nation states that preceded Cambodia and Vietnam and Myramar.

And I did a selfie on the train!



Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Meredith Sue Willis's BOOKS FOR READERS #170

Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 170

June 3, 2014

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In this Issue:

John Van Kirk's Song for Chance
Carter Taylor Seaton's Hippie Homesteaders
The Murder of Helen Jewett
Francine Prose

Susan Taylor Chehak; Thaddeus Rutkowski; Neil Gaiman;
Backchannel Report;  The E-Reader Report with John Birch;
Things to Read Online; Announcements;
  Responses from Readers; Phyllis Moore Notes

 

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Love Palace
now available as a paperback!

New reviews!


Buy it from Irene Weinberger Books  Buy it online
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Kindle --  Nook --  iBook --  All Digital formats





When I settle in to do one of these newsletters, I always discover that I've collected a lot of notes to turn into responses and short reviews. I also collect responses from readers (and often use those for my own ideas for free reading).
Please! Send me your notes on what you are reading too!

The first book I want to talk about in this issue is John Van Kirk's novel, Song for Chance. This is the story of a rock star/song writer/lounge pianist, Jack Voss, whose early breakthrough album was a romantic rock opera with a triple suicide at the end that became the catalyst for several real life suicides. The story line follows how, as a man approaching 60, Jack's past comes back to destroy his own daughter, who he has only recently begun to know. He goes on a road trip seeking answers, and in the end learns the humility of taking responsibility for your own actions.
I don't think, however, that the story-- or Jack's personal insights arethe most important reason to read the book. There's lots of interesting background-- drugs, sex, and rock 'n roll through two generations. The flashback material to life on the road with a carousing young band in the seventies is vivid and well-done; the all-American road trip has wonderful descriptions of landscape (and sky-scape) from New Jersey to Carmel, California, across Canada to poor rural New York State. There are also solid minor characters and the contemplation of the changes we go through as individuals and a nation with the passage of time.
But for me, the the most powerful element of the novel is how it captures something of how an artist works– not in a moment of inspiration, which most likely all human beings experience, but for the long haul.
Jack Voss in this novel's present is not as famous as he once was, but he has wealth enough to do most things he wants, and what he really wants to do as he approaches old age -- the same as when he was young -- is to create songs. Van Kirk does a good job of managing the slight of hand of using language to give the reader an idea of how ideas must come to a musician. Jack is also, of course, a lyricist too, so his sense of the world comes in words as well as music. This is all brilliantly done: the life of a musician who no longer fills amphitheaters with screaming teen fans, but still makes music. Towards the end, after Voss has learned a few things about himself and about life, Van Kirk writes this about his efforts to do some give-back in the world: "Voss was a selfish man, and there was no point in deluding himself with the idea that he was doing this for anyone but himself. It would be an escape and a refuge, and that was what he needed now. And when it came to an end...when it came to an end, the next thing would present itself and he would deal with it then."
Jack Voss really has loved his art more than he ever loved his best friend or his wife or his daughter. He has been a man who hires other people to manage his life (he calls his accountant periodically and asks if he can afford a certain car, a house, an important act of expiation). He drinks too much and smokes too much grass even after he has officially given up drugs. But he is also a man who is, by the end, making a serious effort to take actions guided by compassion (he is also an occasional practitioner of meditation). He wants to try to ease some small part of the suffering he has been associated with, even if he hasn't caused it, but he also wants to do this while he continues to make his art. .
This is, at its heart, a book for grown-ups, about how little we can change from who we are, yet how essential it is that we make the changes we can-- and how for those of us who are lucky, creative work abides.



Carter Taylor Seaton's Hippie Homesteaders is a nonfiction account of back-to-the-landers who went to West Virginia in the nineteen-seventies. I suspect I'll return often to this as a reference and because it makes a wonderful balance to my own experience as one of the West Virginians who left. These people are more or less my age, sharing many of my values--but they made the reverse move.
Interview by interview, too, this is a striking book. Seaton has interviewed dozens of people, many of whom she already knew from her involvement in the craft world in West Virginia as it evolved. The homesteaders in the book were essential to developing West Virginia's arts and crafts, both the revival of old traditional crafts and the introduction and creation of new ones. The story is also, indirectly, about how government and nonprofit support helped people find a new way to make a living.
Many of these out-of-staters (and the native craftspeople as well) thrived under the support of the state arts council and the Mountain State Arts and Crafts Festival and-- eventually, the high-end outlet for West Virginia arts, Tamarack.
It's a fascinating and complex story. First there were the artistic and craft-inclined young people looking for a rural life who found cheap land in West Virginia. Then there were the old timers living around them, who were generally extremely generous and friendly. These rural people were often the ones whose own children had left the land, and there must have been an element of vindication for those who stayed when these new young people chose their life style or elements of it. They gave the in-movers farming advice and in some cases taught the newcomers folk art. The newcomers in turn honored the folk art and farming techniques and in some cases shared new techniques as well as marketing strategies.
Almost all of the events and people in this book live outside of the industrial West Virginia where I grew up. That is, the lives of miners and the power of Big Coal are almost absent from the book, except indirectly, as when sculptor Bill Hopen is offered a commission to do a statue of Senator Robert C. Byrd, names his price, and no one even blinks. No one blinks because money available, and not from the small dirt farms or the black lung miners.
Hippie Homesteaders gives us the information and tells us a story about lives and art forms of some wonderful people who taught themselves pottery and weaving and stained glass and basketry and music. I love the fascinating interplay between the natives of my beautiful, often exploited state and young people (young no more of course) looking for a better life, a rural life, a safe place, a communal life. Sometimes it didn't work out, and Seaton writes about that too. Sometimes it led to deep roots and an influx of energy and ideas into the state. Carter writes with thoroughness and affection about a complex situation, and this is in the end, perhaps the best way to capture history: on the ground, through a multitude of individuals and their individual stories that, in the end, describe the arc of history.


Another excellent nonfiction book I read recently is The Murder of Helen Jewett: The Life and Death of a Prostitute in Nineteenth-Century New York by Patricia Cline Cohen. This is quite a move from rural West Virginia in the nineteen seventies-- a wonderful dip into early nineteenth century New York City when men were vicious in their privilege and sex workers were surprisingly independent.
The focus is on a crime but also on the life of prostitutes and the "respectable" young single men who did business with them. Then it is about how the judges and lawyers close ranks to save someone they identify with. At the trial, the testimony of the prostitutes is devalued and not admitted. Since "good women" are not even supposed to know these things happen, there is breathtakingly circular logic: no decent woman could be involved in a trial for murder, and you can't believe the women who do know what happened-- because they aren't decent.
The prostitutes aren't angels, of course, but they are very interesting, especially in how they choose the men they'll sleep with. Helen Jewett/Dorcas Doyen, the victim, always offers and demands a patina of romance with her clients--she reads poetry with them and writes them flowery letters. Her world (located around present day City Hall in New York City) is one where brothels are next door to expensive private homes and legitimate boarding houses.
The book also includes a lot of information about the penny press and the legitimate press, and about police and court procedures two hundred years ago. Part of the story takes place in small town Maine, and finally in frontier East Texas where Richard Robinson the probable killer goes into exile. He makes a lot of money and has a respectable life, but-- to my satisfaction-- dies young.


Finally-- and I seem to be on a nonfiction roll today-- there is How to Read Like a Writer by Francine Prose . This will go on my list of books that I return to for thinking about literature. My other ones include Camille Paglia's Break, Blow, Burn, James Woods's How Fiction Works, and Joan Silber's The Art of Time in Fiction– as well as the book that opened my high-school-senior eyes, How Does a Poem Mean? by John Ciardi.
At one level, then, How to Read Like a Writer is an excellent book. Francine Prose has read tremendously much and well, and she has a long list of books to "read immediately." One enthusiastic chapter details the wonders of Chekhov, and I promptly ordered the collected stories for my Kindle. Her love of literature is infectious and stimulating and a tonic for someone like me who has to read too many student pieces and other work not always of my own choosing.
But her advice for writers pretty much sucks.
She makes the case that the essential thing about literature–what matters fundamentally– is language. Obviously language is what we use to make literature, but Francine Prose insists that this is the most important thing to learn about and read for– and that somehow you can write by being conscious of language. This sits all wrong with me. In my writing practice, I certainly work hard to polish and select the right words, and I cast around for images that suggest ideas I don't have precise words for, but this my late stage revision. These are also only some of my tools for plunging into material that interests me.
Please don't misunderstand: I was trained as an undergraduate in explication de texte, and I get a lot of pleasure out of following someone's discussion of how a poem or paragraph works. But for me, the language is always in the service of understanding experience and thus the world. Art and Experience in my mind move back and forth in a sort of dance: sometimes the language and form take precedence, and sometimes it's the raw witness of a voice telling a story. We read, I believe, millions of ways for millions of reasons. But Francine Prose– not in her enthusiasm for individual works but in her prescriptions for how to read and write– is too sure that her way is the only way, and that people who don't do it her way are somehow spiritually inferior.
Fifty years ago, you could make a case that the practice of high literature was one of a handful of the greatest endeavors of human beings. It's harder to do that today. The necessary great audience for great literature still exists, but it is smaller and increasingly scattered. Thus, for me, How to Read Like a Writer is a book that offers little to writers beyond the perennial advice to read great literature.
It is, however, full of excellent commentary of a certain kind on some works of fiction.


                                                                                  Meredith Sue Willis


 

SHORT TAKES    (by MSW Unless Otherwise Noted)


Tetched by Thaddeus Rutkowski


Tetched is a minimalist and intense novel, almost all heightened moments, leaving the reader to draw the connections. It concerns an eccentric childhood under the influence of an angry Caucasian father, often drunk, who is the caretaker for his children while his Chinese wife earns most of the family income. For the children, there is no one around them who looks half-Asian, or, for that matter, like any other kind of minority.
The narrator becomes an unhappy adolescent and a young man with a taste for bondage. He yearns to hog-tie women, but is mostly made to suffer by the women he chooses. There is lots of sexual frottage, especially with the women who aren't interested in the role playing games. A lot of it also captures the world of funky New York City apartments with their claustrophobic close quarters.
There is certainly a creepy element in all of this, but you find yourself more taken with Rutkowki's wonderful directness and humorous honesty.


Harmony by Susan Taylor Chehak

Susan Taylor Chelak is known as a practicioner of Midwestern Gothic (see her webpage here), and this is an excellent example of it-- the rising waters of evil come seeping up into a material culture of home sewing and jell-O molds. The objective of the protagonist, Clodine Wheeler, is to escape the suffering endemic to smalltown midwestern life.The novel is set in a kind of perpetual nineteen fifties where the surface is an aggressive all-American goodness, with evil just under the crust.
The changes begin in Clodine's life when she meets her doppelganger, a pathetic trailer-trash young woman named Lilly Duke, whose baby was conceived in a prison waiting room. Its father is an admitted killer on Death Row in Nebraska. The women of the town, necessarily, shun Lily (and thus Clodine).
The visual setting for the novel centers on a manmade lake from which the branches of dead trees rise, giving a constant source of hopeless imagery– if you stay here, you drown. If you stay here, you live with hidden threats. Clodine creates a relationship with Lily, and gradually all of what was inside Clodine but expressed outwardly in Lily's life becomes exposed.
Clodine also has a baby in the course of the novel, and her husband has telltale icy blue eyes. We are told that he is deeply in love with Clodine, but, in fact, his character is far more opaque that that of Tim Duke, the death row inmate who never even appears directly in the novel. Somehow Tim's told confession and self-explanation are clear, and oddly understandable, but Clodine's husband Galen is more like a locus of evil-- the kind of character that Cormac McCarthy likes to put in his novels: an ultimately inexplicable human demon.
Chehak doesn't write about the supernatural, but her gripping, tightly focused noir novel has a lot of that mood without wandering out of the natural world.
That may be scarier than supernatural evil anyhow.


 

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Endlessly inventive, Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods has that delightful vision of someone whose America is imagined over a scaffold of facts. Towards the end, I got a little bogged down in the strong silent American heroics of the protagonist Shadow, who is repeatedly killed or almost killed, but always suffers (nine days tied to a tree at one point, topping Jesus). Some of the plot is clunky at best, but the thing with fantasy is that you can do as you please.
What I liked best were the surprises and the physicality of it. Gaiman also has an appealing idea of the essential humanity of our gods-- and of us people too. This is a novel about the decline of gods who become grifters and performers of magic. Gaiman doesn't need my endorsement-- he's wildly popular and clearly brilliant. I'd read read more, occasional, in small doses, maybe his work in graphic novels next..

 

PHYLLIS MOORE NOTES ON READING

The beat goes on! I've no hopes of keeping up with all the books I'd like to read. Yesterday I put them out of my sight. But today I finished two. FIELD NOTES FROM GRIEF: THE FIRST YEAR by Judith Gold Stizel, a retired WVU professor is one I think you'd like. It is the painfully honest look at the death of a spouse; a spouse of long standing.
THE PRISONERS is one of those books you read in support of the author but don't expect to like. There should be a title for this genre. Written by Huntington's Ace Boggess, it describes his just completed 5 years in prison. It is honest and hopeful. Much better than I expected, it recalled DARKNESSS AT NOON.
Ace is a WVU School of Law grad who didn't take the bar exam.
I did finish TENDER IS THE NIGHT and found large portions of it very boring. I did admire [Fitzgerald's] descriptions of the landscapes as well as his well rounded, mostly unlikable, characters. It felt as if he was writing from scenes in a photographic memory and didn't know what to cut. I will say, he does women well. Zelda [Fitzgerald]'s WAITING TO WALTZ seemed more alive to me. She does so much so well but blew descriptions out of proportion, at least for me. I like her style better than Scott's.



RESPONSES FROM READERS

In response to the discussion of Pearl Buck's work in # 169, Belinda Anderson wrote: "People admire her but I don't think they really know her works. I went through a period, probably shortly after I moved to Greenbrier County, West Virginia, near the birthplace of her father, where I read about her intensively– those books, a bio, a novel of hers I didn't know, etc. I found it a very powerful experience."


Laura Treacy Bentley of WV Living Magazine drew our attention to interviews she did about the Pearl Buck homestead in Hillsboro, West Virginia:http://www.wvliving.com/Summer-2011/Conversations-about-Pearl-S-Buck/index.php?cparticle=2&siarticle=1#artanc http://www.wvliving.com/Summer-2011/Conversations-about-Pearl-S-Buck/index.php?cparticle=2&siarticle=1#artanc .


Laura also mentions the 1958 Mike Wallace interview of Buck available as a video on the Internet: http://www.c-span.org/video/?288844-1/mike-wallace-interview-pearl-buck . Buck's voice is lovely, and Wallace's constant smoking is pretty amazing.


BACKCHANNEL REPORT

Back Channel directs us to The Guardian on Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie . Here's my take on it in Politerature: http://politerature2012.wordpress.com/2013/07/

More from Back Channel: A nonfiction book about the gastrointestinal tract: "Charming Bowels" -- bestseller! http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/may/07/gut-reaction-book-digestive-tract-german-bestseller . "While this is a non-fiction book, note the author also wrote "a novel about an 18-year-old girl sent to hospital for a haemorrhoid operation." Great idea for constipation in the article: a stool for the stool.



THE E-READER REPORT WITH JOHN BIRCH: HOW FAST DO YOU READ?

How fast do you read? I've just done a test of how fast I read. It's fun, and if you'd like to try it, just type: "What speed do you read?" into Google.
In my case it showed how slowly I read, rating be me 16% below the national average! The interactive test, unexpectedly on the Staples website, will ask you to read a passage and then pose multiple choice questions to check that you were paying attention. It then tells you your speed in words per minute, and, compares your score with the natural average.
My wife, Lynn, an avid reader, and not usually a shy wallflower, actually refused when I suggested she do the test. Surprising, when she's just read Donna Tartt's wonderful 771 page bestseller The Goldfinch in a few hours longer than a couple of days.
John Birch's latest post is about spring cleaning! Check it out at www.JohnBirchLive.blogspot.com.
 

HAVE YOU SIGNED UP FOR THE CREATIVE WRITERS OPPORTUNITIES LIST (CRWROPPS)?

This is an excellent, free, several-times-a-week aggregation of resources, contests, and publishing opportunities. To add yourself to the list, send a blank email to crwropps-b-subscribe@yahoogroups.com .You will receive a return message with further sign-up instructions.

 

THINGS TO READ ONLINE
A tribute to the \Chuck Kinder.
Another on not writing obituaries for the novel too soon: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/may/02/will-self-novel-dead-literary-fiction
A piece on good contemporary novels you may not know: includes our friend Pamela Erens!
 

ANNOUNCEMENTS, NEWS, CONTESTS, WORKSHOPS, READINGS ETC.

Kirk Judd's book MY PEOPLE WAS MUSIC is a fabulous collection of Kirk's poems, and as a bonus, there is a bound in the book CD of his spoken word performances. He's accompanied by some of the greatest musicians that West Virginia has to offer. Beautiful photographs throughout the book. A wonderful treat! Order from Mountain State Press, http://www.mountainstatepress.org/
THE NOTEBOOK is now accepting submissions for the Fall 2014 issue (their third!). The theme for this issue focuses on SECRETS, BETRAYALS, LIES and REGRETS. All genres of writing or digital imagery will be considered as long as some aspect of the theme is related to the experience of rural or small town women or girls, either directly or indirectly. You'll find details for submissions at www.GrassrootsWomenProject.org.

For poets who are women over fifty: http://quillsedgepress.com/2014/03/25/what-well-be-doing/
Stevie Phillips's memoir has just been acquired by St. Martin's Press for summer 2015.
Barbara Crooker has some lovely poems online at http://levurelitteraire.com/barbara-crooker-2/
July workshop on turning your story into a play in Rhinebeck, NY with Rosary O'Neill.
 

ABOUT AMAZON.COM
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 of 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 that you may be able to borrow it from your public library as either a hard copy or a digital copy. You may also buy or order from your local independent bookstore. (To find a bricks-and-mortar store, click the "shop indie" logo left).
To buy books online, I often go first to Bookfinder or Alibris. Bookfinder gives the 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 source for used and out-of-print books is All Book Stores. Also consider Paperback Book Swap, a postage only way to trade books with other readers.

If you are using an electronic reader like Kindle, Nook, or Kobo, don't forget free books at the Gutenberg Project—mostly classics, but other things as well.
Kobobooks.com sells books for independent brick-and-mortar bookstores.

RESPONSES TO THIS NEWSLETTER

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

BACK ISSUES click here.

 

LICENSE

Creative Commons License Books for Readers Newsletter by Meredith Sue Willis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.meredithsuewillis.com. Some individual contributors may have other licenses.
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BACK ISSUES:

#170 John Van Kirk, Carter Seaton,Neil Gaiman, Francine Prose, The Murder of Helen Jewett, Thaddeus Rutkowski
#169 Pearl Buck's The Exile and Fighting Angel; Larissa Shmailo; Liz Lewinson; Twelve Years a Slave, and more
#168 Catherine the Great, Alice Munro, Edith Poor, Mitch Levenberg, Vonnegut, Mellville, and more!
#167 Belinda Anderson; Anne Shelby; Sean O'Leary, Dragon tetralogy; Don Delillo's Underworld
#166 Eddy Pendarvis on Pearl S. Buck; Theresa Basile; Miguel A. Ortiz; Lynda Schor; poems by Janet Lewis; Sarah Fielding
#165 Janet Lewis, Melville, Tosltoy, Irwin Shaw!
#164 Ed Davis on Julie Moore's poems; Edith Wharton; Elaine Drennon Little's A Southern Place; Elmore Leonard
#163 Pamela Erens, Michael Harris, Marlen Bodden, Joydeep Roy-Battacharya, Lisa J. Parker, and more
#162 Lincoln, Joseph Kennedy, Etel Adnan, Laura Treacy Bentley, Ron Rash, Sophie's Choice, and more
#161 More Wilkie Collins; Duff Brenna's Murdering the Mom; Nora Olsen's Swans & Klons; Lady Audley's Secret
#160 Carolina De Robertis, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Ross King's The Judgment of Paris
#159 Tom Jones. William Luvaas, Marc Harshman, The Good Earth, Lara Santoro, American Psycho
#158 Chinua Achebe's Man of the People; The Red and the Black; McCarthy's C.; Farm City; Victor Depta;Myra Shapiro
#157 Alice Boatwright, Reamy Jansen, Herta Muller, Knut Hamsun, What Maisie Knew; Wanchee Wang, Dolly Withrow.
#156 The Glass Madonna; A Revelation
#155 Buzz Bissinger; reader suggestions; Satchmo at the Waldorf
#154 Hannah Brown, Brad Abruzzi, Thomas Merton
#153 J.Anthony Lukas, Talmage Stanley's The Poco Fields, Devil Anse
#152 Marc Harshman guest editor; John Burroughs; Carol Hoenig
#151 Deborah Clearman, Steve Schrader, Paul Harding, Ken Follet, Saramago-- and more!
#150 Mitch Levenberg, Johnny Sundstrom, and Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns.
#149 David Weinberger's Too Big to Know; The Shining; The Tiger's Wife.
#148 The Moonstone, Djibouti, Mark Perry on the Grimké family
#147 Jane Lazarre's new novel; Johnny Sundstrom; Emotional Medicine Rx; Walter Dean Myers, etc.
#146 Henry Adams AGAIN!  Also,Fun Home: a Tragicomic
#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; 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.
#130
Lynda Schor, Ed Myers, Charles Bukowski, Terry Bisson, The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism
#129 Baltasar and Blimunda; Underground Railroad; Navasky's Naming Names, small press and indie books.
#128 Jeffrey Sokolow on Histories and memoirs of the Civil Rights Movement
#127 Olive Kitteridge; Urban fiction; Shelley Ettinger on Joyce Carol Oates
#126 Jack Hussey's Ghosts of Walden, The Leopard , Roger's Version, The Reluctanct Fundamentalist
#125 Lee Maynard's The Pale Light of Sunset; Books on John Brown suggested by Jeffrey Sokolow
#124 Cloudsplitter, Founding Brothers, Obenzinger on Bradley's Harlem Vs. Columbia University
#123 MSW's summer reading round-up; Olive Schreiner; more The Book Thief; more on the state of editing
#122 Left-wing cowboy poetry; Jewish partisans during WW2; responses to "Hire a Book Doctor?"
#121 Jane Lazarre's latest; Irving Howe's Leon Trotsky; Gringolandia; "Hire a Book Doctor?"
#120 Dreama Frisk on The Book Thief; Mark Rudd; Thulani Davis's summer reading list
#119 Two Histories of the Jews; small press books for Summer
#118 Kasuo Ichiguro, Jeanette Winterson, The Carter Family!
#117 Cat Pleska on Ann Pancake; Phyllis Moore on Jayne Anne Phillips; and Dolly Withrow on publicity
#116 Ann Pancake, American Psycho, Marc Harshman on George Mackay Brown
#115 Adam Bede, Nietzsche, Johnny Sundstrom
#114 Judith Moffett, high fantasy, Jared Diamond, Lily Tuck
#113 Espionage--nonfiction and fiction: Orson Scott Card and homophobia
#112 Marc Kaminsky, Nel Noddings, Orson Scott Card, Ed Myers
#111 James Michener, Mary Lee Settle, Ardian Gill, BIll Higginson, Jeremy Osner, Carol Brodtick
#110  Nahid Rachlin, Marion Cuba on self-publishing; Thulani Davis, The Road, memoirs
#109 Books about the late nineteen-sixties: Busy Dying; Flying Close to the Sun; Looking Good; Trespassers
#108 The Animal Within; The Ground Under My Feet; King of Swords
#107 The Absentee; Gorky Park; Little Scarlet; Howl; Health Proxy
#106 Castle Rackrent; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; More on Drown; Blindness & more
#105 Everything is Miscellaneous, The Untouchable, Kettle Bottom by Diane Gilliam Fisher
#104 Responses to Shelley on Junot Diaz and more; More best books of 2007
#103 Guest Editor: Shelley Ettinger and her best books of 2007
#102 Saramago's BLINDNESS; more on NEVER LET ME GO; George Lies on Joe Gatski
#101 My Brilliant Career, The Scarlet Letter, John Banville, Never Let Me Go
#100 The Poisonwood Bible, Pamela Erens, More Harry P.
#99   Jonathan Greene on Amazon.com; Molly Gilman on Dogs of Babel
#98   Guest editor Pat Arnow; more on the Amazon.com debate
#97   Using Thomas Hardy; Why I Write; more
#96   Lucy Calkins, issue fiction for young adults
#95   Collapse, Harry Potter, Steve Geng
#94   Alice Robinson-Gilman, Maynard on Momaday
#93   Kristin Lavransdatter, House Made of Dawn, Leaving Atlanta
#92   Death of Ivan Ilych; Memoirs
#91   Richard Powers discussion
#90   William Zinsser, Memoir, Shakespeare
#89   William Styron, Ellen Willis, Dune, Germinal, and much more
#88   Sandra Cisneros's Caramelo
#87   Wings of the Dove, Forever After (9/11 Teachers)
#86   Leora Skolkin-Smith, American Pastoral, and more
#85   Wobblies, Winterson, West Virginia Encyclopedia
#84   Karen Armstrong, Geraldine Brooks, Peter Taylor
#83   3-Cornered World, Da Vinci Code
#82   The Eustace Diamonds, Strapless, Empire Falls
#81   Philip Roth's The Plot Against America , Paola Corso
#80   Joanne Greenberg, Ed Davis, more Murdoch; Special Discussion on Memoir--Frey and J.T. Leroy
#79   Adam Sexton, Iris Murdoch, Hemingway
#78   The Hills at Home; Tess of the D'Urbervilles; Jean Stafford
#77   On children's books--guest editor Carol Brodtrick
#76   Mary Lee Settle, Mary McCarthy
#75   The Makioka Sisters
#74    In Our Hearts We Were Giants
#73    Joyce Dyer
#72    Bill Robinson WWII story
#71    Eva Kollisch on G.W. Sebald
#70    On Reading
#69    Nella Larsen, Romola
#68    P.D. James
#67    The Medici
#66    Curious Incident,Temple Grandin
#65
   Ingrid Hughes on Memoir
#64
    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
#49    
Caucasia
#48    
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
#25
   On Libraries....
#24    Tales of the City
#23
   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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