Saturday, December 13, 2014

Visits with friends

Left to right: Tyrone, Andy, Lucille, Charlene, Xavier, Sarah, and Joel with MSW and Madysen in front.
The week-end after Thanksgiving we visited the Tippetts in their new home in South River!   Charlene, as a college student, was Joel's baby-sitter, and now she's got a high school son and middle school daughter.  We always have a great time visiting with them.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Books for Readers # 173


Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 173

November 18, 2014

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In this Issue:

Susan S. Carpenter on Ed Davis's New Novel The Psalms of Israel Jones
Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers
Phyllis Moore on Daniel Boyd's Graphic Novel Carbon
Ken Chamption's The Dramaturgical Metaphor
Comments from Troy Hill and Ellen Cavanagh

The E-Reader Report with John Birch
Backchannel Report

A List of Political Novels
Things to Read & Hear Online
Announcements and News

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I'm featuring two nonfiction books this month, not new, but definitely worth looking for. Novels are discussed below in "Short Takes" and special articles.
I want to begin with Stephanie Wellen Levine's Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers about teenage Lubavitcher girls. Levine lived in the Crown Heights, Brooklyn area for a year doing the research, which was academic, but the book succeeds and reaches far beyond its substantial academic roots. Anyone who has ever lived in Brooklyn knows the Lubavitcher Hasidic sect--claimed to be the largest Jewish organization in the world. They are the group that does outreach to other Jews, trying to bring the Messiah through an accumulation of good deeds done by Jews, such as lighting candles on Shabbos. They used to drive a truck called the Mitzvah tank around New York City, blasting music and inviting participation in their practice to anyone Jewish.
Today, they are famous for their welcoming Chabad houses all over the world (and the brutal terrorist attack on one of these in Mumbai in November, 2008). Their outreach is unusual, as Jews, unlike Christians, don't generally give a high value to proselytizing. Even a staid, mainstream Protestant church like the one I grew up in had an ideal of going out into the world and witnessing and converting, even though we didn't do it much--everyone in town was pretty much already affiliated with one church or another.
I have always been fascinated by people whose belief is strong enough that they feel privileged to grab people by the lapel and try to convert them. I am also fascinated by closed systems, whether religious or political, that have all the answers. It seems wonderfully comforting to me-- and also stunningly wrong-headed.
The Lubavitchers are one of these groups with a complete, self-referential system and all the answers. They also prove to be, in Levine's book, a varied, warm, intelligent, supportive and enthusiastic community. They welcomed Levine into their homes, confided to her about their lives, and seemed genuinely puzzled and hurt that in the end she returned to her secular life in academia instead of joining them.
The book is organized around representative individual girls who range from those who are deeply enriched by the mystical teachings of Chabad--indeed uplifted, glowing with delight at the insights their study and meditation give them-- to some serious rebels who drink, socialize with men (and Lubavitchers keep high walls between the sexes) and eventually leave Crown Heights, albeit with sadness over the loss of their warm and nurturing community.
One of Levine's fascinating and perhaps broadly applicable insights is how strong and lively the girls are in their largely single sex lives: they make deep friendships, tease their teachers and disrupt their classrooms, delight in clothes and parties-- and then switch quickly to religious studies and rituals. All of them are expected, of course, to marry early and produce many Jewish babies. The complexities of these lives-- the success and the failures-- make up the texture of this wonderful book. I'm so happy Stephanie Levine has told us about her year with the mystics, mavericks, and merrymakers.

The second book is similar only in how well it too combines cultural/historical information and the stories of individuals. The book has a long title: Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne. I read this right after a much shorter book, a novel, called I Dreamed I Was In Heaven:the Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter about a group of teenage boys of (native American and black descent) who set out on a nasty crime spree at the end of the nineteenth century. This novel, based on facts, is about boys living in a time and place when they lacked credible adult models and outlets for their dreams and testosterone. They would have done better had they come of age as Quanah Parker did when a warrior culture ruled much of the West.
The Comanches, the greatest warriors or the so-called horse tribes, had an animist religion and relatively simple material culture compared to other tribes (the Kiowa, for example, made magnificent decorated baby boards for carrying their infants).
The Comanches came out of the Wyoming mountains in early eighteenth century, discovered and mastered horse culture, lived by hunting buffalo. This happened quickly too--their change from mountain hunter gatherers to warrior lords of the prairie. They won their wars more often than not, both against other tribes but also against the immigrants from the Eastern United States. They lost in the end through lack of numbers and, of course, disease. Also, a handful of their white enemies figured out how to use the Comanches' own tactics against them--to stampede their horses then attack.
I was especially interested in the lives of the women, who worked hard, sometimes participated in torture, rode as well as the men, and were highly valued. The book emphasizes men's things: battle, scalps, etc., but there is a subtext of the community's deep valuing of all its members. They went to great lengths to avoid the loss of life of their own, especially their children. On the other hand, they were vicious in their raids on white settlers-- yet frequently took white young people captive, and these people, especially the women, rarely wanted to go back to white life.
One of these captive white women was Cynthia Ann Parker, the mother of Quanah Parker, the last great chief of the Comanches. She was kidnapped early and raised as a Comanche woman. When she was stolen back to the whites, unwillingly, she essentially died of a broken heart or at least of inability to adjust to white life.
In some ways, Quanah Parker's whole life is a memorial to Cynthia Ann. He had gray eyes and was taller than others, but he was fully Comanche, and also, I'd maintain,fully American: a fearless nomadic war chief who was able to make the enormous change to sedentary life on the reservation, where he thrived. He ended his life poor, but this was honorable in his culture, because he had given away his considerable accumulation of material goods to his people.
                         Meredith Sue Willis

New Ed Davis Novel

I read Ed Davis's new novel The Psalms of Israel Jones with great attention and pleasure. Here is a review of it by Susan S. Carpenter. I want to add that I don't think I have ever read a better depiction in contemporary fiction of people who believe in God: God isn't the answer here, but rather part of the texture of the people's existential situations. Highly recommended!

Snakes, Religion, Rock & Roll : Susan S. Carpenter Reviews Ed Davis's The Psalms of Israel Jones

With the character Israel Jones, Ed Davis has created, a folk-rock star, a legendary guitar, a howling harmonica, and beautiful ambiguous lyrics. Like other music legends (Dylan, Jagger, Neil Young) this singer-songwriter got his start in the early sixties and is still on tour in 2005. The novel is narrated by his son Thomas, pastor of the Suffering Christ Church of Holy Martyrs. After avoiding his father for five years, Thom receives a mysterious phone call telling him his father is "exciting them to violence." So, in the midst of his own troubles that include a divorce-in-process and pressure from the church deacons to take a leave of absence, Thom joins his father's "eternal tour."
The first stop is a snake-handling worship service in in West Virginia, where Israel Jones has quietly joined the congregation. Thom glimpses a snake held aloft, its coiled body "shimmering obscenely," and spots his father sitting quietly in a pew, "his gnarled hands loosely clasped before him, the veritable picture of unhip humility." This church, it turns out, is where Israel's parents are buried in the graveyard.
The snakes in Israel's religious background are merely the first of many discoveries about this baffling man, whose song lyrics "could mean this, could mean that, in the end probably don't mean anything," whose screeching guitar ("channeling the demons of hell") and howling harmonica excite his audiences to crazy behavior. Thom's mysterious phone caller has referred to a group of young followers Thom calls "the Furies," who cut themselves with razor blades during Israel Jones's concerts.
This is the man, Thom thinks, "who walked out on his fragile wife and five-year-old son in order to live free as the wind and sow his seed across five continents, leaving a score of children and bereft mothers without alimony in his wake." Thom recounts a litany of Israel Jones' flaws, musical, personal, and spiritual. But early on it's evident that this father/son journey will include the son's painful self-discoveries. Thom lurches from crisis to adventure to illumination in what turn out to be his father's final tour and his own life's upheaval.
On a day off, Israel takes Thom to a men's retreat, a Gestalt-type therapy weekend where Thom confesses:
"…one minute, I'd be with my dad, we'd be getting along; then, suddenly, I was stranded on the other side of a wide, gaping gorge."
The group leader urges him into an explosion of fury at his father that ends in a gesture of reconciliation as Israel sings one of his son's songs. They talk about Thom's mother, Israel's wife, and her suicide (she cut her wrists; her son found her body).
Then Israel says, "'But it was her choice. You know that, don't you?'
My hands around his throat will do the job; it will take mere moments.
'You don't think,' I say, 'you played a role in her … choice?'
'Ever'thing did. Me, you, the weather, what she ate that day, what she drank, it all added up: oppressive, temptin'. But to blame somebody's takin' their life on one thing, one person … Nobody's that important to somebody else.'
I clench one fist inside the other. 'I think she loved you that much.'
He laces his fingers atop his old axe, looks at me, and glances at his hands. 'Son, that's hate, not love.'"
For this reader such moments, when rage crumbles as a barrier drops to reveal a more honest layer of awareness, are the most rewarding in the novel. There are also scenes of terror from the increasingly dangerous "Furies," the crossroads when Thom faces the church deacons who accuse him of an "ungodly relationship" with a parishioner, and revelations about both Israel and Thom, who carries a Lee Oskar harp in his shirt pocket and finally earns the right to play it.
The book is tightly woven, every sentence crammed with imagery and allusions. As a writing achievement, it's a tour de force that bears the mark of great care and unflinching self-examination in the painstaking process of its writing. Ed Davis has written his best novel yet, pulling up his love/hate for music and church by their Appalachian roots and spinning a story of adversaries that scrape their rough edges together and generate flares of agony, beauty, and hard-won truths on the other side.


Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses

SHORT TAKES  (by MSW Unless Otherwise Noted)

Secret History by Donna Tartt

I read Donna Tartt's 1992 Secret History, which is about a murder and its aftermath. I started out impatient, not liking it-- it seemed like another bunch of entitled kids acting badly-- but it got better, or I got into it. In the end, it is a page turner with interesting characters (in spite of their incredibly narrow world and fatal silliness). The sensual experience here is all drugs and alcohol, plus the narrator's passion for his friends.
The victim of the murder is obnoxious yet oddly lovable. There is a set of twins who are charming and twisted, and the group's elderly mentor, the wealthy scholar Julian, has a heart of ice. I don't think it is a profound novel, but it has great late-nineteen eighties/early nineties stylishness. It's a knowingly intellectual, thriller.
Completely unsurprising that Tartt was/is a friend of Bret Easton Ellis, also Jonathan Lethem and Jill Eisenstadt.
Here's what the New York Times said in 1992: "Of course, many 19th-century writers -- from Dickens to Dostoyevsky -- used similarly melodramatic events to fuel their novels' plots, but the moral resonance of such works is never achieved by 'The Secret History.' Because Ms. Tartt's characters are all such chilly customers, they do not so much lose their innocence as make a series of pragmatic, amoral decisions. As a result, real guilt and suffering do not occur in this novel; neither does redemption. The reader is simply left with a group portrait of the banality of evil. As a ferociously well-paced entertainment, however, 'The Secret History' succeeds magnificently. Forceful, cerebral and impeccably controlled, 'The Secret History' achieves just what Ms. Tartt seems to have set out to do: it marches with cool, classical inevitability toward its terrible conclusion."

The Master by Colm Toibin

What a beautiful book, and-- when you come down to it -- a book with a happy ending. It is a novel version of the life of the great novelist, Henry James. The story begins with a public catastrophe for him-- the failure of his play, publicly and humiliatingly. James is wounded and has sad flashbacks to two men he had sexual feelings for but never (in the novel and by many biographer's evidence) acted on. There are flashbacks to childhood, to his sister Alice dying, his parents' deaths, how he and his brother William James didn't go to fight in the Civil War, but his younger brothers did, and the horrible suffering brother WIlkie went through.
There's also a lot about a woman who probably was in love with him, who killed herself, Constance Fenimore Woolson. She was an American writer, a grand-niece of James Fenimore Cooper.
The novel ends about 4 years after the disaster with the play, with James having moved to a house he loves, with visits from his brother and family, and then Edmund Gosse. There is is a delightful luncheon where everyone is at their best.
In the course of this relatively eventful period in James life, with a lot of suffering, he has been constantly imagining two of his greatest books, and it ends with him about to write them.
James is not entirely attractive: his coolness and fussiness are off-putting, and he refuses to take his own advice from The Ambassadors about seizing life and living, but it is a delightful engrossing novel. And how did Toibin do it-- make fiction out of James thinking up his ideas for his fiction? Just extraordinary, both the portrait of an artist, definitely the best I've ever read, and the magical drama of what is on the face of it not very dramatic at all.
I have to wonder what someone who hasn't read James or who knows nothing about the Jameses, would make of it?

Time and Again by Jack Finney

I've been hearing about this book for many years, and generally enjoyed it. It has a freshness, even though its present (1970) feels almost as far away as the past that the main character Si visits. Si decides with romantic conviction that 1892 is a better place to live than 1970-- that the girl friend he finds there is more of a soul mate than his 1970 girl friend. The very beginning is deliberate but gripping, some of the middle is more deliberate than gripping, but not much. And the end-- when Si decides to change history-- is very well done.
The attitudes toward women in 1970 seem more 1958 than 1970– Si mentions the Vietnam war and man on the moon, but not student activism or hippies. Finney was too old to be part of the youth culture himself, of course. But at its heart, it is a charming, precisely created and highly entertaining book.

The Sand Queen by Helen Benedict

This was at once powerful and sometimes a little clunky in the joining of its pieces. It is about women serving in the armed forces during the most recent Iraq war, and being a woman in a forward position with a lot of angry and generally misogynistic men. It was brutal at best. I was maybe most moved by some of the small scenes like the Muslim women preparing their grandmother's body for burial, and there were also some lovely translations of Muslim prayers.
The main character, Kate Brady, lives through an incredibly grim series of events.
Built on essays and research, it must make for a scathing book discussion subject.


A Short History of the Jews by Michael Brenner

Brenner is a professor at the University of Munich, and I read this book over many weeks. I'll be keeping it for a reference. It covers a whole lot very compactly, right up to ten years ago or so-- mentions AIPAC and Tikkun, touches on all the long long history. It has the kind of high quality glossy pages I don't get to touch much anymore, and beautiful images of frontispieces of haggadahs from many times and places as well as random but delightful photos of things like Bob Dylan at his son's bar mitzvah.

Troubles by J.G. Farrell

Troubles is a lovely book about the collapse of at least one part of the British Empire. It is a dark comedy of the Anglo-Irish at the Hotel Majestic in Ireland: a huge building which is physically collapsing around the heads of its classist, ethnicist, jingoistic--but often charming and increasingly pitiful--inhabitants. The Irish Irish are there too, but their lives are told indirectly, partly through the increasing understanding of the main character, known as The Major. The Major is a youngish shell shocked veteran of trench warfare in Word War One. He sees the blindness and errors of his compatriots, their stupidity and hopelessness, but carries on with helping to shore up the physical plant, to get children to safety, never really looking clearly at what he feels happening because his inner life is caught up in a hopeless love affair.
Wildly exaggerated in some ways, it is about the fall of empire, told through the eyes of the losers who were once the privileged class. The novel doesn't excuse them (they are really awful!), but some of the old ladies who have made their homes at the Majestic turn out to have more of a future than seemed likely.
Is there a comparable story from the side of the Irish about those days of "The Troubles?" Perhaps At Swim Two Boys by Jamie O’Ne ill?

The Dramaturgical Metaphorby Ken Champion

This interesting novella is ostensibly about a psychotherapist's road trip with/for a client with too much money to spend. James, the protagonist, is looking for some extra cash and maybe just something different in his life. He accepts the odd offer to "observe" the rich client, who he meets in person in Paris, then follows to Rome, then back to London.
The client's riches prove to have been a windfall, and his background working class, like the main character's. There's a lot of frustration for James as his client walks out on him repeatedly, whenever they seems to be making progress. James also falls hard for a woman who is part of his client's elaborate role playing games. James and she go to Rome, where the client, who cannot find the center of his self, turns out to have a life as part of a communist party there. He ends up in jail, where James visits him.
It's a dark little novella, the main character wandering through turgid experiences, never able to get where he's going. Much of the work has a dream quality of passing through rooms and public places (James is fascinated by architectural details). Encounters are at once meaningful and never quite finished. The finale has the characters back in London, their home city, and the client takes a kind of action that may or may not be a move forward in his psychical state, but we are left at the end with James and his life.
It's a gripping ride, hard to capture, but deeply worthwhile to experience.



Carbon, a graphic novel (think, adult comic book), is West Virginia filmmaker/author Daniel Boyd's bid to reach a diverse audience and raise awareness of climate change, the environmental costs of coal mining and fracking, the unsavory history of the extraction industries, and what "we the people" must do to determine the future of our planet. Now that may sound like a lot to expect from a comic book, but art has power and can create a buzz. The novel's art by Brazil's Edi Guedes is lurid enough to attract a reader's attention and to carry the intense story of a land under siege; a land where heroic miners and their families suffer the brunt of years of industrial abuse. Boyd uses biblical images and symbols to tell his story: God; Eden; Hell; evil money grubbers with obedient servants; predictions of an end of time, etc. The character and place names add a touch of humor: Eden Hollow is home to a Hatfield and a McCoy, a failed athlete, and a small group of devout Christians. Living in a coal shaft beneath their desolate town is a band of Sheves, exiled by a God. No one would rejoice over bringing in these Sheves; they are evil mutant females interested only in devouring food and raping seven miners trapped and then abandoned in the mine shaft When a recent explosion adds three miners to the group. the Sheves see the new men as fresh meat. The men think otherwise and join together to ---- bring the heat--, their phrase for decisive action. I think you get the picture: sex, violence, pollution, religion, and big business. Boyd's subject is a serious one. Can we balance industrial needs with environmental concerns? Is it too late to protect our mountains, our water, our air, not just in West Virginia but on the planet? This graphic novel is Boyd 's attempt to turn up the heat while there is still have enough water to put out the fire.


Troy Hill (see my notes on his book A Revelation) writes: "I'm reading The Goldfinch now, so I'll be interested to see what I think. I think I'm still in that first 200-page section that I've heard people refer to (it's hard to say for sure since I'm reading it on the Kindle), but it seems like it. Anyway, thanks for this."

Ellen Cavanagh Has Been Reading....

.... The Lost Wife Alyson Richman. She says it is "intensely realistic/painful story of WWII. Not a chick read. Could make a grown man feel the pain," and "Loving Frank (novel by Nancy Horan)– story of Frank Lloyd Wright having little to do with architecture. Love story. I will say no more. Spoiler potential galore."



A novel written in one sentence: interesting concept; gives an example from the book: .

Due to the "absurd" amount of submissions they're receiving, The Unsolicited Press has shut down taking submissions for the time being, but say you can check their blog for when they may open it up again. .

Great article on Marilynne Robinson’s novels and how political they actually are: Deep into it, Arnow’s The Dollmaker is also talked about in relation to Robinson’s work. 


Whoever would have thought it? The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon, probably the biggest name in e-marketing, plans to open its own bricks-and-mortar retail store in New York City, not far from Macy's, in time for the holidays. This seems to be an extension of Amazon's recent efforts to get its products into customers' hands more speedily, developing its sorting and distribution operations in its Amazon Locker pick-up program. This provides pick-up points for purchases, as does its developing same-day delivery service that's already available in "selected cities." It's uncertain whether Amazon will keep the store going after the holiday shopping season, but publishers and booksellers are sure to watch closely to see what happens next.
Read John's blog.


Wow! Someone on FB gave this link to possibly the only recording of Virginia Woolf's voice-- . It almost sounds like a foreign language, or at least heavy dialect, to me– she's reading an essay from The Death of a Moth and Other Essays.
Fall 2014 issue of Persimmon Treenow up .

While I was in San Francisco last month, I happed upon a local book store and heard a few minutes of Diane di Palma reading (she read a poem to the late Amiri Baraka, her old love and father of one of her children). She appears to be a physical wreck, but read strongly. Here is some of her work online:

ELLEN MEERPOL'S FAVORITE POLITICAL NOVELS (borrowed from her blog of 6-12-2014)

(She defines a political novel as a "work that illuminates injustice by dramatizing conflicts of class, race, gender and the environment. A literature that, rather than the common practice of using the political landscape as background for a dramatic story, is actually in opposition to the status quo. Literature that just might encourage the reader to look more critically at our own neighborhood, our own world, and work to make it better."

Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcon
In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam
The Air We Breathe by Andrea Barrett
The Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoi
r Running the Rift, Naomi Benaron
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Civil Wars by Rosellen Brown
Little Bee by Chris Cleeve
Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow
The Ministry of Special Cases, Nathan Englander
The Guest of Honor by Nadine Gordimer
First Papers by Laura Hobson
Solar Storms by Linda Hogan
The Bone People by Keri Hulme
Like Trees, Walking, Ravi Howard
Small Wars by Sadie Jones
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
The Given Day by Dennis Lehane
The Four Gated City by Doris Lessing
The Chosen Place; The Timeless People by Paule Marshall
White Dog Fell from the Sky, Eleanor Morse
A Stranger in the Kingdom by Howard Frank Mosher
The Last Town on Earth, Thomas Mullen
Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien
Strange as this Weather has Been, Ann Pancake
Caucasia by Danzy Senna
Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie
Ties in Blood by Gillian Slovo
I, Amy Waldman
Martyrs Crossing by Amy Wilentz


Paola Corso's The Laundress Catches Her Breath, won the Tillie Olsen Award for Creative Writing from the Working Class Studies Assn.
Coming soon from Finishling Line Press: two by Reamy Jansen: Two Ways of Not Hearing and My Drive, A Natural History. Two Ways of Not Hearing covers issues of mortality and constancy and the threats of getting older. My Drive is a series of linked prose poems about commuting to work and going solo to the unknown.
Check out Woodland Press with some good Appalachian books-- I especially like the anthology Fed From the Bone and The Devil's Son, a novel about the Hatfield family.
In The Last Conception by Gabriel Constans, passionate embryologist, Savarna Sikand, is in a complicated relationship with two different women when she is told that she MUST have a baby. Her East Indian American parents are desperate for her to conceive, in spite of her "not being married". They insist that she is the last in line of a great spiritual lineage. In the process of choosing her lover and having doubts about her ability, or desire to conceive, Savarna begins to question the necessity of biology and lineage within her parents' beliefs and becomes forever fascinated with the process of conception and the definition of family.
Christian C. Sahner's new book Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present (which I hope to review soon) has just come out from Oxford University Press. This is an introduction to the history and present of Syria. See an interview here.
Miguel Ortiz's new collection of stories is At Fortunoff's-- "A collection of short stories dealing with the life of New Yorkers in the second half of the twentieth century."
The Fall 2014 Issue of the Hamilton Stone Review #31, is now available for your reading pleasure at! Poetry by Roy Bentley, Doug Bolling, Rob Cook, Darren Demaree, William Ford, Nels Hanson, Tom Holmes, Ted Jean, Michael Lauchlan, Al Maginnes, Tom Montag, Marge Piercy, Kenneth Pobo, Stan Sanvel Rubin, David Salner, Barry Seiler, Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, Don Thompson, and Laryssa Wirstiuk; Fiction by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois, Richard Kostelanetz, Stacy Graber, Jana Wilson, and Alan Swyer; Nonfiction by Max Bakke, Mike Ekunno, Edward Myers, Diane Payne, Fred Skolnik, and Amber Wildes.
For information about submissions, see
Blue Heron Book Works is looking for submissions of book length work. Blue Heron Book Works is an e-pub company looking for outstanding memoirs--unusual personal tales well told, or awesomely well told ordinary stories to publish as ebook, with an eye to print-on-demand later. They would also like to work with fiction writers who have ideas for series fiction of any sort. All costs are born by BHBW. Check them out at . Query them at

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


If a book discussed in this newsletter has no source mentioned, don’t forget 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" above) that sells online at  
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! sells books for independent brick-and-mortar bookstores.


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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#173 Stephanie Wellen Levine, S.C. Gwynne, Ed Davis's Psalms of Israel Jones, Quanah Parker, J.G. Farrell, Lubavitcher girls
#172 Pat Conroy, Donna Tartt, Alice Boatwright, Fumiko Enchi, Robin Hobb, Rex Stout
#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.
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; Molly Gilman on Dogs of Babel
#98   Guest editor Pat Arnow; more on the debate
#97   Using Thomas Hardy; Why I Write; more
#96   Lucy Calkins, issue fiction for young adults
#95   Collapse, Harry Potter, Steve Geng
#94   Alice Robinson-Gilman, Maynard on Momaday
#93   Kristin Lavransdatter, House Made of Dawn, Leaving Atlanta
#92   Death of Ivan Ilych; Memoirs
#91   Richard Powers discussion
#90   William Zinsser, Memoir, Shakespeare
#89   William Styron, Ellen Willis, Dune, Germinal, and much more
#88   Sandra Cisneros's Caramelo
#87   Wings of the Dove, Forever After (9/11 Teachers)
#86   Leora Skolkin-Smith, American Pastoral, and more
#85   Wobblies, Winterson, West Virginia Encyclopedia
#84   Karen Armstrong, Geraldine Brooks, Peter Taylor
#83   3-Cornered World, Da Vinci Code
#82   The Eustace Diamonds, Strapless, Empire Falls
#81   Philip Roth's The Plot Against America , Paola Corso
#80   Joanne Greenberg, Ed Davis, more Murdoch; Special Discussion on Memoir--Frey and J.T. Leroy
#79   Adam Sexton, Iris Murdoch, Hemingway
#78   The Hills at Home; Tess of the D'Urbervilles; Jean Stafford
#77   On children's books--guest editor Carol Brodtrick
#76   Mary Lee Settle, Mary McCarthy
#75   The Makioka Sisters
#74    In Our Hearts We Were Giants
#73    Joyce Dyer
#72    Bill Robinson WWII story
#71    Eva Kollisch on G.W. Sebald
#70    On Reading
#69    Nella Larsen, Romola
#68    P.D. James
#67    The Medici
#66    Curious Incident,Temple Grandin
   Ingrid Hughes on Memoir
    Boyle, Worlds of Fiction
#63    The Namesame
#62    Honorary Consul; The Idiot
#61    Lauren's Line
#60    Prince of Providence
#59    The Mutual Friend, Red Water
#58    AkÉ,
Season of Delight
#57    Screaming with Cannibals

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

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Friday, November 07, 2014

Andy and I went up to the Montclair Art Museum today and saw their 100 year exhbit plus a beautiful beautiful quilt exhibit of 1950-2000 quilts by African-American women from West Alabama. I loved several, but maybe especially this strip quilt that, in person, was just pulsating with life. I've lost the quilter's name, but what a beauty.

My mother at her October 25, 2014 going-away party in Shinnston, West Virginia, with Charley Cowger. Photo by Carol Gaynor, we think.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hearing Diane di Palma Read

One of the highlights of my trip to San Francisco was hearing Diane DiPrima read her poem "For Amiri Baraka."  It turns out that halfway up the hill to Joel and Sarah's apartment is a wonderful small San Francisco bookstore, Bird and Beckett  (in the Glen Park neighborhood).  Walking home from the market, I stopped in for a moment and heard the redoubtable feminist beatnik poet giving a reading.  She is very frail and had to sit to read, but the poem was moving--written after Baraka's death earlier this year.  He was her lover long ago, and they had a magazine together as well as a daughter.  The poem is about some of what really matters after all the dust of controversy and sex and political battles settle.

Here's an of her poems available online: Song for Baby-O , and an article about her from the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

With Joel and Sarah in Sonoma

We're in San Francisco with Joel and Sarah, went wine tasting in Sonoma-- very beautiful, sunny dry, ravens, trees, hillsides brown and olive green.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Wow! Someone on FB gave this link to possibly the only recording of Virginia Woolf’s voice-- . It almost sounds like a foreign language, or at least heavy dialect, to me– she's reading an essay from The Death of a Moth and Other Essays.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

9-21-14 People's Climate March in New York was Huge!

I was there for part of it: so large, we stood in our little holding pens for nearly two hours before stepping off, and a lot of people took much longer to get started.The organizers are saying 300,000, and I can't imagine how anyone counted, because while the main march was forty or fifty across, there were also tons of people just walking along on the sidewalk, heading home, or deciding to go rogue, or whatever.  It was a very quiet, low-key event, albeit with some singing from older folkies  ("Down by the Riverside") and cheers from others.  The moment of silence for people who have suffered from extreme weather was nice, although I didn't know till later what we were doing:  arms up, holding hands, and a wonderful preternatural silence of the thousands.  Wow.   Groups I wandered among included Westchester to Stop Climate change, and the Clearwater group along with a prominent band of vegans blaming animal farming for CO 2-- there was a big black and white inflatable cow carrying their message.  Lots of families and strollers, some with dogs instead of babies.  A terrific teen age drum corps, lots of banners, professional and homemade.  A soft message, but a heck of a lot of human beings willing to embrace it.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Word Study: Nonplussed

    I went through a period of looking up a lot of words, especially for their etymology. I loved Indo-European roots, and discoveries like the fact that the words “black” in English and “blanco” in Spanish go way back to the same Indo-European word for lightning or maybe blaze: brilliant white light that leaves things charred black.
     I was less interested in usage, which brings up judgements about right and wrong and when change is good and when it is only inevitable.
     Recently I was going over a manuscript for a colleague, and came across a passage in which the narrator is on a walking pilgrimage and bares her feet to protect a developing blister with moleskin:  “The other pilgrims were nonplussed," she writes. "One nodded sympathetically and one asked to borrow my scissors.”  These sentences completely nonplussed me.  They didn’t seem to match.  If the other pilgrims were so shocked by her bare feet, why were they calmly asking to borrow the scissors?
    Looking up words in the Internet age is far quicker than it used to be, although it has lost some of the comforting ritual that came with dragging down Eric Partridge’s Origins or pulling out the magnifying glass for the compact OED. Within seconds, I had Googled "nonplussed," and the first definition was just what I expected, suggesting that my colleague was misusing the word: "surprised and confused so much that they are unsure how to react."
    But wait!  There was a second definition, labeled as a “North American" usage. Since my colleague is Canadian, I thought maybe that was going to be the explanation, a Canadian usage. The second definition was  "not disconcerted, unperturbed"– pretty much the opposite of how I understood the word.  I looked a little further and found a usage note saying that while in standard use “nonplussed” means “surprised and confused,” a new use has developed in recent years, meaning “unperturbed.”  The new use may have arisen from an assumption that “non” is the normal negative prefix and must therefore have a negative meaning.  The second “nonplussed” is not (yet) considered part of standard English.
    Is this word is in the process of slipping over to its opposite meaning the way many people use “drone?”  “Drone" seems well on its way  from leaving its meaning of "non worker male bee" to something more like "drudge," possibly because of the boring sameness of the sound denoted by another version of  “drone.”
    In the end, the writer decided to go with “unperturbed” just to make sure her narrative wasn’t misread. 

Friday, September 05, 2014

Books for Readers # 172


Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 172

September 5, 2014


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In this Issue:

Fran Simone's Dark Wine Waters Reviewed by Phyllis Moore
Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy
Under an English Heaven by Alice Boatwright
The Mother Hunt by Rex Stout
The Liveship Novels by Robin Hobb
Masks by Fumiko Enchi

The E-Reader Report with John Birch
Backchannel Report
Things to Read & Hear Online
Announcements and News

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I've done a lot of reading this summer, on my e-reader, in paperback and hardcover, and even on my smart phone-- more than I will report on in this issue. My reading has run the gamut from genre books like Alice Boatwright's new "cozy" mystery (see below) and Robin Hobb fantasies to Helen Benedict's searing Iraq war novel Sand Queen and an excellent nonfiction book on the history of the Comanches.
But I want to begin with a book I have not read.
My sister-in-law Ann Geller read Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch for her book group this summer. Ann told me that she also read some reviews of the book, and found that about half the reviewers thought it was a modern classic and the other half hated it. She said her own opinion is that "It was 800 pages long and should have been 200." I think it's important to note that my sister-in-law is not intimidated by big books. She reads a lot: fiction for pleasure, but she is also a Ph.D. in philosophy and a student of Talmud, so she has no intrinsic difficulty with large, dense books.
The problem, according to her, was what she calls self-indulgence on the part of the author: "The main character walks down the street, and there is an elaborate simile describing each person he passes."  To repeat, I haven't yet read The Goldfinch, so I can't comment on it directly, but Ann's remarks started me thinking about a kind of writing that I come across too often in novels praised as brilliant and beautiful. (In fact, for comments on one of these books that I have read, see below). It is a kind of writing that depends on thick layering of figurative language and sense description and aggregation– that is, heaps of detail and metaphor and sometimes also multiple flights along tangential story lines. When this kind of writing gets out of control, reading it is like eating rum-soaked fruit cake with pecans and currants and candied cherries, and then topping it with both hard sauce and full-fat vanilla ice cream.
This is not meant to be against richness, or against imaginative flights of language or experimentation. What it is against– and very much against– is doing these things lazily or ineptly, or self-indulgently. The longer I read, the more I have become demanding of quality and precision in long sentences and long books. This may have something to do with a cultural restlessness that has come along with visual media and Twitter and e-mail and blogs. I also spend a great deal of time reading student writing. But whatever the reasons, I am impatient with sloppy prose.
All of us who write ought to do a lot of cutting and polishing, of course, but the kind of revision I am talking about here is not only out of respect for the reader's time. It is also essential for the writer's own art. The initial foray into the material you want to write needs to be drafted with whatever tools work for you. If long pages of extremely detailed sense impressions or similes help you feel the texture of the world you're creating, write that way. If you are an outliner who has to get the plot down first and then fill in the details, do that.
It's what comes next, however, that moves the writing to another level. I've called this Deep Revision, and it's the time when you refine and make choices, but also the time when you make new discoveries and come up with new ideas and material. In fact, long before I start polishing, I cut whole characters and scenes, add new scenes, move scenes, and try to face the fact that a lot of the material that helped me reach my characters and their world is a kind of scaffolding that should be taken down. For me as a writer, these second and third and thirteenth go-throughs are where the value is added. I don't want to denigrate the wonder of initial inspiration: if you're a writer, you live for inspiration. But for me, equally satisfying and probably more important are the times when I am discovering what underlies the initial vision, when I am adding more, going deeper, diving under-- and then, when that's all done, cutting away the metaphors that don't fit anymore, getting rid of everything that isn't necessary to express what I've discovered.
Do some writers get it right the first time round? Of course. Do some truly need to polish the first paragraph before they can write the second?  Is the style of some writers all about metaphor to the exclusion of almost everything else? Yes and yes.
There are such writers, but probably not as many as claim to be. What infuriates me is the grandiosity of believing every word you write is sacred and should be displayed for admiration and/or worship.
                             Meredith Sue Willis

Fran Simone's Dark Wine Waters: My Husband of a Thousand Joys and Sorrows, Reviewed by Phyllis Moore.

When addiction is the elephant in the room most families are thoroughly confused about where to turn or what to do. Fran Simone shares her experiences in her candid memoir DARK WINE WATERS: MY HUSBAND OF A THOUSAND JOYS AND SORROWS. The title speaks volumes: The joys of marriage become sorrows as a well-educated wife watches her beloved lawyer husband's progress from an occasional drink to full-blown alcoholism. The parade of broken promises, blame, guilt, lies, and hopes for sobriety are a drum beat through the years. Eventually a line is drawn: Therapy and an inpatient stint are a last resort. Sadly, relapses, deceptions, promises, lies, arguments, blackouts, automobile accidents, and loss of a driver's license result in an unexpected drinking bout on Christmas Eve and a totally unanticipated Christmas Day suicide. Simone, suddenly a grief stricken widow, is not just a widow. She is a mother, a professor in a small city, and the widow of an alcoholic lawyer who committed suicide in his downtown office. The feeling of stigma is palpable. How can a survivor cope? Simone shares what she learned when she marshalled her resources and joined a support group of survivors of the suicide of a loved one. Aided by this, and other support groups, her recovery process included writing this memoir as an "…act of discovery". In the discovery and recovery process she learned to forgive her husband and herself. As a result, here is her memoir, a gift "…for all who know the joys and sorrows of loving an addict." She is a generous and courageous writer.

Dark Wine Waters: My Husband of a Thousand Joys and Sorrows (2014) by Fran Simone, Ph.D. is published by Central Recovery Press, Paperback, $15.95. For more on this book, read Library Journal:


SHORT TAKES  (by MSW Unless Otherwise Noted)

The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy

Here's a case in point about self-indulgence and bloat: Pat Conroy's novel about the Citadel and Charleston, South Carolina. Yes, it's gripping. Yes, it has all kinds of cinematic moments-- and wait! There was a movie made of it in the eighties!  But, oh my, does this guy overdo the suffereing and navel gazing of the narrator.
I read somewhere that Conroy is a big fan of Thomas Wolfe, which appears to mean you get to dump out gorgeous metaphors by the ton.  Much of the novel seems to be about narrator Will's confusion, his love-hate for "The Institute," and his feelings of not belonging. When this is dramatized, it's terrific stuff. When it's told over and over again, it gets annoying.
I liked the insider's look at The Institute. The cadets were extremely well done, including the black cadet Pearce who Will is supposed to keep in school in the face of racist efforts to intimidate him into leaving. I was also willing to accept the secret society of the Ten, whether or not all the the cloak and dagger stuff and violence is based on facts, but I didn't believe the love interest, Annie Kate.  In Conroy's effort to write a Big Book, I think he pulled together a few too many threads at the end, and they didn't all work. But the heart of the story, if you can lay aside the bloat and the repetitive descriptions of Charleston, is quite strong.
Frank Bruni says in a New York Times review of another Conroy book: "Conroy tends to paint in extravagant strokes, and The Death of Santini instantly reminded me of the decadent pleasures of his language, of his promiscuous gift for metaphor and of his ability, in the finest passages of his fiction, to make the love, hurt or terror a protagonist feels seem to be the only emotion the world could possibly have room for, the rightful center of the trembling universe. There's something quintessentially Southern about this, and Conroy is indeed a child of the South. Its mischief and melodrama are in his blood."
Some people really seem to enjoy gorging on this stuff. Personally, when I'm in the mood for violence and Southern-style grotesquerie and drama-- and elaborate metaphors, I'd rather read Cormac McCarthy.

Masks by Fumiko Enchi

This small book was first published in Japan in 1958. I assume I probably missed a lot of the nuances, because of cultural gaps, but I was engaged anyhow. It explicitly (according to commentary) uses as its structure one of the most famous sections of The Tale of Genji. It is about the indirect revenge and the exercise of power by women.
The story includes a lot of men's speculations about women, and the male characters ultimately choose their friendships with one another over lovers. All the characters, in typical Japanese fashion, are presented as highly sensitive to light, seasons, flowers, fabrics, literature etc.
The story centers on two widows, a mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law, who live together with a mysterious third woman in a beautiful home that has a collection of exquisite kabuki masks. It's definitely worth checking out, to see if it suits your taste.

The Magic Ship and Mad Ship by Robin Hobb

I love Robin Hobb's sprawling fantasy world where dragons have a supercilious attitude toward the rest of us and are tended by an adoring semi-human race. In the liveships trilogy, where dragons are always in the background, sea-going vessels have figureheads with human personalities. Each ship is tied to one of the trading families of Bing Town, who are related to the strangely physically changed people of the Wild River. There is also a nicely corrupt emperor who makes bad decisions that threaten the traders, and also a lot of feisty women.
The sea writing is entertaining: storms and sea serpents that are more than they seem. There's also an excellent pirate, determined to be evil but so naturally charismatic that the people around him love him and make him better than he wants to be. He's a kind of heroic-foppish Captain Hook who loses a leg à la Capt. Ahab.   I think Hobb must have had a crush in her girlhood on the animated Disney Captain Hook with his Cavalier hair and lacy sleeves.
Hobb offers ethical dilemmas that are surprisingly interesting in the middle of all the action and entertainment. I'm saving the third book for a treat.


The Mother Hunt by Rex Stout

At my husband's family's summer cottage, there is a complete set of crumbling paperback Nero Wolfe mysteries. I reread one of my favorite ones, The Mother Hunt, written in the early nine-teen sixties. Rex Stout takes a lot of time for his set up (no murder till forty or fifty pages in). These are so dependable in their pleasures: narrator Archie Goodwin is always fresh, in at least two ways; Wolfe always sits in his big chair and tries to get out of work and says "pfui!" when he doesn't like how things are going. As always he sets up a few stunts to catch his bad guys without leaving home, if possible, although every few books he reluctantly does leave home, as in this one. Archie has some romance. Wolfe's ego is wounded when someone is murdered on his watch, wonderful rich meals are described, along with Wolfe's orchid gardening. NYPD Inspector Cramer shows up chewing his cigar hoping to catch Wolfe doing something illegal, but of course always admiring Wolfe's slick successes.
It's a lot of fun-- New York City during whatever decade Stout is writing, and oh yes, there's a clever mystery solution, but that's never been why I read mysteries.

Under an English Heaven: an Ellie Kent Mystery by Alice Boatwright

This is Alice Boatwright's "cozy" mystery, set in an English village, with an American protagonist. It has excellent Amazon reviews from the fans of "cozies," which are all set in the English countryside without too much blood and gore and sex. Ellie Kent, the sleuth in this novel, is divorced from a prizewinning poet bounder of a husband and has now married a sweet English vicar. She moves to Little Beecham with him, and tries to follow in the footsteps of his beloved late wife-- but everyone still sees Ellie as a foreigner.
When the deaths begin to pile up, the neighbors and the police tend to think Elliemust be the prime "person of interest" for all sorts of reasons, especially including a book of poems on one corpse written in Italian, and Ellie's ex-husband is Italian-American, and she once in Italy for a few months.
Even if it isn't your special genre, you can't miss the draw of all the tea and cake and crisp autumn air and walks with the dog.
After a while, Ellie begins to try to figure out for herself what's going on, and willfully keeps a lot of information to herself. Needless to say, she gets in trouble, and even begins to think her husband has lost faith in her. She discovers that the first wife, too, has a mystery surrounding her death-- and all the time, you know it's going to come right, and the fun is all in the how, and of course the quirky characters.


An interesting article in The New Statesman on the value of fan fiction.
Phyllis Moore points us to an interesting article especially for fans of To Kill a Mockingbird and Harper Lee– but for everyone else too: a personal reminiscence of growing up with Harper and Truman:
Jeremy Osner's poems:
A free performance sample from Kirk Judd's My People Was Music!   Click here!
John Birch's poem about the Aftermath of 9/11
Terrific l story about a family and monkeys from novelist Thaddeus Rutkowski (See review of his novel TETCHED in Issue 170).
Barbara Crooker's poems "Cut" and "At the Poultry Reading" are in the new issue of Light: and "Salt" appears in the late summer anthology of (scroll down for names, and click). Also see Barbara Crooker on Writers Almanac.
Marie Manilla on PBS




Back Channel likes the movie version of The Dollmaker starring Jane Fonda, "who seems a bit miscast, but she does a serviceable job: . Based on the novel, which I'm betting you know about, perhaps have read. This movie isn't bad, especially for TV."

Also, online writing ideas: Write with Fey


More than 11,000 public libraries in the US now offer e-books through their websites, for Kindles and Nooks and all shapes and sizes of e-readers, tablets, laptops, smartphones and whatever. They're free, and if you're as surprised as I am by how much I've paid Amazon in the past couple of years, sometimes for books I've abandoned after the first two or three chapters, you may like to visit your local library and ask what they can do for you. They'll be glad to help. Most libraries loan e-books for a couple of weeks, and they'll e-mail you when the loan's about to expire, and again when it's floated off into the ether. If, like my wife and me, you and your partner both have a Kindle on the same account, you can read the same book on your e-readers simultaneously, providing you've both finished it before the loan expires.
Read John's poem about 9/11 on his blog.


NYTimes video on new monthly sub ebook plans:



Ed Davis's new novel:
Miguel Ortiz's new collection of stories is At Fortunoff's-- "A collection of short stories dealing with the life of New Yorkers in the second half of the twentieth century."


Michael K. Lyons Same Same: Marketing Basics from the Streets of Bangkok is now avaiable. Michael Lyons' Same Same may be about arketing but I was sold by the descriptions of a lively and sensual old city.

Blair Mountain Press is having a 15th anniversary sale-- all books $10.00 each. See the website at Latest title is Victor Depta's Poems: What Love Is. Here's a sample:

What Love Is on a School Bus

If he were less vulnerable, maybe years later, in his thirties when he's
outgrown his scrawny, miserable fourteen-year-old body and has the
strength for objectivity, he would, embarrassed as adults are by love
beyond their ironies, spoil the scene with realism
with spring, first of all, comparing the jonquils and forsythias to the
yellow school buses, dingy and mud-spattered, and stinking with
exhaust behind the vo-tech building
and then spoil the scene by describing the dreary students, drained of
their joy by the classroom, straggling in lines to board them homebound
to the camp houses, the black dust and burning slag heaps, the tipples
and coal trains in the mountains
and spoil it, then, with all the clichés of the adolescent—the acne, the
oily face, the smell of stale, anxious sweat, the burden- some books,
the bullying and blustering, the furtive glances, the awkward profanity
he would, as an adult, embellish the scene, perhaps with pathos, or with
hilarious, slapstick absurdities and obscene love, but the boy can't be
touched by any of that, not even by his fourteen-year-old ignorance, not
even by what would follow, flesh to flesh
I am not my clichés
I am not my body
I am is what love means
I am love's body

Ellen Bass workshsop in November: A weekend workshop with Roger Housden, author of many wonderful books, including his newest, Keeping the Faith Without Religion . See . This weekend promises to be rich with inspiration—and you are likely to write some poems, stories, and reflections that astonish you! WRITING WILD: TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE A Weekend Workshop November 14-16, 2014 Earthrise at Ions, Petaluma, CA. Both beginning and seasoned writers will find this a fertile environment to deepen your relationship with yourself and listen more intimately to your original voice.
DATE: November 14-16, 2014 TIME: The weekend begins with dinner on Friday, November 14th at 6:00 pm and ends after lunch on Sunday, November 16th at 1:30 pm. LOCATION: Earthrise at Ions, Institute for Noetic Sciences, 101 San Antonio Road, Petaluma, CA 94952
FEE AND REGISTRATION: Non-residential: $497 Double room accommodation: $667 Single room accommodation: $847
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Andrea Livingston at IONS: 707-779-8224


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


If a book discussed in this newsletter has no source mentioned, don’t forget 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" above) that sells online at  
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! sells books for independent brick-and-mortar bookstores.


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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