Wednesday, September 28, 2005

MSW's Books for Readers Newsletter #75

September 27, 2005

To have Meredith Sue Willis's occasional newsletter about books and writing sent to you by email, send a blank email to To unsubscribe, send a blank email to

For a list of back issues, click here

I have a beloved book to report on, and then a proposal to satisfy your gift giving needs easily and at the same time to support literature.

First, I reread a book that was introduced to me years ago by Phillip Lopate when we worked together for Teachers & Writers Collaborative. The MAKIOKA SISTERS by Junichiro Tanizaki was, apparently, published first as a serial, and Japanese friends tell me that it is at the present time most popular as a stage drama. This is a book with a strange quality that is somehow analogous to flatness– but a flatness that is like a great flowing river with many eddies of events and powerful, deep currents.

The novel takes place during the early stages of the Second World War, long before the American nuclear attacks, back when upper class Japanese admired their clever German allies, and when affluent families in Osaka were still living a generally comfortable and graceful life. The plot line is about the marriage possibilities of the two younger of four sisters whose family has come down in the world but is still very choosy about who it marries. The question of a husband for Yukiko opens the novel, and the answer to the question closes it, but the real point is the lives, relationships, and sensibilities of the sisters– and unsettling changes in their world. Yukiko, the older of the unmarried sisters, is described as an old style Japanese lady (and potential husbands comment on whether or not they have a taste for this style). The youngest sister, on the other hand, is quite modern and has a small business of her own– and affairs with men. There are squabbles and illnesses, the selection of kimonos for particular events, a miscarriage, cherry blossom viewing, meals out with the special Osaka delicacy of sea bream, a great flood with physical danger and heroism, and above all the endless marriage negotiations that involve everyone in the family. The pace– what I called above analogous to flatness– takes a little getting used to, but was totally addictive to me. Towards the end of my reading, I began to fall asleep thinking I could hear hearing voices in Japanese endlessly discussing, debating, and dissecting the various candidates for Yukiko's husband.

And now, Part II, a Special Proposal:

I wrote a little in an issue of this newsletter earlier this month about how hard it is to find readers for small presses, and my idea is to ask you to help me come up with a special Gift Book edition of this newsletter in which there are recommendations for books from small presses and perhaps commercial books that were never publicized very well. My idea is to create a list of books that people might not have heard of but which would be perfect gifts for certain people: for example, a small press children's book for a boy who is a fan of HARRY POTTER or a book for a great-aunt who loves to read but is often unhappy with graphic sex . Or, for that matter, a book for a great-aunt with a taste for feminist erotica.

The rules are: Books from small presses (or books that have been forgotten), plus a guess as to who might like the book. Also, while you are welcome to recommend your best friend's book, you may not recommend your own book. I am totally open to sharing news and reviews sent by authors (and I use this newsletter to publicize my own work too), but for this particular project, I want recommendations of other people's books.

Some sample recommendations follow my sign-off.

Thanks for reading!

Meredith Sue Willis


Here's my first go at a list that I hope will get much longer. To recap: Please send me suggestions for books from small, very small, and university presses, or commercial books that were ignored and should not have been. Include a short description of who you think would love to get this book at a gift.

1. For anymore who reads Kafka or literary science fiction or general literature, I cannot recommend highly enough Carol Emshwiller's I LIVE WITH YOU from the small science fiction press Tachyon (website at Some of Emswhiller's stories are stunners: she has a whole set of war stories in which people have forgotten why they started fighting, and my favorite is a love story called "The General." Another love story about attraction across species (sort of) , is "Gliders Though They Be," in which strange gopher-like creatures, some pink with wings, some blue with no wings, live in constant danger from "the sky people" who snatch the occasional exposed child or adult. Emswhiller's world moves in and out among locations in science fiction, modernist experimentation, and the wide, wild blue yonder of her rich, quirky individual imagination.

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

3. Valerie Nieman's new collection of short stories called FIDELITIES is published by Vandalia Press, an imprint of West Virginia University Press. This book has a lot of emotional punch, and Jennifer Lynch's review at GRAFITTI NEWSPAPER ( says, "No matter where you open FIDELITIES, a collection of short stories by Valerie's full of intriguing people [and] interesting puzzles that leave the reader wondering about their complexities long after reading it.....Taken individually, each story looks at the life of characters so real and intricate, I felt I knew someone just like many of them. Taken as a whole, the collection is an interpretative look at the motivations, loyalties and obligations of a group of ordinary individuals. " To learn more about Valerie Nieman, go to To buy the book, use the online booksellers or go to the Vandalia press site at

4. Are you looking to buy books for children and young adults about real life adventure? From the small Montemayor Press come three excellent stories by Ed Myers, a writer who has published over forty books for children and adults with presses of all sizes. I mentioned his young adult novel ICE last issue (see ) , but his books for slightly younger children are also excellent. I especially like his novel about children lost in the rain forest, SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST and, for something really different, DUCK AND COVER, a story about a boy who lives during the days of the Cold War– and gets involved in a cold war of his own, right on his own street. Check these out at

5. Finally, a special treat for people who like to listen while they drive! has released its 7th audio drama on CD– LOST HIGHWAY by Richard Currey, performed by Ross Ballard II. A nuanced and poetic first-person narrative, Richard Currey's novel tells the story of Sapper Reeves, a gifted country music singer/songwriter working the rainy backroads and smoke-filled taverns of the southern mountains after World War II. The performer, Ross Ballard, is an actor and producer with a mastery of regional dialect and the age-old art of fine storytellng. The story's fictional song "Miranda" comes to life along with additional award winning bluegrass music. Learn more at

That's the idea. You can always, of course, recommend best sellers and classics as well, but for this special page I'm looking for books that people might miss.


Carol Brodtrick writes to say: "I wonder if you'd consider a section now and then for a review of work for children. Many creative, talented writers pen novels that are exquisite (just check out the years of Newberry winners), books such as Kate Di Camillo's THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX and Sharon Creech's WALK TWO MOONS, both with a depth adults can appreciate. And who can challenge the popularity of the HARRY POTTER books when readership spans ages 9 to 80? Of course it's because beyond the surface wizard's tale there are layers of human conflict to think about....Your newsletters always remind me there are more books written than can be read in a single lifetime– but you offer a path, often to little known jewels that enrich the everyday. Maybe some of those jewels can come from the juvenile section of the library."


"I read a wonderful book over the weekend," writes Shelley Ettinger, "again by a Scottish writer, HOTEL WORLD by Ali Smith. She's nominated for the Booker Prize for her latest book, but HOTEL WORLD is from a couple years ago. It's very sad and true. The writing is exquisite, blew me away. The last five pages in particular are just heart-achingly perfect, left me stunned and breathless. She seems to me to be a, if not the, successor to Virginia Woolf."

And Fran Osten writes that she was pleased to have SMALL ISLAND suggested in last issue "I recently finished it." said Fran, "and was going to recommend it myself! It was the best book I have read in quite a long while!"


Last issue I complained about not liking my first novel by Robert Stone. Ardian Gill says, "Well, you had bad luck in starting with Stone's weakest, a Hollywood potboiler. With New Orleans so much in the news, Stone's A HALL OF MIRRORS would be a good choice. I remember it as wonderful. DOG SOLDIERS is similarly very good and A FLAG FOR SUNRISE worth the time."


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


Professor Robert (Jack) Higgs is one of the authors of a new text book called TOUCHING ALL BASES, A RHETORIC OF SELF DISCOVERY. This new publication, a creative literature anthology for readers and students, includes work by a medley of emerging American voices. Among the Appalachian writers included are Rita Sims Quillen, Linda Parsons, Nan Arbuckle, Elizabeth Hunter, George Ella Lyon, Jim Wayne Miller, Fred Chappell, Ray Hicks, Kathryn Stripling Byer, Marilou Awiatka, Lynn Powell, Judy Odom, Garry Barker, and Jo Carson. The book uses strategic questions to stimulate the reader to think by using different functions of the mind: sensing, rational thinking, symbolic thinking, and valuing. As a textbook, it is suitable for college freshman composition, or for Advanced Placement or research courses. To learn more here.


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


Garrison Keillor says of Barbara Crooker's RADIANCE: "A pleasure to read, straight through, for its humor and intelligence and for the sheer bravery of sentiment. It dares to show deep feeling, unguarded by irony. It's a straight-ahead passionate book by a mature poet and rather suddenly I've become a fan." Crooker is the author of many poems published in places like YANKEE, THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, NIMROD, and many more. She is the recipient of the 2004 W. B.Yeats Society of New York Award, the 2004 Pennsylvania Center for the Book Poetry in Public Places Poster Competition, the 2003 Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, the 2003 "April Is the Cruelest Month" Award from Poets & Writers, and, again many more! The author of ten chapbooks, she lives with her husband and son in rural northeaster Pennsylvania, and has two grown daughters and one grandson. See her website at


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



NIGHT TRAIN EDITOR Rusty Barnes reminds us that the Richard Yates Short Story Award Competition (judged by Ed Falco) begins September 1st and runs through November 18th. See .


BOOKS mentioned in this newsletter are available from your public library and your local independent bookstore as well as online and at the mall. For online shopping, try a site that specializes in textbooks, but includes general trade books too– Direct Textbook. Another good choice is Bookfinder. A good site for comparison shopping is . Another is Sources for used and out-of-print books include Advanced Book Exchange and Alibris.

You can also, of course, get almost any book online from or Barnes & Noble, but keep in mind that both and Barnes & Noble avoid unions and are responsible for the demise

Please send any responses and suggestions directly to me. Unless you say otherwise, your responses may be edited and published in this newsletter. Please e-mail Meredith Sue Willis at Meredith Sue Willis.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

New Jersey Equity

Paul Scully, Executive Director of New Jersey Regional Coalition spoke at Ethical Culture today. He does a great overview of the relation between how some western counties of New Jersey are getting more and more businesses/jobs, less taxes, less affordable housing, and fewer poor people. And how the inner cities have fewer jobs, a higher tax rate (although the low value of houses means not necessarily more tax dollars paid), more affordable housing, including getting paid to take far western cities' Mount Laurel obligations, and, of course, many many poor people. Middle income, inner ring suburbs like South Orange-Maplewood get squeezed on taxes, on poor people looking for good schools, etc. etc. His solutions include rationalizing tax support for schools, more organizations like the Coalition, and organize organize organize-- especially for inner ring suburbs to figure out who their real allies are.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Thousands Rally...

I didn't go to the demonstration today, but CNN online says that the Washington police chief said theat organizers had hoped to draw 100,000 people, and, they quoted him: "I think they probably hit that."

Friday, September 23, 2005

Tomatoes at last!

It's been a rough year for tomatoes-- for the garden in all ways. We had deer eating the young cucumber plants and the beans and squash and the usual slugs after the lettuce and radicchio, and I still am not sure if they ate the tomatoes too or if there wasn't enough sun or if I simply chose late fruiting varieties. Well, we finally have a nice batch of tomatoes.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

An Evening with the Achiwa family

September 22
Takeshi Achiwa, our friend and Joel's cousin Alex's cousin, is in New York for two years working at the Port Authority. I was invited to go out with him,his wife Chiaki, and his parents. The photo is of us having an elegant dinner at Petrossian, where even the gazpacho has a touch of caviar!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Last Day of Sunmmer

Summer is going out--today warm and sunny and gorgeous, and I'm finally getting tomatoes! Also the squash, eaten by dear, are at last starting, but too late, too late!

Monday, September 19, 2005

A Busy Sunday

I had a rather too typically busy Sunday yesterday–everything from a Social Action committee meeting after a presentation by Madelyn Hoffman on her trip to Afghanistan to an hour at the South Orange Newcomers meeting and greeting, and then also talking to Art Taylor and Mark Rosner and SO police Chief Chelel. Then a quick trip to the Livingston Mall for gifts for a baby and for our Japanese friends whom I'm meeting in New York tomorrow. Is that all? It felt like more.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Later that same night....

Lovely South Orange Newcomers meeting in the open next to the recreation center. Lots of families just moved in from Brooklyn and Manhattan, quite busy, really, and speeches by Village President Bill Calabrese who loves being mayor and gets lots of affection in return. Still experimenting with pictures, I'll just put a picture from a recent South Orange event in here, namely me, Dawn Williams and Mark Mucci at the Two Towns in Harmony that the Community Coalition sponsored. Dawn and Mark are the co-chairs of the committee on faith communities. We're wearing our Two Towns in Harmony tee shirts.

Golden Cool

The weather has lifted! It's golden cool with warm sun, just right. I'm on my way to ethical, with a social action committee meeting to follow a talk by Madelyn Hoffman of Peace Action, then a visit to SO newcomers this afternoon, and what I'd really like to do is sit on the back porch and read. I did sit on the back porch and put notes in my gardening book after some more sowing of fall lettuces etc. yesterday.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Trashy Comments

Now I'm getting a lot of automated trashy comments on this blog, saying what a good blog it is and wouldn't I like to buy a nice printer to go with it?

Friday, September 16, 2005


I'm trying to see if I can put pictures in here-- I know I can do a link but what about pictures? I want to try one of my books. I don't get it. I could do one earlier today. What's wrong now? Here's a try with something already online: That didn't work either. Oh well.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Mom's Tickets & Zorba

September 14
I've been working on getting tickets for my mother's Big Trip. She's going to go to Knoxville to visit my Dad's great nieces, then from there to San Luis Obispo to visit my sister, then from San Luis back to New Jersey for Christmas--and now we're working on New Jersey to Cleveland where's she'll visit her nephew and his extended family, then back to Pittsburgh, where family friend and West Virginia artist Charlie Cowger will pick her up! This will cost a bundle, but it's great she's so popular with her family.

September 12, 2005
More gorgeous weather, although it's supposed to get hot today. The usual million and a half things preying on my mind, including "reformatting" of my office. Listen to that language. Oh, yes, I've gone over to the dark side. Every night I spend at least forty five minutes just surfing. On the one hand, I am just having a good time with this stuff. On the other hand, I think it's taking away from writing time (although I can't totally be sure– the nervous-pleasurable-quicktime of digital is now associated through e-mail and websites with a lot of projects I didn't used to do: Coalition, writing, Ethical.) I like to think that this digital stuff is taking the place of some of my old depressions. I think, more definitely, it's a space where I once watched more t.v. (All before Joel was born, so more than twenty years ago). I've been using a computre for more than twenty years now! I began with something Zorba (see below). What a trip that thing was! "Portable" sewing machine size and shape, and weight. I thought it was essentially a glorified selectric typewriter. My first MS-Dos system came after we moved to New Jersey. I insisted on amber letters on black, but I wanted no images. Then, a computer later, you couldn't get them without color and imagery, and I then there was e-mail, and then I began to play with the idea that a website – I've always loved art and design in an amateurish way– and began, thanks as usual to brother-in-law David Weinberger, to dabble in HTML, or rather, programs that use HTML, and once I got Dreamweaver, and saw how that eases certain kinds of communication–well, I was hooked, and I remain hooked, and sometimes that I am indeed addicted-- maybe not to gaming or gambling or raw sex images, but, I think, to the flickering screen, to the quickness of information (example--I thought nostalgically of Zorba, clicked over to the Internet, Googled "Old Computers Zorba" and got an image and information within fifteen seconds)

September 11, 2005
This is four years with two wars, one continuing endlessly, plus Hurricane Katrina. Art by Mahasin Nor-Pomarico

September 5, 2005
Back from the lake, closing all day, always sad to see the last day of the season at the house, and the lake was just splendid, cool sunny, perfect.

September 1
I planted fall lettuce today--indoors in pots because the slugs did in one small patch of lettuce and one of radicchio. On the other hand, I have several surviving radicchios and a couple of patches of lettuce. What is with this nature? Slugs eating my tiny lettuces, hurricanes eating half of Louisiana. I'm trying to be amusing, but one is reminded that we are not alone here on our planet. Judy Moffett has an interesting science fiction novel called Pennterra in which a planet rejects the colonists whose approach is ownership rather than community with the ecosystem.

August 30
We'll be going to the lake this week-end and then plunging into lots of activities with the Coalition and gearing up for teaching. I've been cleaning my office-- that is to say, throwing out endless stacks of paper-- old book projects, records of a magazine I was fiction editor for, putting away records of schools where I worked last year, etc. etc. It's very satisfying, and gives a certain sense of control. I've even taken photos and bits of art work and actually put up nails on the walls and hung 'em up. For eighteen years they've been propped here and there, charmingly disheveled. I guess this means I've decided to stay awhile. Joel, meanwhile, called, and he is in his new room, but not unpacked yet. He had to move himself, two trips, in a borrowed car. I felt bad he didn't ask me to come up and help him move. I seem to have turned exactly into what I didn't want to be-- what he calls "such a mother." I really didn't mean to. I swore I'd never eat food that my kid left on his plate, and of course I did. I swore a lot of things. Motherhood is strewn with broken vows....

August 26
Well, the skunk was released. Andy set the trap to catch raccoon, got a skunk instead. The town Animal Control guy doesn’t take skunks or 'possums away, only raccoons, so he apparently crept down while I was out and used a long stick to open the Hav-a-hart and let the dear little skunk go free.
Meanwhile, the deer are totally brazen-- the mangy looking mother– definitely a teenmother, maybe younger– plus twins Bambi and Bambino. They leave deposits of their shiny black scat and eat the growing points off the cucumber and squash plants, and seem to have retarded the tomatoes too. Worse garden in years, although we did have our own carrots, mini-cukes, kohlrabi, and peppers for dinner last night.

And tonight-- Trader Joe's and the movies in Westfield where we saw....

Yes, March of the Penguins. I liked it a lot. For a funny comment on it, see Miles Klee's blog at --entry for August 15.

August 21
Mary and Tony Sciaino kindly invited us to their (air-conditioned!) West Orange home for grilled steaks last night. Joel came too, and he and Ryan went out to the movies afterward. I like our new neighbors in South Orange a lot, but there'll never be neighbors like Mary and Tony! They were across the street from us for fifteen years, always ready to let Joel come over to play with Ryan and Ann (Joel is exactly nine months younger than Ryan and nine months older than Ann), always including us in their family events, inviting us over for soup on snowy days when the schools were closed (they're both educators) and generally making life in the suburbs just what I had always been afraid it wouldn't be!
In a couple of hours, Joel heads back to Providence for his last week of work, then training to be a Teaching Assistant, then back to school.
I have the kind of twisted mind that misses him most when he's here...

August 20
This is what summer looks like to me, in spite of deer, slow ripening fruits and vegetables. It's always these lovely things that want to grow for me.

August 19

I had such a lovely visit to the museum yesterday. I was going to go out with Chiaki in the afternoon and take her to an English tea at Tea and Sympathy (expensive but fun), so I went to the Metropolitan Museum first and did one of my go-where-you-will visits.
I grabbed a bun and iced tea first, then looked at some things in the photo and print gallery, pretty random, photos of American slaves and free people, 16th century drawings and etchings of saints being tortured by their enemies, the slaughter of the innocents, a battle, which really set me up for the thing that sucked me in most, which was the Indian sculptures.
I hadn't been in there for a long time–I was desultorily looking for the Chinese brush painting which I never found, but instead walked into one of these galleries where you have to read the scorecard to tell the Buddha from Lord Shiva– well, Buddha usually only has two arms and never has a lady consort. There were a couple of mithunas, the loving couples with the tiny waists and bodies that you just want to hug and hold. There was a wonderful Durga (not this one, but one with some of the same elements) wonderful Durga, many-armed and busty saving the world from the water buffalo demon– I don't know, but the grace and pulsing life (there's a Sanskrit word for this that I can't remember) and the dark rooms like elegant caves, just blew me away.
I took a few steps over and sat in the entrance to the Chinese meditation garden to calm down a little. That's why I love that museum so much– I had just been thinking how different I feel towards it after having been in Rome where the art is in its place-- Caravaggio in every church you wander into, Roman ruins sticking up beside the trolley people grab to go to work– how our art is largely stolen from elsewhere by Robber Baron types–and then I step into the Indian galleries and just want to laugh with delight. Thankful that if they had to go over there and buy the store out, at least it's here in a public place where I can see it.

August 18
Andy and I went to the nearest Cindy vigil-- Maplecrest Park in Maplewood. There were probably 200 people there, and MoveOn.Org directs people to a Flickr site that has a slide show of vigils all over the country. Click here for the slide show.