Meredith Sue Willis's
Books for Readers
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Books for Readers #88
October 19 2006
I finally read CARAMELO by Sandra Cisneros, and I really enjoyed it. I had been looking forward to reading this book ever since Shelley Ettinger recommended it enthusiastically in Issue 40 of this newsletter, in March of 2003. That’s how long it takes me now to get to things on my reading list! I read all the time– student work, some of it inspiring, periodicals online and in hard copy, and books for review. But the delightful following of whim and attraction happens less often. Indeed, one of the reasons I started this newsletter was to organize my reading.
But, I did read Cisneros’s no-longer-new book, and I enjoyed and admired it from the very first page. Oddly though, considering how I liked it, I didn’t gobble the book. I would read a little, then lay it aside for a few days. This was partly, of course, because of busy days teaching and doing community action. Also, I had a hardcover edition that was too heavy to carry in my briefcase on days I trundle myself all over New York to teach. But there was more to how I laid it aside: Cisneros is a poet and short story writer, and this book is constructed of marvelous, highly polished, short pieces, each with its own title. You have the sense that you are reading– especially in the first half– a collection of wonderful linked stories. I would finish one, feel satisfied, and put the book down. Later, I would happily come back, but in the first half of the book I didn’t find the strong momentum to go forward that I usually feel in my very favorite books.
But this changed in the second half of the book. The intertwining of pieces becomes stronger as you get to know the family, as you take repeated trips to Chicago, Mexico City, and San Antonio. The narrator’s smart ass voice itself begins to carry you to the next section, and you feel an increasing sense of insight into an in-between-culture: a Mexican father, a Chicana mother, a family that uses English mostly, but amply larded with Spanish and sometimes more Spanish than English. Somewhere in the middle, I began to read longer passages. I think maybe it was when Awful Grandmother began to be more than a colorful if irritating family phenomenon. Awful Grandmother, Soledad, turns out to have her own sad stories, and engages in an active after-life with her granddaughter, narrator, Celaya/Lala. There is an interesting love triangle, too, among Soledad, her son Inocencio, and Lala. There are many other characters, too, of course, a whole passel of brothers I never quite separated one from the other; a strong, often angry mother; aunts, cousins, boyfriends, girlfriends– many, many people and many sights and smells and foods. There are also sustained images, especially the caramelo itself, which is both candy and things the color of candy and, especially, a particularly treasured type of rebozo shawl.
The book has some quirky structural touches that I generally liked: footnotes about historical events and celebrities of movies and Mexican telenovelas, and a long list at the end of people who helped Cisneros, and people who died during the ten years she was writing the book. There is even one more story after the last story. I joined her in not wanting the book to end, and it sits in my memory now as a large, incredibly colorful structure that I hope to visit again.
CAT PLESKA POSES A QUESTION ON THE STATE OF PUBLISHING AND GETTING PUBLISHED
Cat Pleska writes: “I recently attended a conference in Columbus where the presenters were all agents and editors, most from New York. In one session, an editor (with William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins), said that it was the chain bookstores that drove what got published in this country. I understood the editor to say that the publishers pay the chain stores to put their books on the front table near the door and if the books don't do well, they're off the table quickly and sent back to the publisher for a refund.
“What's your take on this, and specifically I mean that books are ‘account’ driven? Only those books that are almost guaranteed to sell well at a big chain store are considered for publication (obviously, other books are published that never appear on the front table). In a way, it sounded as if the publishers are shrugging to the wannabe authors and saying, ‘It's not our fault we can't publish your excellent book--it's the bean counters at the big chain stores.’
“University and small presses may be picking up the slack, but their finances are limited. Yet, I see the same books at independent bookstores that are in the chain stores (your point about non union supporting is well taken, but I'm not sure independents could afford to hire union employees).”
Cat poses these issues for us, and I would love to get responses. My peer writers’ group, for example, recently had an impassioned discussion about publishers who demand what amounts to a marketing plan from writers before they’ll even look at their work. It’s called a “platform,” meaning essentially something the book and writer can “run” on. Do you have experiences to share? Hope for the future??
CAT PLESKA’S LITERARY BLOG
Cat Pleska has a literary blog called Mouth of the Holler. One recent entry is about September 2006's lovely 25th Anniversary Appalachian Literary Festival at Emory & Henry College.
NEW YORK AREA LITERARY EVENTS
For a list of some of the many, many things happening in NYC, write to firstname.lastname@example.org . Get on the mailing list, and find out more than you can possibly participate in!
Here’s one: A reading for the BELLEVUE LITERARY REVIEW: Sunday, October 29, 2006, 5:00 pm t the Bellevue Hospital Rotunda, 462 First Avenue at 27th Street, New York City. Free, with Wine and Cheese. For more information, write info@BLReview.org .
Bob Heman reports that Proteus Gowanus of Brooklyn is an amazing space on the edge of Park Slope (at Union and Nevins) that is a combination reading room/gallery and a year-long Library Exhibition. It's an amazing and unique space and worth a visit. Over 50 artist’s books displayed, from editioned pamphlets to unique sculptural book art. The location is Proteus Gowanus, 543 Union Street @ Nevins Street, Brooklyn, NY 11217. Get more information from email@example.com or 718-243-1572.
George Byers has a new book out about his mother, a sharp eyed, observant woman who recalls the struggles and joys of growing up during the Depression and starting a family during World War II. Peggy Kerr grew up in a large family in Oblong, Illinois in a time when her father made shoes and her mother baked bread. Peggy remembers pantywaists and button hooks, the outhouse, the carriage, and the "hickory stick" at school. She also remembers child death and violence– a bootlegger shooting the sheriff at a best friend's home. Learn more at: http://www.diesel-ebooks.com/cgi-bin/item/059584166X .
SHELLEY ETTINGER’S SUMMER READING
Shelley Ettinger writes, “Hope you had a good summer and all's well. I kept meaning to send you a little summer reading report but never got a chance and by now, with all the literary novels and other serious stuff I read, the only book that I remember is the biography of Ava Gardner, which was a riproaring, page-turning blast!”
KEITH MAILLARD’S TETRALOGY NOW COMPLETE
I hope soon to write about Maillard’s excellent tetralogy, “Difficulty at the Beginning,” but you can read about it now with Cheryl Harshman’s review at http://theintelligencer.net/articles.asp?articleID=10508 .
THERE’S A DEAD MULE IN IT
Phyllis Moore points out some works of Southern Culture that have a dead mule in them....
VALERIE NIEMAN NEWS
The Morgantown Writers Group (MWG) sponsored a two-hour poetry workshop on October 7 with poet and novelist Valerie Nieman. Nieman also gave a reading from FIDELITIES, her collection of 18 short stories, as well as from her newest publication, WAKE, WAKE, WAKE, a collection of poetry published by Press 53. Visit the website for information on fall readings and events. WAKE, WAKE, WAKE is available directly from the publisher at Press 53, P.O. Box 30314, Winston-Salem NC 27130. Website is http://www.press53.com/ .
DIANE LOCKWARD HAS A NEW COLLECTION
The people at Wind Publications announce Diane Lockward’s new collection WHAT FEEDS US. Thomas Lux says that "WHAT FEEDS US is sometimes humorous and sometimes heartbreaking. Diane Lockward's language is both plain-spoken and rich, lush. This is a wonderful book that might not nourish your body but certainly will nourish your heart."
WHAT FEEDS US (2006) Wind Publications, 85 pp, $15.00. This book may be obtained through your favorite local bookstore, from on-line vendors such as Amazon, from our friends at Spring Church Books, or from the publisher. See http://windpub.com/books for further information.
POETRY CONTESTS CAN BE DANGEROUS TO YOUR WALLET ....
Here is a site tries that tries to separate out the legitimate ones: http://www.winningwriters.com/
AND HERE ARE SOME CONTESTS WORTH CONSIDERING FROM HARPUR PALATE:
The Milton Kessler Memorial Prize for Poetry deadline is November 1 (postmark deadline). Send 3 to 5 poems (no more than 10 pages) with a $15 entry fee and a cover letter containing your contact information and the titles of your poems to the address listed below. Please make sure that your contact information does not appear anywhere on your poems. The editors will judge. The winning poet will receive $500, and his or her poem will appear in the Winter issue of Harpur Palate. All entries will be considered for publication, and your entry fee includes a 1-year subscription to Harpur Palate!
Harpur Palate will accept entries for our John Gardner Prize January 1 through March 31. Send an unpublished short story of up to 8,000 words with a $15 entry fee and a cover letter containing your contact information to the address below. Please make sure your contact information does not appear anywhere on your entry. The editors will judge. The winner will receive $500, and his or her story will appear in the summer issue of Harpur Palate. All entries will be considered for publication, and your entry fee includes a 1-year subscription to Harpur Palate!
Summer 2007 - 7.1 Themed Issue: The editors of HARPUR PALATE are pleased to announce that they will publish their first themed issue, summer 2007. They welcome submissions to this special issue on Food, Hunger, and Appetite, broadly interpreted: stories, essays, and poems relating to the theme. Please write "Special Issue" on your envelope, so it doesn't get mixed in with other submissions.
Genre editors now have new email addresses. As of October 2006, please contact our prose editors at firstname.lastname@example.org and our poetry editors at email@example.com. The email for general inquiries is still firstname.lastname@example.org. The mailing address is Harpur Palate, English Department, Binghamton University, P.O. Box 6000, Binghamton, NY 13902 email@example.com .