Friday, April 28, 2006
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Friday, April 14, 2006
Meredith Sue Willis's
Books for Readers
BOOKS FOR READERS is a free, independent newsletter written and produced by Meredith Sue Willis, copyright Meredith Sue Willis 2006. To have this Newsletter sent to you by e-mail, send a blank email to Readerbooksemail@example.com. To unsubscribe, send a blank email to Readerbooks-unsubscribe @topica.com. Write to Meredith Sue Willis at MSueWillis@aol.com. Unless you specifically request otherwise, your responses or selections from them may be included in future Newsletters.
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As usual, when I’m looking for a treat, I indulge in Victorian novels. Those guys had the enviable conviction that their work was an important cultural contribution, and the also enviable expectation that their books would make money. From the very beginning of Anthony Trollope’s THE EUSTACE DIAMONDS, the narrator expresses firm disapproval of the central character Lizzie Eustace, an inspired gold-digger with emphatically unpleasant qualities that don’t stop you from being attracted to her. The introduction by W.J. McCormack suggests that Lizzie may represent the rapacious mores of England-as-Empire as opposed to boring, long-suffering Lucy Morris who may represent the sterling virtues of Jolly-old-England-the-nation. It’s one of those interestingly unprovable theories.
The plot is that Lizzie’s rich husband dies and either leaves or doesn’t leave her some fabulously valuable diamonds which his family believes belong to the family, not to the widow. The diamonds get carried around in an iron box, discussed, gone to law over, stolen– and worn only once or twice. The diamonds hold the novel together, which works very well for Trollope, a notorious improviser–that is, he wrote rapidly with minimal revision, always forging ahead. His broad understanding and appreciation of his world, however, make his writing in this novel, at any rate, lucid and exciting. You get a real tour of how far a woman could go in her transgressions in late Victorian England before she fell out of the social scene altogether..
I also had the pleasure of reading a delightful nonfiction book by a Montclair, New Jersey, writer, Deborah Davis. STRAPLESS started out, I believe, as an exploration of Amélie Gautreau, the subject of John Singer Sargent’s great painting known as “Madame X” which caused a scandal when first displayed because of the dropped strap of an evening gown. Davis seems to have set out to discover the story of woman in the painting– and she does tell a lot about Gautreau, but in the end, she focuses on Sargent and the milieu in which he made his career. There is wonderful stuff about the politics of French academic painting; there is a neat delineation of what did and did not shock the public (nipples: no shock; a dropped strap: much shock); and there is even the detailed beauty regimen of society ladies. Mme. Gautreau becomes in the end a sad figure, because her only art form is her looks, which she loses in due course with the advance of age. She becomes a recluse. I think Davis rather wants this to be due to the strapless scandal, but I don’t think the evidence is quite so clear.
Gautreau and Sargent both are Americans who live mostly in Europe, and what in the end is best about the book (and very good indeed) is a sketch of fin de siPcle and early 20th century upper class Parisian life. I read the book with delight, especially after a recent visit to Boston and the Isabelle Stewart Gardner museum which has a lot of Sargent. Even the Boston Museum of Fine Arts has some big mythic murals painted by Sargent towards the end of his life.
Next I read a popular novel with mostly blue collar characters, Richard Russo’s EMPIRE FALLS, which has been recommended to me by several students in my novel writing classes. I liked the book, and am pleased that it has done well because it is a solidly character-driven novel in spite of a flurry of mostly earned (literarily speaking) violence at the end. It’s very readable and only occasionally repetitive (when Russo really likes a character like the ne’er do well old Max Roby he just lets them be cute in the same way for pages on end).
There is one particularly interesting technique for writers to note: the sections following the main character Miles (and others ) are in past tense, but the second most important character, his teen-age daughter, has HER passages in present tense. This seems to work nicely in capturing the teenager’s view of life. I like both of these characters, Miles and daughter Tick. I was aware as I read the last thirty pages of the book that my body had gone very still in that anticipatory way that means I am totally sucked in. It took a hundred pages or so to get into that mode, but once I was there, it was almost as much fun as reading Trollope.
RESPONSE TO NEWSLETTER #81
Sherry Chandler wrote: “Oh thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m all the time seeing Elmore Leonard held up as a great writer of dialogue and I’m glad to see somebody else who, like me, is just annoyed by the gimmicky business of dropping the noun like that and the articles. And also it’s good to know that another intelligent woman is just turned off by all the violence. My husband enjoyed a few Leonard novels but I just found them unreadable.” Sherry blogs at http://sherrychandler.com/
ANOTHER RESPONSE: WE TALK ABOUT MOVIES TOO!
In the last issue, I mentioned the Oscar winning movie CRASH, and Allan Appel wrote: “A brief comment about your opening endorsement of CRASH. Dunno if that film is based on a written fiction or is an original screenplay, but it was one of those movies that genuinely bothered me as a fiction writer precisely because it was so ultimately plotless, and believable and engaging plot with a building of tension is such a hard thing to accomplish in any narrative form. Is the film not merely a charm bracelet of episodes, vignettes, sketches, very loosely connected, and maybe, at best, has the feeling of diffuse unity of a collection of interconnected stories, if that? But if so, the movie should announce what you're getting; otherwise feels like a false product to me. There's no build up of tension or incident, and, moreover, so many of the incidents are screamingly politically correct, and all the tough-to-achieve propulsive narrative of fiction is non-existent....anyway, I rant on, but every ranter needs rantees, and hope you and the wonderful Newsletter don't mind too much. Onward. With best wishes.”
THE SHELLEY ETTINGER REPORT
Shelley Ettinger says, “I've read three very good novels in the last week or two. INTUITION by Allegra Goodman deserved its glowing reviews. (And once again, my Queens nieghborhood library serves up a book that I'd have to reserve and wait months for in Manhattan.) It's a sharply observed, entertaining story about cancer researchers and what happens to them and their relationships when one accuses another of faked results.
“My idol Sarah Waters' latest, THE NIGHT WATCH, didn't send me swooning to my sick bed like FINGERSMITH did but I liked it a lot. My take on it is roughly opposite David Leavitt's in his March 26 NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW review (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/26/books/review/26leavitt.html?_r=1&oref=slogin). He faulted the structure while praising the characterizations. I thought the structure, which sounds gimmicky--the story starts at the end, then works back in time, showing the characters at key moments in 1947, 1944 and then 1941--worked incredibly well, so well, in fact, that it left me wondering why every story isn't told this way. There was an unpeeling of layers that I found very effective. I had a little trouble, however, with some of the characters--for about the first half of the book I kept mixing up several of the main female characters, couldn't seem to tell them apart, which obstructed my involvement in the story as I kept getting confused about who was who. This eased up as the book went on, but it was a problem since a big part of the unfolding-backward approach involves revealing how these characters' lives are intertwined and when I couldn't keep them straight this was hard to follow. Could be the problem was my own obtuseness; I'll be interested to hear whether anyone else has this problem. As in Waters' previous works, the sense of time and place and the richness of detail are wonderfully realized.
“My favorite recent read is U.S.! by Chris Bachelder. (Yes, the title has an exclamation point--you'll get it when you read the book.) Here's a gifted young writer who's crafted a wacky-sounding idea into a beautiful, comic, sad, silly, profound, touching novel. The story centers on Upton Sinclair, best known as author of THE JUNGLE but who was also a lifelong socialist and who was nearly elected governor of California during the Depression. In real life, Sinclair lived into the 1970s and during his long life wrote many novels, all, like THE JUNGLE, intended to arouse the masses into revolutionary action and all panned by the literary powers that be. In Bachelder's book, Sinclair, like Joe Hill, never died--or, at least, not for good. The writer lives, and dies, and lives again, an ineradicable symbol of the struggle for social justice: over and over, he is assassinated by right wingers who win fame and fortune for the deed, and over and over, he is exhumed and brought back to life by young folks determined to revive the struggle. With each renewed life, Sinclair writes more books, speaks at more underground meetings, touches more young hearts and minds. The class struggle, it seems, just will not die. As if that message weren't enough to endear this book to me, there's also lots of slyly wonderful stuff about the question of political art and how capitalism tries to crush it; look especially for a great scene where Upton Sinclair and E.L. Doctorow chew this over at a Chinese restaurant.”
STILL MORE TO READ
Cat Pleska has a lot of good book reviews on her blog. She says, “I've reviewed a lovely little book, APPALACHIAN MOUNTAIN GIRL, at the request of the publisher, Academy Chicago Publishers.” Watch her website for upcoming reviews of Jeff Mann's LOVING MOUNTAINS, LOVING MEN, a memoir of being a gay man in Appalachia and a new book of short stories, THE BINGO CHEATERS by our friend Belinda Anderson. She’ll also be doing interviews with Mann, Anderson, and perhaps Denise Giardina. See her blog at http://www.rednecromancer.typepad.com/mouth_of_the_holler/
EXCELLENT SMALL PRESS PUBLISHES NEW KEITH MAILLARD SERIES
Do you know of Brindle & Glass, a small Canadian Press? They are definitely toiling in the literary fields in a way that deserves support. See their web page at http://www.brindleandglass.com/news.htm. They are bringing out a series of books by Keith Maillard– see http://www.brindleandglass.com/books/lyndon.htm for LYNDON JOHNSON AND THE MAJORETTES. Maillard is the author of many successful Big Press books, including GLORIA.
ARTICLE ON READINGS AND LECTURES
Here’s a nice piece on the resurgence of the experience of the human voice heard directly in literary lectures and readings. I just gave an afternoon reading to some college classes and others at Ramapo College in northern New Jersey. I almost always enjoy readings, but I haven’t read in a while (maybe since last summer at the Appalachian Writers Conference?), and this was a particularly moving experience, feeling my written word and my voice and these responsive young people and their teachers all together in the moment. The article is at
NEW BOOK FROM ROCHELLE RATNER
Rochelle Ratner’s latest is BEGGARS AT THE WALL, published by IKON.
IT”S NATIONAL POETRY MONTH!! NEW JERSEY POETRY EVENT
Sunday, May 21– Poetry Festival: A Celebration of New Jerseys Literary Journals12 journals and their editors: The Barefoot Muse, Edison Literary Review, Exit 13, Journal of New Jersey Poets, Lips, The Literary Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Tiferet, and US 1 Worksheets, Up & Under, plus New York neighbor journals, Good Foot and Heliotrope
Plus the new anthology, THE POETS OF NEW JERSEY. 26 poets will read throughout the afternoon. Books will be available for sale and signing. West Caldwell Public Library, 30 Clinton Ave., West Caldwell, NJ. 1-5 PM Free . More information: http://hometown.aol.com/dslockward/myhomepage/club.html
IRIS PRESS POET
Another Iris poet was featured on Poetry Daily. Charlotte Matthews' poem "Country Burial" from her recent book, Green Stars, was heard on Sunday, April 9, 2006. Learn more about Bob Cumming’s Iris Publishing Group at http://www.irisbooks.com.
MARSH HAWK READING
Friday, April 21, 2006 7:00 - 9:00 PM Launch party for Marsh Hawk Press's New books-- UNDER THE WANDERER'S STAR by Sigman Byrd, WHAT HE OUGHT TO KNOW by Edward Foster, and THE GOOD CITY by Sharon Olinka at Poets House, 72 Spring Street in New York City. This event occurs during National Poetry Month, with Poets House hosting its annual poetry book showcase, with just about every poetry book published in 2005 on display. Wine and savory tidbits, too!
MAKING PEACE POETRY BROADSIDES
Barbara Crooker sends us a link to see the bookstores in 35 states who will be displaying the Making of Peace Poetry Broadside Series (over fifty of them) across the US and internationally. Visit http:// www.agodon.com/themakingofpeace
POETS AND FICTION WRITERS READING IN THE NEW YORK AREA
For a great list of readings and other literary events in the New York City area, check out http://www.poetz.com/calendar/index.htm
CONTEST FOR POETS AND FICTION WRITERS
The Nimrod/Hardman Awards competition offers two annual awards from Nimrod International Journal, deadline April 30, 2006. The Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction and The Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry offer first prizes of $2,000 and second prizes of $1,000, along with publication of the winning stories and poems, and a trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to receive the awards and take part in their annual writing workshop. Past winners include Sue Monk Kidd, Kate Small, Diane Glancy, Steve Lautermilch, Ellen Bass, Thomas Gough, Ruth Schwartz, and Sarah Flygare. Past judges for the Awards include Marvin Bell, Mark Doty, Janette Turner Hospital, Stanley Kunitz, W. S. Merwin, Pattiann Rogers, William Stafford, Ron Carlson, Edward Hirsch, and John Edgar Wideman. Visit the website at http://www.utulsa.edu/nimrod to learn more.
RESIDENCY IN JAPAN
Deadline: June 26, 2006 -The U.S.-Japan Creative Artists’ Program provides five-month residencies in Japan for individual creative artists in any discipline. While in Japan, artists work on an individual project that may include the creation of new work or pursuit of other artistic goals. When planning the stay abroad, artists should consider how exposure to Japan’s contemporary or traditional cultures can influence their creative work. Five awards are made annually. This program is administered jointly by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission. Guidelines are available at http://www.jusfc.gov
ONLINE LITERARY MAGAZINE WORD RIOT
... is celebrating its fourth birthday . See http://www.wordriot.org .
IF YOU’RE IN MORGANTOWN...
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
I'm working hard on putting together a Passover Seder for tonight. The Gentiles are going to out-number the Jews seriously. Usually we have Andy's aunt and a couple of her sons, but cousin Sam has organized a Cousin's Party for the first week of May and Aunt Rosyln-- a life long poet, very active in the Brooklyn poetry scene and in the Institute for Retirees in Pursuit of Education at Brooklyn College-- wasn't up to the long subway ride followed by the long train ride into Jersey. Anyhow, we're having Bill and Lorraine Graves (that's one secular Jew) and the Harringtons from across the street (that's two adult and two child Episcopalians). I'm trying to do it all right, a Fleishig meal with Sherry's brisket (actually from G'ma Emma). a potato kugel and a veggi kugel, matzoh, charoseth, and all the fixin's. I even made (from a mix) matzoh balls for the soup.
As red as autumn,
Bud tips are about to burst
Into green, green, green!
A super busy several days: Tuesday night the Schools Committee of the Coalition ran a Candidates’ Forum, successful, with Carol's leadership and Jane doing a fantastic job of facilitating and I had the fun of waving the signs “thirty seconds” and “Time.” Hard work, but nice to be part of the thing and not in charge. A great team: Alice and Linda and Nadaline and Dorothea and Audrey and Nancy and all the others. It took place in the Marshall school multi-purpose room: colorful and welcoming, big signs, little kids, “If it’s to be I have to do it,” or something like that. Then yesterday my hour and a half at Ramapo College, an extremely pretty college, a decent crowd, given that it was late afternoon on a Wednesday. One who class came, several professors, elements of other classes. I made my dinner afterwards (and saw a lot of students doing the same thing) on little tuna sandwich, cheese, fruit, and petit fours! The reading itself was in a lovely theater, full sized but intimate, and I was in spotlights unable to see the audience but I read very well, good mike, and I introduced (this is a new idea that I like) by saying how people used to listen to stories read and told for entertainment, often with some work for their hands. At least one student told me at the reception that she had wished for her knitting, said how her family always talked instead of watching t.v. I read “Tales of the Abstract Expressionists." Not a lot of questions afterward, but one student said he had an aunt who supported her husband, a musician. Questions about authenticity and inauthenticity from the philosophy course and students.
And today, my best day yet at Park Ridge High School. I don’t know why–I guess I'm getting comfortable there, but also figured out what lessons I wanted to teach. Now that I only have one more day of course.
And tomorrow we're going to see Ellen and then on Saturday to see Joel.