Meredith Sue Willis's
Books for Readers
January 26, 2008
I have a few short notes on books I’ve read recently. First, David Weinberger’s latest book, EVERYTHING IS MISCELLANEOUS, is about how the Internet has changed how we organize what we know. He gives an entertaining history of how knowledge has been categorized in the past– Melvil Dewey of the Dewey Decimal System, for example, had a fetish for tenths, and this has severely limited the major categories libraries can set up. He discusses at length the profound difference between an old fashioned encyclopedia written by experts (think Britannica) versus Wikipedia, which is created by its users. EVERYTHING IS MISCELLANEOUS isn’t meant to be a how-to book, but I did pick up some practical ideas, especially about http://del.icio.us/ for bookmarking and the concept of organizing via “include” and “postpone”. Since there is so much information available, especially on the Web, and since it costs nothing to link to things, it is generally better to include everything in the beginning, and to postpone classifying and cutting as long as possible. This is the principle I use in this newsletter, for example. As announcements come into my inbox, I cut and paste lots of them into my draft for the next issue. Only when I get close to sending it out do I reduce the number of announcements and the amount of information in each announcement. There’s a lot more, all of it entertaining and important for our thinking about how we use the Internet to organize and get access to the immense resources around us.
And now, for something completely different, I finished a wonderful poem sequence called KETTLE BOTTOM by Diane Gilliam Fisher. This is a book of poetic monologues in the voices of miners and mine families during the unionization and mine wars of the 1920's in West Virginia. This was the period of the Battle of Blair Mountain, when the American air force was called out to bomb striking miners. That was just above ground. In the mines, there was real danger:
When I first come in the mine
Daddy told me, Them rats
can hear a branch crack
up on top of the mountain.
They hear the earth start to give
when the roof’s about to fall.
Them rats makes a run for the drift mouth,
you drop what you’re doing, son,
From “Raven Light,” (47)
I also reread HOWARD’S END for the umpteenth time, after Shelley Ettinger’s discussion in Issue #104. I was struck this time by how funny it was: Aunt Juley meets the Wilcoxes alone is worth the price of the book. The only comparatively weak parts (and this is compared to the best parts which are incomparable) are some of the descriptions of poor gentleman-wannabe Leonard Bast, who is so pathetic with his aspirations without learning and wealth that you can't help cringing. The conclusion also had more coincidences than I remembered, but the people were unfailingly believable and real, and the effects of class and wealth are created without instructing, using rich human exemplars.
One more quintessentially British book– my first John Banville–was THE UNTOUCHABLE. This is the story of Victor Maskell, a fictional member of the Oxbridge spy rings of the twentieth century (Anthony Blunt et alia). Banville has that enviable conviction that you can use fiction to understand anything in our world. Americans do a lot of things with fiction– some of us vogue around in the Role of Writer; some of us experiment with with language and voice. We have great entertainers and story tellers and people with raw and gripping stories to tell. But living British writers like Pat Barker and Sarah Water and Banville allow themselves the whole hog in fiction: history, passion, sex, ideas, and they do it with verve and grace.
Some of my favorite parts of THE UNTOUCHABLE may be the set pieces and tangents, along with Maskell’s world weary intelligent voice. Banville does a great job with the secret gay sex life, and there is also the suspense of finding out in the end who turned on the others. I loved all the minor characters, too: Victor’s wife Vivienne, Oleg and the other “handlers” from Russia and Europe. I’m looking forward to reading more Banville soon.
MORE ON JUNOT DIAZ AND ISSUE # 104
Idelis Sotomayor writes to say, “ I see Junot Diaz's speech used in DROWN (whose narrative style reminds me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE) as a realistic representation of the colloquial language Dominicans use today. And I do not see that Diaz is endorsing it (in particular the use of the N word), as Joanna Bethencourt's disapproving statements (quoted by Ysabel de Leon) implied. I also agree with Shelley Ettinger (regarding the traditional segregation many Dominicans exhibit against Haitians, their neighbors in La Hispaniola, the island shared by both racially mixed nations) in the sense that, when touching racism, a fictional work -- within progressive literature -- ‘should have some redemptive or hopeful touch in it...’
“Thus racism is an issue that should be addressed ethically by any author representing this social reality, and never overlooked as something 'morally neutral' as a natural occurrence... It is interesting to note that serfdom & slavery (historical foundations of La Hispaniola and many other peoples around the world, and the genesis of racism) are institutions that degrade masters and servants or slaves, equally. This moral degradation affecting both groups (economically, ethically, educationally, and --consequently-- emotionally) generation after generation throughout centuries, even long beyond the legal termination of slavery or serfdom, is the trigger of all racial crimes.
“The abuser has been transmitted-- the criminal inability to see a human peer in the abused one, and the latter has been transmitted the traumatic feeling of inferiority and social outcast... Therefore, the heirs in both sides- -averagely and for centuries-- act individually and collectively below high moral standards and desirable expectations.
“Meredith Sue Willis, on her final view on Emile Zola's GERMINAL (about the exploited and pitiful life of French miners in the 19th century, depicted in a realistic and naturalist style), asks: ‘Can we really separate our art from our lives, or our lives from our underlying ideas?’ No, I must say! Everything there is connected in visible and invisible ways, ideas to art, and art to life. Because art, being the activity of creating beautiful and transcending things, has to communicate its message in order to exist and transform the world. Thus the communication of our creativity as a reflection of our emotional and intellectual life, will eventually produce an equivalent impact in the sensitive receiver. Any form of work of art has a message that the capable receiver will feel, assimilate as food for the soul, and keep for life. For instance, a song considered a work of art can last centuries due to its strong impact. It will not rust or deteriorate over time. It doesn't need to be maintained, cleaned, or put in a security box. A song can be far more powerful than any nuclear blast, because it carries an idea and emotion mighty enough to transform millions of individuals (e.g., in 1792 LA MARSEILLAISE, composed by Rouget de Lisle, was the emotional inspirer and leading beat of the French Revolution, and later was made France's national anthem; in 1971 IMAGINE by John Lennon changed America and the rest of the industrial nations on their approach on war, borders and religion). The same analogy can be made with a book or any other work of art. Consequently, art for the sake of communication would be that song, sculpture, painting, photograph, architecture, movie, or book that reaches an audience and produces a long lasting spiritual impact in the receivers. Let us keep in mind that a culture is only as great as its dreams and ideas, and its dreams and ideas are dreamed and thought by the free-spirited thinkers, the artists. So, reaffirming my response to Meredith's inquiry: No, no artist can really separate his art from his life, nor his life from his underlying ideas!”
MORE BEST BOOKS OF 2007
Magdalena Ball, (see http://www.compulsivereader.com/html) , sent us this note: “Hi Meredith, I enjoy your newsletter very much, and just wanted to mention -- just in case you're still publishing them -- that my two best books for 07 were THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy and APHELION by Emily Ballou. Two books couldn't be more different. McCarthy, as I know you know, is the spare king of desolation. No other writer could do what he did in that book and pull it off with the same sense of beauty and even renewal (but only the merest hint). Ballou, on the other hand, is almost baroque by comparison. Her writing is linguistically rich and upbeat always.”
Idelis Sotomayor’s best books of 2007 were: “(1) MYTHOLOGY -THE ILLUSTRATED ANTHOLOGY OF WORLD MYTH AND STORYTELLING- by C. Scott Littleton (General Editor), Barnes & Noble, New York, NY. I learned with this book how humanlike are all gods and goddesses (a lot of cultural clues there...). (2) HYPERSPACE: A SCIENTIFIC ODYSSEY THROUGH PARALLEL UNIVERSES, TIME WARPS, AND THE 10TH DIMENSION by Dr. Michio Kaku (theoretical physicist, CUNY), Anchor Books, New York, NY. This book taught me how 'thin,' almost invisible, matter -or baryonic substance- really is in the universe, just 0.4% of the known space. Being the remaining 99.6% an unknown element, 'cosmic or astrophysical plasma' for some analysts. Therefore, we are scientifically transparent and -most of us- we do not realize it yet... (3) THE GREAT COSMIC MOTHER: REDISCOVERING THE RELIGION OF THE EARTH by Monica Sjoo, HarperOne, New York, NY. This work let me acknowledge clearly, how politically suppressive have been all misogynists and its most known credit: institutionalized 'machismo.' (4) And, WHEN GOD WAS A WOMAN by Merlin Stone, Harvest Books, Fort Washington, PA. Here I grew a lot inside seeing all the biased disguises - knitted by machista-pseudo-historians - been taken away...”
Katie Munley says that WHY MEN MARRY BITCHES by Shelley Argov “challenges many notions women get brainwashed with.”
THE DIVING BELL, by Jean-Dominique Bauby, is recommended by Christine Willis who says, “Bauby was an editor of ELLE magazine who suffered a brain stem stroke resulting in ‘locked-in syndrome.’ It is a book he dictated through eye blinks -- quite interesting.’
GOOD NEWS/GOOD READING
John Birch has a funny/sad story online in the January/February 2008 issue of THE DUBLIN QUARTERLY at http://www.dublinquarterly.com/. The issue also has an interview with novelist Martin Roper.
Phyllis Moore writes to tell us that Ann Pancake's first novel, STRANGE AS THIS WEATHER HAS BEEN (Shoemaker &Hoard), was reviewed by Pam Houston on page 260 of the October 2007 issue of O: THE OPRAH MAGAZINE. Houston calls the novel a "fervent debut by a fierce new talent." West Virginia native Ann Pancake will be promoting her novel in WV this winter.
Contributor Shelley Ettinger has a really neat story in the current issue of AVERY: AN ANTHOLOGY OF NEW FICTION. Her story is about a woman with a very unusual appendage– find out how to get the anthology at http://www.averyanthology.org.
Barbara Crooker’s LINE DANCE, POEMS is officially out now– see http://www.word-press.com/crooker_linedance.html .
Michael Benedikt’s book God Is the Good We Do (www.godisthegoodwedo.com) came out from Bottino Books, NY, and is available through bookstores from Baker & Taylor,
ON THE AIR!
Writer, reviewer and interviewer Magdalena Ball (http://www.compulsivereader.com) is the host of COMPULSIVE READER talks which is live at www.blogtalkradio.com/compulsivereader the second Tuesday of the month 6pm or permanently available in podcast form.
Anne Whitehouse read from her poetry collection BLESSINGS AND CURSES on Everything Goes, WNYE 91.5 FM, January 23 and 25,. You may upload the reading from the Poetry page of Anne’s website, http://www.annewhitehouse.com .
Cat Pleska’s essay on West Virginia’s Nobel Prize winning writer Pearl Buck is online as an MP3 at WV’s public radio site at http://www.wvpubcast.org/news.html . Once there, under headlines scroll down to Jan. 16. Click on the little speaker.
READINGS AND EVENTS
Bob Heman is featuring at Robert Dunn's Asbestos series at the Back Fence on Sunday, February 10 at 3 PM. This well known Village venue is located at 155 Bleecker St. at the corner of Thompson and can be reached by the A, C, E, B, D, F and V to West 4th St. Admission is $5 plus a $3 minimum at the bar. There'll be an open mic.
The next big CLWN WR reading is scheduled for March 20 at the SAFE-T-GALLERY in DUMBO. Pencilled in so far are feature Liza Wolsky and special guests R. Nemo Hill, Richard Loranger, Jane Ormerod, Joanne Pagano Weber and Francine Witte, with more features and guests still to be named.
PEDESTAL is hosting an event at Beyond Baroque (681 Venice Blvd) in Venice, CA on Sunday, April 27. For more info, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cocktail Reception and Book Signing for LAUGHTER IN THE CANYON by Laura Thompson on Thursday, January 31, 2008 6:30 - 8:30 pm at The Pen and Brush Gallery, 16 East 10th Street (Between 5th Ave. and University Place) New York City.
Tuesday, January 29 - 6:30-8:00 p.m - BOOK READING & SIGNING for THINKING OF MILLER PLACE: A MEMOIR OF SUMMER COMFORT. Caldwell Library- 268 Bloomfield Avenue Caldwell, 07006 Parking in Community Center lot behind library. Phone: 973-226-2837. Free Event. Refreshments will be served.
GOODREADS--GOOD IDEA, OR NOT??
Do you belong to (and if you do, do you use) Goodreads.com? Shelley Ettinger writes, “I've been meaning to send you this link for a while. It's a website called Goodreads at http://www.goodreads.com/. People join, and they list the books they're reading and want to read, and list and review the books they've read; and they share this info with other people they list as their friends. A young friend of mine sent me an invitation to join it last fall, so I did, and now several folks I met at the Lambda retreat in L.A. have also joined and ‘friended’....it's an interesting phenomenon. It's the kind of thing the Facebook and Myspace generation does. They live their lives online. For me, the fun of it is having a place to keep a record of what I've been reading.”
WRITING WORKSHOPS IN THE NEW YORK AREA
I'll be teaching Making Your Novel Happen (starts 2-11-08) and Fiction One (starts 2-6-08) at NYU in Spring 2008 at New York University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies. She is also offering a one day special workshop at NYU on called "Jump-Start Your Novel" on Saturday, February 9, 2008 1:00 PM till 5:00 PM.. NYU’s SCPS Writing Classes are athttp://www.scps.nyu.edu/index/continuingEducation.htm?sid=209&durl=WRSP .
CHECK IT OUT
A web page for writing about nature: occasional contests and more: Earth Vision at http://www.evbooks.net.
The Winter Issue of the ADIRONDACK REVIEW is now live at http://adirondackreview.homestead.com/Winter2007.html . The new issue features the artwork of Michael Usyk and celebrates the winner and finalists of The Fiddlehead Poetry Prize. Also, their The Fulton Prize for Short Fiction is currently open. Top prize is $400 and publication in The Adirondack Review.
West Virginia Writers, Inc., is now accepting submissions for its annual spring writing contest, offering a total of $6,300 in cash prizes in 14 categories. There is also an open competition for high school students as well as an elementary and middle school writing competition. Information on how to enter using WVW's official entry forms are at http://www.wvwriters.org/contest.html The writing contest, which has been held each year since 1982, makes 3 cash awards in each category of the competition: a first prize of $250, a second prize of $125 and a third prize of $75. Submissions are accepted from January 2 through March 15 (with a late deadline of March 31). If you have questions, contact WVW Contest Administrator, Patsy Pittman at email@example.com West Virginia Writers, Inc., with well over 370 members, is the largest non-profit writers' resource and service organization serving literary interests in West Virginia. WVW, Inc. celebrated its 30th anniversary in February of 2007. For categories and complete information, go to the website at http://www.wvwriters.org/contest.html The writing contest is open to ALL residents of West Virginia as well as to memberz of WVW residing outside of the state.
The Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize offers a cash award of $1,000.00 plus publication of the winning book. A poet of national stature judges the contest. The winner's name and title of the winning book are announced nationally. In addition to regular mail entries, this year they're inaugurating a new program of electronic uploads. By uploading your manuscript electronically you'll save time, paper and postage. For more information go to http://www.marshhawkpress.org/ .
The Pedestal Magazine is currently seeking to fill three positions:
1. Poetry Editor. Applicants should have prior publication in Pedestal, as well as other prominent journals, and previous editing experience. Applicants should have at least one published full-length collection currently available. Applicant would be asked to edit the poetry in 1-2 issues per year. Please send resume to firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Reviewer. Applicants should have prior experience reviewing for various publications. Pedestal currently publishes 850-1000 word reviews. Reviewer would be asked to undertake 1-3 assigned reviews per issue, primarily poetry collections but possibly short fiction as well. Send resume and 2-3 sample reviews to email@example.com.
3. Administrative Assistant. Applicants should be thoroughly familiar with MySpace.com: how to send friend requests, post bulletins, set up a blog, send event invitations, tailor/program a page aesthetically; i.e., all the ins and outs of setting up a compelling and effective MySpace page. Send resume, along with a link to a MySpace page you've designed, to firstname.lastname@example.org.