Monday, June 21, 2010

Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers #132

June 19, 2010

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Don’t Miss the New Issue of The Hamilton Stone Review #21

Poetry by Carol Berg, Iain Britton, Jessie Carty, Ken Champion,
W. Frank, Alice Friman, Peter Greico, Anne Haines,
Reamy Jansen, A.F. Moritz, Linda Ravenswood,
Kevin Stein; Nonfiction by Faye Rapoport DesPres,
Linda M. Hasselstrom, Sue Ring deRosset, and Marianne Rogoff.

Armstrong Trollope Oates

Featured This Issue:
Good Stuff Online-- including articles by readers!
Barbara Smith's latest
Good news-- New Books

I’ve been away to California for my son’s wedding, which was a huge and moving occasion for all the usual reasons, and I’m also still doing a lot of student papers, so my reading recently has been spotty. As usual, though, friends, colleagues, and readers of this newsletter have sent lots of suggestions. Here is a scattering of my latest recommendations.

And I have been reading. I finished Karen Armstrong’s A HISTORY OF GOD: THE 4000-YEAR QUEST OF JUDAISM, CHRISTIANITY, AND ISLAM. Armstrong led me to more appreciation of Eastern Orthodox Christianity and of the old rational tradition in Islam. Armstrong, herself a former nun and self-described freelance theist (clever phrase, but exactly what does it mean?), was best for me when she was writing about areas I know least about– which is a tremendously large number. She is very good, for example, on the early Islamic Faylasufs, who were highly influenced by Greek philosophers, the word itself coming from Greek for philosopher. Her strongest appreciation seems to be for the mystical and mythological branches of all the religions. In this work, she doesn’t pay much attention to social justice, and her most positive models, possibly because they have tended to do the least damage, are those who emphasize mystery, joy, and the frank use of the imagination in religion. Thus her most positive models tend to be groups like the early Sufis and Jewish Throne believers– people who use metaphor and vision to approach the ineffable.

She does not find most of Christianity especially positive, and she particularly seems to dislike Martin Luther and the other dark spirited Protestants. Of course she’s hard on the dogmatic Roman Catholics and all the fundamentalists of all varieties as well. Lots of information, and I'm left especially interested in the idea that some believers actually value imagination as part of their practice.

I am also continuing my run through Trollope’s Palliser novels with a re-read of the EUSTACE DIAMONDS (for my previous take on the book, see Even though the Palliser series is pretty loosely connected, this one makes more sense read in order, especially the parts with Lady Glencora and the Duke of Omnium, not to mention Mrs. Max Goesler. These had seemed like very loose ends the first time I read the book, but now I see that they hold the series together.

This story is about the badly brought-up Lizzie Eustace whose values, ethics, and morals are generally execrable. Trollope simply calls her bad, and uses that word, over and over. One wonders if his judgment is to cover himself for his preference for her over the other female lead, Lucy Morris, who is snoringly good. By the end, though, he has thoroughly punished Lizzie, and most of her charm is gone. Also interesting is the extremely weak anti-hero Frank Greystock, who comes through for Lucy Morris at the very last minute.

One pleasure in reading Trollope is that he cares about more of the world than love affairs or even the movement of money and respectability. The legal ramifications of the appearances, disappearances and possession of the diamonds is high on his list here, as was Parliamentary political maneuvering in PHINEAS FINN. The anti-Semitism, on the other hand, is blatant, ugly, totally socially acceptable in Trollope’s circles, and hard to read today. The thief who is punished by law is a greasy Jewish pawn broker, and Lizzie’s punishment is to end up marrying an unpleasant preacher, also rather greasy, who is hinted to be a convert from Judaism.

In defense of Trollope, or perhaps as a defense of my pleasure in reading him, I don't think most of us really challenge the mores of our time as much as we might think we do. Even the magnificent George Eliot gives good looks to her heroines and does not allow any of them the kind of unsanctioned marriage that was central to her life.

Short Notes:

I also read THE FALLS by Joyce Carol Oates, and she is so wonderfully ambitious and endlessly readable– along the lines of Trollope, actually. I get irritated with her too, but stylistically rather than ideologically. My complaint is that she sometimes wanders in her story looking (as it appears to me) for what comes next, leaving all the scaffolding of her story-search there for the reader to see. In this novel, for example, the Dirk Burnaby section falls in that category for me. Much of the information is reprised later, and might have been better told by his children on their father search, which comprises much of the second half of the novel. What Oates would have lost, of course, would have been her direct re-telling of an only slightly fictionalized version of the Love Canal material, most taken, she says, from the memoirs of Lois Gibbs.

I think her Marilyn Monroe novel BLONDE is one of the best novels of this century so far– it was published in 2000, so I guess it depends on which century you consider that year. And all of her work, whether she goes on too long or shows too much of her process, she is always in the end worthwhile. And perhaps she is right to want to toss in some pretty undigested Love Canal story for readers who may otherwise forget about it or never learn about it?

Finally, I read the highly praised and generally moving poems of Frances Richey, THE WARRIOR: A MOTHER’S STORY OF A SON AT WAR. It is billed as being an every woman’s story, but of course there is no every woman, and Richey’s life and her relationship with her son who so determinedly moves away from Upper West Side Manhattan liberalism and antiwar politics, is highly particular.

Send me what you’re reading!

Meredith Sue Willis


People on the left tend to view modern Islamic radicalism as a response to contemporary U.S. foreign policy (which they oppose), especially U.S. support for Israel (whose policies, and sometimes whose very existence, they abhor). Thus leftists believe that the “root cause” of acts of terrorism such as the 9/11 attacks or homicide bombings is to be sought in the policies of the American or Israeli governments. This view has become something of a dogma on the left. To suggest otherwise is to be viewed as a handmaiden of the right.

Now comes a monograph by a German writer, Matthais Küntzel, a former activist in the Green Party and a self-described “author with roots in the political left,” that demolishes this belief as an exercise in self-deception. Küntzel’s thesis in JIHAD AND JEW-HATRED: ISLAMISM, NAZISM AND THE ROOTS OF 9/11 (New York, NY: Telos Press Publishing, 2007) is (to quote the foreword by the historian Jeffrey Herf) that “during and after World War II, the center of global anti-Semitism shifted from Nazi Germany to the Arab world, above all to the radical Islamist currents in and around the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.” Radical Islamism is a fascist movement that combines an obscurantist rejection of modernism, women’s equality, and Enlightenment thinking with a poisonous brew of Jew hatred and rejection of western notions of democracy and individual liberties. Radical Islamist groups like Al Qaida and Hamas seek the enforced application of Islamic sharia law, the extermination or reduction to dhimmi status of the Jews, the subjugation of non-Muslims, and the elimination of secularists and feminists in the Muslim countries who oppose this fascist program. And it is this virulent fascist movement that some self-deluded sectors of the left see as a constituent part of the “anti-globalization” or anti-capitalist movement!

Küntzel traces the ideological and direct personal connections between the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Nazi party, as well as those of the leader of the Palestinian nationalist movement, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, who spent the war years as Hitler’s guest in Berlin making radio broadcasts to rally the Arab nation to the cause of fascism. In every major respect, from its rejection of decadent western liberal democracy to its depiction of the Jews as a demonic force, the source of all evil, responsible both for the evils of capitalism and those of communism, to its dissemination of “Mein Kampf” and “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” radical Islamists shared a worldview with the Nazis that metastasized in the Arab political body after the defeat of the Nazis themselves in Europe.

For exposing this “inconvenient truth,” Küntzel has been pilloried by his erstwhile comrades as a traitor to the cause. The real treason, one might argue, is that of the hard left, which for the second time – the first being in 1939 when it supported Stalin’s cynical deal with Hitler to divide Poland, thus launching the second world war – people calling themselves leftists and anti-fascists have become apologists for a movement that is itself both fascist and anti-Semitic.

Marx said that history was dialectic, and the dialectic says that things eventually turn into their opposites. The metamorphosis of sectors of the antifascist left into apologists for a species of fascism (one that would happily exterminate them as well) is surely one of those historical ironies that Marx would have appreciated.

An interview with the author appears here: and the author's website contains many articles, for example:


Barbara Smith’s THROUGH THE GLASS is a novel that centers on a time of crisis for Patricia Yokum Tazewell, a stained glass artist who is the heart of a tiny West Virginia community of new homes and diverse families. Patricia is a surrogate grandmother; mother of less-than-ideal children; and a woman with many men in her life, including the husband she loved passionately who died four years before this story begins. During a handful of spring days, she deals with her past, and her past mistakes, faces up to some unpleasant wannabe-gangster teens, the possible reappearance of an estranged brother, her daughter’s emotional deterioration, and a shocking death. It was a lot of fun to get to know Patricia– fun because she’s sixty two and desirable to several men, because she drinks and gets into physical altercations to protect her bipolar daughter and her property. Fun because her spiritual life is pretty equally divided between her dead husband and God. Pat faces everything that life throws at her with energy if not necessarily aplomb. The loose ends are not tied up neatly, but you finish the novel rooting for her and deeply pleased to have been invited into her rich and complex life.


I just finished reading PALESTINE'S CHILDREN by Ghassan Kanafani, the writer, journalist and leading figure in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who was assassinated by the Mossad in 1972. The book consists of a number of short stories and the longer story or novella "Returning to Haifa." While all the stories are deep, true and affecting, this last piece is devastatingly powerful and with its power points the way, I think, to at least part of the answer to these questions I've been asking.

The story tells of a middle-aged couple, Said and Saffiya, who go to Haifa in the days after the 1967 war when, for the first time since April 1948, the Israeli state permits its former inhabitants to enter the city. Said and Saffiya were among those who were driven out -- from their home and from their city, literally driven into the sea -- and while they have survived as refugees they have never stopped yearning for their home and the impossible loss they suffered when they were ousted from it and never till now allowed to go back. For their loss went beyond walls and possessions or even sentiment, tradition, memory. Their 6-month-old baby was left alone in their home that day in 1948, and they never knew what became of him.

Now they find out. A Jewish couple, survivors of the Nazi holocaust, were given Said and Saffiya's house in Haifa -- and with it, their infant son Khaldun. While the woman at first had qualms about the whole sordid business and tried to talk her husband into leaving "Israel" and going to Italy, ultimately they stayed. They raised the child as their own, renaming him Dov. By the time his real parents come back he is a young man, and a member of the Israeli army. Presented with the reality of his heritage but filled with the ideology of Zionism with which he has been inculcated, he rejects, even insults, his Palestinian parents. They leave, brokenhearted but with a renewed understanding of what was done to them and their people and a renewed, clear-eyed commitment to the armed struggle to reclaim their homeland....

As I read this book on the train and in the park over the last few days, [I] wondered what any Jewish New Yorker might think when they saw the cover with its title PALESTINE'S CHILDREN. For those who hew to the gospel of Zionism, the very word Palestine is inflammatory, implying as it does that, yes, there is a nation that, yes, holds claim to that land. But the happy fact is that the lock-step allegiance to Israel and its foundation the racist ideology of Zionism is no longer absolute among U.S. Jews. The suffering of the Palestinian people and the widespread worldwide support for their cause have, over these last 20 years or so, broken the chokehold Zionism once had. Still, it remains dominant here. (Read the full discussion on Shelley’s blog at ).


Sandra Vrana writes: “Thank you for doing the Books For Readers project....From your site I learn about books I otherwise would not hear of. I will, for instance, find AVAILABLE LIGHT by Reamy Jansen because you have piqued my writer's interest in his handling of tough memoir subjects. And then, too, I sometimes get to take a memory walk (with a new perspective added) into books that are old friends. I also enjoyed reading Phyllis Moore's review of HEARTS OF GOLD and THE HELP. I always learn something about West Virginia literature and literary history when Phyllis writes (or talks). I would not know of J. McHenry Moore, for example, or his catchy and appropriate notion of a ‘black message’ in a ‘white envelope.’ Her reviews are always fun, fast-moving, and detailed. And Phyllis, of course, remains one of the best friends West Virginia writers can have.”


Madeline Tiger’s new book THE ATHEIST’S PRAYER is just out: . Alicia Ostriker says, “To read Madeline Tiger’s poetry is like flowing with the river of life itself… Life, love and death are her subjects— not the abstractions but the details, and she gets the details right,” and Gerald Stern says, “I much admire Madeline Tiger’s poetry of observation, her keen memory and her holding of things dear… I also admire her poems of pure imagination, dreamy and scary… …she faces… heartbreaking experiences with the bravery of good music so that there is no fake comfort….”
P.J. Laska’s new book of poetry is NIGHT & DAY. Jeff Biggers says, “Given the complexity of his occasionally dark, unabashedly political, philosophical and underground writings, he [can be described] as an Appalachian Fyodor Dostoyevsky.”


Dustbooks calls itself the #1 source for Small Press Information-- and I agree!


ABE books keeps coming up with interesting collections of old and rarish books. The latest is a group of classic book covers. See


Editor-in-Chief/Publisher/Owner of award-winning international non-profit poetry magazine seeks individual or group or college to buy and take over all responsibilities including editorial. Possibility of some reading assistance from current associate editor, etc. for smooth transition. Interested parties contact owner ASAP at: .


This month only: E. Lee North is prices on "EYES THAT HAUNT" and "SNOWFLAKES ON THE DON” and other books. Write him at ELN BOOKS, 55 Woodland Dr., Brightwaters, NY 11718


West Virginia University Press has launched “Regenerations: African American Literature and Culture,” a new series devoted to reprinting editions of important African American texts that have fallen out of print or have failed to receive due attention. First up is a new edition of the 1896 novel “Hearts of Gold” by J. McHenry Jones (1859-1909) (See Phyllis Moore’s review in #131). For more information on the series, the book or to arrange a local appearance and presentation by the co-editor, please contact Abby Freeland, marketing manager at the WVU Press, at (304) 293-8400 ext. 33508 or


...take a look at the wide-ranging and highly professional offerings of The Write Group. Most take place at the Montclair Library. If you want to be on their mailing list, get in touch with Carl Selinger at . All events are free, and range from a Thursday morning: Critiques for Novelists Workshop to Thursday night: “Free-For-All (FFA) Writing Workshops”, Poetry Workshops, support groups, a “Memoir and Muffins” group– and much, much more.


Travel article by Joanne Wetzel!
Theresa Basile has a piece on her mother, Evelyn Codd in the current SMITH:
Writing Lesson of the Month Network is at:
Winslow Eliot runs a website called WriteSpa, which aspires to be a writing oasis, a place where writers can meet and rest. She offers exercises, experiences, and encouragement to nourish and revitalize peoples' relationship with writing. Take a look at .
The June issue of INTERNET BOOK REVIEW is up at
Barbara Crooker has new poems online here .
Neva Bryan has a new online newsletter for writers.
Glenn Taylor at publishing perspectives: =15688 .


The largest unionized bookstore in America is Powells Books. An alternative way to reach their 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 about 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 your public library and your local independent bookstore. To buy books online, I often go first to Bookfinder or Alibris. A lot of people whose political instincts I respect prefer the unionized bricks-and-mortar bookstore Powells that sells online at More good sources for used and out-of-print books are Advanced Book Exchange at and All Book Stores at . Both Bookfinder and All Book Stores both have a special feature that tells you the book price WITH shipping and handling, so you can compare what you’re really going to have to pay.
For more comparison shopping, you might want to take a look at , another free comparison shopping website for textbooks that says they search over two dozen bookstores to find the lowest prices in textbooks and more.
Other ways to get books: I have used and liked the paid lending library and Paperback Book Swap at , a low cost (postage only) way to get rid of books and get new ones.


Please send responses and suggestions directly to Meredith Sue Willis at Unless you instruct otherwise, your responses may be edited for length and published in this newsletter.
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