Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Books for Readers #133

Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers #133

August 9, 2010

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Featured This Issue:
The Middle East and the Palestinians
Howard Zinn's on Picketing Spelman Students

This issue begins with a few reviews and suggestions for an informal panel of guest editors, followed by some of my summer reading and the usual announcements. For next issue, I’m looking for old or new opinions on George Eliot’s DANIEL DERONDA, which I’m just rereading. Please let me know if you loved it, hated it, couldn't finish it forty years ago-- or whatever!

Meredith Sue Willis


Susan Carpenter’s near-documentarian style as well as absolutely believable characters makes her fine new novel, RIDERS ON THE STORM a deeply rewarding experience. While relating the tumultuous events of 1968, she nails down the convergence of historical events, both national and international, that produced the Movement, fed it, and then finally splintered it into rival competing groups. Her point of view characters include increasingly revolutionary Ivy Barcelona, who, before the book’s over, winds up with a bomb in her hand; her would-be-pacifist boyfriend Chuck Leggit; and Jane Revard, friend and ally to welfare mothers, whose radical politics turn her toward feminism. Several others round out this group of young radicals. Bert Augustin is a sexy Che Guevara, whose violent militarism sets him apart from the others. Marvin Kaminsky is the father figure of this loose family which comes together in an attempt to change their world.
With this family, the author takes us on a journey through the past, where we’ll live—or re-live—the Columbia strike, the March on Washington and a lesser-known eruption that occurred in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood. Although we all know the eventual outcome of the Movement, the author creates a great deal of suspense concerning what will happen next to our “family.” The one national event Carpenter develops fully (and terrifyingly) is the demonstration at the Chicago Democratic convention, which matures the Movement at lightning speed. With “the whole world watching,” our heroes take us directly into the heart of chaos, where heads are bashed and horrors await any female unlucky enough to be jailed. However, we also experience transcendent solidarity with Ivy and her fellow activists inside Grant Park at the end of an historic day.

While Carpenter makes us care deeply about the country’s agonizing struggle that Vietnam so symbolized (to overcome the military-industrial complex, racism, poverty, inequality and entitlement), I cared even more about these characters growing their identities in such fraught, unprecedented circumstances. Readers who lived through these times will be tempted to assess what and who they became in the wake of such cataclysmic events; younger people who have been exposed to the countless I-was-there accounts of their elders can experience for themselves what these courageous (confused, overly-idealistic and very human) twenty-somethings went through—and why. Ultimately, the value of the Movement, Carpenter suggests, might’ve been to produce more an inner than outer revolution. “Resistance is now vast and huge,” Carpenter writes in the introduction to Part Five. “We are still here.”

This book is no fabrication but a fictional recreation by one who was there, who doubtless has some Ivy Barcelona as well as Jane Revard inside her. RIDERS ON THE STORM can be ordered for $18 from Bottom Dog Press (P.O. Box 425, Huron, OH 44839) or from their website at http://www.smithdocs.net.


Irene Nemirovsky’s SUITE FRANCAISE gives the reader a panorama of the invasion of France in WWII, showing how quickly it becomes the occupation. In a tour de force of changing characters, Nemirovsky depicts the stunning news of Nazi invasion from more than two dozen points of view which include: the household of Monsieur Pericand, curator of a national museum, the Banker Corbin and his wife and mistress, Arlette Corail, the Michauds, bank employees, Charles Langelet, art dealer, Gabriel Corte, writer, and his wife, Florence, Jean-Marie Michaud, wounded soldier, Lucille Angellier, a French woman whose husband was taken prisoner before she and her mother-in-law are obliged to billet a German soldier.

Nemirovsky has a keen eye for human foibles and a terrific wry wit. She gives the reader characters who scramble to augment their positions once the occupation is a fait accompli. Documenting class prejudices and resentments, as well as individual sacrifices and acts of cowardice or greed, she chronicles the French response to the war. Many horde and think only of themselves, others have the grace to share.

As the occupation continues, pockets of resistance occur. Divided loyalties of townspeople profiting from German presence vs. a fanatical hatred of them on the part of others provides a tension which informs the plot. It is uncanny how Nemirovsky, hidden in the country and soon to be taken away herself, was able to maintain the distance of the omniscient and ubiquitous observer seeing all, including the tenderness of several of the occupiers, the savagery of many of the French and the futility of war.


June L. Berkley recommend I read the novel EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED by Jonathan Safran Foer. Published in 2002, it created quite a stir. I never paid any attention. It is available on audio, as a film, and in print. It has been praised, awarded, blogged, and criticized. If you give it a go, I recommend reading the book first and then listening to the audio to hear the accents, etc. The movie, which is quite good, presents a different story. It should, in my opinion, have a name of its own. It is hardly fair to call it by the book's title.
As I read the first few chapters, I felt like shouting out a line from one of the characters in the book, "As for your story, I will tell you that I was at first a very perplexed person....You will be happy to know that I proceeded, suspending my temptation to cast off your writing into the garbage, and it all became illuminated." (p. 142) I found I needed to read the novel more than once and then to study various pages. It is perplexing. It may be the best novel I've ever read.

Also: A SCREAM GOES THROUGH THE HOUSE: WHAT LITERATURE TEACHES US ABOUT LIFE by Arnold Weinstein, Brown University Professor, is a fascinating look at great works of art juxtaposed with great works of prose, poetry, theater, and film. Weinstein's scholarship is impeccable and his writing style makes the subject of the impact of the arts on our lives a very readable topic. I was attracted to the book by the cover's art, Michelangelo's "The Prophet David," and the subtitle. In the preface. Weinstein maintains literature and art are the bloodstream connecting us to world as well as the mirror for our emotions. One of my favorite artists is Edvard Munch and quite a nice size portion of the book discusses his life and his art. Munch's "The Scream" would make a perfect dust cover for THE PALE LIGHT OF SUNSET, Lee Maynard's latest novel. As to perfect dust cover art, "Les Promenades D'Euclide" the work of Rene' Magritte used on the cover of PRISONS by Mary Lee Settle, seems to mirror the body of her work.


I'm currently reading one of the most beautiful books I've read in awhile, called
NO GREAT MISCHIEF, by Alastair MacLeod, about a clan of Scotsmen who come to Cape Breton Island after the Highland Clearances. Gradually some of them move inland but the story focuses on several tragedies which cost one family their parents and a sibling. Macleod weaves descriptions of the music these people sing, the modes of address they use with each other and the extraordinary loyalty they have to each other into a haunting narrative. It's told in 1st person with long passages of omniscient observer, as Steinbeck uses it in GRAPES OF WRATH.

I reread LES MISERABLES with my book club and am amazed at how Hugo can sustain a 1300 page novel exclusively using omniscient observer including a heavy-handed bit of sermonizing. Initially I was drawn into Pat Conroy's use of first person narrative in SOUTH OF BROAD but quit a few chapters before the end because the plot seemed too contrived.

I also saw a couple of plays which spoke to me: COLLECTED STORIES by David Margulies shows the relationship of a woman author with her protegée. Later we see the protegée stealing the woman's life for the subject of her fiction. That worked dramatically. In THAT FACE the author shocks the audience with the savagery of prep school girls only to shift to the living arrangement of one of those girls so that her brutality seems understandable.


Not the world’s most relaxing summer so far. The trip to California for the wedding kicked it off, but I’ve also had summer session at NYU, an online class, and trips to West Virginia and Lake Buel in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. Still, I’ve managed to do some odds and ends of reading: a popular novel by Harlan Coben; two books about Palestinians, more Trollope, and Charles Bukowski’s HAM ON RYE.

I’ll start with the Bukowski, my second. Once again the autobiographical novel is totally in your face as he reports on an appallingly miserable childhood and adolescence. A brutal father, terrible schooling, learning to drink, getting no girls, and a plague acne boils that amazes the medical profession. He gets his satisfaction from fighting and projecting the persona of a “tough guy.” He is also wildly, horribly foul and funny as he doggedly slogs ahead through a life that only transcends depression because of the narrator’s sharp ability to observe the world and himself.

One part that particularly amused me was how, briefly, at community college, the narrator gets sick of all the liberal voices around him, so he starts making up B.S. speeches that sound vaguely right wing, but he gets even sicker of the wingnuts who try to recruit him. I asked myself here as I did when I fell for Lee Maynard’s very different novel CRUM, why do I like this? With Bukowski, I think it’s maybe that he’s an iconoclast with a chip on his shoulder but no pretensions. And he writes really well about it.

I have much less to say about Harlan Coben, a hot current best seller. I was looking for something to read in the hammock at the lake and tried THE INNOCENT, which went very fast, and was fun, as long as you read fast. I especially liked the settings near where I live– in Newark, Irvington, Livingston, and West Orange, New Jersey. Plenty of mayhem and murder, mostly off stage except for some nose crunching fist fights. Coben seems like a guy who is delighted to have discovered that he can get paid for doing something he likes to do.

I’ve also been reading books about the history of the Jews and listening to a strong series of lectures from The Teaching Company on the U.S. and the Middle East 1914 to 9/11. Then I read two books recommended by Shelley Ettinger in Issue 132: PALESTINE’S CHILDREN: RETURNING TO HAIFA AND OTHER STORIES by Ghassan Kanafani and PALESTINE by Joe Sacco.

Kanafani was an activist who died when his car was booby-trapped, probably by the Mossad, Israel’s covert action and counter-terrorism organization. They considered Kanafani, a journalist and activist as well as a writer of fiction, to be a terrorist. A young niece died with him. Many of these stories center on Palestinian children taking up arms against Israel, and the long title story is about a couple who ran away from their Haifa home in 1948 when the Israelis moved in. They not only deserted their house, however, but also their baby, who turns out to have been raised by the very Israelis who got their house. The Palestinian couple comes to Haifa for a visit years later and confronts– or is confronted by–the young man who is their birth son. It’s painful to read, at best.

Joe Sacco takes a different tack, writing as an outsider to the Middle East in graphic novel form (actually a collection of short strips ). He appears himself is an odd blank-eyed character in his own graphic novel). He visits the Gaza strip as well as Palestinian refugee camps and villages during the period at the end of the first Intifada.

There is lots of humor and more rain and mud and cold weather (and cups of tea) than I would ever have imagined. Joe the comic book character has a meal with two liberal Israeli women and with Palestinians who want him to get him into America. In spite of the ground-level view of people and life, this book is, like Kanafani’s, scathing in its cumulative effect.


John Birch, a veteran of the British army and many years of corporate communications posts a fiction or non-fiction piece every month at his blog, http://www.johnbirchlive.blogspot.com/ . Most of these pieces have appeared in newspapers or periodicals on one side or the other of the Atlantic.


Library of America sends out free weekly story links by email. Find out more at http://storyoftheweek.loa.org/feeds/posts/default . These are a lot of fun– so far, I’ve read a Washington Irving devil story and Howard Zinn’s piece “Finishing School for Pickets” about his students in the early sixties, young women at Spelman College who defied their elders and joined picket lines. Read the latter at http://storyoftheweek.loa.org/2010/07/finishing-school-for-pickets.html


Marina Spence writes: “I'm reading WOMEN, FOOD, AND GOD-- you know my affection for self-help. But this one is actually funny and well-written, other than the first section being a bit repetitive. I've been meaning to read Armstrong's book [A HISTORY OF GOD] for years and never have yet, so thanks for the summary. Gotta get BLONDE. Thanks for sharing!”


Editors: Clifford Garstang , Valerie Nieman, and Kevin Morgan Watson
http://www.primenumbermagazine.com/Issue2.html . The first issue of PRIME NUMBER MAGAZINE IS OUT– Issue Number 2! The Editors write: “What’s that? Number 2? Why not Number 1? Because we at PNM are fond of the distinctive, the indivisible, the prime. And, as math fans know, the first prime number is Number 2. It’s a gimmick. We admit it. But we like it. Each quarter we will post a new Prime Number issue online (look for Number 3 in October and Number 5 in January) and between issues we’ll regularly post updates—every 13 days, maybe every 11, possibly 17—and we’re calling those updates our Prime Decimals. (That’s not a real math term; we made it up.) Look for Prime Decimal 2.2 consisting of flash fiction and short poetry on August 1 (13 days after our debut).” They are also planning annual print issues, and they are now open for submissions: fiction, creative non-fiction, and craft essays under 3,000 words; book reviews under 500 words; and poetry. They also welcome queries for interviews. PRIME NUMBER MAGAZINE is published by Press 53. Take a look!
AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE! AWARD-WINNING INTERNATIONAL POETRY MAGAZINE ..... seeks an interested buyer. CONTACT: poetrytown@earthlink.net .
This workshop will help keep the channel open. Says leader Ellen Bass: “We'll have time to delve deeply into our writing without distractions or interruptions. Whether you are interested in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, or journal writing, this is an an opportunity to explore your experience and expand your craft.” Esalen fees cover tuition, food and lodging and vary according to accommodations. The sleeping bag space is an incredible bargain and usually goes fast. Registration must be made directly with Esalen, but if you have questions about the workshop, please email ellen@ellenbass.com.
Saturday, September 18, 2010 2 pm -- Award-winning poet SONIA SANCHEZ reads from her exciting new book MORNING HAIKU and other works and JUANITA TORRENCE-THOMPSON reads from BREATH-LIFE (poems nominated for Pushcart Prize) and NEW YORK AND AFRICAN TAPESTRIES. Auditorium of The Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center. 100-01 Northern Boulevard, Corona, Queens, New York. Buses: Q23, Q66, Q72. Train: 7 to 103rd Street, Corona Plaza. Walk 5 blocks to Northern Blvd. Free and open to the public. For further information, call Tracy Crawford, Curator, at 718-651-1100. Website: http://www.queenslibrary.org

Deadline: September thru October, 2010 . For information, go to: http://www.uapress.com/geninfo/poetryguidelines.html

Juanita Torrence-Thompson, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher of MOBIUS, The Poetry Magazine, announces the 2nd Dr. Zylpha Mapp Robinson International Poetry Award (2010). Theme: Global Warming. Contest guidelines at http://www.mobiuspoetry.com Submit preferably via EMAIL WORD ATTACHMENT 1or 2 BEST poems only & BIO to mobiusmag@earthlink.net Deadline: August 25, 2010. Or postal mail 1 or 2 BEST poem/s, bio & entry fee $10 U.S. check or money order payable to Mobius, The Poetry Magazine, Dr. Zylpha Mapp Robinson International Poetry Award, P.O.Box 671058, Flushing, NY 11367-1058. Lots of prizes! . $10 checks or money orders on U.S. banks. (NO PAY PAL). SASE, telephone and email address for winner notification. NO EROTICA, OBSCENITY, NO RACIAL SLURS. 48-line LIMIT, 56-Character line width, including spaces. No previously published poems. No simultaneous submissions.
POEMS should be SINGLE SPACED. WINNERS NOTIFIED by October 30, 2010. Winners announced and published in MOBIUS 2010 and on MOBIUS website http://www.mobiuspoetry.com
Deadline: August 31, 2010 Fellowships of $1,000 each are given annually to emerging poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers from underserved communities. Writers who do not have significant publication credits, are not enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate writing program, and do not hold a graduate writing degree are eligible. Submit up to 20 pages of poetry or prose and at least two letters of recommendation with a $10 entry fee. Visit the Web site for the required entry form and complete guidelines: http://www.penusa.org .


...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 selinger99@aol.com . 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.


The largest unionized bookstore in America is Powells Books. An alternative way to reach their site and support the union is via http://www.powellsunion.com. 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 (see "About Amazon.com" above) that sells online at http://powellsbooks.com. More good sources for used and out-of-print books are Advanced Book Exchange at http://www.abebooks.com and All Book Stores at http://www.allbookstores.com/ . 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 CampusBooks.com , 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 Booksfree.com and Paperback Book Swap at http://www.paperbackswap.com/index.php , a low cost (postage only) way to get rid of books and get new ones by trading with other readers.


Please send responses and suggestions directly to Meredith Sue Willis at MeredithSueWillis@gmail.com. Unless you instruct otherwise, your responses may be edited for length and published in this newsletter.
BOOKS FOR READERS is a free, independent newsletter written and produced by Meredith Sue Willis. To subscribe and unsubscribe, use the form below. Copyright 2010, Meredith Sue Willis