Meredith Sue Willis's
September 18, 2011
(Click cover image for information from the publisher) Re-visions: Stories from Stories is a collection of spin-offs from myth, fiction, and the Bible. From a new look at Adam and Eve and why they left the Garden to a grown-up Topsy from Uncle Tom's Cabin to the confessions of Saint Augustine's concubine- each story offers a gloss on the original as well as insights into how we can live today.
Phyllis Moore on Jaimy Gordon
Recommendations from Reamy Jansen
Darnell Arnoult's Sufficient Grace
Bob Bender's Reading List
Mark Defoe's new collection: sample poem
Free e-mail subscription to this newsletter.
To create a link to this newsletter, use the permanent link .
I've read a fair amount this summer, but my big announcement is that I finally finished probably the only book I ever laid aside because it was making me sick to my stomach. And, no, it was not gore or violence. The book was the putative American classic, THE EDUCATION OF HENRY ADAMS by Henry Adams. When I tried to read it ten years ago, every time I picked it up– a small print paper back, as I remember, maybe a Penguin classic, with a long introduction– I felt like I was reading in the back seat of a swerving car. I hated this book. I was also humiliated that I, who pride myself on catholic taste in literature, had failed to get what everyone sees in Henry Adams.
It isn't a difficult book the way, say, Virginia Woolf's most seriously modernist books are (I'm thinking of THE WAVES and JACOB'S ROOM). It wasn't the content, I didn't think: I had once at thirteen skipped part of a Leon Uris novel because I knew I wasn't supposed to read what happened after he unzipped her skirt. And I did have trouble finishing NAKED LUNCH. This was something else.
Not wanting to invest too much in the book in case it all happened again, I downloaded a .99 cent version for the Kindle, and I'm happy to report that I kept down my lunch. On the other hand, I still don't like the book. Knowing some of Henry Adams' biography made me more open, or at least more interested. His wife committed suicide in mid life, which he never mentions in this version of his life story, and he was a noted socializer, and a great friend to many people. He also was burdened with the weight of expectations for a young man from a family in which the grandfather and great-grandfather had both been presidents of the United States.
He was, at bottom, a very smart, very neurotic, very limited member of the ruling class of the United States. Of course we are all limited by our class and our ethnic group and our time and place, but some of us manage to peer at least a little outside: Tolstoy could do it; Emily Dickinson could do it. So could all the great writers. Henry Adams, at least in this nonfiction book, seems totally unable to see outside his narrow little track.
The conceit of the book is that Adams' whole life has been a failure, specifically a failed education. The strained humorous tone when he writes about his youth sets my teeth on edge, and his view of the American Civil War (he was private secretary to his father, the ambassador to England) seems coolly distant at best and at worst nearly frivolous. Again, I need to offer a caveat: many people don't read it this way at all, and Adams himself deplores being so far from the center of the great event of his generation.
His voice gains authenticity as he closes in on his chronological age as he is writing, which is in his mid-sixties. The final quarter of the book– except for his crackpot theories of history– creates an atmosphere of genuine amazement and humility in the face of the material culture of the new century– and also a tone of increasing sadness. The book ends with the death of one of his best friends, Teddy Roosevelt's secretary of State, John Hay, who had also been Abraham Lincoln's private secretary.
I still don't know why I have reacted so strongly to this book. There is, of course, my own twenty-first century assumptions and expectations– of more personal revelation, for example. Also, I have had a lifelong preference (I admit it!) for narrative, which Adams essentially eschews. But I really am appalled by his assumptions: he assumes his readers have Latin, and that they went to Harvard. He assumes that they criticize Harvard, too, of course, and he assumes his readers are amused by immigrant Poles and Irish and Jews as the second element in various unflattering similes. He assumes that complimenting women's grace and kindness allows him to say anything he wants about them.
I also just reread UNCLE TOM'S CABIN, and it gave me an interesting comparison. Why is it that Harriet Beecher Stowe who was as thoroughly of her time and place as Adams, and probably a less talented writer, could occasionally hit the mark– leap out beyond her own prejudices? She has that ability to take the imaginative leap, not always, but occasionally, that makes a connection across time and race and class. Of course she's telling a story, and THE EDUCATION is nonfiction.
So I'm going to give Henry Adams another chance. I've downloaded free Gutenberg Project e-books of his two novels, DEMOCRACY and ESTHER.
I want to recommend SUFFICIENT GRACE by Darnell Arnoult, a novel of imaginative, sophisticated writing in the form of a classical comedy– that is, with happy endings all around, the way Shakespeare's late comedies like THE TEMPEST are comedies in spite of some pretty rough going along the way.
So SUFFICIENT GRACE is a committedly upbeat novel, maybe even Christian humanist. It has a wonderful set up: a housewife paints pictures of Jesus all over the walls of her house, and walks out on her life. There is no mistaking that she is mentally unbalanced, but her breakdown is presented in a fascinatingly balanced way: yes, she's crazy, but no, she's not all that much more unhappy than anyone else. Part of the project of the books seems to be to imagine a creative and graceful, but not sentimental, mental breakdown.
The novel insists, explicitly, on closing all the circuits it opens up. This doesn't mean anything old fashioned like marriage rings, but rather some near-miraculous coincidences such as the itinerant woman preacher who arrives in town just in time to reconcile with her daughter and perform her marriage ceremony. The closing of the circuits also means satisfying outcomes for most of the characters– lovers for those who want them, artistic hobbies that turn into high art or ways to make a living. The husband who cooks because his wife has left him becomes a superb cook with a likely book contract. It's twenty-first century wish fulfillment: that we could really support ourselves doing what we love best, in community, across racial lines, with family dysfunction healed.
Reamy Jansen recommends Geraldine Brooks' CALEB'S CROSSING: "I think it's a wonderful novel of self fashioning by the acute and feelingful Bethia, who is the narrator. Like Aurora Leigh, Bathe is the matter of her book."
He goes on to say, "I've also been on something of a Elizabeth Gaskell jag: 'Lois the Witch,' longish short story and RUTH--terrific with some interesting narrative tricks, as is true of what I'm reading now, Charlotte Brontë's SHIRLEY (a character that doesn't appear until after page 200). One of the most striking things that I've been encountering is the emphasis on 'mind' by these women writers, including Elizabeth Barrett's Aurora Leigh. It seems a theme/motif basted into all these texts. The other little signifier is the mention of 'curls,' which suggest spirit and independence. One of my obsessive lists (of course, with all my annotations, it's takes me as long to write in the margins and set up keys on the inside cover as it took Brontë to write 400 words).
"I think how much this book, [SHIRLEY], would have seemed a great bore to a callow English major, although, one year later, I found myself utterly taken up by Dickens's last complete novel, and one of his greatest, OUR MUTUAL FRIEND, as a senior, when in my Nineteenth Century European History course one of the final paper topics was 'The Novel as Mirror in the Roadway,' a quaint notion nowadays. Nevertheless, the novel absorbed me in a way I had not previously felt (much of this still holds true for most nineteenth century fiction that I regularly harvest).
"I read CRANFORD, as it was a gift from my favorite professor, William E(arlking) Michael, who told me the book was 'charming.' And charming it is, sort of, although a considerably deeper darkness and sense of threat is veined through the little book.
Now, however, I'm caught up in Brontë's SHIRLEY, part of which is major payback to her critics (including frequent asides to 'Reader,' which often comes across as slightly mocking).
"Anyway, here's dialogue on marriage from Ch XII, 'Shirley and Caroline: '...to tell you a secret, if I were convinced that they [men] are necessarily and universally different from us---fickle, soon petrifying, unsympathiziing--I would never marry. I should not like to find out that what I loved did not love me, that it was weary of me, and that whatever effort I might make to please would hereafter be worse than useless, since it was inevitably in its nature to change and become indifferent. That discovery once made, what should I long for? To go away--to remove from a presence where my society gave no pleasure.'
"Powerful stuff--and there's more. Plus, you've got to love the neutered pronoun, (this from the excellent Penguin Classic--excellent notes and a good intro).
"There's good stuff, by the way in Brontë's friend's, Elizabeth Gaskell, THE LIFE OF CHARLOTTE BRONTË and there's also 'The Miracle of Shirley' in Winifred Guerin's CHARLOTTE BRONTË, THE EVOLUTION OF GENIUS.
"Much of my reading in the theme of 'minds' by a variety of women novelists has been further enlightened by Deidre David's INTELLECTUAL WOMEN AND VICTORIAN PATRIARCHY, 1987. Much of this may have been superceded, but this is a nice place to start, and it has a lively introduction by the author, who was mistakenly addressed as 'David Deirdre.' Here endeth the lesson."
The 2010 National Book Award fiction winner, Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon, a West Virginia resident in the late 1960s, takes place in a world many of us are unfamiliar with, an insulated world with a language and culture of its own: claiming races at a track in West Virginia.
Prior to the opening of the novel, Gordon gives readers a leg up by including a technical description of the rules for "claiming" a horse. From this point on a dictionary and "google" proved useful as Gordon incorporates Yiddish, French, and German phrases into a mix of folklore, religion, mythological creatures, conjuring, racing rules, theories, and jargon. And did I mention the novel comes complete with sex, drugs, violence, mental illness, and organized crime, not to mention a cast of interesting characters, both animal and human?
Maggie, the protagonist, is a young intelligent college graduate destined to give her affluent Jewish parents gray hairs. She is a risk taker, fascinated by drugs and violence and willing to try anything once, provided it isn't lethal. She is enthralled by a charismatic but volatile fellow college graduate who is "just not right in the soul, really." Maggie's career as a writer is on hold to help him develop his string of horses and be part of his schemes to win big and get out fast.
Like horses in a race, the story starts off slowly, picks up speed in the stretch, falters slightly, and then ends in a rush of excitement. There is an interesting mix of characters of different faiths, sexual preferences, and colors. Their stories unfold, sometimes in their own voices.
Prior to the National Book Award, Gordon was one of the famous authors readers hadn't read or heard about. A professor, scholar, and a fiction writer of note, she had a small faithful readership and a totally dedicated publisher.
Now readers will find interviews of Gordon, study guides for Lord of Misrule, and a superfluity of reviews of this work on the internet. That is all to the good. Lord of Misrule is a work to study and respect as well as to enjoy.
As the protagonist Maggie says of her charismatic but mentally ill lover Tommy, "The strangeness draws me in." Gordon's skills as a writer drew me into this strange and innovative story.
• Roger Horowitz, "Negro and White, Unite and Fight": A Social History of Industrial Unionism in Meatpacking, 1930-90.
• Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness. Edited by Robert Kimbrough
• Jonathan Kaufman, Broken: The Turbulent Times Between Blacks and Jews in America
• Roger Keeran, The Communist Party and the Auto Workers' Unions
• Julie Grasso, Recipe for a Family
• Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
• The Girl who Played with Fire
• The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
• Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
• Sue Grafton, M is for Malice
• Joyce Carol Oates, Wonderland
• South End Press, Between Labor and Capital , the Professional Managerial Class (Barbara and John Ehrenreich + others)
• Adam Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost, a story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa
• Ralph David Abernathy, And the Walls Came Tumbling Down
• Manning Marable, Malcolm X, A Life of Reinvention
• Leslie Marmon Silko, Almanac of the Dead
• Stanley Aronowitz, From the Ashes of the Old: American Labor and America's Future
• Jesse Redmon Faucet, Plum Bun
• Harry Fisher, Legacy
• Herman Melville, Billy Budd and Other Stories
• Michael Patrick MacDonld, All Souls, A Family Story from Southie
• Arthur Miller, Timebends (autobiography)
• Michael Ondaatje, In the Skin of a Lion
Dolly Withrow talks a little about some magazines: "Readers can sample excerpts and get other tidbits by accessing The Sun Magazine online. It is ad-free, which means the publisher often asks for donations. I think this is true of most 'little' magazines. Now & Then: The Appalachian Magazine can also be accessed online, but there are no sample essays; however, there is contact information for anyone wishing to submit something. Creative Nonfiction magazine (that's how I Googled it) is also available. One can read samples, get writing guidelines, and access lots of other information online. The publisher also has contests and each magazine, like Now & Then has a theme. If you or anyone on your list has an opinion about Appalachian Heritage, I'd be most interested.....[they don't]..have themes."
HarperCollins supports an online community of writers who upload work for others to critique. Things that get a a lot of attention from other users is sent to the "Editor's Desk," where it is given a close look by the actual publishing company: Take a look at http://www.authonomy.com.
Recommended by Amy Wright: Michael Martone's short short nonfiction piece on the recent weather disasters in Alabama: http://www.creativenonfiction.org/brevity/brev36/martone36.html
Take a look at Valerie Nieman reading a poem about a stapler:
Laura Treacy Bentley interviews Marc Harshman WEST VIRGINIA LIVING:
Barbara Crooker has new poems online– "The Bossy Letter R," "Live or Evil, Rats or Star," "The Paper Clip," and "The Last Painting" all appear in the new issue of The Innisfree Poetry Journal at http://authormark.com/artman2/publish/Innisfree_13_28BARBARA_CROOKER2.shtml
Norman Julian recommends this interesting interview with Scott Turow about his career and writing in general: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11248/1171973-129.stm
There's an enthusiastic review of the new collected works of my inimitable friend Carol Emswhiller, the avant garde and science fiction writer.
And finally, Salon has a nicely snarky piece on the worst novels that use 9-11 in some fashion:
A personal essay on witnessing the final space launch by Melanie Vickers appeared on July 28, 2011 at http://www.dailymail.com/Opinion/Commentary/201107271141
Erik Corr's e-book THE WITCH AND THE SUNFLOWER GIRL is now available:
The subtitle is "A Halloween and Christmas Fairy Tale about Karma and Free Will," and the story only costs .99 cents! Also see Erik's Youtube about an open source novel he's writing: http://www.youtube.com/user/erikTT1
Mark DeFoe's tenth chapbook of poems In the Tourist Cave is coming out this fall. Pre-publication orders are now being taken by Finishing Line Press of Georgetown, KY. Order online at finishinglinepress.com and click on "new releases:"http://www.finishinglinepress.com/NewReleasesandForthcomingTitles.htm
Click on the "New Releases and Forthcoming titles" link.
Rest your bones, friend. See how the drenched
walks gleam, the spilling gutters flash and shine.
Take a load off—beer's in the frig. Look there—
every grass blade and leaf is rinsed, spangled.
Drink to these simple times, to life untangled.
Grab this rocker. Hear how the downspouts gush
softer now. The clouds ripple pearl and gray.
Across the lots, light strides its copper way,
while one departing shower shakes the pines.
We spin our voices past this last wet rush,
spieling yarns and god-awful jokes, how we wenched
away our youth, how if we ran the world today
it would be a damn sight saner. The women chime
their mocking laughter low. You men, they say.
We grin and nod. The beer's made us heady—
That and the rich scent of new-watered earth.
Oh, dead Indians topple—slow and steady.
Fireflies begin to spark above of the cooling lawn.
Our talk grows gentle. Here in the cool hush
our voices amble, mingle, murmur on.
Cat Pleska has a piece about the terrors of planes at Airplane Reading: essays about airplanes. Check out her "Rock and Roll" at http://airplanereading.org/ .
New from Halvard Johnson: Sonnets from the Basque & Other Poems.
Peter Brown's newest book for children is out: YOU WILL BE MY FRIEND in which Lucille Beatrice Bear wants to make a new friend. Lucy accidentally ruins the giraffe's breakfast, and the skunk doesn't want her help, and she's too big for the frog's pond. It looks hopeless. And then, when she least expects it, a funny thing happens...you'll never guess what it is....
Watch for Valerie Nieman reading from Blood Clay (see Books for Readhers #140 ) at a venue near you!
SEPT. 23 - Bring Your Own Lunch and Author Chat at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill
SEPT. 24 - "Peeking Behind the Mask" - poetry at Weatherspoon Gallery, Greensboro
OCT. 6 - Ex Libris Book Club
OCT. 13 - Fairmont State University, Fairmont, WV
OCT. 14 - West Virginia University
OCT. 15 - Mary H. Weir Public Library, Weirton, WV, Public Library
OCT. 17 - Alderson-Broaddus College, Philippi, WV
OCT. 18 - Taylor Books, Charleston, WV
OCT. 22 - Building Connections: Group Poetry for Residents in Assisted Living/Nursing Care, Queens University of Charlotte
OCT. 29-30 -Workshop and salon with Marjorie Hudson at Writershouse, Charlottesville, Va.
OCT. 30 - SWAG at the Shenandoah Arts Center in Waynesboro, Va.
NOV. 16 - The Burwell School, Hillsborough NC
FEB. 24 - Wonderland Book Club, Raleigh
FEB. 25 - Book'em, Lumberton
APRIL 10 - Carteret Writers Club
MAY 18-19 - Blue Ridge Bookfest in Flat Rock, NC
JUANITA TORRENCE-THOMPSON, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher/Owner of Internationally acclaimed MOBIUS, THE POETRY MAGAZINE seeks a GROUP of poets and/or editors or COLLEGE, organization or business individual/s to purchase and publish her 29-year old non-profit print magazine starting 2011. www.mobiuspoetry.com Serious buyers ONLY
Eemail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Colleen Anderson announces a feature article about the Aurora Project, from the most recent issue of West Virginia Living Magazine: http://www.wvliving.com/Fall-2011/The-Aurora-Project/ The Aurora Project Fall Writers' Retreat is scheduled for October 20-23 this year. No classes or workshops, just time on your own, fabulous food, and good company in the evenings. This year, Anita Skeen is the special guest, and she'll give a reading on Saturday evening, October 22. For more information, see the webstie at http://www.auroraproject.org/.
The largest unionized bookstore in America has a webstore at Powells Books. Some people prefer shopping online there to shopping at Amazon.com. An alternative way to reach Powell's 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 .
WHERE TO FIND BOOKS MENTIONED IN THIS NEWSLETTER
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. Bookfinder has a feature that tells you the book price WITH shipping and handling, so you can compare what you’re really going to have to pay.
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 Bookfinder at http://www.bookfinder.com/ and All Book Stores at http://www.allbookstores.com/ .
Take a look also at Paperback Book Swap , a low cost (postage only) way to get rid of your old books and get new ones by trading with other readers.
If you are using an electronic reader like Kindle, Nook, or Kobo, get free books at the Gutenberg Project-- most classics, and other things as well.
RESPONSES TO THIS NEWSLETTER
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.
BACK ISSUES click here.
Books for Readers Newsletter by Meredith Sue Willis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.meredithsuewillis.com. To subscribe and unsubscribe, use the form below.