Saturday, December 10, 2011

Books for Readers # 147

Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 147

December 10, 2011

It looks better online!
Read at

This Issue:
Johnny Sundstrom's new novel

An Anthology recommended by Ed Davis

Phyllis Wilson Moore on Walter Dean Myers and Yankee at the Seder

Free e-mail subscription to this newsletter.
To create a link to this newsletter, use this permanent link .
It looks better online! Read it here.

Dear Friends: It's holiday giving season– please consider for your last-minute gifts some of the small press books on my gift books page and/or some of the books mentioned below.

First up today, a stunning and powerful book from the small press Hamilton Stone Editions by Jane Lazarre (THE WHITENESS OF WHITE, SOME PLACE QUITE UNKNOWN). Lazarre's new novel, INHERITANCE, is a meditation on race and the racial and ethnic history of the United States. Its central, germinal story is what happened to a young white woman named Louise and her beloved Samuel in the years leading up to the Civil War. Samuel and his mother are enslaved, and Louisa discovers she is the sister of a slave and becomes the mother of a slave. What happens when her pregnancy is discovered, and then the color of the baby, is harrowing and horrible. The rest of the novel circles around and expands out of these events into many generations.

The mutilation-murder of Samuel is careful and respectfully narrated without any of the pornographic violence that a lot of American writers seem to delight in. Lazarre's focus is on transformation as people deepen their understanding of race and history. One of the most interesting parts is how Louisa survives mentally by changing her consciousness.

Characters in the framing stories have similarly complex deepening of their consciousnesses, especially women struggling with their whiteness and their relationships with people of color. All of the main point of view characters are articulate and exhibit many layered thinking. Among them are the teenaged daughter of a white Jewish mother and Black father (whose own mother is an Italian-American novelist). There is also an adult writer descended from Louisa and Samuel; there is early twentieth century Jewish Hannah (great grandmother of the teenager above) who falls into a passionate non-physical relationship with the third Samuel. All the characters have the sensibilities and intellectual seriousness of a writer or other artist.

The genealogies are complex and the issues of whiteness and Blackness are dealt with in detail. The story of the nineteenth century white girl's lonely effort to understand and survive is especially wonderful, as are the scenes on Long Island Sound, such as the one where the housewife Hannah Sokolow, unhappy in her marriage and life, eats an oyster pulled directly from the Sound and offered to her in friendship by the third Samuel--a transgression of the rabbinical laws as well as the formal and informal race laws of her day.

It is an ambitious and powerful book that teases out where we cannot reach across the abysses of race and history– and also where we can.

A book of poetry with a serious message from a small press is AZRAEL ON THE MOUNTAIN by Victor Depta. Betty Huff, managing editor of Blair Mountain Press, writes to say: "Ten years ago, in 2002, we at Blair Mountain Press published Dr. Victor Depta's AZRAEL ON THE MOUNTAIN, a book of poems protesting mountaintop removal coal mining. That method of coal extraction continues to this day, regardless of what the American public knows about global warming and what Appalachians suffer as a consequence of that mining practice. Azrael on the Mountain is the only Appalachian book in which every poem is a protest against Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining. It has sold slowly but steadily in the past ten years, so much so that we have reprinted the book for the individual buyer and for the classroom...[order directly from] Blair Mountain Press ($10.00) or from Amazon." Blair Mountain Press is at 114 E Campbell St, Frankfort, KY 40601, phone 502-330-3707, or .

A third small press book I want to mention is psychotherapist Penelope Young Andrade's brand-new, lively, and personable self-help book, EMOTIONAL MEDICINE RX. Her idea is that if we can learn to distinguish the stories we tell ourselves about our sufferings and unhappiness from our real emotions– if we can learn to experience fully and directly the big four– Mad, Sad, Scared, and Glad– we will begin to heal ourselves physically and mentally. The book is full of stories of how people have used her techniques to enrich their lives and heal their complaints. Learn more about Penelope, her strategies, and her book at

Notes on recent Kindle reading:

I also have some notes on various other things I've been reading– the Kindle selections, in particular, have a lot of serendipity, as I've been borrowing what was available through the library's Kindle collection and from the vast pool of available free books, many of which I was unlikely to have read in the past.. For example, after finishing INHERITANCE, I "bought" two free books related to the Grimké Sisters, footnoted in Jane Lazarre's INHERITANCE. First, I read an old 1885 biography (that would almost certainly not have been available to me without an elaborate university library search) of the Grimké Sisters. I also read Angelina Grimké's first pamphlet publication, a powerful call to Southern women to turn against slavery. The dual biography by Caherine H. Birney is called THE GRIMKÉ SISTERS SARAH AND ANGELINA THE FIRST AMERICAN WOMEN ADVOCATES OF ABOLITION AND WOMAN"S RIGHTS. It is one of those old-fashioned hagiographic biographies that somehow manages (like Mrs. Gaskell's biography of Charlotte Brontë) to tell a really good story in spite of skipping a lot of the juicy parts.

This one also assumes that all the readers share a Protestant Christian world view, but it's still a good short book. I especially enjoyed the selections of diary entries and excerpts from letters. Angelina, the much-younger of the sisters, was apparently a wonderful public speaker, the first American woman to address "promiscuous" crowds– that is, mixed with men and women. In her thirties, she married Theodore Weld and set up housekeeping with him and Sarah, the older Grimké sister. Something happened, not specified in this book, that kept her out of the public eye, possibly a a breakdown or maybe just a lot of childbirth and babies. The sisters and Weld, however, continued to teach and write, and had that admirable Protestant sense that serving is equally important in public or in private, large or small.

Their final great drama was the discovery late in their lives that one of their beloved brothers, Henry, had taken an enslaved lover with whom he had three boys. He never freed his family, and his legitimate heir continued to enslave them. When they discovered this, after the war, Angelina and Sarah helped the young men in their careers: one became a well known Presbyterian minister and the other a Harvard educated lawyer whose daughter was a poet in the Harlem Renaissance.

A Kindle library borrowing was COMPOSED by Roseanne Cash– this just attracted me at the moment and was lots of fun with its scenes backstage in a musical celebrity family. Roseanne Cash's persona is likeable, and she is a highly accomplished song writer, musician and performer, but it cannot pass notice, either, that Roseanne got a LOT of help along the way– her father supporter her financially through a decade of experimentation, and gave her introductions and chances in the music business that no one else would ever have had. This is not said to denigrate Cash, but to remind us all that talent is precious but far from uncommon-- ask anyone who has ever worked with the arts with children. The next step, success, especially commercial success, requires a whole other set of skills and nurturing and luck. Imagine thus a potentially brilliant pianist who grows up undernourished and ends up a teenage addict and eventually in jail. This is the thesis of Virginia Woolf's famous essay about Shakespeare's imaginary sister Judith who had all the talent and none of the other requirements to succeed.

But I liked the book– and I liked Roseanne Cash too for her honesty and directness.

IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS: LOVE, TERROR, AND AN AMERICAN FAMILY IN HITLER'S BERLIN was recommended to me by a writer friend as an excellent example of an accurate and highly entertaining nonfiction book built out of letters and diaries. It is about the American ambassador to German and his adult daughter and their attempts to be upbeat about the brand new Chancellor Hitler and his regime and their gradual disillusionment and horror with the Nazis. Hitler et alia in he early years is interesting-- especially how the Nazi's squabbled with and killed each other-- but more interesting the cultural anti-Semitism and general ignorance of the Americans.

Finally, moving away from under-reported and under-read, I took a look at the wildly popular young adult novel HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. For this one I paid $4.69, which I absolutely think was worth it. I liked it a lot– a real trip. I admired how she managed to make the heroine at once believably tough and really disinclined to kill people,which is what she will have to do to triumph-- and survive-- the Games. In the end, she succeeds most by teaming up. Least interesting to me was the love stuff, not sure why. It felt whipped up to me. I would like to have seen it end cleaner. But this was partly done to lead into two more books of the Trilogy. I was not as totally into it as I was into Fire and Ice, but Fire and Ice is a much larger world.

And finally finally one non-Kindle actual hardcover novel, WHEREVER YOU GO, by Joan Leegant. This is highly recommended, full of interesting Israelis and Americans in Israel: a man who discovers Judaism, goes orthodox, then pulls out of it; strong-jawed, laconic Shin Bet operatives, a crazy American kid who decides to kill some Arabs and is given support by the crazy right-wing This Land Is Mine guys. It functions neatly as a primer on a whole set of attitudes and issues towards and in Israel. And I couldn't' stop reading.

More small press books below in the announcements section.

-- Meredith Sue Willis


A book that men as well as women will enjoy is THE MOMENT I KNEW: REFLECTIONS FROM WOMEN ON LIFE'S DEFINING MOMENTS ($14.95 from, a collection of brief essays and poems by women from six countries. I found it so compelling I read most of it in a weekend.

My friend Cyndi Pauwels' essay, "Powerful Eyes of Love," appears along with twenty-nine others in the second "Reflections from Women" series, founded by editor and psychotherapist Terri Spahr Nelson, who hopes to provide writers as well as readers the chance for self-examination, expression and healing. Writers from Granville, Ohio to Reading, England tackle topics ranging from relationships to pregnancy, family and children.

In Cyndi's essay, present meets past on a recent icy day following an eight-inch snowfall. She re-lives, in the span of a few minutes, the years between ages seven and seventeen when her step-father abused her for everything that went wrong in the household—just the way everything seems to be going wrong on this day. But in a shattering climax, Cyndi discovers she is not that abused, fearful child anymore.

Editor Nelson designed the Reflections of Women series to be a collaborative process. Cyndi said she never felt forced to accept Nelson's proffered editing, and contributors were allowed to vote on the book's cover photo as well as which women's charities the book would benefit. (Purchasing online from Sugati guarantees a greater percentage to these worthy organizations.) Such a democratic process is rare in the small press publishing world. Interested writers should visit the website to see topic areas for upcoming books in the series, along with deadlines. An interview with Cyndi Pauwels appears on my website:



Have you ever wondered about the role Jewish Americans played in the Civil War? Do you know what a seder is and how it is celebrated, or how Passover traditions relate, sort of, to the 4th of July? THE YANKEE AT THE SEDER, a unique children's picture book by Elka Weber with illustrations by Adam Gustavson from Tricycle Press in Berkeley, CA, is an enjoyable and educational way for both children and adults to learn about Passover and freedom.

A Virginia Confederate Jewish family, reeling from the Yankee occupation of their town and word of Lee's surrender, prepares for Passover. Ten year old Jacob is especially unhappy; he will not get to be a solider. When his mother invites a stranger, a Yankee Jewish solider, to their seder and to spend the night, he is angry. This fictional version of an actual event includes end notes revealing the facts of the two families involved, the Yankee soldier, of Philadelphia, and the "enemy" family who befriended him. It is a heartwarming story, sensitively illustrated, of freedom and acceptance.

Found: A BAD BOY in the Library

What attracted me to this memoir was the title, BAD BOY [by Walter Dean Myers], written in large red letters on the dust cover. As a former high school teacher, I detest labels slapped on children. "Bad boy" and "no good" cause me to bristle.

Myers, once a young extremely bright "bad boy," tells the story of his painful growth to manhood. So fond of reading and writing he hid his library books in a brown paper bag, he became a high school drop-out eager for a fight.

How he survived adoption, a speech impediment, being overly tall, having a passion for poetry and reading, racism, poverty, fighting neighborhood gangs, teen-hood, the army, and menial jobs, makes a story most teens will tap into. How he became one of the nation's most "awarded" and respected authors of children's and youth books is a gripping story.

Myers appreciates the important roles reading and writing play in his life as did finding a community respectful of his talents. This book by a former "bad boy," has substance, sadness, and humor. It is suitable for teens and adults and as good as a memoir can get.

Myers [photo at right], born in Martinsburg, West Virginia, grew up in Harlem, New York.


Joel Weinberger recommends THE BLIND SIDE, the book. "As is probably the case for many people, he writes, "I came to read THE BLIND SIDE after seeing the surprisingly good movie that was based on the book. When I mentioned to a friend that I enjoyed the movie, he pointed out that it was only half the story. While certainly the central story of the book is around the offensive lineman Michael Oher's journey, the other half is around the evolution of the game of football, strategically and economically, around the offensive line. Much like the movie MONEYBALL ,as compared to the book, the movie only tells one half of Michael Lewis's story, leaving the more quantitative half for readers. (For the record, I very much enjoyed MONEYBALL the movie as well as the book.)

"All of this is to say that THE BLIND SIDE has two distinct, but tightly wound, focuses. One is the now well known, but still incredible, story of Michael Oher's journey from a homeless teenager to one of the most incredible forces to ever play college football (and now in the NFL). In several incredible strokes of luck, Michael Oher is brought from the street to an almost entirely white high school, eventually meeting the Tuohy family, who guide him through the wealthy, white world he has found himself in. The family helps him take advantage of his natural, physical gifts, and become the most recruited football player in high school, as well as increase his grades as necessary to play NCAA football, despite the assumptions surrounding him that he isn't intelligent enough.

"The other half of the story, which, as a quantitative man myself, I find even more fascinating, is the story of the evolution of football itself. The book explains *why* Michael Oher is so prized by college football programs and the NFL. Michael Lewis gives a brilliant account of the state of football in 1981, when Lawrence Taylor (L.T.), arguably the best linebacker of all time, makes his appearance in the league. L.T. completely alters the game of football, and especially the economics of how important it is to protect the quarterback. Michael Lewis discusses the implications of this defensive approach and how, in particular, it affected the offensive design of Bill Walsh, the coach of 49ers, who eventually led his teams to several Superbowl titles. In this context, Michael Lewis shows the transformation of the NFL from a place where many of the players are "interchangeable" and seen as equally important, to the rise of the importance of the left offensive tackle, who protects quarterbacks from linebackers. The economics that Michael Lewis brings to light are fascinating in a very similar way to MONEYBALL.

The book is not quite as deep as MONEY BALL, in many ways, and at times it seems Lewis has found himself drawn into his subject in such a way that it is not subjective (it terns out in the afterward that Sean Tuohy, one of the main subjects, is a childhood friend of Michael Lewis). For these reasons, I can't quite bring myself to give it a 5-star rating, but call it a sold 4.5. Without hesitation, I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the economics of sports, or just in for a touching story of a life saved.


Laura Bentley and Marie Manilla interviewed on the radio:
A successful self-publishing author:

Barbara Crooker on Your Daily Poem. See Barbara, right.


Johnny Sundstrom's novel DAWN'S EARLY LIGHT is now available: In 1849 a wagon train was moving slowly along the parched Oregon Trail in the empty desolation that was to become known as southern Wyoming. Martha Bradford was told she must discard either her cast-iron cook stove or her pianola to lighten the burden for the oxen. She has them both unloaded and then refuses to go on any further: "She declared that if the only things that made her life worth living were being left behind, they'd just as well leave both the stove and the pianola, and her with them."

This novel is based on the next six generations of her family and the first ranch settled in that part of the country. Here are real cowboys and cowgirls, Indians of the past and present, a faith-challenged evangelist, a militant suffragette, newspaper owner, and many others, linked together by their hard work, rowdy pleasures, their spiritual beliefs or non-beliefs, and stitched into a panoramic story-quilt representing the dream of the Morning Star and its hopeful annunciation of a new day rising in the Old West.

JOHNNY SUNDSTROM has lived most of his life in the American West. His book is a tribute to this great region, its people and places, its history and its future. He is part-owner and manager of a livestock and forestland operation in western Oregon, a natural resources consultant, and high school track coach. For nearly 40 years, he has spent part of every summer visiting his relations in Wyoming. He graduated from Williams College with a degree in English Literature and has written extensively over the years, as well as having been involved in professional and amateur theater.

Virginia Center for the Creative Arts anthology is now available-- click here. Poets include Kelly Cherry, Halvard Johnson, Barbara Crooker, J.C. Todd, Thaddeus Rutkowski, Neil Shepherd, B.J. Ward, Colette Inez, and many, many more.
Larissa Shmailo has new e-book from Jeffrey Side's press, Argotist Ebook. It is a free download, so check it out:
Ardian Gill has three images in the PAI show at the Office of Borough President Scott Stringer, 1 Centre Street 19th Floor. Please bring ID. Exhibit open 9-5 PM Monday thru Friday.

PM Press has some excellent new books out including a reprint of a Marge Piercy novel and On the Ground: An Illustrated Anecdotal History of the Sixties Underground Press in the U.S.edited by Sean Stewart.
Abby Slovin's new book Letters in Cardboard Boxes has been called "a novel that you will want to keep with you for the rest of your life. A book that will remind people why they love to read.”

Deb C. Gaisford has a new story online at THE FEAR OF MONKEYS: "Love Letters from Vietnam,"
Burt Kimmelman's The Way We Live is now available from Dos Madres Press (click here) and Amazon (click here)."Burt Kimmelman is a poet who trusts what is: the continuous autonomy of two people in a close marriage, the unalterable passage of time, the lies the mirror tells us, the comfort of "simply living / among the objects of the day." Yet, like the inimitable domestic scenes painted by Pierre Bonnard, Kimmelman's quiet poems contain the luminescence of perception, its lure, its beauty, its Zen of breath, tracing beauty in the pulse of the extant." - Star Black
Leora Skolkin-Smith's new novel Hystera is about to launch. Early Praise includes: "Hystera is a haunting, mesmerizing story of madness, longing and identity, set against one of the most fascinating times in NYC history. Skolkin-Smith's alchemy is to inhabit her characters even as she crafts a riveting story that is nothing short of brilliant."-- Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of "Pictures of You", Reviewer.
Barry Wildorf's FLIGHT OF THE SORCERESS won the Global E-Book award for best historical fiction!
A personal essay on witnessing the final space launch by Melanie Vickers appeared on July 28, 2011 at

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:

Mark De Foe'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 and click on "new releases:" Click on the "New Releases and Forthcoming titles" link.
Cat Pleska has a piece about the terrors of planes at Airplane Reading: essays about airplanes. Check out her "Rock and Roll" at .
New book from Halvard Johnson: Sonnets from the Basque & Other Poems.


Don't forget – get rid of your good quality paperback books and get new ones for the price of postage by swapping at The Paperback Book Swap:

No comments: