Meredith Sue Willis's
July 28, 2012
MSW News: I now have five e-books with three publishers, $1.99 and up. The City Built of Starships is at Amazon and Nook , and if you want to support indie publishing, you can also buy them at Smashwords.com. You can also find the Blair Morgan trilogy at all three places. Out of the Mountains is available as Kindle and Nook only.
In this Issue:
Free e-mail subscription to this newsletter.
To create a link to this newsletter, use this permanent link .
For Back Issues, click here.
lives of four families with autistic children and a primer on resources and challenges and therapies for such families. Brown seamlessly mixes information with story in a way that is natural and entertaining. Her characters are drawn together to attend a support group, and they read and discuss a different volume on autism each month. Meanwhile, of course, they live their lives, love their children, have crises, have affairs, break up with their spouses– and sometimes get back together. There is an intra-family kidnaping, several reconciliations, and lots of extremely well-dramatized material about current debates on how to approach and treat autism. If I Could Tell You is that extremely unusual genre, a successful and moving didactic novel. You learn a lot, but mostly you live passionately with the characters.
They are New Yorkers, including an Israeli immigrant married into an Italian family from Brooklyn and a young "Russian" model from Brighton Beach. Some are affluent; some are barely making it. One of the main characters is an extremely high-powered publishing professional. The children vary from high functioning to those who may need care all their lives. The therapies dramatized range from rigid behavioral methods to gluten free diets to chelation therapy for cleaning toxic elements from the child's system.
Brown, a native New Yorker herself, now lives in Israel with her two sons and is a professional journalist (the New York Post, film critic for the Jerusalem Post-- see samples of her journalism below.). She has an admirable ability and facility with communicating facts, but the reason to read this book is how smoothly and deeply it goes into its people. By the time I got to the final third of the novel, I was hurrying away from meals to get back to reading.
Also, it repeatedly surprises. The least likable of the women starts out as a sort of Anna Wintour/ Devil Wears Prada wannabe. She is ambitious, cold, committed to cutting her losses, and finds it very hard to deal with her hyperactive, autistic, adopted daughter. How she changes, and how much she changes, is one of the novel's delights. Another character, the former model, who also owns a club, still thinks getting a man is what she really wants. She has painfully low self-esteem and almost gets her child killed through an attempt at a medical quick-fix for his autism. The Israeli character has not one but two autistic sons and a fascinatingly fraught and interesting relationship with the mother of her ex-husband. Each character is interesting and– without any false optimism– moving in an upbeat direction by the end of the novel.
I don't know that this novel was written as high art, but frankly, I don't care. It tells its story and conveys its information beautifully and smoothly. Read it for the story; come out uplifted and informed. It may feel more Charles Dickens than James Joyce, but while readers admire Joyce, they adore Dickens.
BRIEFLY NOTED...I read Chinua Achebe's THINGS FALL APART. What a beautifully structured novel, and now I have two more of his books to read. I turned to Achebe after reading Isak Dineson's OUT OF AFRICA, which I liked, but felt uncomfortable about– it is a beautiful book in so many ways, and you feel why she loves the Kenyan land and the landscape, and the animals, and the various ethnic and tribal groups. The problem is that she seems to love it all equally, and with a vast sense of possessiveness. She never seems to question why people who have lived for generations on "her" farm are called "squatters." There is a fierceness to her passion for the hills and air and Kikuyu people and Somali people and Masai and lions, but I kept recoiling from her sense of entitlement. It taught me a lot about the way an aristocracy feels its obligations as well as its supremacy. It's a beautiful book in many ways, but I was thankful to turn to Achebe for a sense of the complexity and interior lives of people in a different part of Africa.
Another book I'd meant to read for a long time came up as a cheap summer special for Amazon Kindle was Ron Kovic's BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY. It starts and ends with the firefight in Vietnam in which he was gravely wounded, and in between charts his journey from gung ho Marine boy to partially paralyzed anti-war activist. He also writes nostalgic memories of boys playing sports and playing war in America's 1950's, and he doesn't stint on the description of daily life for someone with a high paralysis: the depressions and frustrations and daily jobs like removing fecal matter. It is good to know he is still alive, still advocating for soldiers and against war.
Perhaps because it's summer, I've also been reading murder stories. Away for the week-end, I read a page-turner called THE FIFTH WITNESS by Michael Connelly– a best seller that seemed good at the time, but now I have trouble remembering what it was about.
I also read my first and second P.D. James novels, and was, to tell the truth, pretty disappointed. DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLY is set in the early nineteenth century years of of Elizabeth's marriage to Darcy. I think I assumed the sleuth would be Elizabeth, but it was Darcy instead. The best part was the introduction, which is a lively update on the characters from PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, as seen by minor characters and village people.
COVER HER FACE is a 1962 novel of James in which I just couldn't care much for the people, except the lively victim who turned out to be a real a piece of work, and had far more juice in her than the living characters.
Which brings me to the final murder novel, Alice Sebold's THE LOVELY BONES, which I had resisted for a long time, just because there was a period when everyone was talking about it. I did read and admire her baldly-told rape memoir LUCKY. What surprised me about THE LOVELY BONES (told from the point of view of a brutally murdered girl now looking down from her personal heaven) was its soft focus, its occasionally sentimental tying up of loose ends. Heaven is nicely invented, and the idea of both the living unable to let the dead go and of the dead unable to let go of living is worked through in such a way that it feels to me like a fantasy novel. The dead girl (SPOILER ALERT!!!) comes back briefly, borrowing the body of her ghost-obsessed friend in order to have sex with the boy who first kissed her. The best parts for me are the fantasy speculation about heaven and also the very realistic way in which there is no single dramatic confrontation with the killer. The painstaking police work never quite catches him, but it does gradually identify him. The murder itself is told at the beginning and is grim, but over quickly, like a painful medical procedure. The novel then is mostly about love and loss. I got tearful when the faithful family dog joins the girl in heaven, but in the end, it's a sentimental novel build on wish fulfillment.
So, meet Brad Abruzzi. Brad was a Berkman Fellow last year, and we hit it off. Brad was also a lawyer in Harvard's Office of the General Counsel, and I got to know him in that capacity since he was a silent hero in the effort to negotiate the freedom of 12M+ bibliographic records from Harvard Library. He has since moved to MIT, which is too bad for Harvard. I like Brad a lot. But I had no idea, none at all, that he is a fiction writer whose work is the opposite of crap. You wouldn't know it to look at him, but the guy can write. Of course, I don't know what I would expect a good fiction writer to look like, short of a beret and a thick coat of pretension.
I downloaded Brad's novel NEW JERSEY'S FAMOUS TURNPIKE WITCH with trepidation, figuring I'd have to say something nice to him about it while technically salvaging my integrity through some clever, noncommittal choice of words. But NJFTPW is just wonderful.
I'm only 70% through, and I'll let you know how the whole thing goes, but I'm loving it so far. Brad has created a skewed world in which the NJ Turnpike is its own realm, with its own culture, sociology, and politics. The fulcrum of the story is Alice, a performance artist who — implausibly, until you realize that this is not the NJ Turnpike you're used to driving — is beloved by the long lines of cars she ties up with her antics. The story is brimming with characters, none stock, most somewhat over-the-top, each richly imagined and each with her or his own unexpected history — funny short stories on their own.
Brad, it turns out, is endlessly inventive. You would never ever read back from this book and figure it was probably written by a Harvard-MIT lawyer. This is a really good book. Once you give into its absurd premises, it follows a logic that makes sense as it unfolds. It's funny, satiric, frequently hilarious, and full of sentences you'll re-read because they're that enjoyable. Holy cow, Brad! Holy holy cow. (From David Weinberger's blog)
It is those who acquire inordinate possessions for themselves and defend them against others, who make it necessary for the others to steal to make a living.These are just two of the many pithy statements to be found in this deliciously insightful book, a book I warmly recommend.
No writing on the solitary, meditative dimensions of life can not say anything that has not already been said better by the wind in the pine trees.
[Fans of Merton may also wish to note the simultaneous publication by New Directions of THOMAS MERTON ON CHRISTIAN CONTEMPLATION, edited by Paul M. Pearson.]
MORE RECOMMENDATIONSEddy Pendarvis recommends Gurney Norman's KINFOLKS. "It's a collection of short stories, though, not a memoir or novel. 'Night Ride' and 'Fat Monroe' from that collection were made into films by Appalshop."
Gerald Swick recommends RIN-TIN-TIN, THE LIFE AND THE LEGEND. He says he enjoyed this "more than any other I've read in the last couple of years. If you have any interest in dogs, the early movie industry or the early television industry, you ought to look into it. It's also just a good read."
But one huge publisher, Penguin Group, is leading the way. In a joint venture with 3M Library Systems, it's launching a pilot project that will make Penguin Group books available to members of both The New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library. And if the pilot is successful it will be rolled out across the US.
The pilot will begin in August, and library users will be able to access e-books with "public library-compatible reading devices. Titles will only be available six months after their publication date, giving booksellers "first dibs."
Penguin, a part of Pearson plc, has imprints that include Viking, Putnam, Penguin Press, Portfolio, Riverhead, New American Library, Dutton, Puffin, and others. 3M Library Systems, electronic book distributors, provides sophisticated tracking and security systems, and the technological know-how behind the e-book phenomenon.
See John's blog-- it contains about two dozen of his short stories and articles. The current post "A Taste of Sherri" is about a seduction... or is it? www.JohnBirchLive.blogspot.com .
Deborah Clearman has a story in GREEN HILLS LITERARY LANTERN
Barbara Crooker's late August tomato poem is at http://www.hippocketpress.org/canary/#202
HANNAH BROWN, whose novel IF I COULD TELL YOU is reviewed above, also has some good recent journalism online. See her recent "Modern Love" column from the New York Times, and her piece after Maurice Sendak's death called "Where the Wild Things Are ."
Ardian Gill and others have photograph in the PAI Members' Photography Exhibit t Weill Cornell Medical Library, 1300 York Avenue at 68th Street in New York City. The exhibit is open July 23 - September 12. Reception Wednesday, September 12th, 5 to 7 PM
Deborah Clearman and others will be at La Casa Azul Bookstore, Thursday, September 13, 6:00 pm, La Casa Azul Bookstore, 143 East 103rd Street, New York, NY to celebrate this vibrant new independent bookstore in El Barrio—grounded in Latino culture.
MOBIUS CONTEST SUBMISSIONS extended to JULY 31, 2012 -- Queens-based MOBIUS, THE POETRY MAGAZINE 2012 Seeks Superior Poetry for 30th Anniversary Issue. Guidelines for contest submission & themes on website. www.mobiuspoetry.com .
MAIN STREET RAG PUBLISHING COMPANY is publishing one of Valerie Nieman's short stories in KEEPING TRACK. The book is scheduled for release this December and will sell for $14.95, but you can get it now for only $8.50 + shipping by placing an Advance Discount order from the Main Street Rag Online Bookstore at http://www.mainstreetrag.com/KeepingTrack.html .
Also! Valerie's novel BLOOD CLAY is the winner of the 2012 Eric Hoffer Award in General Fiction.... called "a great American novel" by the AMERICAN BOOK REVIEW.
Juanita Torrence-Thompson's Recent Publications include poems in Spillway Magazine #18, Summer 2012; the June issue of "First Literary Review-East," edited by Cindy Hochman & Karen Neuberg (see www.rulrul.4mg.com). Juanita's poems are also published in her weekly online and print poetry column in THE CULVERT CHRONICLES IN NY.
NEW BOOK! E. Lee North has a new book out, RUN, RUN, RUN! THE 1941 DIARY OF A DEAF LONG ISLAND TEENAGER: http://www.amazon.com/Run-1941-Diary-Island-Teenager/dp/1456738461
Coming soon: TWO WAYS OF NOT HEARING by REAMY JANSEN from Finishing Line Press . Look in "Bookstore" at "pre-order forthcoming titles." "Secrets we've never heard before," says Dan Masterson, and Kevin Prufer calls it a "terrific collection...intriguing, deeply intelligent."
NAOMI REPLANSKY'S COLLECTED POEMS is forthcoming Summer 2012 from Black Sparrow Books (an imprint of David R. Godine Publisher; ISBN 978-1-57423-215-8). Available for pre-ordering.
"Nominated for the National Book Award in 1952, Naomi Replansky's first book Ring Song dazzled critics with its candor and freshness of language. Here at long last is the new and collected work of a lifetime by a writer hailed as "one of the most brilliant American poets" by George Oppen.
Replansky is a poet whose verse combines the compression of Emily Dickinson, the passion of Anna Akhmatova, and the music of W.H. Auden. These poems, which Marie Ponsot calls "sixty years of a free woman's song," are Replansky's hymns to the struggle for justice and equality and to the enduring beauty of life in our dangerous world."
Twentieth and twenty-first century examples would be Richard Wright's Native Son and Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible. Other writers who can might fit on the list would include Orwell, Saramago, Sherman Alexie, and Toni Morrison.
Would you include historical novels like Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and perhaps Follett's The Fall of Giants? How about All the King's Men and The Help? How badly written can a novel be and still be valuable if its heart is in the right place? How about beautifully written novels about politics that are deeply cynical? (I'm thinking All the King's Men here).
Please help me out on this– cast your bucket widely into the waters and give me a line about why you suggested what you did.
And thank you!
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 of 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 that you may be able to borrow it from your public library as either a hard copy or a digital copy. You may also buy or order from 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.
Another source for used and out-of-print books is All Book Stores at http://www.allbookstores.com/ .
Also consider 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 -- mostly classics, but other things as well. Libraries now lend e-books too!
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.