Meredith Sue Willis's
December 16, 2013
Latest changes and corrections online MSW Home
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.
It's not too Late for an E-book Holiday Gift!
Meredith Sue Willis now has seven books available in all e-book formats. They're economical and easy to give. For some recommendations on choosing, Click here.
To give books, click on the image above. Or, to buy a Kindle book as a gift, go to the book's page on Amazon and click the "Give as a gift" image. To give as a gift on Nook, go to the book's page and click on "Buy as a Gift." For all other formats, go to http://www.smashwords.com , search for "Meredith Sue Willis," click on the book page, then click on "Give as a Gift."
For more ideas for great e-books, take a look at Hamilton Stone Editions and Foreverland Press
Needless to say, all the big commercial guys are selling e-books too, and you can even purchase e-books and support your local independent bricks-and-mortar bookstore!
Fiction with an Appalachian background includes A Space Apart, Higher Ground, and Out of the Mountains.
Family-focused literary fiction includes A Space Apart and Dwight's House and Other Stories.
The Blair Morgan Trilogy, Higher Ground, Only Great Changes, and Trespassers, is a story of growing up in the nineteen sixties from a West Virginia girl from small town to community organizing to radical political activism.
I'm reading several Pearl Buck books in preparation for a mid-2014 presentation. Buck, although few know it, was born in West Virginia, although taken to China as an infant. She spent much of her life in China, and her most famous books is no doubt The Good Earth, which I'm very fond of. I also enjoyed Buck's memoir My Separate Worlds. She also, however, wrote a tremendous number of pot boilers. Below is a review of one of her rediscovered novels by guest editor Eddy Pendarvis.
The manuscript for this novel was found in a storage bin in Fort Worth, Texas; and as a Pearl buck fan, I wish it had stayed there. To me, this posthumously published book fails artistically. It's a coming-of-age story in which the hero never really comes of age.
Rann is a gifted child—he can count objects by the time he's two years old and read by the time he's three. He's happy to please his mother and his father, who laugh and clap their hands over his accomplishments. When he starts school, the thirst for knowledge, so applauded by his parents, sets him apart from the other children. Rann finds school a lonely and boring place, and his concerned father, who's an English professor, starts a special class on the college campus for Rann and some other gifted children. By the time Rann's twelve years old, he's able to pass the college entrance exam.
So far, so good. Rann is likeable enough as a toddler and child. It's when his dad dies of cancer that I start to lose sympathy for him. At his father's death, the boy asks himself, "Who will tell me the truth about everything or where to go to get the truth? Who will help me to know what I am and what I ought to be?" He considers himself to have "outgrown" his mother. In fairness to him, I have to admit that she does fill him mostly with food, personal advice, and anecdotes about family. He and his mother reflect the sexism that Buck despised. Not from this narrative, however, would readers know Buck found anything wrong with the gender stereotypes played out by Rann's family; their roles are presented as natural and harmonious. Rann's absorption "in the problem of himself and what direction he should give himself" becomes more and more prevalent as the story develops. He's like one of those bright, overly indulged, self-involved teenage boys who today would be misdiagnosed as having Asperger's syndrome. Rann's stilted manner of speech, which contributes to his sounding precocious as a young child, makes him seem disconnected and priggish as a teenager and adult.
Enrolled in college at thirteen, he makes only one friend, a psychology professor, a man from whom he hopes to learn a great deal; but their relationship leaves Rann upset and worried about his own sexuality. A less abrupt end comes to his relationship with a lovely widow, who helps him resolve his fears about his sexuality. The professor and the widow are presented as caring about Rann, but their actions are predatory, given his youth. Rann finds more suitable mentors, first his grandfather, and then a young Chinese-American woman and her Chinese father; but these relationships are short-lived as well. During military service in Korea, Rann writes a novel, set in that country. The novel earns him literary success in the United States, and shortly after his return to New York, he is at last able to answer the question of what he should be—a writer and philanthropist.
Unfortunately, absorbed as he has been in "the eternal question: what should he be," he seems to care more about dedicating himself to something important than he cares about people. Though the other characters in the book describe Randolph Colfax as singular in intelligence, imagination, and creativity, nothing Rann thinks seems singular in anything except in insularity from others and vague sense of superiority over them.
Buck's genius shows in a few elements of this story. One of the more poetic devices is her imagery of snow at important junctures. Since Rann himself seems almost frozen emotionally, when snow falls, there's a sense of release in his or another character's feelings. The first half of the story, about Rann's childhood and early teens, is interestingly structured to match the theme of Rann's quest for knowledge. He, like the main character in a children's story, goes from one person to another asking the same question and getting an unsatisfactory answer (think of Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz, or the baby bird, in Are you My Mother?). Too, for some readers, the autobiographical elements in the story will be fun to spot. In addition to obvious parallels between Rann's and Pearl Buck's careers are many small touches, such as a statuette of Quan Yin, goddess of mercy, one of Buck's favorite religious figures; "Mr. Kung," probably named after Buck's tutor; and an heirloom clock from the Netherlands, reminiscent of the clock built by Buck's Dutch grandfather. For most readers, though, I recommend picking up almost any of her other novels— including her only other posthumously published novel, The Rainbow—instead of this one.
The characters are all thoughtful people, and one of the delights of the book is following their consciousnesses as they consider their problems, often coming to the brick wall of what they see as fate or what has to be. For the women, this including the sexual wanderings of men.
One of the men, Juan, is particularly interesting and sad. He sets his sights on one beautiful woman, Ramona, and waits for her and courts her for five years, and finally marries her. Unlike all his brothers, he does not have affairs. He and Ramona have children, they move to New York. He takes classes and reads books, but his financial stability is undercut by his desire for material goods like beautiful furniture, a refrigerator, a car. Ramona, his wife, worries about money and becomes estranged from him. At this point Juan at last fulfills the destiny of the men of his family. He has another woman, and she conceives a child.
The ending moves the spotlight to Ramona and what she does when she finds out, which is at once yielding to fate and at the same time taking action in a way that is perfectly individual and wholly loving and graceful. What I probably love best, next to this quiet, satisfying ending, is the deep intelligence of people who examine their lives in a way that is in some ways unfamiliar to me yet resonates deeply.
Whether you are into vampires or not, I predict you will enjoy Theresa Basile's Fanged . This novel has real human emotion as well as dark humor and lots of action. The story follows a group of teenagers, especially Sean the sixteen-year-old vampire. Sean just wants to finish high school, but blending in isn't easy: two vampires in his group can't stand him, he's barely passing math, and Becky, the pretty cheerleader, smells a little too good to him.
Still, with the help of his best friend Hannah, the group leader, he manages to fly under the radar and keep out of trouble-- until the junior class president is found dead under mysterious circumstances. Then the truce among Sean and his fellow vampires falls apart, and each person reveals a secret that could threaten their lives. Meanwhile, Sean tries to control his hunger. Will he be able to turn over a new leaf, or will the temptation for Becky's blood be too strong to overcome?
The Governess by Sarah FieldingYes, it's Henry "Tom Jones" Fielding's younger sister, and this weirdly entertaining little 18th century book (available free from the Gutenberg Project in most digital formats) is probably the first book written directly for children-- for girls, in fact. It is about a group of delightfully jealous and squabbly students in a school where the main course of study is an ideology of love and unselfishness.
The girls prove to learn best through story telling. The oldest student, rather than the official teacher, gathers the girls around and tells entertaining, didactic tales of giants or the summaries of the plots of dramas.
The book is tendentious to a fault, of course, but while the official objective is to create little angels-of-the-house, the writer recognizes and delineates the essentially ambitious and envious nature of the various girls. One hates it that her brother gets all the privileges; one just frankly wants all the pretty things to wear and good things to eat.
Take a look at it, and forget the message and enjoy the fun of learning the eighteenth century ideal of girlish behavior: Always ask your elders first. Be loving! And if you can't be loving, at least pretend to be NICE.
Another excellent collection of stories from Lynda Schor– funny, but also a serious look at how people use and abuse sex. What remains for me, when the book is finished (and it goes so fast!), is a wry sense of how absolutely hilarious human beings are, especially when they're trying to have sex. Some of the stories are typical Lynda Schor forays into the happily bizarre, and others are more or less realistic-- like the story of a sort of relationship between a young art student at Cooper Union and her professor ("The Highest Grader of All"). There's a nice foray into a young student's fantasies about what he'd really like to do to his female writing teacher ("Teacher Evaluation.") Teaching takes a hard hit throughout the book, including "Poet in the Schools," often playing off the passion, not always suppressed, between the mentor and the mentee.
Some of the stories are highly experimental, with short sections, most of which are images rather than paragraphs. Nothing is hard to get, though, and two of my favorite pieces are selections from a faux blog called Writing Advice Blog. In "Sentence Wrangling," the fictional blogger describes how her sentences have been criticized, and she tries to improve them, but gradually loses control of the little critters, and they eventually form a concatenation and loop around and knock her out of her chair.
There are plenty of orgies and explorations of what is and isn't harassment and what is actually titillating and what's not. There is never a dull moment, but neither are the stories ever less than a serious examination of how we yearn for love and have sex-- and fail to be satisfied.
see issue # 165)....To this reader and any other interested in the novel, I recommend highly reading a long, brilliant essay by Toni Morrision called 'Unspeakable Things Unspoken,' in which she theorizes densely and deeply convincingly about the making of the literary canon and how race, and the absence of race, fits into forming and sustaining it.
"Then she launches into an incredible analysis of MOBY DICK, providing us with Melville's intimate connections to race in America at the time, as almost everyone was. It was like our following of the congressional budget/policy fights today, only more so, even though there was of course only print to follow. Slavery was at its height, the Fugitive Slave Laws (now being introduced to wide audiences, in all their cruelty, through the much admired movie, Twelve Years a Slave,) were in effect, and Melville's own father-in-law was a judge who had upheld the law. This law furthered the ideas of white supremacy to the point of saying there could be no escape from slavery, as there had been before, as Blacks were property by nature and law for lifetimes and over generations.
"Melville himself was anti-slavery. The famous chapter called 'the whiteness of the whale' is, in Morrison's compelling argument, interpreted as a dissertation not on the evils of whiteness as a skin color of all people who were not Black, but as an ideology, an ideology of white supremicy that was used to preserve the slave system and its evils, and is still very much with us today in various forms. There are many other details of her interpretation that are fascinating, beginning of course with the first line and the use of the name Ishmael -- but I hope readers will consult her directly in this classic and important piece of American literary criticism. It is illuminating to anyone interested in understanding our literary history, indeed any American interested in the realities of American history."
Read the Morrison essay online here.
(Image above is of a wood cut by Rockwell Kent)
MARC HARSHMAN, Poet Laureate of West Virginia, writes: "I've always been a big fan of Janet Lewis as a poet though have never, ashamedly, read the novels (review of her trilogy of novels is in Issue # 165). Regrettably, she's been neglected as both poet and novelist in recent years; at least, that's my take. So it's great news to see Ohio University's Swallow Press re-issuing these. Here's one of her short poems."
Rose, and rose-of-Sharon,
Crimson, and shadowy mauve;
Entangled foliage of varying patterns;
Trumpet vine. Gabriel himself
Could not have blown
A more resplendent horn,
Of earthly orange flawed with gold!
That one small garden
Should yield such treasure,
Thanks be to God, at noon, at dawn.
-- Janet Lewis
Thank you Marc! And here's another Lewis poem I found:
I have lived so long
On the cold hills alone ...
I loved the rock
And the lean pine trees,
Hated the life in the turfy meadow,
Hated the heavy, sensuous bees.
I have lived so long
Under the high monotony of starry skies,
I am so cased about
With the clean wind and the cold nights,
People will not let me in
To their warm gardens
Full of bees.
See: www.JohnBirchLive.blogspot.com -- a growing collection of nearly 30 short stories, articles and essays.
Doris Lessing died on November 17. Backchannel writes to remind us that there is an obituary, with some discussion of her work at The Guardian. "She was in the political thick of it. Her writing is unusual; the way it fuses the personal with the political. One of the very few authors who wrote literary fiction as well as sci-fi...."
Backchannel also mentions a follow-up appreciation of Lessing by Margaret Atwood that mentions the trick Lessing played on the publishing world by submitting a manuscript under a false name to prove the point that unknown writers are treated unequally. Atwood says, 'Her celebrated experiment with a pseudonym as a demonstration of the hurdles facing unknown writers being just one example. (Her "Jane Somers" novels were reviewed as pale imitations of Doris Lessing, which must have been a little daunting for her.)'
"Can you imagine," says Backchannel, "how weird it'd be when critics say your novel published under a false name is but a pale imitation of the lauded work you've published under your real name? And I'd be so embarrassed if I'd been one of those reviewers."
A LIST OF THE HUNDRED "MUST-READ" BOOKS ON BLACK EXPERIENCEI got this link from a writer's facebook page, and it's an interesting list indeed: http://www.listchallenges.com/100-must-read-african-american-books?ref=share .
A LIST OF BOOKS FOR EXTREME READING-- HARD BOOKS!It includes Moby Dick and some others that are longer rather than harder, but fun to think about anyhow:
BOOKS RECEIVEDComing in 2014: For the Living Dead: New and Selected Poems by Eric Greinke has just been published by Presa Press in Rockford, MI. (http://www.presapress.com/)
about living in a new language.
A writer explains why she is choosing self-publishing over a contract with a big 5 publisher, with financials to explain her decision!
Ann Pancake has an excellent article about writing a political novel in the Georgia Review online at http://garev.uga.edu/fall13/pancake.html .
The Complete Review: A Literary Saloon Site of Review
A new magazine on global women's issues, VALERIE, is a digital effort by two Columbia j-school alumnae. It launched November 1, 2013. Read an article about it here. They are looking for appropriate non-fiction, memoir or travel writing. Write to Editors@valeriemag.com .
Victor Depta's new book The poetry in Poems: What Love Is can best be described as performance pieces--Appalachian folk voices which an audience can respond to the humor of--then formal poems--often ballad-like, and rhymed and unrhymed shorter pieces, which are subtler and more subjective in tone. The subject is love in its many guises: romantic, filial, parental, intellectual and mystical. The need for love, and its often unrequited consequences, is the subject of Poems: What Love Is.
Deborah Clearman's short story "Bomb Test" in the NY Writers Coalition's anthology of poetry and prose WHAT IF WRITING IS DREAMING TOGETHER?
Crystal Wilkinson has a new short story available as a Kindle digital single, "Holler." It begins, "Turn left where Otha’s one-room store used to be and the poplars get thicker, drive past Mt. Zion Baptist Church and across the concrete bridge and on up the holler. You’ll be able to see Green River if you stretch your neck but don’t expect something out of a picture book. It’s brown, plumb full of mosquitoes, water moccasins galore. Go to the end of the road and on up the hill a little and this is Mission Creek--this is where we live. You might not expect to find black people in the mountains, not many of us left, but we’re here. Keep going until the road levels out a bit and the gravel gets more scarce and turns to dirt, go around the bend and soon you’ll see the graying heads of black men nodding as you pass, black children playing Red Rover, black women hanging sheets on the lines. "
Phyllis Moore called our attention to a book by newspaperman John Douglas called A Fog of Ghosts.
Learn about the latest Barbara Crooker poems: http://www.buddhistpoetryreview.com/issue-eleven/barbara-crooker
Don't forget to get on this list for regular notices about open submissions at various literary journals and presses: CRWROPPS-B@yahoogroups.com
If you are in Northern New Jersey, learn about regular, excellent, free programs and peer workshops, many at the Montclair Library and environs. To get the monthly announcements, send an e-mail request to Carl Selinger at firstname.lastname@example.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 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 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. 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, don't forget free books at the Gutenberg Project—mostly classics, but other things as well.
Kobobooks.com sells books for independent brick-and-mortar bookstores.
RESPONSES TO THIS NEWSLETTER
Please send responses to this newsletter and suggestions directly to Meredith Sue Willis . 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. Some individual contributors may have other licenses.
To subscribe and unsubscribe, use the form below.
"I hereby release my Goodreads review under a Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution License." -- Joel Weinberger