Sunday, November 16, 2014

Books for Readers # 173


Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 173

November 18, 2014

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In this Issue:

Susan S. Carpenter on Ed Davis's New Novel The Psalms of Israel Jones
Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers
Phyllis Moore on Daniel Boyd's Graphic Novel Carbon
Ken Chamption's The Dramaturgical Metaphor
Comments from Troy Hill and Ellen Cavanagh

The E-Reader Report with John Birch
Backchannel Report

A List of Political Novels
Things to Read & Hear Online
Announcements and News

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I'm featuring two nonfiction books this month, not new, but definitely worth looking for. Novels are discussed below in "Short Takes" and special articles.
I want to begin with Stephanie Wellen Levine's Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers about teenage Lubavitcher girls. Levine lived in the Crown Heights, Brooklyn area for a year doing the research, which was academic, but the book succeeds and reaches far beyond its substantial academic roots. Anyone who has ever lived in Brooklyn knows the Lubavitcher Hasidic sect--claimed to be the largest Jewish organization in the world. They are the group that does outreach to other Jews, trying to bring the Messiah through an accumulation of good deeds done by Jews, such as lighting candles on Shabbos. They used to drive a truck called the Mitzvah tank around New York City, blasting music and inviting participation in their practice to anyone Jewish.
Today, they are famous for their welcoming Chabad houses all over the world (and the brutal terrorist attack on one of these in Mumbai in November, 2008). Their outreach is unusual, as Jews, unlike Christians, don't generally give a high value to proselytizing. Even a staid, mainstream Protestant church like the one I grew up in had an ideal of going out into the world and witnessing and converting, even though we didn't do it much--everyone in town was pretty much already affiliated with one church or another.
I have always been fascinated by people whose belief is strong enough that they feel privileged to grab people by the lapel and try to convert them. I am also fascinated by closed systems, whether religious or political, that have all the answers. It seems wonderfully comforting to me-- and also stunningly wrong-headed.
The Lubavitchers are one of these groups with a complete, self-referential system and all the answers. They also prove to be, in Levine's book, a varied, warm, intelligent, supportive and enthusiastic community. They welcomed Levine into their homes, confided to her about their lives, and seemed genuinely puzzled and hurt that in the end she returned to her secular life in academia instead of joining them.
The book is organized around representative individual girls who range from those who are deeply enriched by the mystical teachings of Chabad--indeed uplifted, glowing with delight at the insights their study and meditation give them-- to some serious rebels who drink, socialize with men (and Lubavitchers keep high walls between the sexes) and eventually leave Crown Heights, albeit with sadness over the loss of their warm and nurturing community.
One of Levine's fascinating and perhaps broadly applicable insights is how strong and lively the girls are in their largely single sex lives: they make deep friendships, tease their teachers and disrupt their classrooms, delight in clothes and parties-- and then switch quickly to religious studies and rituals. All of them are expected, of course, to marry early and produce many Jewish babies. The complexities of these lives-- the success and the failures-- make up the texture of this wonderful book. I'm so happy Stephanie Levine has told us about her year with the mystics, mavericks, and merrymakers.

The second book is similar only in how well it too combines cultural/historical information and the stories of individuals. The book has a long title: Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne. I read this right after a much shorter book, a novel, called I Dreamed I Was In Heaven:the Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter about a group of teenage boys of (native American and black descent) who set out on a nasty crime spree at the end of the nineteenth century. This novel, based on facts, is about boys living in a time and place when they lacked credible adult models and outlets for their dreams and testosterone. They would have done better had they come of age as Quanah Parker did when a warrior culture ruled much of the West.
The Comanches, the greatest warriors or the so-called horse tribes, had an animist religion and relatively simple material culture compared to other tribes (the Kiowa, for example, made magnificent decorated baby boards for carrying their infants).
The Comanches came out of the Wyoming mountains in early eighteenth century, discovered and mastered horse culture, lived by hunting buffalo. This happened quickly too--their change from mountain hunter gatherers to warrior lords of the prairie. They won their wars more often than not, both against other tribes but also against the immigrants from the Eastern United States. They lost in the end through lack of numbers and, of course, disease. Also, a handful of their white enemies figured out how to use the Comanches' own tactics against them--to stampede their horses then attack.
I was especially interested in the lives of the women, who worked hard, sometimes participated in torture, rode as well as the men, and were highly valued. The book emphasizes men's things: battle, scalps, etc., but there is a subtext of the community's deep valuing of all its members. They went to great lengths to avoid the loss of life of their own, especially their children. On the other hand, they were vicious in their raids on white settlers-- yet frequently took white young people captive, and these people, especially the women, rarely wanted to go back to white life.
One of these captive white women was Cynthia Ann Parker, the mother of Quanah Parker, the last great chief of the Comanches. She was kidnapped early and raised as a Comanche woman. When she was stolen back to the whites, unwillingly, she essentially died of a broken heart or at least of inability to adjust to white life.
In some ways, Quanah Parker's whole life is a memorial to Cynthia Ann. He had gray eyes and was taller than others, but he was fully Comanche, and also, I'd maintain,fully American: a fearless nomadic war chief who was able to make the enormous change to sedentary life on the reservation, where he thrived. He ended his life poor, but this was honorable in his culture, because he had given away his considerable accumulation of material goods to his people.
                         Meredith Sue Willis

New Ed Davis Novel

I read Ed Davis's new novel The Psalms of Israel Jones with great attention and pleasure. Here is a review of it by Susan S. Carpenter. I want to add that I don't think I have ever read a better depiction in contemporary fiction of people who believe in God: God isn't the answer here, but rather part of the texture of the people's existential situations. Highly recommended!

Snakes, Religion, Rock & Roll : Susan S. Carpenter Reviews Ed Davis's The Psalms of Israel Jones

With the character Israel Jones, Ed Davis has created, a folk-rock star, a legendary guitar, a howling harmonica, and beautiful ambiguous lyrics. Like other music legends (Dylan, Jagger, Neil Young) this singer-songwriter got his start in the early sixties and is still on tour in 2005. The novel is narrated by his son Thomas, pastor of the Suffering Christ Church of Holy Martyrs. After avoiding his father for five years, Thom receives a mysterious phone call telling him his father is "exciting them to violence." So, in the midst of his own troubles that include a divorce-in-process and pressure from the church deacons to take a leave of absence, Thom joins his father's "eternal tour."
The first stop is a snake-handling worship service in in West Virginia, where Israel Jones has quietly joined the congregation. Thom glimpses a snake held aloft, its coiled body "shimmering obscenely," and spots his father sitting quietly in a pew, "his gnarled hands loosely clasped before him, the veritable picture of unhip humility." This church, it turns out, is where Israel's parents are buried in the graveyard.
The snakes in Israel's religious background are merely the first of many discoveries about this baffling man, whose song lyrics "could mean this, could mean that, in the end probably don't mean anything," whose screeching guitar ("channeling the demons of hell") and howling harmonica excite his audiences to crazy behavior. Thom's mysterious phone caller has referred to a group of young followers Thom calls "the Furies," who cut themselves with razor blades during Israel Jones's concerts.
This is the man, Thom thinks, "who walked out on his fragile wife and five-year-old son in order to live free as the wind and sow his seed across five continents, leaving a score of children and bereft mothers without alimony in his wake." Thom recounts a litany of Israel Jones' flaws, musical, personal, and spiritual. But early on it's evident that this father/son journey will include the son's painful self-discoveries. Thom lurches from crisis to adventure to illumination in what turn out to be his father's final tour and his own life's upheaval.
On a day off, Israel takes Thom to a men's retreat, a Gestalt-type therapy weekend where Thom confesses:
"…one minute, I'd be with my dad, we'd be getting along; then, suddenly, I was stranded on the other side of a wide, gaping gorge."
The group leader urges him into an explosion of fury at his father that ends in a gesture of reconciliation as Israel sings one of his son's songs. They talk about Thom's mother, Israel's wife, and her suicide (she cut her wrists; her son found her body).
Then Israel says, "'But it was her choice. You know that, don't you?'
My hands around his throat will do the job; it will take mere moments.
'You don't think,' I say, 'you played a role in her … choice?'
'Ever'thing did. Me, you, the weather, what she ate that day, what she drank, it all added up: oppressive, temptin'. But to blame somebody's takin' their life on one thing, one person … Nobody's that important to somebody else.'
I clench one fist inside the other. 'I think she loved you that much.'
He laces his fingers atop his old axe, looks at me, and glances at his hands. 'Son, that's hate, not love.'"
For this reader such moments, when rage crumbles as a barrier drops to reveal a more honest layer of awareness, are the most rewarding in the novel. There are also scenes of terror from the increasingly dangerous "Furies," the crossroads when Thom faces the church deacons who accuse him of an "ungodly relationship" with a parishioner, and revelations about both Israel and Thom, who carries a Lee Oskar harp in his shirt pocket and finally earns the right to play it.
The book is tightly woven, every sentence crammed with imagery and allusions. As a writing achievement, it's a tour de force that bears the mark of great care and unflinching self-examination in the painstaking process of its writing. Ed Davis has written his best novel yet, pulling up his love/hate for music and church by their Appalachian roots and spinning a story of adversaries that scrape their rough edges together and generate flares of agony, beauty, and hard-won truths on the other side.


Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses

SHORT TAKES  (by MSW Unless Otherwise Noted)

Secret History by Donna Tartt

I read Donna Tartt's 1992 Secret History, which is about a murder and its aftermath. I started out impatient, not liking it-- it seemed like another bunch of entitled kids acting badly-- but it got better, or I got into it. In the end, it is a page turner with interesting characters (in spite of their incredibly narrow world and fatal silliness). The sensual experience here is all drugs and alcohol, plus the narrator's passion for his friends.
The victim of the murder is obnoxious yet oddly lovable. There is a set of twins who are charming and twisted, and the group's elderly mentor, the wealthy scholar Julian, has a heart of ice. I don't think it is a profound novel, but it has great late-nineteen eighties/early nineties stylishness. It's a knowingly intellectual, thriller.
Completely unsurprising that Tartt was/is a friend of Bret Easton Ellis, also Jonathan Lethem and Jill Eisenstadt.
Here's what the New York Times said in 1992: "Of course, many 19th-century writers -- from Dickens to Dostoyevsky -- used similarly melodramatic events to fuel their novels' plots, but the moral resonance of such works is never achieved by 'The Secret History.' Because Ms. Tartt's characters are all such chilly customers, they do not so much lose their innocence as make a series of pragmatic, amoral decisions. As a result, real guilt and suffering do not occur in this novel; neither does redemption. The reader is simply left with a group portrait of the banality of evil. As a ferociously well-paced entertainment, however, 'The Secret History' succeeds magnificently. Forceful, cerebral and impeccably controlled, 'The Secret History' achieves just what Ms. Tartt seems to have set out to do: it marches with cool, classical inevitability toward its terrible conclusion."

The Master by Colm Toibin

What a beautiful book, and-- when you come down to it -- a book with a happy ending. It is a novel version of the life of the great novelist, Henry James. The story begins with a public catastrophe for him-- the failure of his play, publicly and humiliatingly. James is wounded and has sad flashbacks to two men he had sexual feelings for but never (in the novel and by many biographer's evidence) acted on. There are flashbacks to childhood, to his sister Alice dying, his parents' deaths, how he and his brother William James didn't go to fight in the Civil War, but his younger brothers did, and the horrible suffering brother WIlkie went through.
There's also a lot about a woman who probably was in love with him, who killed herself, Constance Fenimore Woolson. She was an American writer, a grand-niece of James Fenimore Cooper.
The novel ends about 4 years after the disaster with the play, with James having moved to a house he loves, with visits from his brother and family, and then Edmund Gosse. There is is a delightful luncheon where everyone is at their best.
In the course of this relatively eventful period in James life, with a lot of suffering, he has been constantly imagining two of his greatest books, and it ends with him about to write them.
James is not entirely attractive: his coolness and fussiness are off-putting, and he refuses to take his own advice from The Ambassadors about seizing life and living, but it is a delightful engrossing novel. And how did Toibin do it-- make fiction out of James thinking up his ideas for his fiction? Just extraordinary, both the portrait of an artist, definitely the best I've ever read, and the magical drama of what is on the face of it not very dramatic at all.
I have to wonder what someone who hasn't read James or who knows nothing about the Jameses, would make of it?

Time and Again by Jack Finney

I've been hearing about this book for many years, and generally enjoyed it. It has a freshness, even though its present (1970) feels almost as far away as the past that the main character Si visits. Si decides with romantic conviction that 1892 is a better place to live than 1970-- that the girl friend he finds there is more of a soul mate than his 1970 girl friend. The very beginning is deliberate but gripping, some of the middle is more deliberate than gripping, but not much. And the end-- when Si decides to change history-- is very well done.
The attitudes toward women in 1970 seem more 1958 than 1970– Si mentions the Vietnam war and man on the moon, but not student activism or hippies. Finney was too old to be part of the youth culture himself, of course. But at its heart, it is a charming, precisely created and highly entertaining book.

The Sand Queen by Helen Benedict

This was at once powerful and sometimes a little clunky in the joining of its pieces. It is about women serving in the armed forces during the most recent Iraq war, and being a woman in a forward position with a lot of angry and generally misogynistic men. It was brutal at best. I was maybe most moved by some of the small scenes like the Muslim women preparing their grandmother's body for burial, and there were also some lovely translations of Muslim prayers.
The main character, Kate Brady, lives through an incredibly grim series of events.
Built on essays and research, it must make for a scathing book discussion subject.


A Short History of the Jews by Michael Brenner

Brenner is a professor at the University of Munich, and I read this book over many weeks. I'll be keeping it for a reference. It covers a whole lot very compactly, right up to ten years ago or so-- mentions AIPAC and Tikkun, touches on all the long long history. It has the kind of high quality glossy pages I don't get to touch much anymore, and beautiful images of frontispieces of haggadahs from many times and places as well as random but delightful photos of things like Bob Dylan at his son's bar mitzvah.

Troubles by J.G. Farrell

Troubles is a lovely book about the collapse of at least one part of the British Empire. It is a dark comedy of the Anglo-Irish at the Hotel Majestic in Ireland: a huge building which is physically collapsing around the heads of its classist, ethnicist, jingoistic--but often charming and increasingly pitiful--inhabitants. The Irish Irish are there too, but their lives are told indirectly, partly through the increasing understanding of the main character, known as The Major. The Major is a youngish shell shocked veteran of trench warfare in Word War One. He sees the blindness and errors of his compatriots, their stupidity and hopelessness, but carries on with helping to shore up the physical plant, to get children to safety, never really looking clearly at what he feels happening because his inner life is caught up in a hopeless love affair.
Wildly exaggerated in some ways, it is about the fall of empire, told through the eyes of the losers who were once the privileged class. The novel doesn't excuse them (they are really awful!), but some of the old ladies who have made their homes at the Majestic turn out to have more of a future than seemed likely.
Is there a comparable story from the side of the Irish about those days of "The Troubles?" Perhaps At Swim Two Boys by Jamie O’Ne ill?

The Dramaturgical Metaphorby Ken Champion

This interesting novella is ostensibly about a psychotherapist's road trip with/for a client with too much money to spend. James, the protagonist, is looking for some extra cash and maybe just something different in his life. He accepts the odd offer to "observe" the rich client, who he meets in person in Paris, then follows to Rome, then back to London.
The client's riches prove to have been a windfall, and his background working class, like the main character's. There's a lot of frustration for James as his client walks out on him repeatedly, whenever they seems to be making progress. James also falls hard for a woman who is part of his client's elaborate role playing games. James and she go to Rome, where the client, who cannot find the center of his self, turns out to have a life as part of a communist party there. He ends up in jail, where James visits him.
It's a dark little novella, the main character wandering through turgid experiences, never able to get where he's going. Much of the work has a dream quality of passing through rooms and public places (James is fascinated by architectural details). Encounters are at once meaningful and never quite finished. The finale has the characters back in London, their home city, and the client takes a kind of action that may or may not be a move forward in his psychical state, but we are left at the end with James and his life.
It's a gripping ride, hard to capture, but deeply worthwhile to experience.



Carbon, a graphic novel (think, adult comic book), is West Virginia filmmaker/author Daniel Boyd's bid to reach a diverse audience and raise awareness of climate change, the environmental costs of coal mining and fracking, the unsavory history of the extraction industries, and what "we the people" must do to determine the future of our planet. Now that may sound like a lot to expect from a comic book, but art has power and can create a buzz. The novel's art by Brazil's Edi Guedes is lurid enough to attract a reader's attention and to carry the intense story of a land under siege; a land where heroic miners and their families suffer the brunt of years of industrial abuse. Boyd uses biblical images and symbols to tell his story: God; Eden; Hell; evil money grubbers with obedient servants; predictions of an end of time, etc. The character and place names add a touch of humor: Eden Hollow is home to a Hatfield and a McCoy, a failed athlete, and a small group of devout Christians. Living in a coal shaft beneath their desolate town is a band of Sheves, exiled by a God. No one would rejoice over bringing in these Sheves; they are evil mutant females interested only in devouring food and raping seven miners trapped and then abandoned in the mine shaft When a recent explosion adds three miners to the group. the Sheves see the new men as fresh meat. The men think otherwise and join together to ---- bring the heat--, their phrase for decisive action. I think you get the picture: sex, violence, pollution, religion, and big business. Boyd's subject is a serious one. Can we balance industrial needs with environmental concerns? Is it too late to protect our mountains, our water, our air, not just in West Virginia but on the planet? This graphic novel is Boyd 's attempt to turn up the heat while there is still have enough water to put out the fire.


Troy Hill (see my notes on his book A Revelation) writes: "I'm reading The Goldfinch now, so I'll be interested to see what I think. I think I'm still in that first 200-page section that I've heard people refer to (it's hard to say for sure since I'm reading it on the Kindle), but it seems like it. Anyway, thanks for this."

Ellen Cavanagh Has Been Reading....

.... The Lost Wife Alyson Richman. She says it is "intensely realistic/painful story of WWII. Not a chick read. Could make a grown man feel the pain," and "Loving Frank (novel by Nancy Horan)– story of Frank Lloyd Wright having little to do with architecture. Love story. I will say no more. Spoiler potential galore."



A novel written in one sentence: interesting concept; gives an example from the book: .

Due to the "absurd" amount of submissions they're receiving, The Unsolicited Press has shut down taking submissions for the time being, but say you can check their blog for when they may open it up again. .

Great article on Marilynne Robinson’s novels and how political they actually are: Deep into it, Arnow’s The Dollmaker is also talked about in relation to Robinson’s work. 


Whoever would have thought it? The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon, probably the biggest name in e-marketing, plans to open its own bricks-and-mortar retail store in New York City, not far from Macy's, in time for the holidays. This seems to be an extension of Amazon's recent efforts to get its products into customers' hands more speedily, developing its sorting and distribution operations in its Amazon Locker pick-up program. This provides pick-up points for purchases, as does its developing same-day delivery service that's already available in "selected cities." It's uncertain whether Amazon will keep the store going after the holiday shopping season, but publishers and booksellers are sure to watch closely to see what happens next.
Read John's blog.


Wow! Someone on FB gave this link to possibly the only recording of Virginia Woolf's voice-- . It almost sounds like a foreign language, or at least heavy dialect, to me– she's reading an essay from The Death of a Moth and Other Essays.
Fall 2014 issue of Persimmon Treenow up .

While I was in San Francisco last month, I happed upon a local book store and heard a few minutes of Diane di Palma reading (she read a poem to the late Amiri Baraka, her old love and father of one of her children). She appears to be a physical wreck, but read strongly. Here is some of her work online:

ELLEN MEERPOL'S FAVORITE POLITICAL NOVELS (borrowed from her blog of 6-12-2014)

(She defines a political novel as a "work that illuminates injustice by dramatizing conflicts of class, race, gender and the environment. A literature that, rather than the common practice of using the political landscape as background for a dramatic story, is actually in opposition to the status quo. Literature that just might encourage the reader to look more critically at our own neighborhood, our own world, and work to make it better."

Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcon
In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam
The Air We Breathe by Andrea Barrett
The Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoi
r Running the Rift, Naomi Benaron
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Civil Wars by Rosellen Brown
Little Bee by Chris Cleeve
Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow
The Ministry of Special Cases, Nathan Englander
The Guest of Honor by Nadine Gordimer
First Papers by Laura Hobson
Solar Storms by Linda Hogan
The Bone People by Keri Hulme
Like Trees, Walking, Ravi Howard
Small Wars by Sadie Jones
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
The Given Day by Dennis Lehane
The Four Gated City by Doris Lessing
The Chosen Place; The Timeless People by Paule Marshall
White Dog Fell from the Sky, Eleanor Morse
A Stranger in the Kingdom by Howard Frank Mosher
The Last Town on Earth, Thomas Mullen
Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien
Strange as this Weather has Been, Ann Pancake
Caucasia by Danzy Senna
Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie
Ties in Blood by Gillian Slovo
I, Amy Waldman
Martyrs Crossing by Amy Wilentz


Paola Corso's The Laundress Catches Her Breath, won the Tillie Olsen Award for Creative Writing from the Working Class Studies Assn.
Coming soon from Finishling Line Press: two by Reamy Jansen: Two Ways of Not Hearing and My Drive, A Natural History. Two Ways of Not Hearing covers issues of mortality and constancy and the threats of getting older. My Drive is a series of linked prose poems about commuting to work and going solo to the unknown.
Check out Woodland Press with some good Appalachian books-- I especially like the anthology Fed From the Bone and The Devil's Son, a novel about the Hatfield family.
In The Last Conception by Gabriel Constans, passionate embryologist, Savarna Sikand, is in a complicated relationship with two different women when she is told that she MUST have a baby. Her East Indian American parents are desperate for her to conceive, in spite of her "not being married". They insist that she is the last in line of a great spiritual lineage. In the process of choosing her lover and having doubts about her ability, or desire to conceive, Savarna begins to question the necessity of biology and lineage within her parents' beliefs and becomes forever fascinated with the process of conception and the definition of family.
Christian C. Sahner's new book Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present (which I hope to review soon) has just come out from Oxford University Press. This is an introduction to the history and present of Syria. See an interview here.
Miguel Ortiz's new collection of stories is At Fortunoff's-- "A collection of short stories dealing with the life of New Yorkers in the second half of the twentieth century."
The Fall 2014 Issue of the Hamilton Stone Review #31, is now available for your reading pleasure at! Poetry by Roy Bentley, Doug Bolling, Rob Cook, Darren Demaree, William Ford, Nels Hanson, Tom Holmes, Ted Jean, Michael Lauchlan, Al Maginnes, Tom Montag, Marge Piercy, Kenneth Pobo, Stan Sanvel Rubin, David Salner, Barry Seiler, Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, Don Thompson, and Laryssa Wirstiuk; Fiction by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois, Richard Kostelanetz, Stacy Graber, Jana Wilson, and Alan Swyer; Nonfiction by Max Bakke, Mike Ekunno, Edward Myers, Diane Payne, Fred Skolnik, and Amber Wildes.
For information about submissions, see
Blue Heron Book Works is looking for submissions of book length work. Blue Heron Book Works is an e-pub company looking for outstanding memoirs--unusual personal tales well told, or awesomely well told ordinary stories to publish as ebook, with an eye to print-on-demand later. They would also like to work with fiction writers who have ideas for series fiction of any sort. All costs are born by BHBW. Check them out at . Query them at

The largest unionized bookstore in America has a webstore at Powells Books. Some people prefer shopping online there to shopping at An alternative way to reach Powell's site and support the union is via 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 .


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 find a bricks-and-mortar store, click the "shop indie" logo left).
To buy books online, I often go first to Bookfinder or Alibris. Bookfinder gives the 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" above) that sells online at  
Another source for used and out-of-print books is All Book Stores. Also consider Paperback Book Swap, a postage only way to trade books 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 free, free, free! sells books for independent brick-and-mortar bookstores.


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.

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#173 Stephanie Wellen Levine, S.C. Gwynne, Ed Davis's Psalms of Israel Jones, Quanah Parker, J.G. Farrell, Lubavitcher girls
#172 Pat Conroy, Donna Tartt, Alice Boatwright, Fumiko Enchi, Robin Hobb, Rex Stout
#171 Robert Graves, Marie Manilla, Johnny Sundstrom, Kirk Judd
#170 John Van Kirk, Carter Seaton,Neil Gaiman, Francine Prose, The Murder of Helen Jewett, Thaddeus Rutkowski
#169 Pearl Buck's The Exile and Fighting Angel; Larissa Shmailo; Liz Lewinson; Twelve Years a Slave, and more
#168 Catherine the Great, Alice Munro, Edith Poor, Mitch Levenberg, Vonnegut, Mellville, and more!
#167 Belinda Anderson; Anne Shelby; Sean O'Leary, Dragon tetralogy; Don Delillo's Underworld
#166 Eddy Pendarvis on Pearl S. Buck; Theresa Basile; Miguel A. Ortiz; Lynda Schor; poems by Janet Lewis; Sarah Fielding
#165 Janet Lewis, Melville, Tosltoy, Irwin Shaw!
#164 Ed Davis on Julie Moore's poems; Edith Wharton; Elaine Drennon Little's A Southern Place; Elmore Leonard
#163 Pamela Erens, Michael Harris, Marlen Bodden, Joydeep Roy-Battacharya, Lisa J. Parker, and more
#162 Lincoln, Joseph Kennedy, Etel Adnan, Laura Treacy Bentley, Ron Rash, Sophie's Choice, and more
#161 More Wilkie Collins; Duff Brenna's Murdering the Mom; Nora Olsen's Swans & Klons; Lady Audley's Secret
#160 Carolina De Robertis, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Ross King's The Judgment of Paris
#159 Tom Jones. William Luvaas, Marc Harshman, The Good Earth, Lara Santoro, American Psycho
#158 Chinua Achebe's Man of the People; The Red and the Black; McCarthy's C.; Farm City; Victor Depta;Myra Shapiro
#157 Alice Boatwright, Reamy Jansen, Herta Muller, Knut Hamsun, What Maisie Knew; Wanchee Wang, Dolly Withrow.
#156 The Glass Madonna; A Revelation
#155 Buzz Bissinger; reader suggestions; Satchmo at the Waldorf
#154 Hannah Brown, Brad Abruzzi, Thomas Merton
#153 J.Anthony Lukas, Talmage Stanley's The Poco Fields, Devil Anse
#152 Marc Harshman guest editor; John Burroughs; Carol Hoenig
#151 Deborah Clearman, Steve Schrader, Paul Harding, Ken Follet, Saramago-- and more!
#150 Mitch Levenberg, Johnny Sundstrom, and Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns.
#149 David Weinberger's Too Big to Know; The Shining; The Tiger's Wife.
#148 The Moonstone, Djibouti, Mark Perry on the Grimké family
#147 Jane Lazarre's new novel; Johnny Sundstrom; Emotional Medicine Rx; Walter Dean Myers, etc.
#146 Henry Adams AGAIN!  Also,Fun Home: a Tragicomic
#145 Henry Adams, Darnell Arnoult, Jaimy Gordon, Charlotte Brontë
#144 Carter Seaton, NancyKay Shapiro, Lady Murasaki Shikibu
#143 Little America; Guns,Germs, and Steel; The Trial
#142 Blog Fiction, Leah by Seymour Epstein, Wolf Hall, etc.
#141 Dreama Frisk on Hilary Spurling's Pearl Buck in China; Anita Desai; Cormac McCarthy
#140 Valerie Nieman's Blood Clay, Dolly Withrow
#139 My Kindle, The Prime Minister, Blood Meridian
#138 Special on Publicity by Carter Seaton
#137 Michael Harris's The Chieu Hoi Saloon; Game of Thrones; James Alexander Thom's Follow the River
#136 James Boyle's The Creative Commons; Paola Corso, Joanne Greenberg, Monique Raphel High, Amos Oz
#135 Reviews by Carole Rosenthal, Jeffrey Sokolow, and Wanchee Wang.
#134 Daniel Deronda, books with material on black and white relations in West Virginia
#133 Susan Carpenter, Irene Nemirovsky, Jonathan Safran Foer, Kanafani, Joe Sacco
#132 Karen Armstrong's A History of God; JCO's The Falls; The Eustace Diamonds again.
#131 The Help; J. McHenry Jones, Reamy Jansen, Jamie O'Neill, Michael Chabon.
Lynda Schor, Ed Myers, Charles Bukowski, Terry Bisson, The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism
#129 Baltasar and Blimunda; Underground Railroad; Navasky's Naming Names, small press and indie books.
#128 Jeffrey Sokolow on Histories and memoirs of the Civil Rights Movement
#127 Olive Kitteridge; Urban fiction; Shelley Ettinger on Joyce Carol Oates
#126 Jack Hussey's Ghosts of Walden, The Leopard , Roger's Version, The Reluctanct Fundamentalist
#125 Lee Maynard's The Pale Light of Sunset; Books on John Brown suggested by Jeffrey Sokolow
#124 Cloudsplitter, Founding Brothers, Obenzinger on Bradley's Harlem Vs. Columbia University
#123 MSW's summer reading round-up; Olive Schreiner; more The Book Thief; more on the state of editing
#122 Left-wing cowboy poetry; Jewish partisans during WW2; responses to "Hire a Book Doctor?"
#121 Jane Lazarre's latest; Irving Howe's Leon Trotsky; Gringolandia; "Hire a Book Doctor?"
#120 Dreama Frisk on The Book Thief; Mark Rudd; Thulani Davis's summer reading list
#119 Two Histories of the Jews; small press books for Summer
#118 Kasuo Ichiguro, Jeanette Winterson, The Carter Family!
#117 Cat Pleska on Ann Pancake; Phyllis Moore on Jayne Anne Phillips; and Dolly Withrow on publicity
#116 Ann Pancake, American Psycho, Marc Harshman on George Mackay Brown
#115 Adam Bede, Nietzsche, Johnny Sundstrom
#114 Judith Moffett, high fantasy, Jared Diamond, Lily Tuck
#113 Espionage--nonfiction and fiction: Orson Scott Card and homophobia
#112 Marc Kaminsky, Nel Noddings, Orson Scott Card, Ed Myers
#111 James Michener, Mary Lee Settle, Ardian Gill, BIll Higginson, Jeremy Osner, Carol Brodtick
#110  Nahid Rachlin, Marion Cuba on self-publishing; Thulani Davis, The Road, memoirs
#109 Books about the late nineteen-sixties: Busy Dying; Flying Close to the Sun; Looking Good; Trespassers
#108 The Animal Within; The Ground Under My Feet; King of Swords
#107 The Absentee; Gorky Park; Little Scarlet; Howl; Health Proxy
#106 Castle Rackrent; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; More on Drown; Blindness & more
#105 Everything is Miscellaneous, The Untouchable, Kettle Bottom by Diane Gilliam Fisher
#104 Responses to Shelley on Junot Diaz and more; More best books of 2007
#103 Guest Editor: Shelley Ettinger and her best books of 2007
#102 Saramago's BLINDNESS; more on NEVER LET ME GO; George Lies on Joe Gatski
#101 My Brilliant Career, The Scarlet Letter, John Banville, Never Let Me Go
#100 The Poisonwood Bible, Pamela Erens, More Harry P.
#99   Jonathan Greene on; Molly Gilman on Dogs of Babel
#98   Guest editor Pat Arnow; more on the debate
#97   Using Thomas Hardy; Why I Write; more
#96   Lucy Calkins, issue fiction for young adults
#95   Collapse, Harry Potter, Steve Geng
#94   Alice Robinson-Gilman, Maynard on Momaday
#93   Kristin Lavransdatter, House Made of Dawn, Leaving Atlanta
#92   Death of Ivan Ilych; Memoirs
#91   Richard Powers discussion
#90   William Zinsser, Memoir, Shakespeare
#89   William Styron, Ellen Willis, Dune, Germinal, and much more
#88   Sandra Cisneros's Caramelo
#87   Wings of the Dove, Forever After (9/11 Teachers)
#86   Leora Skolkin-Smith, American Pastoral, and more
#85   Wobblies, Winterson, West Virginia Encyclopedia
#84   Karen Armstrong, Geraldine Brooks, Peter Taylor
#83   3-Cornered World, Da Vinci Code
#82   The Eustace Diamonds, Strapless, Empire Falls
#81   Philip Roth's The Plot Against America , Paola Corso
#80   Joanne Greenberg, Ed Davis, more Murdoch; Special Discussion on Memoir--Frey and J.T. Leroy
#79   Adam Sexton, Iris Murdoch, Hemingway
#78   The Hills at Home; Tess of the D'Urbervilles; Jean Stafford
#77   On children's books--guest editor Carol Brodtrick
#76   Mary Lee Settle, Mary McCarthy
#75   The Makioka Sisters
#74    In Our Hearts We Were Giants
#73    Joyce Dyer
#72    Bill Robinson WWII story
#71    Eva Kollisch on G.W. Sebald
#70    On Reading
#69    Nella Larsen, Romola
#68    P.D. James
#67    The Medici
#66    Curious Incident,Temple Grandin
   Ingrid Hughes on Memoir
    Boyle, Worlds of Fiction
#63    The Namesame
#62    Honorary Consul; The Idiot
#61    Lauren's Line
#60    Prince of Providence
#59    The Mutual Friend, Red Water
#58    AkÉ,
Season of Delight
#57    Screaming with Cannibals

#56    Benita Eisler's Byron
#55    Addie, Hottentot Venus, Ake
#54    Scott Oglesby, Jane Rule
#53    Nafisi,Chesnutt, LeGuin
#52    Keith Maillard, Lee Maynard
#51    Gregory Michie, Carter Seaton
#50    Atonement, Victoria Woodhull biography
Richard Price, Phillip Pullman
#47    Mid- East Islamic World Reader
#46    Invitation to a Beheading
#45    The Princess of Cleves
#44    Shelley Ettinger: A Few Not-so-Great Books
#43    Woolf, The Terrorist Next Door
#42    John Sanford
#41    Isabelle Allende
#40    Ed Myers on John Williams
#39    Faulkner
#38    Steven Bloom No New Jokes
#37    James Webb's Fields of Fire
#36    Middlemarch
#35    Conrad, Furbee, Silas House
#34    Emshwiller
#33    Pullman, Daughter of the Elm
#32    More Lesbian lit; Nostromo
#31    Lesbian fiction
#30    Carol Shields, Colson Whitehead
#29    More William Styron
#28    William Styron
#27    Daniel Gioseffi
#26    Phyllis Moore
   On Libraries....
#24    Tales of the City
   Nonfiction, poetry, and fiction
#22    More on Why This Newsletter
#21    Salinger, Sarah Waters, Next of Kin
#20    Jane Lazarre
#19    Artemisia Gentileschi
#18    Ozick, Coetzee, Joanna Torrey
#17    Arthur Kinoy
#16    Mrs. Gaskell and lots of other suggestions
#15    George Dennison, Pat Barker, George Eliot
#14    Small Presses
#13    Gap Creek, Crum
#12    Reading after 9-11
#11    Political Novels
#10    Summer Reading ideas
#9      Shelley Ettinger picks
#8      Harriette Arnow's Hunter's Horn
#7      About this newsletter
#6      Maria Edgeworth
#5      Tales of Good and Evil; Moon Tiger
#4      Homer Hickam and The Chosen
#3      J.T. LeRoy and Tale of Genji
#2      Chick Lit
#1      About this newsletter

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