Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Books for Readers Newsletter #189


Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers # 189

February 8, 2017

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Monday, February 13, 2017 McNally Jackson Books 7:00 PM
(52 Prince Street Near Lafayette)

MSW reads from the new anthology of
West Virginia Literature Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods  &
Ingrid Blaufarb Hughes reads from her memoir  Losing Aaron.


(People bottom row: Deborah Clearman; Denton Loving; Phillip Lopate)

In This Issue of Books for Readers:

Beyond Monongah by Judith Hoover

The Dementia Diaries by Mitch Levenberg Reviewed by Deborah Clearman

Denton Loving on J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy

Phillip Lopate's A Mother's Tale

Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Barchester Towers

The Story of a Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

Some Science Fiction Novels: Dick, Simak, Baker

Dancing with Cancer

Shorter Reviews

Readers Write

       Things to Read & Hear Online    

Announcements and News    

Irene Weinberger Books


Books for Readers # 189

Main Reviews

(No byline? It's from MSW)

Denton Loving on J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy

If there’s one book that has been everywhere in the past year, it might have been J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.  The Wall Street Journal described it as “riveting.”  The New York Times called it “essential reading” and listed it as one of six “books to help understand Trump’s win.”  Likewise, Vance has become an increasingly popular guest on radio and television, where he attempts to explain to hosts like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews why poor whites voted for Trump. 
I admit that I steered away from this book for a while because I assumed that—like most books that try to explain the people and place where I live—it would cause frustration and anger.  But as I said, the book has been everywhere, and I was curious about what Vance could be saying that made so many so interested. 
My friend Cindy bought the book over Christmas break, and when she was finished, she passed it on to me.  Like Vance, Cindy grew up in Ohio although she chose to attend a private, liberal arts college in Appalachia, and then she stayed here for the next twenty years.  For most of that time, she has worked with special needs children in the public education system—often children from the worst situations. When I asked her what she thought of the book, Cindy told me that she was interested in some of the studies Vance references in the book, and she thought he said some interesting things.  Because of her experience with some of her students, she knew that the kind of people Vance described in his book existed, but she didn’t think Vance accurately described all Appalachians.  
I couldn’t agree more.
Much of the book is a personal memoir of Vance’s family.  His grandparents were born and raised in Jackson, Kentucky, but as part of the great Appalachian out-migration, they settled in Middletown, Ohio, where Vance was born and lived until he joined the Marines after high school.
Some criticize Vance for writing about Appalachia because he never lived in the region himself.  While I respect Vance's self-identification as Appalachian based on his family ties to Kentucky, in reading the book, it quickly becomes obvious that Vance has little understanding of the Appalachian region or its people. Since I’ve talked about the book on social media, Midwesterners have told me that they feel he also misrepresents the Rust Belt.  The truth is that he appears to have little understanding of the world in general.
I don’t dispute everything Vance writes about in Hillbilly Elegy. Certainly, his story and his family’s story belong to him.  What I do dispute are the sweeping generalities he makes based on his own very limited experience. 
Poverty is a problem in Appalachia, but not everyone in the region is impoverished. Many people in the region and in America are descended from Scots-Irish ancestors, but not all Appalachians are Scots-Irish, and being Scots-Irish does not make us all clannish "hillbillies" with a lust for loyalty and vengeance. Drugs are a problem in Appalachia, but they are a national problem.
I feel sorry for Mr. Vance that his view of the world is so narrow; he sees every deficiency in his own life as stemming directly from his grandparents' connection to and migration from Appalachia. The out-migration was difficult for many, but many also found success in their lives, and many others in Appalachia didn't migrate and led very successful lives. (For a small measure of proof, see Amy Clark’s Success in Hill Country.)
Many of the issues Vance writes about are class issues that occur in various forms all over the world, but Vance lumps everyone in Appalachia as poor hillbillies. Shockingly little (of value) is said about class structures and modern day class warfare, which makes it all the more surprising that anyone would look to Vance to explain Trump’s presidential win. It is sad that this book, which has such a narrow, ill-informed viewpoint of the world, has garnered so much attention. But books that pander to stereotypes always seem to draw readers.


A Light in the Darkness-- The Dementia Diaries by Mitch Levenberg Reviewed by Deborah Clearman

I've been a huge Mitch Levenberg fan since I read his darkly humorous story collection Principles of Uncertainty and Other Constants, which I praised for its wildly original voice. That voice is present in The Dementia Diaries. We hear it right away in the preface when describing his mother's ninetieth birthday party. "I felt out of it. It was really my cousin Marilyn . . . who found the place and planned it all and even helped pay for it. Then my cousin asked people to chip in on a gift, even me, so where was my gift? Chipping In? Showing up? Was that enough? Where was I in all this, her own son? What could I give my mother that no one else could and without having to spend a lot of money?"
The voice is self-deprecating, funny, anxious, and extremely sensitive to nuance. Something more is added in The Dementia Diaries. Because this book is not fiction; it is literally a diary, in journal form, of the last five months of his mother's life. The voice has become raw, almost unhinged, as Levenberg loses the mother he has always known and relied upon to dementia. He documents the absurdities and heartbreaks of dementia in graphic detail—from having the same conversation over and over again because people with dementia can't remember conversations ("Yes, it's always Ground Hog Day at The Reserve") to looking around the dining room of his mother's assisted living facility (The Reserve) and seeing "a Picasso collection of cubist eyebrows."
We come to the searing penultimate entry: "Today someone died my mother and I both knew very well but I knew I wouldn't be able to talk to her about it." He describes how they used to talk about people they knew or heard about dying. "Sometimes one of us would be shocked or surprised or sometimes we wouldn't be surprised at all." They often joked about death, Levenberg tells us. But that person he has shared observations with longer than anyone else in his life is gone, and Levenberg can only describe his mother's death obliquely. In doing so he conjures up that mysterious sense of absence and presence that death evokes, as well as the complex mixture of loss and celebration in a death long anticipated. He follows with an eloquent and well-earned meditation: "Humans are such fools. It just makes you want to cry how foolish humans are when they only see death, the peace and dignity of death, as something wrong, as something to be avoided, because each miserable breath is always better than no breath at all."
If this book is intensely personal it is also universal. I can attest to this, having accompanied both my parents in their journeys through dementia, having sat at my mother's side and held her hand as she drew her last breath. Levenberg's Dementia Diaries could be seen as a guidebook for that journey for all of us, plumbing the depths of pain and loss with humor and light.


A Mother's Tale by Phillip Lopate

A Mother's Tale is based on transcribed interviews Phillip Lopate did with his mother thirty years ago. The book is a three-way conversation among the mother, the writer of this book, and the writer thirty years ago when he made the tapes..
Fran Lopate, began a career as an actor at the age of 50 and appeared around the country in travelling theater companies. She also did some famous TV commercials-- many people remember her as the Italian mother in the Alka Seltzer commercial, "Thatsa some spicy meatball!" She also appears as another Italian mama in one of the "You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's" rye bread commercials. Fran Lopate was, of course, in fact Jewish, but she says that she never liked doing commercials very well and she couldn't do Italian mother speaking parts because she couldn't do the accent.
The youngest child of a large family, she lost her mother and father early and had a difficult relationship with her older sisters. She ran away as a young teenager and was sexually assaulted, married early, had four children, worked at many different jobs, owned several small businesses, then had the acting career, and took a college degree after she stopped acting. All of her children have done well in life, in particular two of them who are celebrated if not celebrities: the author of the book, Phillip Lopate is an essayist, teacher, and man of letters; his older brother is the radio personality Leonard Lopate.
But this quirky, engrossing book isn't about Fran Lopate's children or their accomplishments or her accomplishments. It isn't about success either--and certainly not about failure--but rather about a real life in which vitality and vivacity battle with resentment and frustration. It is also, by the way, funny. I laughed out loud several times at sardonic quips and little wonders of human folly and human insight.
It is also about the son's relationship with his mother. Mostly we hear Fran's stories and confessions, but her interlocutor Phillip is always present. One of the most powerful sections is a long dialogue between him and her where they thrash out what passed between them--the changes, the charges, the disappointments, the anger. For all of the accusations of lack of love and narcissism on both sides, however, there is also a powerful connection and a stunning ability to talk and talk. Through the talk, we get a portrait not only of their relationship, but of the whole family.
The heart of Fran Lopate's operatic life story is her long term relationship with her husband, the writer's father. She insists at great length that she never loved him, was squashed by him, put down by him, limited by him-- and yet, in spite of divorcing him when they are both in their late sixties, she continued to live with him for a long while after. Much of the book centers on her keening lament for lost time, lost opportunities, and useless sacrifices to a difficult, unworthy, but admirably intelligent man.
Not that there weren't other men in her life as well, because, as her son finds out, she managed to have many adventures, including men, travel, and her fraught relationships with her children. It's a remarkable book. Read it, but don't expect embraces and reconciliations. It isn't (as Phillip Lopate will explicitly tell you) On Golden Pond. It is something far more edgy, acerbic, and alive.

Beyond Monongah: An Appalachian Story by Judith Hoover

Judith Hoover's first novel was very moving for me because it is set in and around Monongah, West Virginia and other places from my childhood: Clarksburg and Fairmont and Shinnston and Owings and Haywood– all communities along the old streetcar line that ran up and down the West Fork river from Fairmont to Clarksburg, primarily for the convenience of the coal operators and their labor sources. It allowed an unusually free movement for people in Appalachia--my parents took the street car to college, for example.
I also resonated strongly with the Ku Klux Klan sub-plot: there is a man in the coal camp who beats his wife, and the main character, Hershel Martin, is horrified and gets pulled into the Klan because of their assertions that they protect women and only attack moonshiners and wife beaters. Later, he discovers who else they attack, which would be immigrants and anyone with a different appearance or belief or a critique of the mining company. He also discovers that many of the members of the Klan are rich mine officials. He leaves the organization, has his life threatened, and then is almost killed by what was supposed to be a mine accident, but is in fact an attempted murder. My own grandfather, who was a witness to the Monongah mine explosion of 1907, also flirted with the Klan, around that same time, just after WWI.
This part is also the climax of the story, which is otherwise a detailed, sad, and inspiring chronicle of a family's life in the northern West Virginia mine fields. The novel covers about thirty years and is rich with quintessential and typical events in the lives of mine families. It opens with an excellent retelling of the Monongah explosion and fires that my grandfather witnessed, the largest mine disaster in American history, . The horrific event killed a (literally) unknown number of men and boys--unknown because so many families sent their young sons unofficially into the mines along with their fathers to earn a little more.
Hershel Martin and his father are not in the mine when it explodes only because they are in Fairmont being tested for tuberculosis, which Hershel's young wife recently died of. There is next a flashback to Hershel's childhood and how he never learned to read and thus went to the mines as a very young boy. The story then moves forward in roughly chronological order.
We get life in the houses built for the miners, from which they could be evicted summarily if there was no working miner living there, or if the miners went on strike. There are the expensive company stores, and the unfair payment to the miners in script which can only be used in the company store. All these things I heard about growing up are vividly depicted here.
Mother Jones the union organizer makes a cameo appearance, but John L. Lewis and the United Mineworkers don't come off very well, as their strike is presented as largely unsuccessful. Of course, during the Second World War and through the 1950's, the union did very well for the miners-- at least for those who still had jobs after the automation of digging coal began. In the 1950's, when I was growing up in that part of the world, the miners were paid better than my school teacher father--but there were fewer and fewer jobs, and the jobs that remained were for highly skilled machinists.
After the Monongah explosion, Hershel moves in with his widowed sister-in-law Bessie (sister of his wife, and widow of his friend), her children and her mother and her mothers' young children. Eventually Hershel's father joins the family along with the father of Bessie's dead husband–plus an Italian immigrant miner and his wife! I am stunned by the crowds of people sharing the small space of a company house. The details of how they kept a garden, learned to cook a few Italian dishes from the boarders, kept a root cellar, etc. are excellent.
There is, of course a love story: Hershel and Bessie after much time, sweetly and shyly get together and marry and have children of their own. Bessie takes a part time job at the company store, where she is harassed by a really unpleasant sexual predator of a store manager. When she quits to avoid him, he starts rumors that she stole from the store.
So the novel packs in everything: abusive bosses, severe mine injuries (two for Hershel alone, including the attempted murder by the Klan), World War I, the Spanish flu, many races and ethnicities- if not for the believable story telling and careful research, it might seem like too much, but the family's struggles are strongly and clearly portrayed without sentimentality. These are such decent, energetic people that in the end, you simply feel privileged to share their lives.


Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

What a nasty story– an epistolary novel that is a kind of opposite-of-love story. It is obvious throughout that the main characters, the  Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont, are more interested in each other than in anything else, and are acting for each other in competition and to display their talents as they devise elaborate strategies and plots and games of seduction of other people. I kept wishing all the women, but Valmont too, had hobbies. Couldn't they take up container herb gardening or knitting? Instead, they make elaborate plans to trick, seduce, and ruin the people around them. The part where the Vicomte seduces the teenage girl is especially awful–and also sexually titillating. He doesn't waste much time on the seduction because he sees her as stupid, not worth the delicate and persistent efforts he uses on the religious and moral married woman who is his main prey.
Things start to fall apart for the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte when he inadvertently reveals that he has begun to have feelings for his "prude," and Merteuil gets jealous. From then on, they are no longer on the same page–no surprise– and end up attacking and ruining each other with the same determination and brutality they had previous used on others.
Some commentators complain about how evil is too quickly and efficiently punished in the end. There is a duel that destroys the Vicomte, and almost simultaneously Merteuil loses a major law suit, and with it her wealth. Then she gets disfiguring smallpox. The so-called good women have the last word, but it's only to reveal the tying up of the plot details. Some read the story, particularly Merteuil's part in it, as a protest against the role of women at the time. For me, the interest in in the depth of the corruption and corrupting.
I do imagine a spin-off: Merteuil is still alive at the end, although always with her face veiled. I imagine her continuing to spew revenge as she ages, perhaps becoming a confidante of Dickens's character Madame Defarge? She could wreak havoc on a whole class! Not Choderlos de Laclos's story, of course.

Barchester Towers Anthony Trollope

As usual, it had been so long since I read it that I forgot the delight. This is early Trollope, during the period (according to Trollope: A Biography by N. John Hall) when Trollope was having his great success as a peripatetic postal inspector in the southwest of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. He had written a couple of largely unsuccessful books, followed by The Warden, the first of the Barchester Chronicles, which was mildly popular. He then wrote Barchester Towers mostly as he rode on trains from place to place for his postal inspections (and reorganizations of rural delivery routes and various modernizations and innovations–stopping the carriers from charging recipients of letters extra if they felt like it, for example). He was really enjoying writing, and keeping a log of his work, trying for a certain number of pages every week. (See the note about Trollope's writing process).
The book itself is sunny and comic, for many people the quintessential Trollope novel, and I am fond of it too, in spite of (always with Trollope) his simultaneous focus on women and insistence that they should be demure ivy plants to the stone towers of their husbands. Yuck. But--not exactly mitigating against this but rather explaining it-- he often undercuts his own (or his implied narrator's) beliefs as when the young widow Eleanor Bold is presented first as a silly baby worshiper, and then he increasingly shows her stubbornness and her moral embarrassment over insisting on the wrong friends, and then finally gets the perfect man for her, and she becomes an upstanding high church partisan after her second marriage.
All of Trollope's women have to be read, IMHO, in context of his having had a mother, Frances Trollope, who saved the family's finances by becoming a writer at the age of 53. She did a lot of other interesting things too, which aren't the subject here. She was, at any rate, the opposite of the kind of women Trollope professes to prefer.
Barchester Towers has lots of wonderful characters, some of whom recur in the other novels in the series: Eleanor's father, Mr. Harding, hero of The Warden, is quiet and sweet and somewhat indolent. Eleanor's brother-in-law Archdeacon Grantly is overbearing and obtuse, but likeable in the big, bluff, Golden Retriever style that 19th century English novelists seem to admire in men. There are also the bad guys, in particular smarmy Mr. Slope and the bishop's aggressive wife Mrs. Proudie. There is an interesting family I'd totally forgotten, too: some selfish expatriates, the Stanhopes, especially the daughter, the widowed signora who is stunningly beautiful, has non functional legs (or so she pretends) and is always carried about, and makes her life's work attracting men and making them unhappy. There are also the endless ridiculous names: the couple with 14 children are the Quiverfulls, for example. Everyone is a clergyman or part of a clergyman's family, and the absolute worldliness of their political maneuvers and moral dilemmas is always a delight.
(image of the late, great Alan Rickman as Mr. Slope)


Dovid Z. Schwartz writes: "In an attempt to learn the pop fiction formula (as I will make no pretenses to art, I'm really looking to sell something), I picked up a copy of a Grisham potboiler at the local library.  Wouldn't you know, unbeknowest to me, it is set in the coal country of Appalachia. It is called Gray Mountain. I actually find his depiction of the town of Brady, Virginia to be quite charming.  The tale is a classic hero's quest (heroine, as it is). A lawyer falls from grace in 2008, let go from a big firm, and travels to the mountains to do volunteer work. The force of evil in the novel is embodied in the rapacious coal companies, pillaging the land and exploiting the residents."


Poena Da
mni Z213:EXIT by Dimitris Lyacos

Z213: EXIT is the first installment of the Poena Damni trilogy: a camp, a train, soldiers, a Bible with notes inside, encroaching darkness, the struggle to remember, the struggle of hiding, physical pain.
As if waking up in a nightmare an escapee recounts his fleeting experiences in a series of fragmented diary entries in a hide-and-seek game with Death or even God. Written in a unique prose style, at times bordering on poetry and conveying a "pilgrimage of the soul" through a series of increasingly haunting pieces, Z213: EXIT creates the feeling that reader and narrator are led together through an eschatological experience. Horror is created by the scantiest vocabulary craftily combined to form a broken, unstructured syntax, seemingly tight, but leaving enough loopholes through which the reader's subconscious fears can pop in and out. Although evidently post-modernist, this is a book that does not undermine or shrink the traditional Grand Narrative themes; on the contrary, it thrives on them.

Mount Hope by Sarah Price

Sarah Price writes carefully researched Amish romances, often structuring them around the plots of classic novels. This one is an Amish retelling of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park.

Dancing With Cancer by Barry Wildorf & Bonnie Wildorf

Bonnie Wildorf writes: "It is with joy and sadness I announce the publication of Dancing with Cancer, the real-time journals of my husband Barry, and myself, his wife of 37 years, in which we share our harrowing journeys through not one but two stem cell transplants. Not knowing the outcome, Barry hoped to leave a record of his state of mind as he navigated the stem cell transplant process. I wanted to minutely document my unexpected and daunting role as a caregiver.
"We started our odyssey in San Francisco in 2005. Barry died in February, 2014 when, despite the best of care, he succumbed to his cancer. Three years later, I am publishing the book Barry wanted to send out to the world, to let others know in his unvarnished way his experience of the those two life-giving stem cell transplants.
"For nearly nine years, we saw each other at our best and worst. We became both both stronger and weaker living as we did in a world bounded by cancer. Dancing with Cancer chronicles our lives during that time, presenting our sometimes wildly different views of apparently the same events. We write about meetings with doctors, hospital stays and treatments; relationships with family and friends; our own emotional journeys; and, centrally, the impact of the cancer on our marriage. Barry, the patient, had no patience (and loved puns). He was blessed with a strong sense of irony and a fierce sense of humor. His writing reflects a life shaped by his work as an attorney, activist and writer, and as a husband, father, and grandfather. He never equivocates; he calls it as it is. He is deeply angry and deeply grateful in these pages.
"We did not aim this book for any particular reader. However, I hope it reaches an audience of health care professionals who will find inspiration in the providers we came to love. I hope it offers encouragement and knowledge to people in similar circumstance about how to manage stress and garner support from family and friends during the unbounded uncertainty not just of stem cell transplantation but of any life-threatening illness. Barry died. But still, I am told, the book is a page-turner. One thing I hope will be clear: love survives death."


Two by Lee Maynard

Two books by the redoubtable and ever-entertaining Lee Maynard: Cinco Becknell and Magnetic North. In Magnetic North, an aging warrior and his best friend ride motorcycle to Alaska. Cinco Becknell is the story of a homeless man with no memory-- and a secret.


The Story of the Lost Child By Elena Ferrante

In reading the last Neapolitan novel of Elena Ferrante, which I had laid aside not to gobble too fast, I found I had trouble getting into all the complications of people's love lives. But, the longer I read, the more I was once again caught up in that world--the love affairs are about people whose roots go deep, about people who go away and stay, and really about the endless complicated changing of human life. The most interesting relationships in the end are, of course, Elena & Lina, but also Elena and her mother-in-law.
This was the last one, and in spite of my efforts to set it aside, I again had that sense of eating too much too rich too fast and can't stop. But of course you have to stop, because this one brings it all around again to the beginning, which is the two brilliant friends, their relationship, the deep traumatic loss for Lila, the extraction of herself finally from the neighborhood for Elena. I think I probably like this book best, along with the first one–childhood stuff is always unassailable–this one, however, captures the mutability we live through as we age and also the passionate love and hate between parent and child. It is about the greatest hurt, loss of or estrangement from a child, and about losing your power as you age. The narrator, Elena is remarkably resilient and keeps herself moving forward.
I think the great success of this series is how Ferrante manages to give an organic shape and motion to the shapelessness which is life as it is lived--the ups and downs and Möbius strips of love and hate–primarily Elena and Lila, of course, but also Elena and her husband, Elena and her mother, Elena and her mother-in-law and Elena and her children.
It is liberating to read in this way about the pendulum swings of human attachment. No wonder the Buddhists imagine the great good not as gold and sugar goodies but as detachment.
I wonder how long I'll wait before I start them over again.


The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick

This was my first Dick novel, although I've seen several of the movies--and I liked it a lot. It does an excellent job of world building, which I care about probably most. It didn't fold under too much to the requirements of twentieth century genre fiction, except that the only woman character of any importance on the one hand manages rather efficiently to slash the throat (she's trained in Judo) of her lover/the assassin, but most of the time she's all fem and frothy. The comparison between the Japanese overlords and the Germans (the winners of the Second World War in this alternative history) is very interesting to contemplate. It's a lot of fun, dated in minor ways, except for the fem frothy female lead.

The Goblin Reservation by Clifford Simak

Another first read of a famous science fiction writer for me-- Dick was so much better. This one is not only sexist but inadvertently racist. Simak does write some loving landscape description of his home region, but it is way too nineteen-fifties for me. It has two women characters out of a couple of dozen. The love interest is not stupid, but always acting in the puzzling irrational way of women who are falling in love with the male lead in mid-twentieth century movies. He, the hero, is an academic, but it doesn't top him from popping people in the kisser when he has a hunch they are bad guys. And the bad guys are all recognized by his intuition: he an unfailing sense of who they are because they "feel" slimy. The book professes acceptance of all races in the galaxy, but the most different race is the bad guys. And along with the galaxy-wide species, we have goblins and banshees and ghosts and a friendly Neanderthal time traveler named Alley Oop. Too much, too thin. The writing though was good enough that I may try one more of his to see if I can stand it. After all, he's famous, right?


The Garden of Iden By Kage Baker

This one is science fiction from much closer to the present, although hardly contemporary: from the late nineties. It's about a constructed race of time travelling human immortals who go back to do things like collect useful plants that will be going extinct if they don't save them. This was the first of this series (Baker died some years back from uterine cancer). It has a semi-fake exuberant teenager tone that I found annoying, and I wasn't mad about the anachronisms in young Mendoza's childhood in a not-quite-medieval-enough Spain (I kept thinking of the frankly fantasy Medieval Spain of Saramago's Baltasar and Blimunda). Still, I liked the girl character who is rescued from the Inquisition and chosen to become an immortal. Most of the story is about her first official posting to England under Bloody Mary, and this part is generally interesting, although still with an anachronistic tone that grates on my ear. It got better and better, which probably bodes well for the series.


Anthony Trollope's writing discipline: how he wrote all those books. See The Practical Writer.



Joan Newburger's story "A Bad Day in the Promised Land"  online at Persimmon Tree!

Belinda Anderson is one of "50 Writers from 50 States."

A list of books by and about refugees .

Podcast: link to an interview with Ingrid Hughes, author of Losing Aaron, on the The Kathryn Zox Show. The show is also available for download from The Kathryn Zox Show podcast page in iTunes.

MSW interviews Helen Wan, author of The Partner Track.

Lithub's list of 75 great American novels.




Poem of the month from Barbara Crooker.

Just published: Marx by Fred Skolnik--an account of Marxist theory and modern capitalism.
Deborah Clearman's new book Concepción and the Baby Brokers is forthcoming from Rain Mountain Press in March 2017. Bestsellng author Julie Salamon says, "In these vivid and often heart-wrenching stories, Deborah Clearman illuminates Guatemalan culture at ground level, throughcharacters whose struggles are palpable and moving. The collection couldn't be more timely, or necessary."
Penner Publishing has more reprints of the novels of Monique Raphel High. (See our interview with Monique in issue, #185)
Don't forget The Courtship of Eva Eldrige by Diane Simmons--nonfiction about leaving the farm, women in war industry in the 1940-s, and serial bigamy! See review in Issue # 186.

Fom Irene Weinberger Books:


I have a lot of friends and colleagues who really despise Amazon. See the recent discussion in Issue # 184, as well as older comments from Jonathan Greene and others here.
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.


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 use Bookfinder or Alibris. Bookfinder gives the price with shipping and handling, so you can compare what you’re really going to have to pay.
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.
Still another place to buy books: Ingrid Hughes suggests "a great place for used books which sometimes turn out to be never-opened hard cover books is Biblio. I've bought many books from them, often for $4 including shipping."

If you are using an electronic reader like Kindle, Nook, or Kobo, don't forget free books at the Gutenberg Project—mostly classics, and free, free, free!
Kobobooks.com sells e-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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           Meredith Sue Willis, the producer of this occasional newsletter, is a writer and teacher and enthusiastic reader. Her books have been published by Charles Scribner's SonsHarperCollinsOhio University PressMercury HouseWest Virginia University Press,Monteymayor PressTeachers & Writers PressHamilton Stone Editions, and others. She teaches at New York University's School of Professional Studies.



#189 J.D. Vance; Mitch Levenberg; Phillip Lopate; Barchester Towers; Judith Hoover; ; Les Liaisons Dangereuses; short science fiction reviews.
#188 Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban; The Hemingses of Monticello; Marc Harshman; Jews in the Civil War; Ken Champion; Rebecca West; Colum McCann
#187 Randi Ward, Burt Kimmelman, Llewellyn McKernan, Sir Walter Scott, Jonathan Lethem, Bill Luvaas, Phyllis Moore, Sarah Cordingley & more
#186 Diane Simmons, Walter Dean Myers, Johnny Sundstrom, Octavia Butler & more
#185 Monique Raphel High; Elizabeth Jane Howard; Phil Klay; Crystal Wilkinson
#184 More on Amazon; Laura Tillman; Anthony Trollope; Marily Yalom and the women of the French Revolution; Ernest Becker
#183 Hilton Obenzinger, Donna Meredith, Howard Sturgis, Tom Rob Smith, Daniel José Older, Elizabethe Vigée-Lebrun, Veronica Sicoe
#182 Troy E. Hill, Mitchell Jackson, Rita Sims Quillen, Marie Houzelle, Frederick Busch, more Dickens
 Valerie Nieman, Yorker Keith, Eliot Parker, Ken Champion, F.R. Leavis, Charles Dickens
#180 Saul Bellow, Edwina Pendarvis, Matthew Neill Null, Judith Moffett, Theodore Dreiser, & more
#179 Larissa Shmailo, Eric Frizius, Jane Austen, Go Set a Watchman and more
#178 Ken Champion, Cat Pleska, William Demby's Beetlecreek, Ron Rash, Elizabeth Gaskell, and more.
#177 Jane Hicks, Daniel Levine, Constance Fenimore Woolson, Ken Chamption, Patricia Harman
#176 Robert Gipe, Justin Torres, Marilynne Robinson, Velma Wallis, Larry McMurty, Charlotte Brontë, Henry James, Fumiko Enchi, Shelley Ettinger
#175 Lists of what to read for the new year; MOUNTAIN MOTHER GOOSE: CHILD LORE OF WEST VIRGINIA; Peggy Backman
#174 Christian Sahner, John Michael Cummings, Denton Loving, Madame Bovary#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 & KlonsLady 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 PeopleThe 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 MadonnaA 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 KnowThe ShiningThe Tiger's Wife.
#148 The MoonstoneDjibouti, 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 MinisterBlood 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 FallsThe 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 CloudsplitterFounding 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 latestIrving 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 DrownBlindness & more
#105 Everything is MiscellaneousThe UntouchableKettle 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 CareerThe Scarlet Letter, John Banville, Never Let Me Go
#100 The Poisonwood Bible, Pamela Erens, More Harry P.
#99   Jonathan Greene on Amazon.com; Molly Gilman on Dogs of Babel
#98   Guest editor Pat Arnow; more on the Amazon.com 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 LavransdatterHouse Made of DawnLeaving Atlanta 
#92   Death of Ivan Ilych; Memoirs
#91   Richard Powers discussion
#90   William Zinsser, Memoir, Shakespeare
#89   William Styron, Ellen Willis, DuneGerminal, 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 WorldDa 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 HomeTess 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 EvilMoon 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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