Thursday, May 26, 2022

Military Massacre Machines and Musket Loaders

One of the talking points I see repeatedly on Facebook and elsewhere is essentially the old "Guns don't kill people, people kill people" argument.  

These writers put the blame for the mass murders on bad moral values and mental illness.  Of course there will always be people who go out and kill other people.  They will kill in grocery stores and schools and churches.  

But if they are forced to do it with, say, musket loaders and machetes, fewer will die because those weapons are less efficient.  They were invented for hunting and chopping underbrush.  Getting military machines engineered for massacre off the street and out of people's closets and trucks will save lives.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

May 15, 2022 Issue of Meredith Sue Willis's Books for Readers Newletter #221

Meredith Sue Willis's Books for Readers Newletter #221 now up at  Books for Readers or in its permanent location at #221

Reviews of books by Victor Serge, Greg Sanders, Maggie O'Farrell, Ken Champion, Barbara Hambly, Walter Mosely, Anne Roiphe, Anna Reid, Randall Balmer, Louis Auchincloss. 

Reviews by Joe Chuman and Chris Connelly

Monday, April 25, 2022

My Comments on DON'T LOOK UP

  We watched Don't Look Up, the Netflix original with a ton of excellent acting (DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep. Jonah Hill, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry, Ron Perlman, Mark Ryland as a tech king--slightly autistic, totally megalomaniacal–all excellent and tiny parts for  our Shakespeare  Co. friends Annette Miller and Allyn Burrows, and apparently Tamara Hickey was in there somewhere too maybe on the cutting room floor).  Anyhow, the acting was excellent, the so-called production values fine, and the wit and sarcasm and jokes all really really funny.  And then, with Hollywood aarrogance and abandon, they just blew up the world.  There was an afterward with the wealthy survivors arriving on a perfect planet 22,000 years later, and a funny ending for the totally obnoxious president, Streep.  Apparently a nice bit after the credits too, said Andy, but I didn't wait around.

Anyway, the point is, I appreciated and enjoyed and giggled as I watched, but it left me with a bad taste.  When I first saw Dr. Strangelove all those years ago I was terrified, and this one was more obviously hokey-jokey (or I'm just more mature) but I am still critical of Hollywood's arrogance in just ending the world when they don't have any better ideas. I get it, point well taken:  Look, you jerks, it's real, we truly can see disaster coming at us and we're doing nothing. But it's going to come much slower, and they totally ignore, of course, Hollywood style, the people who are painstakingly, step by step, working on change.  I think the people who make it in Hollywood no longer or never even saw it: the people in organizations, medium level government jobs, in hospitals, labs, organizing vigils and demonstrations, installing solar panels, switching to more sustainable farming practices– so many of us out here doing more than going on media tours.  

Maybe that's what I didn't like most: that the only way to fight the Powers That Be, says  Hollywood, is to lean out a window and shout I'm mad and I'm not going to take it anymore, or, as in this one, just shout on a live t.v. show or go viral on social media, etc. Etc.  We're all going to die.  And then we all die.

There's actually so much more going on in the world.  I think Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower etc. gets it much better.  Or Cormac McCarthy's The Road.   If the world ends with a bang, it's over.  Far more likely will be the little struggles, as in Ukraine today, day by day, small decisions.

So, just to repeat, it was well done, it was funny, I'm glad the folks from Shakespeare & Company are getting some outside work.  Performances were hilarious.  Meryl Streep and her movie son Jonah Hill as a Trumpish family were really fun to watch.  But the message I don't like  is not so much It's hopeless, as the only people with any juice are the ones with media wattage– like us clear-headed movie makers.

Monday, March 07, 2022

March 7 Issue of Meredith Sue Willis's BOOKS FOR READERS #220

 Latest issue of Meredith Sue Willis's Books for Readers # 220 is now up at !  Reviews by Joe Chuman, Ed Davis, and Eli Asbury.  Books Reviewed by Sister Souljah, Margaret Atwood, Attica Locke, Jill LePore, Belinda Anderson,  Claire Oshetsky, Barbara Pym and more!

Sunday, January 23, 2022



Just Up! A New Issue of Books for Readers # 219! Ideas for Writers, Announcements, Good Online Reading--and lots of book recommendations: Carolina De Robertis, Charles Dickens, Thomas Fleming, Kendra James, Ashley Hope Perez, Terry Pratchett, Martha Wells and reviews by Joe Chuman and Danny Williams--and more!

Saturday, December 04, 2021

A New Issue of Books for Readers #218 Is Now Online !

 A New Issue of Books for Readers #218 is now Online !

Reviews of books by  Edwidge Danticat, Stephanie Dickinson, Barbara Kingsolver, Edward Myers, Tim O'Brien, Eyal Press, William Trevor, and more.

Reviews and recommendations by MSW, Joe Chuman, & Marc Harshman.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Books for Readers # 217 now available!

 New Issue of Meredith Sue Willis's
Books for Readers # 217 now online!

Reviews of books by Jill Lepore; Kathleen Rooney; Stendhal; Rajia Hassib again; Madeline Miller; Jean Rhys; and more. Reviews and recommendations by Joe Chuman, Ingrid Hughes, Peggy Backman, Phyllis Moore, and Dan Gover.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

An Article in The Atlantic about E-Books

      An article in the Atlantic called "Why Are E-Books So Terrible?" caught my attention, and might interest you too. The writer is Ian Bogost, a contributing writing there and director of a program in film & media at Washington University in St. Louis. As a big fan of e-books, I was ready to be offended, and I was, mildly, particularly by his neologism "bookiness." What an unpleasant word. I was also annoyed by several of his unsupported statements--that no self-published books are ever laid out "in a manner that conforms with received standards" and for his insistence that the technology of books has barely changed over the centuries. He barely mentions moveable type, and skips over cheap paper backs entirely.
     On the other hand, he supports my idea that e-books work best with strong narrative-- " fiction in general and genre fiction—such as mysteries, sci-fi, young-adult fiction, and romance." I'd add to that list biography and a lot of history as well. In other words, stories are great in the endless flow of the digital screen. What is much harder in an e-book, I agree, is to have what he calls random access, " the ur-feature of the codex.... for skimming back and forth....For [readers who like to move back and forth], ideas are attached to the physical memory of the book's width and depth—a specific notion residing at the top of a recto halfway in, for example, like a friend lives around the block and halfway down."
This is a very fair critique of e-book technology and something I'd really like to see the engineers work on. It's hard even to find your place again in an e-book. I agree that e-books support the reading habits of people who like to carry a large number of books at once (my Kindle has all of Jane Austen, George Eliot, Dickens, as well as a slew of my other out-of-copyright favorites). It also supports those who love a direct flow, endless story, and don't care so much about annotating. He's a little snarky about genre fiction (although he insists he's not), and reveals that he reads mostly scholarly and trade nonfiction. He doesn't like it when books all look the same.
     Bogost, like a lot of my friends, values books as objects along with what they communicate to us in their text. He says, " I also can't quite wrap my spleen [my spleen???] around every book looking and feeling the same, like they do on an e-book reader. For me, bookiness partly entails the uniqueness of each volume—its cover, shape, typography, and layout."
     I read codex books too, of course. Right now, I'm reading on my Kindle, Le Rouge et le Noir, in English   (either free or almost free–I can' remember if I got it from the Gutenberg Project or on sale from Amazon) and a Michael Connelly crime novel that I borrowed from the public library. I am also reading a huge and gorgeously illustrated physical art book from the Metropolitan Museum that is the catalog of their recent exhibition of Medici portraiture, and I also just ordered a physical copy of a fantasy novel through the used book site . It wasn't available at the library, and I avoid paying Amazon's high e-book prices.
     In other words, why bother to hate e-books when they are one of a variety of ways to do your reading? And how can a person not love the wonder and security of carrying Jane Austen's entire oeuvre around in your shoulder bag?

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Latest Issue of Meredith Sue Willis's Books for Readers #216

 Latest Issue of Meredith Sue Willis's Books for Readers #216

Reviews of books by Rajia Hassib; Joel Pechkam; Robin Hobb; Anne Hutchinson; James Shapiro; reviews by Joe Chuman and Marc Harshman; Tolkien & more

Thursday, July 29, 2021

A New Issue of Books for Readers Newsletter #214!

A New Issue of Books for Readers Newsletter #214!

Reviews of books by Julia Alvarez, Karen Salyer McElmurray,
Anne Brontë, James Welch, Veronica Roth, Madeline Martin,
Barack Obama, Jason Trask, Katherine Anne Porter & more


Monday, July 19, 2021

Back in the US, Back in the US, Back in New York City!!!

 Today was my big treat:  I went back to the Metropolitan Museum after a year and a half away.  There was a problem with New Jersey Transit, so I had to take the train plus the PATH plus a walk across Greenwich VIllage and a subway and then a walk across the Upper East Side--all pure pleasure, my tour of New York--to get to the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.

     THis kind of day  represents one of the main reasons I left the satisfactions of my home in Harrison County, West Virginia for the Northeast.  I wanted to be able to experience major art whenever I felt like it.  It’s not that I go to Broadway plays every week or do clubbing or even music or ever have--I’m not actually a huge fan of Broadway musicals for example, and I do a  lot of reading, but you can do that anywhere.

    But I love New York City,  where I lived from 1967 to 1987, and I love being able to walk into a building for free or very little and seeing what people made to show their cultures and their beliefs and their personalities for five thousand years and more.   Romans, Egyptians, Africans, European white guys, Chinese vase makers.  All of it.

      You need to be in a city to see lots and lots of visual and architectural and sculptural art, and you need to be in a city to see the full panoply of human activity displayed all day everyday and all night as well.

     So today I saw a splendid exhibit of portraiture from Florence under the Medici and next to it, the wonderful ALice Neel exhibit of her  20th century poor people and pregnant women.  I was just so happy to be back.  

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

The Wages of Aging....

The wages of aging is dealing with condescending younger people.

When I asked my colonoscopy doctor why I had to have another one in five years, he said, "Because we want to have you around for a long time!" With a jolly wink.

Oh my sinking heart! I can't say the number of times I've heard medical people and family (including, I confess, myself) say that to my mother when she was 85, 90, 95, and then 100.

Please come up with something new, people!

I'd prefer, "Because taking the test improves your chances of surviving" or even "Because sstatistically speaking you might die sooner if you don't."

Sunday, July 04, 2021

I Just Read Barack Obama's Memoir


I just finished the 700 page A Promised Land by Barack Obama. This giant nose-breaker of a book (if you try to read it in bed)  was a birthday gift from my husband.  I probably would never have bought it for myself, but I'm so glad I read it.  It was, in some sense, a book I've been waiting for, a look at the political landscape from the top by a president with an active inner life, which I doubt many of them have. 

Obama really is a fine writer–not a writer who necessarily goes deep into the human soul the way a really great novelist does, and he is always performative--aware of his legacy and future historians as well as the general public and the myriad of individuals he met as president.  His acknowledgments pages suggest a big staff of researchers and checkers—he got a lot of help on the details and probably a lot of respectful editing.  He thanks some people for helping with organizing, but I would bet that the general structure–things like ending this first volume with the assassination of Obama bin Laden–was his own thinking.  As I said, he's good at this.

He has an unspectacular but powerful ability to narrate a story, and he is able to summarize brilliantly bits of background and parts of history we've all forgotten or never knew. He's good on thumbnail sketches of character and even appearance. His seemingly fair but damning sketch of France's Sarkozy is a good example of this–as are all of his sketches of international leaders, actually.

The most out-and-out fun parts are obvious: the early campaigns, the good luck and successes.  The parts about the family learning to live in the White House.  He seems generally honest, if careful to shed light rather than shade on people he worked with and respects, even loves, especially those whose careers are important at this moment– the prime example being Joe Biden, of course.  He also has a neat trick of including near-foreshadowings of the coming of Trump, and choosing incidents and themes that contrast his administration, and, presumably, Biden's, with that of Trump and the Republicans.  

He doesn't go as deep into his own motivations as some future biographer will no doubt do, but why should he?  It's a presidential memoir, not a bildungsroman or a confession à la St. Augustine or J-J Rousseau.  He is good on how he learns to make decisions in his progressive but practical way, and very good on what it's like to have so many explosive balls in the air at once in international affairs, natural disasters, internal politics, the search for bin Laden.

I do find Obama's belief that he was the One as more than a little arrogant and naive. Still, he learned fast–largely by knowing how to surround himself with good people, by team building.

Complaints?  Not really.  Again, the book is a fine example of its genre.  There are people he is extremely careful of, notably Michelle, and of course the sexual passion between them that you could glimpse in photos and videos isn't touched on.  He does come to bed late a lot to find her asleep.  The girls are pretty idealized, the way a fond dad who only sees them occasionally sees them.  Weren't they ever obnoxious?  My granddaughter is, and my granddaughter is just about perfect!

Biden may offer superior governance in the end, if he has extremely good luck and good health, and because he could hit the ground running so soon after being with Obama for eight years.  But Biden could never have inspired people like the young man on the New Jersey transit train sitting across from me who proudly opened his shirt and pulled up a section of his boxer shorts to show the Obama print fabric. 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie did a good close review of the book in the New York Times (

and I liked the review in The Guardian too. (

Saturday, June 26, 2021


Meredith Sue Willis



Dear Friends,
      Some of you know that for many years I've been involved in a small cooperative press called Hamilton Stone Editions.  It has an online literary journal, The Hamilton Stone Review. full of terrific poetry and prose , as well as an imprint called Irene Weinberger Books.
       HSE and IWB have a sterling line-up of new books for Summer 2021. Take a look at these below, and also at the websites for their older (and still in-print!) publications: Hamilton Stone Editions and Irene Weinberger books.
       Support working writers and independent voices!

                                                                                                                   Meredith Sue Willis





H A M I L T O N  S T O N E  E D I T I O N S


Irene Weinberger Books




Jane Lazarre (author of many books including The Communist and the Communist's Daughter; Inheritance; and The Mother Knot) has a new book of poems:

Breaking Light


"There is a formality in these pages, a reliance on structure to contain the powerful yet often restrained emotions. Light, nature, mourning and love provide a deep and familiar comfort and stimulation that remain long after we've stopped reading."
                                                  From the Introduction, by Dr. Miryam Sivan


Jane Lazarre is the author of numerous works. Her first and most recent memoir, The Mother Knot and The Communist and The Communist's Daughter (Duke University Press) are published in Spanish by Las afueras of Barcelona as El Nudo Materno and El Comunista y La Hija del Comunista. Her stories and essays have been widely published in journals and online. She founded and directed the undergraduate writing program at the Eugene Lang College at the New School where she taught Creative Writing and Literature; she has also taught at the City College of New York and Yale University. Lazarre serves on the Board of Directors of The Brotherhood Sister Sol, a social justice youth development non-profit organization in Harlem, New York.


Hilton Obenzinger (author of Busy DyingTreyf Pesach, and many other books) has poems about the quarantine, politics, and beyond:



Diane di Prima says: "I have been following Hilton Obenzinger’s work with delight and astonishment for over 40 years. He is a treasure. Funny, surreal, radical – he is the American Jonathan Swift."
Michael Berkowitz in People's World says,"Hilton Obenzinger’s new book of poems Witness 2017-2020 bristles with righteous energy.... It captures the moments when a candid, often florid observer puts down his camera and joins, nay leads the struggle for meaning, justice, and change."
Jonah Raskin says, "The poems in Witness call for reader participation. In stunning ways, they offer a surrealist take on the news, and invite readers to make some news of their own. They're also a kind of incantation meant to exorcise the unholy ghost of Donald Trump, whose name appears more than a dozen times in these pages — more than one might want— and to usher in a new era where all lives matter, where we all age with dignity and we all go into the future, no matter what it might bring. One doesn't expect any the less from veterans of the Sixties who have gone on dreaming the dream and who have gone into the streets over and over again over the past five-decades."


Hilton Obenzinger writes fiction, poetry, history and criticism. His books have received the American Book Award and other honors. His book How We Write: The Varieties of Writing Experience, is based on the series of "How I Write" public conversations with Stanford faculty and other advanced writers. His other books include Beginning: The Immigration Poems, 1924-1926, of Nachman Obenzinger, poems by his father translated from the Yiddish by Benjamin Weiner, edited by Hilton Obenzinger. His other books include the autobiographical novel Busy DyingRunning Through Fire: How I Survived the Holocaust by Zosia Goldberg as told to Hilton Obenzinger, an oral history of his aunt's ordeal during the war. His history of the fires of New York in verse was selected by the Village Voice as one of the best books of the year and nominated by the Bay Area Book Reviewer's Association for its award in poetry; This Passover Or The Next I Will Never Be in Jerusalem received the American Book Award of the Before Columbus Foundation. Born in 1947 in Brooklyn, raised in Queens, and graduating Columbia University in 1969, he has taught on the Yurok Indian Reservation, operated a community printing press in San Francisco's Mission District, co-edited a publication devoted to Middle East peace, worked as a commercial writer and instructional designer, taught writing, comedy, and American literature at Stanford University. He received his doctorate in Modern Thought and Literature at Stanford. Currently, he is Associate Director of the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project at Stanford University.




Miguel Antonio Ortiz has two new books: The Vagueness of the Tropics, Short Stories for Adults and And Mario and the Cats, for children:



Learn more at Irene Weinberger Books or at Amazon

Miguel Antonio Ortiz was born in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. He grew up in the South Bronx, and graduated from the High School of Music & Art and the City College of New York. He was an editor for Hanging Loose Press and Publications Director for Teachers & Writers Collaborative. In the business world, he worked as a computer programmer for Chase Manhattan Bank, Merrill Lynch and TIAA-CREF. Happily married for 39 years, he is the father of two sons. He currently lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Some words about his novel King of Swords: "It is not often that I finish a novel wishing that it had gone on longer. However, that was how I felt after finishing this beautifully written book by Miguel Ortiz." –William W. Bernhardt, English Professor, City University of New York "The technical proficiency of Ortiz's writing throughout the work is worthy of praise… his writing is lyrical without relying on cliché, expressive without bogging down the reader with too much description or explanation…. He handles very well the generational gap between his major characters, and equally well the manner in which the seeds of bitterness are sown." – Curled Up With a Good Book


Also don't miss

Mario y la Vaca
por Miguel Antonio Ortiz
ilustrado por Adalberto Ortiz



and in English!

Mario and the Cow
by Miguel Antonio Ortiz
illustrated by Adalberto Ortiz

School Library Journal says:
"A solid ... purchase ... with Latinx characters and settings"