9 , 2003
I reported in the
last newsletter about the deaths of two political writers, Howard Fast and
John Sanford. I have since read one of Sanford's
books, THE PEOPLE FROM HEAVEN. This is another of the University of Illinois
Press's THE RADICAL NOVEL RECONSIDERED series edited by Alan Wald. This
series has, I believe, been curtailed because the books were selling in
the hundreds rather than the hundreds of thousands. It seems to me a great
loss if there are to be no more of these rediscovered, well-edited novels
with their informative introductions.
While all the novels
in Alan Wald's series are worthwhile, I've liked some more than others.
Sanford's THE PEOPLE FROM HEAVEN is an interesting combination of a leftist
critique of America combined with High Modernist experimentation. I wanted
to like it better than I did, but in spite of splendid language, drama,
and sudden violence, it has a coolness that kept me, at least, at a distance.
The various narratives slip between fantasy and realism, and the main story
is broken up by chapters of historical material in a very readable verse
(Columbus on his ship; native Americans facing the white invader, a black
civil war spy, and others). I like best the long passages of dialogue unmixed
with tags that capture a mid-twentieth century rural American speech pattern
(the setting is a small town in the Adirondack region of New York State).
The dialogues are funny and fast moving and give characters a surprising
depth and roundness for such spare speeches.
It is a worthwhile
and interesting book that demands your full attention. It raises a very
contemporary question about whether the People from Heaven– supposedly what
native people called the Europeans when they first encountered them in America–
are harming the peoples of color they meet as well as each other. This was
such a radical idea when the book came out in the early nineteen forties,
that American Communist commentators damned it as ultra-leftist!
For old fashioned
story telling that doesn't require so much effort, you can always turn to
the commercially still-available works of Howard Fast. There are flat spots
in his prose, and I suspect he never did much self-editing, but when Fast
gets cooking, he just steals your time. My favorite of his is FREEDOM ROAD
about the years between the Civil War and the return of White Supremacy,
and I'm still looking forward to reading SPARTACUS.
– Meredith Sue Willis
MEANWHILE, IN THE
Arnow: "I know what you mean about having trouble reading because
our country has plunged into this crazy war. But movies still work for me...I
went to an interesting panel with Susan Orlean and Louis Begley (writers
of ORCHID THIEF, which was turned into ADAPTATION, and ABOUT SCHMIDT) talking
about the changes in the screen versions. The screen writers from ADAPTATION
were there, too, and Jonathan Lethem, who wrote this book I like a lot,
MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN, about a semi-gangster who has Tourettes. Edward Norton
is writing a script from it. So I took pictures and notes, posted them on
my website. Check it out if you get a chance: Pat
Arnow. Also posted a picture from an antiwar demonstration I happened
upon, an elephant pooping missiles!"
Pat adds a post
script about "another movie– LOST IN LA MANCHA, a disaster picture about
Terry Gilliam trying to make a movie about Don Quixote [which] inspired
me to try to read DON QUIXOTE. I've tried it before a time or three, not
gotten very far. I'll send a report for BOOKS FOR READERS if it works out
Appel recommends a play
that has already closed, but sounds interesting if it comes your way: SUN-UP
by Lula Vollmer about an Appalachian family confronting war in 1917. It
was a big hit in 1923. Vollmer was from North Carolina and set her plays
in Appalachia. Her record as a playwright is impressive, even a movie with
Katherine Hepburn, says Phyllis Moore.
and I second, a CD by West Virginia singer, interviewer, and writer Kate
Long called BIGOLLADY: there are free samples at KateLong.com.
Finally, in the
non-traditional book arena: If you have Adobe Reader (downloadable for free
you can get free poetry from xPress(ed).
Go to for the Spring 2003 list. I am especially pleased to recommend Halvard
Johnson's witty RAPSODIE ESPAGNOLE.
BACK TO HARD COPY
Gioseffi had edited and
written the introduction for WOMEN ON WAR from the always excellent Feminist
Press at the City University of New York. Daniela says "it is good reading
for these terrible times and features all your favorite authors: Alice Walker
to Zora Neale Hurston, to you-name-her!"
If you are in the
New York area, you are invited to the book's launch, an event called WOMEN,
WAR & PEACE: A LANDMARK EVENT, featuring: Grace Paley, Robin Morgan, Jayne
Cortez, Nina Cassian, Blanche Wiesen Cook, Pwu Jean Lee, Daniela Gioseffi,
Brooklyn Women's Peace Chorus and many more. It's on April 23, 2003, at
the Great Hall of Cooper Union, 7 East 7th Street (at 3rd Ave.), 7:00 PM
to 9:00 P.M.. For information, call Jessica Roncker at (212) 817-7920 or
Lisa London at The Feminist Press @ CUNY (212) 817-7916.
ETHICAL CULTURE REVIEW OF BOOKS is up and running again with new reviews of SPINOZA'S HERESY and my ORADELL
Phyllis Moore tells us
that the March BOOKPAGE contains an interesting review of Denise Giardina's
latest novel FALLAM'S SECRET by Belinda Anderson. BOOKPAGE should be available
free at your local library.
She also recommends THE BELLEVUE LITERARY REVIEW literary
journal. Contributors are doctors, nurses, patients, etc.
Ettinger's latest story
"Has It?" has been posted as a preview on the website of GLASS
TESSERACT at http://www.glasstesseract.com/index.shtml. Click on "selections"
on the upper left.
And don't forget Barbara Cohen's sweet and terribly sad Purim
story at ECLECTICA Magazine: http://www.eclectica.org/v7n2/cohen_kligerman.html.
When I get too busy
with political letters and civic responsibilities and teaching and meetings
and cutting the grass, I sometimes don't want to take a chance on wasting
my precious reading time, so I turn to old favorites. This time, I reread
Virginia Woolf's MRS. DALLOWAY, and really understood why Michael Cunningham
didn't want it to end and thus wrote his own spin- off, THE HOURS.
reading I particularly admired how successfully Woolf manages the omniscient
point of view. This is probably the most successful modern omniscient novel
I've read. It links characters by the simple device of having them pass
one another on the streets of London, and, as they pass, the point of view
shifts. At one point, an unnamed and unseen member of the royal family passes
by in a car, and the mild excitement is shared by wealthy Clarissa shopping
for flowers for her party and Moll Pratt who sells roses on the
I usually remember
the novel as being limited to the point of view of Clarissa Dalloway. If
pressed, I probably would have recalled that it also about the war-damaged
Septimus Warren Smith. What I had totally forgotten is that the novel also
follows Septimus's wife, Clarissa's husband, Clarissa's old love Peter Walsh
and many others, including the flower seller mentioned above. Clarissa and
Septimus are certainly at the heart of the novel, and it is Clarissa's world
of human connection and beauty that triumphs in the end.
One reason the movement
among many consciousnesses works is that the novel is often about surfaces–
that is, of light glinting on porcelain, or shining on the sweep of a gown,
or reflected back by flowers. In Woolf's hands, of course, such things have
a direct line to memory and deep emotion. By our access through
our senses to these surfaces-- this shared sense experience-- we have a natural
link from person to person.
Woolf gives us
sense details as experienced by her many characters plus what amounts to
the patter of human voices just below the surface– the more-or-less conscious
thoughts of her people. And since all these people, poor and rich, share
the same splendid June day in London, and since their one-level-down thoughts
are not unreasonably accessible to a sensitive person– the play of many
consciousnesses works beautifully.
It is my favorite
kind of novel: it goes both broad and deep.Michael
Cunningham's THE HOURS is well-worth reading, and the movie based on his
book is worthwhile too, but both works feel heavy-handed compared to Woolf's
delight in the sound and surfaces of human life, a sensibility that is heightened,
perhaps made possible, by the terrible demons within and without that can
destroy the same precious life.
– Meredith Sue Willis
JOYS OF GENRE FICTION
Moore writes that West
Virginia author Sherri Neilson "lives in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and
FREE FALLING is her first published novel. She is a member of Romance Writers
of America and Washington Romance Writers." Reviews of this historical/paranormal
novel can be found on Neilson's website.
BASKET CASE by
Carol Hiaasen is the kind of book I rarely read– a murder mystery comedy.
I meant to look at the opening chapters to see how it uses a present tense
narrtive, but I got sucked in and read it straight through. It's a conventional
American vigilante story: a single guy, more than a little the worse for
wear, working to right wrong under the radar screen of established institutions.
The ideology is the leathery cowboy thing, but Hiaasen also has an interesting
ax to grind, which is the corporate looting of decent newspapers. The main
strength of the novel– and the reason the present tense works– is the narrator's
wit and intelligence. The narrator, an obituary writer, gets involved in
investigating a rock singer's death. More interesting than the plot to me
were the narrator's obsession with the ages at which people die, his search
for how and when his own father died, and how he got demoted to obituaries.
Hiaasen, who has worked for over 25 years as a reporter and then a columnist
at the MIAMI-HERALD, writes from his strength: he goes fifty pages before
there is a real action scene. He has a lot more fun with sexual innuendo
and casual sexual references than with the actual acts, and with information
and humor than with action. Entertaining light reading.
THE TERRORIST NEXT
DOOR by Daniel Levitas is a solid study of our native right wing terrorist
scene. Levitas says this book was begun just after the 1995 bombing of the
Federal Building in Oklahoma City and finished just after the destruction
of the World Trade Center. I read it as background research for a novel
I may write someday, but no one needs an excuse, because the terrorists
next door are of great interest: you'll learn about the Aryan Nations, the
Posse Comitatus, Christian Identity believers and many more who create elaborate
paranoid theories around the edges of society, but are always testing the
waters for larger groups who might respond to part, if not all, of their
message. These groups were, for example, very active during the farm crisis
of the nineteen eighties. Some of them admire the Nazis, some identify themselves
as Christian believers, but what stays the same is their animus toward Jews,
blacks, gay people and many, many more. The book is thick with its accumulation
of names and events, but well worth dipping into– if only for the nice irony
that the anti-Semitic founder of the Posse Comitatus was half Jewish.
STILL MORE READING
Just published by
Michigan State University Press: DETROIT TALES by Jim Ray Daniels. These
are excellent short stories with some really fine, gritty insights into
life where real people live it.
Gretchen Moran Laskas'
THE MIDWIFE'S TALE– new from Dial. I'll be reviewing this soon in the ETHICAL
CULTURE REVIEW OF BOOKS, which is once again up and running.
For those struggling
artists among you as well as those who love the arts, here's an interesting
online article about how artists get paid: http://www.bricklin.com/artistspaid.htm.
fiction inspired by current events at Alternet: http://www.alternet.org/story.html?StoryID=15511.
Generally, the reason I write
about books is to recommend them, but there are always times when something
has been hyped too much, when it just doesn't do for me what it did for
my friend, or when there is an underlying ideology that I find repulsive.
In this vein, special Guest Editor Shelley Ettinger
RECENT NOT GREAT BOOKS
By Shelley Ettinger
I've had a run of disappointing
reads lately, so why not warn you? First was Ruth Ozeki's ALL OVER CREATION.
I do consider Ruth Ozeki's book a worthy effort– and it occurs to me that
a gardener might find in it more zing than I did. I liked it okay but that's
all; it lacked the zany verve, the zeal and momentum of MY YEAR OF MEATS.
Most critics preferred this to her first, which I find weird. For me, the
first had way more life to it, made me care much more.
Then I read LIGHT, COMING BACK
by Ann Wadsworth, which came highly recommended and was a Lambda Literary
Award nominee last year. A lovely dud. By which I mean the writing was very
fine but so what? Most of the characters are high-culture, proper and prosperous
Bostonians who left me either unmoved or positively repulsed– not what the
author was going for.
I had the opposite problem with
SALOME OF THE TENEMENTS from the Radical Novel Reconsidered series (University
of Illinois Press). The characters, the issues, the setting all worked for
me, but, darn it, the writing did not. Shoot. I'm holding out hope for others
in the series, several of which I've borrowed from the New York University
Disappointment gave way to outrage
as I read IN SUNLIGHT, IN A BEAUTIFUL GARDEN by Kathleen Cambor. In 1997
I took the train from New York to Pittsburgh for the AFL-CIO convention.
As the train chugged over the Alleghenies near Johnstown, Pa., suddenly
a voice came over the loudspeaker and we were treated to a 20-minute discourse
on the Johnstown flood of 1889. It was fascinating, and sparked my interest
in learning more, and I was delighted when this novel came out to glowing
reviews two years ago.
Cambor was hailed for giving
voice to the flood's victims and exposing the perpetrators. Well. She does,
sort of. But she also treats them equally– equally sympathetically. Even
as she shows how the millionaire owners of a "gentleman's club" upriver
were directly responsible for the dam burst and flood that killed over 2,200
people, mostly steel workers and their families, she also spends many pages
establishing the humanity and essential goodness of the culprits. And these
are not just any culprits, mind you. We're talking the big boys, the robber
barons. Carnegie, Mellon, Frick. She dwells for example on Frick's love
of art, kindness to his wife, loyalty to friends and so on– frigging Frick,
Carnegie's trigger boy who three years later would sic Pinkerton killers
on the Homestead strikers!
She also writes quite touchingly
about the club lawyer's background: how his brothers died and his father,
a Virginia plantation owner, lost everything in the Civil War because they
refused to compromise their principles. Yes, that's right, she lauds them
as noble souls who held fast to their principles, which consisted of getting
rich off the labor of enslaved Africans. I was so appalled at this section
that I nearly stopped, but I thought maybe she'll turn it around later somehow.
No, she never does. She treats
everyone with equal sympathy, the thousands of flood victims and the men
who killed them. I was left wondering what the point of this book is. It's
been lauded for looking at the role of social class in the Johnstown flood
and yes, in a way it does. But to what end? Ultimately all I could figure
out she's saying, if anything, is that, well, these things happen. There
are classes, owning and laboring, and there are tragedies, brought about
by the one and suffered by the other, and it's sad but, gee, it's the natural
order of things and really no one's at fault.
Of course, I don't think there's
anything natural, inevitable, or final about the capitalist system, but
this book made me think again about what a tight hold capitalist ideology
has on the arts in this country. Books and book reviews in particular. Almost
without exception, both, in this time and place, are written and read, consciously
or not, from the sensibility of the class that holds power. How could it
be otherwise when that sensibility holds utter sway? If once in while a
writer breaks out, the book is denounced as unsubtle and unartistic, shrill,
a screed, and the writer as an odious ideologue (which, come to think of
it, isn't that far off from how Ruth Ozeki's first book was treated)– or,
more commonly, the book is ignored and dies on the shelf.
I don't have any special pipeline
to news of well-written, class-conscious new literature– all I have are
the mainstream reviews and very rarely some other tip from a friend. Still,
I can think of a few books 've read over the last few years that I thought
were very good according to my lights and didn't, as far as I know, get
much notice: LOCAS by Yxta Maya Murray, about Chicana teenagers in Los Angeles.
THE NECESSARY HUNGER by Nina Revoyr, also set in Los Angeles, also about
teenaged girls, basketball players, an African-American and an Asian-American.
SHADOW PARTISAN by Nadja Tesich, set in post-World-War-II Yugoslavia. A
fantastic series of murder mysteries, not a genre I usually enjoy, by Barbara
Neeley featuring as the main character a Black woman who works as a domestic.
They're titled BLANCHE ON THE LAM, BLANCHE CLEANS UP, BLANCHE AMONG THE
TALENTED TENTH, and BLANCHE PASSES GO. Very sharp, entertaining page turners
but also deep: social commentary passing as mysteries.
There are, thankfully, also books
that are popular as well as socially conscious. Those that spring to mind
are from other countries– no surprise since there is much higher class consciousness
everywhere else, or, if from the U.S., emerge primarily from the experience
of immigrants and people of color. I'm thinking, for example, of Sandra
Cisneros's CARAMELO, Jamie O'Neill's AT SWIM TWO BOYS, everything by Sarah
Waters, and many that we don't get a chance to read because they're not
translated into English or published in this country.
– Shelley Ettinger
Guest editor Shelley Ettinger
reads during her lunch hour and on the subway to and from her job as a secretary
at New York University. She's writing her first novel, portions of which
have been published in several online literary journals. The links are at: http://homepages.nyu.edu/~se30/.
Her latest story "Rowdy Goddess," which is adapted from the opening chapter
of her novel-in-progress, VERA'S WILL, has been published in the online
journal Muse Apprentice Guild at http://www.muse-apprentice-guild.com/shelleyettinger-fiction/home.html.
ANOTHER NOT-GREAT BOOK
Phyllis Moore writes: "Here is my "take"
on the novel SINS OF THE SEVENTH SISTER: A MEMOIR OF THE GOTHIC SOUTH by
Huston Curtis. The best thing about it is its title. The second best thing
is its dust jacket. It is told from the point of a view of a seven year
"In this novel WV, once again,
is the South. An interesting point, it went out to reviewers as a memoir
but was published as a novel. It does mentions Elkins and Weston but has
- 0 - to do with recognizable life in WV. It's sex-drenched, rather silly
and implausible. Sure to be a best seller and a movie!"
AND MORE COMMENTS ON A VERY GOOD
Rebecca Kavaler writes: "I have lent my copy of John Williams' AUGUSTUS to a friend so without
it at hand cannot be too specific about the aspects that I liked so much.
Williams won me in the first sentence of his Author's Note (which I copied
down to use as an epigraph should I ever write another historical!): ‘It
is recorded that a famous Latin historian declared he would have made Pompey
win the battle of Pharsalia had the effective turn of a sentence required
"Well, in spite of his ability
to turn a sentence effectively, I don't think Williams found it necessary
to subvert any historical truths. Since I did not begin this book with any
great interest in the Roman saga, the fact that I became completely engrossed
in it is a tribute to his narrative skill and to the very original way he
tells a familiar story––using letters, memoirs, senate proceedings, diaries,
and alternating the accounts written as they were happening with other accounts
recalled decades later––yet never interrupting the cumulative suspense of
history's flow. For me it stands as a wonderful preamble to Gibbon's DECLINE
AND FALL– true enough as history in its account of the military campaigns
and political maneuvering following Caesar's death, fictional only in its
in-depth portrayal of the characters involved. And of course the sad conclusion–
that like the human body, an empire begins to decompose as soon as it reaches
maturity– is particularly
relevant to these times."
For a blog (web log or online
journal) that focuses on the discussion of poetics, take a look at http://ronsilliman.blogspot.com/. Especially check out the entry for
May 3, 2003 entry for a really nice discussion of Halvard
KIND WORDS FOR THIS NEWSLETTER
Ciabattari: "What a great new newsletter (#43). I, too, have been
drawn back to Virginia Woolf. MRS. DALLOWAY, THE WAVES. And her diaries.
In fact, I loved her entries during World War II, as she had a new book
coming out and was eager for reviews, and also had her London townhouse
bombed during the blitz. Thanks, too, for the Alternet fiction inspired
by current events."
"Joho" Weinberger: "Speaking of writing about books, my sister in
law, the novelist Meredith Sue Willis, writes a newsletter about books worth
reading that is enhanced by contributions from her readers. It's very personal
and personable and is infused with the love of reading." (August 5, 2002
Suzanne McConnell has a piece in m.a.g.: http://www.muse-apprentice-guild.com/suzannemcconnell-fiction/home.html
latest really tight and sharp short story, "Arabella Leaves," is in Ms.
online right now at http://www.msmagazine.com/dec02/ciabattari.asp. Jane writes that it draws its inspiration in part from drug problems
she learned about while judging a contest called the Nancy Dickerson Whitehead
awards, for print and broadcast journalism that accurately depicts drug
and alcohol abuse. Jane also has a story in the new issue of READERVILLE,
about the new Tennessee Williams story that appears in the new anthology
French Quarter Fiction, edited by Joshua Clark (Light of New Orleans Publishing).
MORE CORRESPONDENCE ABOUT BOOKS
Roberta Mundie writes: "You and I are about the same age, and I read MIDDLEMARCH for the
first time not long before you did. I also reread it at intervals, testing
(I suppose) whether I am still growing. John Cheever, the novelist, said
that his mother read Middlemarch continually: when she reached the end,
she simply started over.
"The lovely concluding paragraph
('The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts;
. . half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life and rest
in unvisited tombs.') I found a couple of years ago as part of the text
of a liturgical reading in the service book at the North Broad Street temple
in Philadelphia, attributed to 'a very wise person.'
"Anyway, I persuaded my reading
group to read Middlemarch for our next meeting, and our discussion is coming
up in mid-June."
I hope the discussion goes well,
Tom Schloegel writes that he just read my novel for kids, MARCO'S MONSTER: "Realistic
4th grade fiction is not my normal reading choice, but I really enjoyed
it. I especially liked how race was not referred to once, and yet Marco's
integrated neighborhood was completely transparent. From my own parenting
experience thus far I know that children don't notice skin color, so well
done there. Overall it was a fun, satisfying read.
"I can recommend another page-turner
if you are interested: ARTEMIS FOWL by Eoin Colfer. Easily as creative a
conception as the world of Harry Potter. Artemis discovers that trolls,
dwarves and fairies really exist and he kidnaps one for ransom. I see from
your literary email list the type of fiction you like, but since you are
also working on science fiction, maybe you would enjoy this too."
This issue welcomes Summer 2003.
I'm hoping that such a polite welcome will influence the weather to do something
besides rain. There have been remarkably few days dry enough to work in
the vegetable garden. We've also been wrapped up in graduation here– my
only child Joel is graduating from high school with a lot more parties and
events than I remember from my graduation all those years ago in Shinnston,
Since this is the beginning
of vacations, it is time to ask people for their summer reading plans: what
are you reading for fun or as a project? I have a suggestion for those seeking
a challenging but not terribly long classic: THE PRINCESS OF CLEVES. This
was written in 1678 in France by Madame de Lafayette, a friend of the aphorist
Duc de La Rochefoucauld and the famous letter writer Madame de Sevigne.
It is one of those rare books from an extremely different time, place, and
culture that is still readable. I first read it when I was in a group that
was working our way through older books by women, and then returned to it
after hearing it discussed in a Teaching
Company lecture on the development of the Self.
This is a book that takes some
effort, but it is much easier– and much shorter!– than, say, THE TALE OF
GENJI. THE PRINCESS OF CLEVES is possibly the first historical novel: Madame
de Lafayette was a member of the court of Louis IV, and with research and
information from her friends, she set her book a hundred years earlier in
the court of Henri II; most of the characters in the novel, excluding the
heroine, are real people– such as the young and rather mischievous Mary
Queen of Scots. Scholars indicate that Lafayette did well on accuracy, if
not on attitudes. Her themes are germane to life as she knew it, and her
plot is about what happens to a young woman determined to be faithful to
her husband, but also attracted to romantic passion and to the importance
of honesty in relationships.
The hothouse court atmosphere
feels breathlessly claustrophobic to most readers in the twenty-first century:
so few options and activities available to women!– and the men of the court
aren't much better off. Madame De Lafayette's world was one where the aristocracy
had been carefully brought to heel by the Sun King and his advisors so that
their daily lives centered on court intrigue rather than on administering
their estates or creating power bases in the provinces. Poor people, of
course– the vast whole of France– don't figure in the story at all.
All that having been said, it's
still a pretty compelling picture of a tiny coterie of people whose energies
are all focused on success like so many Manhattan stock traders. The women
exercise their energies on seeking power through alliances with men, withholding
and giving sexual favors and other kinds of favors. It is superbly and cleanly
written, classical and compressed– almost all dialogue, with many stories-within-stories,
and only the tiniest soupcons of description: a room, a garment, a view
of a garden. Just enough.
In the end, the Princess is a
kind of hero of personal integrity. The "world" is amazed by the lengths
to which she will go to preserve her virtue. People argue that she is putting
herself on a pedestal, putting herself above other women, making a fool
of herself by not giving in to passion like a normal woman, etc. etc. She
is steadfast, however, in her determination to do right even in the extreme
circumstances of a court where everything conspires to bring her down. It
seem to me, from my twenty-first century viewpoint, that less extraordinary
people probably do more good in the world, and are certainly happier, but
the Princess's determination makes for an extremely absorbing story.
– Meredith Sue Willis
Here's a book that many people
have missed: THE GIRL PRETENDING TO READ RILKE by Barbara Riddle (available
at Amazon.com and probably elsewhere), the headlong, entertaining coming
of age of a young woman at the very opening of the nineteen-sixties. She
tries everything at once: to be brilliant, to make love, to have relationships,
to have adventures– and mainly, to find her footing in a shaky world.
My light reading this summer
is probably going to be continuing Orson Scott Card's SEVENTH SON series.
Card creates an alternate history for America where the Iroquois industrialized
early and have their own state in a much smaller United States, and the
Hio river is one of the boundaries between the territory of Wobbish and
a mountaineer country called Appalachee. William "Bill" Harrison and Mike
"King of the River" Fink are villains– and, oh, if you like this kind of
thing, it's a ton of fun. I've read the first book, SEVENTH SON, and RED
PROPHET so far. Card doesn't need a recommendation from me: he's one of
the Big Dogs of the science fiction/fantasy realm.
Which brings me to SEABISCUIT
by Laura Hillenbrand. This was a Mother's Day gift– just in time for this
year's Triple Crown horse races. I didn't intend to like it– Boo to big
best sellers being made into big movies! However– I couldn't put it down.
I always loved horses, and always love books as the entryway into Other
Worlds, exotic to me (Orson Scott Card's America; Mme. De Lafayette's court
life). Besides, I read all the Black Stallion series when I was a girl,
and this books is like a gritty grown-up version of Walter Farley's THE
BLACK STALLION. It's almost worth the price of the book just for the gross
descriptions of how jockeys take off weight.
And one more in the Doesn't-Need
-My Imprimatur category: WHITE TEETH by Zadie Smith, recommended often here
and elsewhere. It has been a big and worth best seller. Smith has an apparently
bottomless fund of inventiveness and affection for all kinds of people.
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
Carmen Iglesias recommends BE
THE DREAM: PREP FOR PREP GRADUATES SHARE THEIR STORIES, "an informal history
of Prep for Prep, a New York City-based program which prepares students
of color from the New York City public schools to enter preparatory (i.
e. independent, or private) schools, hence the name Prep for Prep. It's
edited by the founder of the program, Gary Simons, and the bulk of the text
is a series of essays by Prep alumni and alumnae .... describing their experiences,
before, during, and after the program, emphasizing how Prep transformed
their lives. I haven't gotten through all of it, and a series of essays
necessarily varies in appeal from piece to piece," says Carmen, "but I have
been quite impressed so far by the book." It's published by Algonquin Books
of Chapel Hill.
LETTER FROM STEVEN BLOOM
One of my favorite authors Steven
Bloom (NO NEW JOKES– see Books For Readers #38 ) writes:
"dear meredith sue willis, thanks
for your kind words about no new jokes. i am always very happy when someone
who isn't jewish and isn't from brooklyn likes it. an independent literary
newsletter is a terrific idea and as soon as my wife and i can find out
what a blank email is we would like to connect with you. we have lived in
heidelberg, germany for the past twenty five years. she is a singer and
i've taught american studies at the university for the past ten years. i
have been writing a lot....a collection of my stories will be published
in german next year by the publisher of the german version of no new jokes.
the title story, open marriage, will appear in the next issue of confrontation....steven
DEPARTMENT OF GOOD NEWS
A segment of Tom Butler's novel-in-progress
has won the Reflections Short Fiction Award (from REFLECTIONS LITERARY JOURNAL
at Piedmont Community College in North Carolina) and achieved semi-finalist
ranking in the H.E. Francis Literary Competition (University of Alabama).
You can order a copy of REFLECTIONS at Reflections Literary Journal, Piedmont Community College, P.O. Box
1197, Roxboro, NC 27573. (It's $7.)
Poet Barbara Crooker has a new
book out: BARBARA CROOKER: GREATEST HITS 1980 - 2002. See Pudding
A good discussion of Halvard
Johnson's poetry appears in the poetics blog http://ronsilliman.blogspot.com/.
Go to the entry for May 3, 2003.
WEBSITES AND ONLINE RESOURCES
Find resources for independents
of all sorts: bookstores, publishers, readers, writers, music listeners,
etc. etc. at New Pages.
Writer and teacher-of-writing
Roberta Allen (THE PLAYFUL WAY TO SERIOUS WRITING; THE PLAYFUL WAY TO KNOWING
YOURSELF) has a good website with information about her and her books at http://www.prairieden.com/roberta.allen.
An New York City organization
called Media Bistro gives classes
and bills itself as "Connecting Media Professionals to New Opportunities
-- and to Each Other!"
FROM PHYLLIS MOORE
Phyllis Moore writes that she
has read "a few pages of LOLITA IN TEHRAN. It certainly gets mixed reviews
on the Net and I'll be interested in seeing how it shakes out for me. I
feel free not to read it if it is boring. I recently tried to read ICY SPARKS,
partly because its protagonist has Tourette's Syndrome, but found it boring."
Phyllis also recommends a children's
book set in West Virginia, THE HAUNTING OF SWAIN'S FANCY by Brenda Seabrook
that received a nice review in KIRKUS REVIEWS. "In an earlier book, THE
VAMPIRE IN MY BATHTUB," writes Phyllis, "Brenda created Eugene, West Virginia's
first, at least to my knowledge, vampire. He's a sweetie."
And she forwards information
about Poet Jeff Mann.
He has a new book out and an upcoming issue of APPALACHIAN HERITAGE dedicated
to his work! BONES WASHED WITH WINE, Jeff's first full-length
book of poetry, published in January 2003 by Gival Press, combines poems
from his sold-out chapbooks BLISS and FLINT SHARDS FROM SUSSEX. You can
order it from Gival Press,
and there's a sample poem at http://givalpress.prodigybiz.com/jeffmann.html:
....Flesh is the hollow
sycamore within which
a solitary huddles....
FROM SHELLEY ETTINGER
Shelley Ettinger writes: "After
reading a couple light books last week, on Monday I read one that for some
reason I never had before and that I'd been meaning to since the war buildup
began last fall: JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN by Dalton Trumbo. Oh man.
"I [also] read another from the
Radical Novel Reconsidered series: MOSCOW YANKEE by Myra Page [mentioned
in Books for Readers # 15 ]. I liked
it a lot. It's set in 1931 and the main character is an unemployed Detroit
auto worker who goes to the Soviet Union for a job. In places the writing
took some slogging to get through, I think because she tried too hard to
make the characters real via slangy vernacular. But overall I thought she
succeeded in the effort to portray women and men grappling with machines,
each other and themselves in the struggle to create a new, better way of
living and working. She conveyed something that's hard to grasp unless you've
taken part in such an endeavor yourself or at least observed it firsthand
(I only got a sense of it when I spent time in Cuba)– which is that a social
revolution is not a single event that takes place on a certain date when
governmental power changes hands; rather, it is a long, ongoing process
that only starts then. The workers take power, that opens up the potential
to change social relations--and then the real work begins.
"I often alternate between reading
that takes effort and thought and light, easy page turners, so after a couple
weeks with MOSCOW YANKEE, I spent a couple days with LOST IN A GOOD BOOK.
This is Jasper Fforde's sequel to THE EYRE AFFAIR. Apparently the adventures
of literary operative Thursday Next will be a series, with a third book
due in 2004. This second one, like the first, is funny, silly and over the
top. Characters' names contrived of groan-worthy puns. A wild plot. Active
involvement of many fictional folk, mostly notably Miss Haversham. Some
sly commentary--for example, Thursday's ancient grandmother is trying to
kill herself by reading the most boring classics, and there are several
conversations about the best candidates. And the return of literary historian
Millon De Flosse. Great fun."