Meredith Sue Willis will be teaching a three-session online
creative writing class starting January 2, 2004. Limited enrollment- deadline
for applying is December 19, 2003- Cost $120. If you're interested, get
more information at MSWclasses.
There was a time in the late
nineteen sixties and early nineteen seventies when I wanted to become a
public school teacher in the New York City. I read a whole string of inspiring
memoirs by teachers about their work. Many of these are still in print or
available from online used book stores: Herbert R. Kohl's 36 CHILDREN and
George Dennison's THE LIVES OF CHILDREN were two of my favorites. I wanted
to have similar experiences and then to write my own book.
In the end, though, my work
turned out to be as a visiting writer in the schools, and what I published
was three practical guides to creative writing plus, later, two novels for
children in the voice of a New York City kid named Marco. What I'm building
up to saying is that I thought that particular genre- three-quarters memoir
and one quarter pedagogy-was in my past. But then I picked up a 1999 book
from Teachers College Press written by a young teacher from the southern
U.S. who ended up as a public school teacher in a largely Mexican-American
neighborhood in Chicago. I just peeked inside-this one was definitely destined
for the big Read Later stack-and an hour later realized I had been sucked
in, willy-nilly. Now I want to recommend it, not just for people in the
field of education, but for general readers as well.
The book is called HOLLER IF
YOU HEAR ME: THE EDUCATION OF A TEACHER AND HIS STUDENTS, and in it Gregory
Michie narrates his struggles to figure out how to teach. I am still appalled
by how little training a person can have and be set in front of a group
of children, but Michie learned fast and was soon using creative writing,
team teaching, video cameras, and books written by people with the same
background as his students. In particular, he brings to the attention of
a group of girls Sandra Cisneros's wonderful HOUSE ON MANGO STREET, and
eventually Cisneros herself comes to visit the school-and then writes the
introduction to this book.
Perhaps most successfully, Michie
uses video and film to facilitate his students' explorations. Like most
great teachers, he educates himself anew every day and teaches through relationships.
This isn't to say that his style is necessarily a model for every teacher,
but what the book demonstrates so well is how one man can nurture his own
way of teaching.
Michie's development as a teacher,
however, is only half the book: the other half is transcripts of Michie's
interviews with his students, usually a year or more down the road from
when he was their teacher. In these substantial and masterfully edited passages,
he captures voices and aspirations in a way that is worth far more than
the cost of the book. It made me remember why I read all those books all
those years ago- and why after so many years I am still inspired and delighted
by my opportunities to work with children and young people in public schools.
Virginia writer Carter Seaton has just published a new book that I had the
pleasure of blurbing (is that really a verbal nowadays?). I want to pass
on my recommendation here: The book, FATHER'S TROUBLES, is a rousing good
story of the wildcatting days of the nineteen twenties in the Appalachian
mountains. Fortunes were made overnight- but often at the expense of honesty.
Lawrence Burgher is the main character of this novel of four generations;
he is a poor boy with that All-American early twentieth century zeal to
succeed. He is determined to buy, sell, and cut corners on his way to a
life with servants, big cars, and big deals. He is also the lifelong lover
of one woman, his wife, and the story of their love affair is the most poignant
part of the book. But Lawrence's personal ambition and an era when winning
was valued at any cost lead him to ruin. Seaton manages to make even details
of finance gripping as we trace Lawrence's fall. There is a kind of magnificence
in his story, but the novel also shows the widening circles of suffering
that a man seduced by a predatory business culture can create.
Greene has what he calls "a wee book" of poetry from Bob Arnold's Longhouse
Press in Vermont. It's called HUMMINGBIRD'S WATER TROUGH and has twelve
short poems bound in a fold out format. Only 100 copies were done, so it's
a collector's item: The very reasonable price is $7.50 or $10.00 postpaid.
They can be had from Longhouse at River Road, Guilford, Vermont 05301. The
publisher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sanders recommends the work of New School professor and author David Gates
(WONDERS OF THE INVISIBLE WORLD, JERNIGAN, PRESTON FALLS). Greg says, "I
know he's not for everyone, but he's a great...minimalist.... He's a big
fan of--or at least takes a big interest in--metafiction, and points out
how it goes back at least to Shakespeare."
And, looking for a short read, I picked up Peter Taylor's A WOMAN OF MEANS.
That Southern gentleman sure could write! And I don't mean fancy images,
I mean the kind of subtle sentences that burrow under the surface and turn
up all kinds of interesting truths.
MORE GOOD READING-ONLINE
New Literary Magazine is launched! Hamilton Stone Editions is proud to announce
the first issue of The Hamilton Stone Review, featuring poems by James V.
Cervantes, Wendy Battin, Dick Allen, and Gwyn McVay and fiction by Joan
Newburger, Ellen Alexander Conley, and Shelley Ettinger. Take a look at
the very first issue at Hamilton
Stone Review. Truth in advertising: I'm part of the collective that
runs Hamilton Stone Editions, and I'm proud to say I was the fiction editor
for this issue. The poetry editor was Halvard Johnson.
online magazine I'm associated with, EP;PHANY, literary magazine of NYU's
School of Continuing and Professional Studies, has a new issue up at http://www.epiphanyzine.com.
There are stories by Carole Rosenthal, Rick Rofihe, and Leanne Ellis as
well as poems, nonfiction, drama and some really striking black and white
photos taken by a GI during the Vietnam War.
LITERARY MAMA, a new online literary
magazine at http:// www.literarymama.com features dynamic, mama-centric
writing by mother writers about the complexities and many faces of motherhood.
They publish fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, literary criticism, book
reviews, columns, and profiles about mother writers. Their premiere issue
is now on online with fiction, non-fiction, literary criticism, and poetry
by: Gayle Brandeis, Ericka Lutz, Susan Ito, Carol Zapata-Whelan, Lois Rubin,
Karen Vernon, Dayna Macy, Elaine Starkman, Christina Conrad, Leah Korican,
Svea Barrett, Barbara Crooker, and Ronda Broatch.
And one more for Barbara Crooker! "Yes, folks,"she writes, "he's chosen
another one, 'My Middle Daughter, on the Edge of Adolescence, Learns to
Play the Saxophone,' for Friday, October 24th. The "he" is, of course, Garrison
Keillor's WRITER'S ALMANAC at www.writersalmanac.org
for a story by Greg Sanders at the MISSISSIPPI
REVIEW in the archives if not in the current issue.
also represented (and very proud to be there) in a collection of wonderful
women writers from the Appalachian region published by the University of
Kentucky: LISTEN HERE: WOMEN WRITING IN APPALACHIA, edited by Sandra L.
Ballard and Patricia L. Hudson. It has pieces by everyone from Barbara Kingsolver
and Gail Godwin to Dorothy Allison and Harriette Simpson Arnow.
SITES OF INTEREST
a look at Belinda Anderson's attractive, inviting website at http://www.belindaanderson.com,
It has links to some of her articles, especially her story of real-life
publication, which is a little more work that some of us expect- but still
satisfying in the end.
calls our attention to a very interesting project called Book Crossing at http://www.BookCrossing.com. Take
OF FREE BUSINESS CARDS
Do you need business cards? A company is offering 250 full
color cards for what they call free but includes a shipping and handling
charge of $5.25. Go to http://www.VistaPrint.com/nation.
you're looking for ideas to jump-start your writing, I've begun a page of
writing starters- free one-shot exercises for anyone who stumbles across
them. I'm putting them out partly to publicize the online classes I run
occasionally (for a fee), but they are also out there in the spirit of the
Internet as a place for exchange and discovery. You can find them (and I'll
be adding more from time to time) at http://www.meredithsuewillis.com/writingexercises.html.
And then there's National Writing Month: a website that encourages people
to write a novel during the month of November! It is at the very least an
interesting idea: http://www.nanowrimo.org/index.php?s=2 !!
December 8, 2003
Welcome to new subscribers! This
newsletter is about books and online reading. Your comments and suggestions
are not only welcome, they are solicited! Send them to MsueWillis@aol.com,
and unless you say otherwise, I will feel free to edit what you write to
use in future issues.
This issue focuses on books
by two excellent writers, Keith Maillard and Lee Maynard, both born and
bred in West Virginia– Maillard in the extreme northern part of the state,
and Maynard from the southern section. Both moved away as young men, but
often go home both in body and in imagination. If you haven't heard of them,
you ought to check them out– their books would make a far more rewarding
holiday gift than the cheese log in the gift catalogue on your night table!
West Virginia literature specialist Phyllis Moore offers comments on the
work of Keith Maillard, and then Christine Willis discusses Lee Maynard's
new novel plus a recent interview Terry Gross did with him on National Public
I'm looking forward to hearing
what YOU are reading.
I've read Maillard's book of
poetry, three of his novels, and have skimmed the others. My favorites are
ALEX DRIVING SOUTH and LIGHT IN THE COMPANY OF WOMEN and his poetry, DEMENTIA
AMERICANA. As to writing poetry and fiction, he's about as good as they
get. He does meticulous research and creates real people and places. As
an ordinary reader, his choice of the country club set as the focus of GLORIA
didn't really pique my interest, but he nailed the characters, and it includes
so much history of the development of industry in that area. THE CLARINET
POLKA didn't capture my interest [either.]. I had expected it to be about
some of the minor Polish characters in ALEX DRIVING SOUTH and it wasn't....The
protagonist and his high school companions [in ALEX DRIVING SOUTH] are wonderful
examples of teen angst and the accompanying sexual tension. Two of the senior
boys get drunk and drive from Wheeling to what sounds like Greene County,
Pennsylvania, on a crooked road.... Route 19 (also called the Washington
Road)...like a twisted washboard. I wish he had written a sequel to ALEX.
In addition to being such a fine writer, he's a genuinely nice guy!
Willis says of Lee Maynard:
I enjoyed SCREAMING WITH THE
CANNIBALS (Lee Maynard's new sequel to his cult favorite CRUM) very much....I
thought [however] that the [NPR Fresh Air] interviewer, Terry Gross....was
very superficial in her questions, and she treated the notion of being from
the Appalachians as... some sort of sensory input-blocked circumstance....
her questioning made me feel this guy, Lee Maynard, had managed to transform...something
other than human into human. (By the way, Lee said during the interview
that there are two types of West Virginians: those who would never leave
and those who must– I am paraphrasing. I would add a third category: those
who leave and write about the area from which they have escaped!)
The reader of SCREAMING WITH
THE CANNIBALS must appreciate the love and respect that Jessie has for women.
I know that many people will misread Jessie's interactions with women, but
having known West Virginians of the male persuasion, I know that Jessie
is functioning differently. He admires females for their depth of spirit,
warmth, and cleverness. He never speaks of women in derogatory terms, and
even if the females' involvement with sexuality is described from the male
perspective, Jessie at least admits to and celebrates their involvement
with their sexuality.
The [church] revival in SCREAMING
WITH THE CANNIBALS is powerful. The fear created by having attended a couple
myself was immediately revived as I read Jessie's account. There is for
all people– no, for many people– the fear of "being found out." So this
revival experience which covers, thankfully, many pages, speaks to many
people. Just as the genuine revival experience causes a crescendo of emotions,
so did the description of Jessie's experience.
Further, Lee captures the West
Virginian sensation of "not being" ... not Northern and clearly not Southern
... what are they? That is not answered in the novel. I don't think it can
be answered. I wish Terry Gross had been smarter with Lee. I mean that:
I was offended for him that she took such a superficial approach. He, however,
responded to her shallow questions with dignity and grace, and further,
managed to make points of significance. She spent more time on CRUM, I suspect,
because she was trying to capitalize on the pre-human condition she tried
to create. In SCREAMING WITH THE CANNIBALS, Jessie has left behind the hidden
and secretive world of the incestuous and ignorant billies of the hill and
has begun to experience life in the open. I think that was not mysterious
enough for Terry.
MORE GOOD READING
From Bill Robinson, we received a suggestion
for a hard-to-find book that sounds like a tremendous lot of fun: "Your
newsletter's mention of the era of the Bard, took me back to one of my favorite
Bard-era minor writings. As I recall the author was Peel, or Peal, or thereabouts.
The title was something like THE BOOK OF CONEY CATCHING. A coney is a rabbit,
and another word for a country bumpkin (thus, Coney Island, need I say more).
In great detail it is a manual for taking a country boy (visiting the big
city, London) for anything of value he may have. I found it while writing
a Dictionary of the Big Con, in an NYU course in Semantics."
Appel recommends what he calls "a spectacular Israeli novel– LOVES
OF JUDITH...by Meir Shalev, and a truly grand, moving Gabriel Garcia Marquez
meets Kafka, deeply felt work. It was recommended to me by the translator,
Barbara Harshav, who I met up here in New Haven."
STILL MORE GOOD READING–ONLINE!
Phyllis Moore recommends something
for us from the Writers Almanac the poem for Wednesday, November 19, 2003, "Topography," by Sharon Olds.
The poem begins, "After we flew across the country we/ got in bed, laid
our bodies/ delicately together, like maps laid/ face to face, East to West,
my/ San Francisco against your New York...."
Don't miss fiction and poetry
in a new online literary magazine: Hamilton Stone Editions is proud to announce
the first issue of THE HAMILTON STONE REVIEW, featuring Poems by James V.
Cervantes, Wendy Battin, Dick Allen, and Gwyn McVay; fiction by Joan Newburger,
Ellen Alexander Conley, and Shelley Ettinger. Take a look at the very first
issue at Hamilton
Stone Review. Truth in advertising: I'm part of the collective that runs Hamilton Stone
Editions, and I was fiction editor for this issue. The poetry editor was
Another online magazine I'm
associated with, EPIPHANY, literary magazine of NYU's School of Continuing
and Professional Studies, has a new issue up at http://www.epiphanyzine.com. There are stories by Carole Rosenthal, Rick Rofihe, and Leanne Ellis as
well as poems, nonfiction, drama and some really striking black and white
photos taken by a GI during the Vietnam War.
FOR THOSE IN AND AROUND NEW YORK
Ceres Gallery is hosting a celebration
of the fall books from Marsh Hawk Press Thursday, December 11 with Rochelle
Ratner, author of HOUSE AND HOME, Basil King, author of MIRAGE, and Chard
deNiord author of SHARP GOLDEN THORN. All three will read - sign books,
etc. Ceres is at 547 West 27th Street, 2nd floor. 7:30 p.m. $8 donation.
Proceeds go to support Planned Parenthood.
ANNOUNCEMENTS AND BOOKS RECEIVED
Especially for those with an
interest in memoir and writing workshops comes a new book from Publishers
Place edited by John Patrick Grace called THE LIFE WRITING CLASS which collects
work from a life writing class. Publishers Place also has a new collection
of memoir from a physician named Dr. Constance Hayden. Brochures and books
are available from Publishers Place at 945 Fourth Avenue, Suite 200A, Huntington,
WV 25701. See their website at Publishers Place.
J.C. Todd and others including
Hugh Seidman and Maura Stanton are represented in an anthology of new poetry
and fiction edited by David Dodd Lee called SHADE 2004 It is available from Four Way Books, POB 535 Village
Station, New York, NY 10014.
Mountain Press has a new trilogy by Victor Depta called A WEST VIRGINIA
TRILOGY. They are at 2027 Oakview Road, Ashland, KY 41101.
DEPARTMENT OF TOOTING MY OWN
My very short story "Recessional"
is online at COELECANTH journal.
I'm also represented (and very
proud to be there) in a collection of women writers from Appalachian region:
LISTEN HERE: WOMEN WRITING IN APPALACHIA, edited by Sandra L. Ballard and
Patricia L. Hudson.
I want to end
2003 by talking about a book that took most of the year for me to finish–
Azar Nafisi's READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN. I had expected to be drawn in immediately
to this memoir about women defying a repressive government by reading Western
literature (the subtitle is "A Memoir in Books"). Instead, I repeatedly
laid it down. There was something about the passionately feminine sensibility
of the writing style that put me off. I also had trouble differentiating
the young women in Nafisi's subversive and exclusive private class. Thus,
even though their stories of torture in prison and oppression by the Iranian
Islamic Revolution and male relatives are stunning, I still couldn't separate
one from the other.
Only when I read
the afterward did I realize that the women were composites rather than individuals.
I suspect Nafisi really wanted to talk about the real women, and was constrained.
I also had another realization: I was interrupting my reading of this book
to read the books Nafisi and her students were discussing. The memoir is
organized into sections named after Western authors: Nabokov; James; Austen;
etc. Western literature in English was her academic specialty at the University
of Tehran until she was dismissed for refusing to cover her hair in a way
satisfactory to the authorities.
Once I realized
this– that I was laying aside her memoir to read or reread the books she
was talking about– I began to value the memoir itself more highly. I reread
LOLITA (see Newsletter #48 and #49), then two more Nabokov books, PNIN and
the stunning little INVITATION TO A BEHEADING. Next, I turned to her favorite
Henry James novels, DAISY MILLER and WASHINGTON SQUARE. DAISY MILLER, in
particular, caused great controversy among her students– whether Daisy is
a strong young woman or a brazen harlot. The Iranian perspective made issues
about how a woman looks to society (DAISY) or how a woman obeys her father
(WASHINGTON SQUARE) far more contemporary than they ever been to me before.
The claustrophobic worlds of WASHINGTON SQUARE and DAISY MILLER take on
special meaning when you realize what they meant to Nafisi's students.
Finally, a few
weeks ago, I finished READING LOLITA IN TEHERAN itself. Slowly but surely
I had been drawn into the memoir on Nafisi's terms. She seduced me with
her deep passion for great novels. Nafisi says, "Every great work of art...is
a celebration, an act of insubordination against the betrayals, horrors
and infidelities of life. The perfection of beauty of form rebels against
the ugliness of shabbiness of the subject matter. This is why we love MADAME
BOVARY and cry for Emma, why we greedily read LOLITA as our heart breaks
for its small, vulgar, poetic and defiant orphaned heroine."
In the end, the
memoir does exactly what it claims: it describes the suffering of intellectuals
under a religious fundamentalist regime, and it offers hope through the
sheer uplifting quality of great literature. Nafisi's Iran, which she loves
and also needed desperately to escape, is only one Iran: others, including
her students who stayed, would tell other stories. But Nafisi's passion
for literature and sharing it with others makes me feel that, even though
it took me six months to read her book, I had been privileged to study with
a master teacher.
I just reread
Ursula LeGuin's wonderful THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS and was delighted with
it, but amazed by how little I remembered from my first reading twenty years
ago. That's another great thing about good books: they give you different
things at different times. If you've never read THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS,
though, you really owe it to yourself if only for its interesting invention
of a people who switch gender depending on who they fall in love with. LeGuin
is a far better writer than most in the science fiction field: there is
lots to think about in biology and mythology, but the heart of the story
is how a friendship develops from deep suspicion to something very like
I also read– for
the first time– the famous geometric science fiction novel Flatland: A Romance
of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott. Published around 1884, there is a
new edition with an introduction by my son's math professor, Thomas Banchoff,
who makes it clear that the novel was at least partly a satire on Victorian
society– a good thing given the female inhabitants of the two dimensional
world of Flatland! Toward the end, the book increases in depth and interest
beyond its mathematical cleverness as the narrator, A Square, begins to
understand the limits of his own world and makes an imaginative leap far
beyond what even his three-dimensional mentor grasps.
STILL MORE GOOD
READING: DEPARTMENT OF MUNDANE FICTION
Sometimes I go
to the textbook section of college bookstores to see what they are reading
in English and comparative lit classes. On the shelf for an American Lit
class at NYU's bookstore, I found a reasonably priced edition of Charles
W. Chesnutt's THE HOUSE BEHIND THE CEDARS. This is a really interesting
novel about race in the post-Civil War era. It has its limitations– for
example, while all the characters are described as having what we call a
"Southern" accent, the only speech patterns transcribed are those of poor
ex-slaves. The main characters are mixed blood and so light skinned they
easily pass for white. Passing is to some extent the subject of the novel,
and is presented as easy on the surface, but psychologically difficult.
Chesnutt was himself a light skinned black man who ran a successful business
in Cleveland but spent much of his youth in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
He won prizes for his writng but couldn't make a living at it. In the end,
the plot turns on too many coincidences and ends with melodrama, but it
is an extremely worthwhile read for its examination of the complexities
of race in the U.S. in the late 1800's.
For the last
several weeks I've mostly been working on books that I am reviewing for
other publications, but I also read Scott Oglesby's new novel RIDING HIGH.
New York City is one of the main characters, the place where Steven McGowan
plies his trade of bike-riding house-calling dealer of marijuana. The book
has a rousing cast of semi-street people, who range from Steven, who is
having a spectacular mid-life crisis to his somewhat more grounded live-in
lover Molly to Maxie the homeless schizophrenic with impeccable manners
(when he's taking his meds), to Igor, son of an affluent Queens businessman
and connoisseur of marijuana, hashish, and even more exotic organic products.
There is also Igor's sometime business associate Abo the Russian immigrant–
and of course Steven's father Ed from rural Louisiana who wants to come
for a visit, hoping to take Steven, his anti-war son, to visit the Vietnam
Memorial in Washington to honor his other son, who died in Vietnam. These
people all spill over the top with emotions and quirks and talk, but they
are witty and amusing– and, in the end, deeply lovable. The novel follows
several days of Steven's disintegration, trying to keep his love relationship
alive, trying to avoid his father, to reach his father, to avoid the responsibilities
of life– and to take them on. It is a thoroughly good-humored and entertaining
Other recent reading: I re-read
A PORTRAIT OF A LADY, prime Henry James, back when his sentences were long
but still serving drama and character rather than the fine workings of human
consciousness. If you haven't read it, it starts out appearing to be a typical
nineteenth century marriage novel, but turns into one of subtle psychological
horror. Young Isabelle Archer wants so much to do something important with
her life, and is a noble creation, but the real stars are the bad guys:
you'll never forget Madame Merle whose life consists of being a perfect
friend and guest– and her remarkably indolent and evil partner-in-crime,
I also read my first Jane Rule
novel, AFTER THE FIRE, which I picked up in a university book store sale
bin. I'd been hearing for a while of the New Jersey born Canadian, but this
was my first novel of hers, and I was delighted with its touching, frank
realism. Set on a vacation island near Vancouver, it has not much sex, but
lots of love, community, and insights into racism (the main character is
half Japanese, and her grandparents died in internment camps), class distinctions
(the younger women have jobs that put them in the position of serving other
people), and certainly gender roles. Mainly, though, it is a small scale,
frankly naturalistic story that welcomes and moves the reader. Any fans
of Jane Rule out there to recommend which of her books I should read next?
Phyllis Moore writes, "Those are thought provoking comments about READING
LOLITA IN TEHRAN. As I recall, we started reading it at the same time. I've
kept putting it aside, too. But, I still have it by my favorite reading
chair and will try it again....You might enjoy this odd coincidence. After
reading Lee Maynard's second novel, SCREAMING WITH THE CANNIBALS, I decided
to read the novels Jesse, the young protagonist, read more than once and
lugs around in his backpack. This led me back to the novels of Jules Verne
and Hemingway. It also rekindled my interest in the 'hero's quest' as described
in the writings of Joseph Campbell and others. Believe me, Jesse has the
art of being a testosterone-laden teen on the way to manhood down pat. He
is listening to his 'inner voice' and is more than ready for adventure.
[Lee] Maynard might just be a "master teacher" for writers. Both his writing
style and the rapid-fire plot capture the emotional intensity of his characters.
The novel provides a chance to view the interior workings of one teen as
he embarks on the journey of self-discovery and experiences the complexities
MORE READING SUGGESTIONS
Jamie Rhein says,
"Over the course of the past year I have been and still am reading A FINE
BALANCE by Rohnton Mistry. It is a wonderful novel set in India during the
time of Indira Gandhi's rule. Why is it taking me so long to get through
it? I keep skipping ahead so I know of the characters' misfortunes before
I get there and can't bear to go on. The characters are wonderful and their
fates are so grim, but then not so grim, since despite it all, they see
possibilities and have laughs throughout. The prose is perfect. I put [it]
away temporarily in December in order to read HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG (a fine
book, but a bigger downer than a FINE BALANCE and two books by Elizabeth
Berg, one a group of short stories, the other, a novel. I love the simplicity
of her work as it manages to capture the truths of everyday people in everyday
By the way, Jamie
just had a piece accepted for publication in HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN about
Katharine Wright, of the aviator family.
writes, "Last month I finished LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA, which still
haunts me. It's not a style I would attempt to imitate, but what a pleasure
to read. I just finished O PIONEERS, which is one of the Willa Cather novels
I hadn't read before. I will admit I read THE DAVINCI CODE, but didn't like
it, even as an airplane read....The novel I am working on is set in Colorado,
where I live, and requires research– I'm a frequent customer at http://www.abebooks.com–
so, I have books like THE LOOK OF THE OLD WEST, SOUTHERN UTE WOMEN, and
A CENTURY OF THE QUARTERHORSE on my desk."
It's better to turn on the TV
than to curse the darkness.
Beware of swarthy men (or women) carrying almanacs.
Report any suspicious activity to 1-800-ACT-FAST.
When you meet the Buddha on the road, arrest him.
If we don't reelect Bush, the terrorists have won.
All roads lead to Guantanamo, aka Gitmo.
The only thing we have to terrorize is terror itself.
If we reelect Bush, the winners will be the terrorists.
Business art (Andy said) is the step that comes after Art.
Snipers up upon the roof, corn be heavy pretty damn soon.
The devil finds work for idling hands up on the deck.
If one spreads butter on both sides of one's bread, one
need not worry which side's better cuz there's butter on't.
WEB SITES OF INTEREST
Take a look at
the website of poet Juanita Torrence-Thompson, including samples from her
new book CELEBRATING A TAPESTRY OF LIFE at http://www.poetrytown.com.
SALON seems has a series in
which writers tell their favorite books– I found it looking for commentary on Henry James's PORTRAIT
OF A LADY. SALON charges, but you can get a free "Day Pass" if you're willing
to look at a couple of advertisements.
The redoubtable Reading
Divas have a new issue up. They say, "A new year is a great impetus
to take a class, create a new identity, learn Cantonese, get hitched, or
just submit your reviews, essays, stories.... Another option is to simply
kick back with cocoa and enjoy:"
March 1, 2004
the following book review:
(Doubleday, New York, November 2003) is the new, and sixth historical novel
by Barbara Chase-Riboud, a Carl Sandburg Prize poet, sculptor and novelist.
She is the author of SALLY HEMINGS; VALIDE: A NOVEL OF A HAREM; ECHO OF
LIONS: A NOVEL OF THE AMISTAD; THE PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER (a prequel to Sally
Hemings); and ROMAN EGYPTIEN (in French). In 1996 she received a Knighthood
in Arts and Letters from the French government. Born in Philadelphia, of
Canadian-American descent, she was educated at Yale University, and she
divides her time between Paris, Rome, and the United States.
is the history of Sarah Baartman, born in the colony of Good Hope, South
Africa, in 1789. After the murder of her husband, her child, and most of
her tribe, she was taken to London and Paris, dubbed the 'Hottentot Venus,'
and exhibited for the rest of her life nearly naked in a cage. This novel
is not for everyone. Perhaps in time it will be. It has been given the American
Library Association's best fiction award (to be awarded in June at the convention
in Orlando, Florida).
"The novel's key
accomplishment, and there are many, is how in a brief first chapter the
author has the reader willing, if tearfully, to be shown every minute detail
of the horror Sarah Baartman lived, then to follow her into a monstrous
life after death in a Paris laboratory until she is allowed, centuries later,
the peace and rest of a funeral pyre in her homeland.
"An enormous and
consistently solid accomplishment throughout the novel is the quality of
the research, layer upon layer, allowing the people of the book, after two
centuries, to live and breathe.
"In subject and
content this novel is perhaps the best means to nail down all in one place
everything that is wrong with racism, slavery and colonialism, including
what we have now – the out-sourcing of manufacturing to places where, like
what we are shown of the early 1800's, there are no unions, no child labor
laws and no regulations about workplace safety."
I remember reading
a review of HOTTENTOT VENUS earlier, but I'm glad to be reminded by Mr.
Robinson of what sounds like a very worthwhile book.
I just finished
reading ADDIE: A MEMOIR by Mary Lee Settle, the National Book Award winning
West Virginian novelist. ADDIE is organized not around the narrator/author,
but rather about her grandmother, who is a woman who might have lived in
obscurity, or might have been a victim of poverty, and was in any case looked
down upon by many– but in the end ran the little world of her large garden
and extended family memorably and capably, if not always successfully. It
is an admirably shaped memoir, and I especially recommend it for how it
captures the complexities of people's perceptions.
Hughes offers more memoir recommendations:
memoirs are portraits of parents and family as well as self-portraits. One
that isn't enough known is AKE: THE YEARS OF CHILDHOOD by Wole Soyinka,
the Nigerian Nobel laureate and playwright. It's my favorite book to give
people. Both his parents were remarkable, his mother no less than his father,
and the last chapters of the book focus on the movement she and other Nigerian
women formed against unfair taxation in the thirties. It's a four star book,
memoir is called PERIOD PIECE, and it's by one of Darwin''s granddaughters,
Gwen Raverat, about the extended Darwin family growing up in the late Victorian
and Edwardian years, also very loving, and charmingly illustrated.
KADDISH is a wonderful portrait of his mother, a paranoid schizophrenic
whom he treats with full respect. There's [also] a terrific, really excellent
Norton book, THE NORTON BOOK OF WOMEN'S LIVES, a very big book you can get
at the library that has a wide range of excepts from women's autobiographies,
some of them out-of-print." I hope nobody lacks for good reading material
after these suggestions– but there is more below, both books and online.
Poet and novelist Rochelle Ratner (see some of her poems in
the new issue of the HAMILTON
STONE REVIEW) has been working for years with PEN American Center's
Prison Writing Program. Among other things, the program sponsors a yearly
contest for writers in American prisons. Many of last year's winners appear
online. More information can be found at: http://www.pen.org/prison.html
EXCITING NEW ISSUE
Speaking of the
HAMILTON STONE REVIEW – the poets represented in the new issue include not
only Rochelle Ratner but also by Jane Augustine, Michael Heller, Rebecca
Kavaler, Sybil Kollar, Larry Goodell, Lewis LaCook, Roger Mitchell, Tom
Raworth , and Joseph Somoza. Fiction is by Jane Lazarre, Richard Perry,
and Susan Robbins. Find it all at http://www.hamiltonstone.org/hsr.html.
MORE JANE RULE
Maillard suggests another Jane Rule book that the
calls a classic: DESERT OF THE HEART.
MUSIC AND READ ALOUD FICTION A new CD has just been released of the OUTLAW
WRITERS TOUR - LIVE IN WV. The Outlaw Writers Tour was captured on a single
track of magnetic tape in all its red and ragged glory. The result is the
latest CD from Rattler Records: "OUTLAW WRITERS TOUR - LIVE IN WV". The
disc is a mix of "gutbucket American music and storytelling loaded with
heartbreak, broken bones, bar room brawls, alien abduction, and fashion
tips for the ladies." The CD features seven songs THE DELIBERATE STRANGERS,
five new numbers and two covers by Rev. Robert Wilkins and Hank Williams.
The literary section includes LEE MAYNARD's
"Tommy Hatfield" is an unpublished chapter from CRUM and CHUCK
KINDER's "Stars and Bars", a chapter from his latest novel LAST MOUNTAIN
DANCER, which will be published by Carroll and Graf in the fall of 2004.
For more information, go to http://www.deliberatestrangers.com.
The largest unionized bookstore in America has a webstore at Powells Books. Some people prefer shopping online there to shopping at Amazon.com. An alternative way to reach Powell's site and support the union is via http://www.powellsunion.com. Prices are the same but 10% of your purchase will go to support the union benefit fund. For a discussion about Amazon and organized labor and small presses, see the comments of Jonathan Greene and others in Issues #97 and #98 .
WHERE TO FIND BOOKS MENTIONED IN THIS NEWSLETTER
If a book discussed in this newsletter has no source mentioned, don’t forget your public library and your local independent bookstore.
To buy books online, I often go first to Bookfinder or Alibris. Bookfinder has a feature that tells you the book price WITH shipping and handling, so you can compare what you’re really going to have to pay.
A lot of people whose political instincts I respect prefer the unionized bricks-and-mortar bookstore Powells (see "About Amazon.com" above) that sells online at http://powellsbooks.com. Another good source for used and out-of-print books is All Book Stores at http://www.allbookstores.com/ .
Take a look also at Paperback Book Swap, a low cost (postage only) way to get rid of your old books and get new ones by trading with other readers.
If you are using an electronic reader like Kindle, Nook, or Kobo, get free books at the Gutenberg Project-- most classics, and other things as well. Libraries now lend e-books too!
RESPONSES TO THIS NEWSLETTER
Please send responses and suggestions directly to Meredith Sue Willis at MeredithSueWillis@gmail.com. Unless you instruct otherwise, your responses may be edited for length and published in this newsletter.
#146 Henry Adams AGAIN! #145 Henry Adams, Darnell Arnoult, Jaimy Gordon, Charlotte Brontë #144 Carter Seaton, NancyKay Shapiro, Lady Murasaki Shikibu #143Little America; Guns,Germs, and Steel; The Trial #142 Blog Fiction, Leah by Seymour Epstein, Wolf Hall, etc. #141 Dreama Frisk on Hilary Spurling's Pearl Buck in China; Anita Desai; Cormac McCarthy #140 Valerie Nieman's Blood Clay, Dolly Withrow #139 My Kindle, The Prime Minister, Blood Meridian #138 Special on Publicity by Carter Seaton #137 Michael Harris's The Chieu Hoi Saloon;The Professor and the Madman; 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. #134Daniel Deronda, books with material on black and white relations in West Virginia #133 Susan Carpenter, Irene Nemirovsky, Jonathan Safran Foer, Kanafani, Joe Sacco #132 Karen Armstrong's A History of God; JCO's The Falls; The Eustace Diamonds again. #131The Help; J. McHenry Jones, Reamy Jansen, Jamie O'Neill, Michael Chabon.
#130 Lynda Schor, Ed Myers, Charles Bukowski, Terry Bisson, The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism #129Baltasar and Blimunda; the Underground Railroad; Navasky's Naming Names, new and recommended small press and indie books. #128 Jeffrey Sokolow on Histories and memoirs of the Civil Rights Movement #127Olive 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 #124Cloudsplitter, Founding Brothers, Obenzinger on Bradley's Harlem Vs. Columbia University #123 MSW's summer reading round-up; Olive Schreiner; more The Book Thief; more on the state of editing #122 Left-wing cowboy poetry; Jewish partisans during WW2; responses to "Hire a Book Doctor?" #121 Jane Lazarre's latest; Irving Howe's Leon Trotsky; Gringolandia; "Hire a Book Doctor?" #120 Dreama Frisk on The Book Thief; Mark Rudd; Thulani Davis's summer reading list #119 Two Histories of the Jews; small press books for Summer #118 Kasuo Ichiguro, Jeanette Winterson, The Carter Family! #117 Cat Pleska on Ann Pancake; Phyllis Moore on Jayne Anne Phillips; and Dolly Withrow on publicity #116 Ann Pancake, American Psycho, Marc Harshman on George Mackay Brown #115Adam 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 #108The Animal Within; The Ground Under My Feet; King of Swords #107The Absentee; Gorky Park; Little Scarlet; Howl; Health Proxy #106Castle Rackrent; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; More on Drown; Blindness & more #105Everything is Miscellaneous, The Untouchable, Kettle Bottom by Diane Gilliam Fisher #104 Responses to Shelley on Junot Diaz and more; More best books of 2007 #103 Guest Editor: Shelley Ettinger and her best books of 2007
#102 Saramago's BLINDNESS; more on NEVER LET ME GO; George Lies on Joe Gatski #101My Brilliant Career, The 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 #93Kristin Lavransdatter, House Made of Dawn, Leaving Atlanta #92Death of Ivan Ilych; Memoirs #91 Richard Powers discussion #90 William Zinsser, Memoir, Shakespeare #89 William Styron, Ellen Willis, Dune, Germinal, and much more #88 Sandra Cisneros's Caramelo #87Wings of the Dove, Forever After (9/11 Teachers) #86 Leora Skolkin-Smith, American Pastoral, and more #85 Wobblies, Winterson, West Virginia Encyclopedia #84 Karen Armstrong, Geraldine Brooks, Peter Taylor #83 3-Cornered World, Da Vinci Code #82 The Eustace Diamonds, Strapless, Empire Falls #81 Philip Roth's The Plot Against America , Paola Corso #80 Joanne Greenberg, Ed Davis, more Murdoch; Special Discussion on Memoir--Frey and J.T. Leroy #79 Adam Sexton, Iris Murdoch, Hemingway #78The Hills at Home; Tess of the D'Urbervilles; Jean Stafford #77 On children's books--guest editor Carol Brodtrick #76 Mary Lee Settle, Mary McCarthy #75 The Makioka Sisters #74In 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 #67The Medici #66Curious
Incident,Temple Grandin #65 Ingrid Hughes on Memoir #64 Boyle, Worlds of Fiction #63The Namesame #62Honorary Consul; The Idiot #61Lauren'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 #55Addie,
Hottentot Venus, Ake #54 Scott Oglesby, Jane Rule #53 Nafisi,Chesnutt, LeGuin #52 Keith Maillard, Lee Maynard #51 Gregory Michie, Carter Seaton #50Atonement, Victoria Woodhull biography #49Caucasia #48Richard Price, Phillip
Pullman #47 Mid-
East Islamic World Reader #46Invitation to
a Beheading #45The Princess of Cleves #44 Shelley Ettinger: A Few Not-so-Great Books #43 Woolf, The Terrorist Next Door #42 John Sanford #41 Isabelle
Allende #40Ed 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
#25 On Libraries.... #24Tales of the
#23 Nonfiction, poetry, and fiction #22 More on Why This
Newsletter #21 Salinger, Sarah
Waters, Next of Kin #20 Jane Lazarre #19Artemisia 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
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 #5Tales of Good
and Evil; Moon Tiger #4 Homer Hickam
and The Chosen #3 J.T.
LeRoy and Tale of Genji #2 Chick Lit #1 About