Listing in spring — “10 best” fiction volumes

It’s either list the 10 best volumes of fiction of all time–or rather, my 10 favorites–or post again about how most novels of any originality get systematically swamped by the “star system” megacorporate culture (more accurately, “culture”) in, especially, the United States.

So, we say, Occupy. But one needs sometimes a break. Therefore, now, as promised back in January, here are the “10 best novels (and other fiction volumes) of all time,” or at least in my opinion.

  1. Crime and Punishment. There is no question; you are there with Raskolnikov, horrified of a sudden to have forgot so obvious a risk as the hat, the strikingly noticeable hat, you realize you’re still wearing–and recognizing, as more and more you shall, that in your striving for criminal perfection you are increasingly vulnerable and your philosophical truths open to question. And for the next week in St. Petersburg, the next hours or days until you the reader come to the end of this novel, you are Raskolnikov. The novel has flaws; neither Svidrigailov nor, especially, Porfiry is quite real; each is too much a reflection of or foil for Raskolnikov (and there are other flaws). But it has Raskolnikov. And Sonia. And Katerina Ivanovna making the children dance to “show [the rich] what children like these have come to.” It remains the novel against which all others must be measured.
  2. A la recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past)–which is really seven volumes, but let’s count them as one. Proust’s masterpiece is masterful indeed. Often shocking in its honesty, it’s sometimes terribly moving and sometimes hysterically funny. And a beautifully accurate evocation of Parisian moeurs (and not just those of the turn of the 20th century either!). Read it in the French; it’s even better. (Note: here and throughout, apologies for my errors in French spelling, prepositions, or etc.)
  3. Les liaisons dangereuses. De la Clos’s elegant study of love and power, games and real emotions, retains both the wit and the feeling that it had in the early nineteenth century. Again, best in the original and gracefully written French, but there are excellent translations too.
  4. Tell Me a Riddle. Of these three short stories and one novella by Tillie Olsen, two pieces are unforgettable. It is impossible to read the 5-page story “I Stand Here Ironing” without crying–if, anyway, you are a daughter or a mother. And the title novella delves life, love, loss, politics, family, mortality, and what we may call the “meaning of life” in a way that, reading, one knows makes this work great.
  5. This is an extra but who’s writing this list, eh? The Rescuer’s Path. This novel, by Paula Friedman, indeed also “delves life, love, loss, politics, family, mortality, and what we may call the ‘meaning of life.'” It makes some readers cry, and some call it unforgettable. Small Press Review, Ursula Le Guin, Cheryl Strayed, Carole Glickfeld, JTNews, Jewish Observer, and many other fine authorities praise it highly.  Read it; enjoy it; you will remember it.
  6. Victory. Probably Conrad’s best. Or you may prefer Lord Jim. It’s Lord Jim that has the great line “He had jumped.” It’s Victory that has the great line “Judge you? I would have to judge the universe.” Lord Jim is about guilt and courage and trying to undo; it is about identity and becoming. Victory is, as my tenth-grade English teacher said, “all about love.” It is about giving everything.
  7. The Diviners. Canadian author Margaret Laurence’s great novel of the lifelong love between an impoverished girl who becomes a success, and the metis outcast and folksong writer/singer who is, at the start, her childhood friend. It’s a tale about class and prejudice, about acceptance and commitment, about decisions and the  divining of life for what it is. It’s a very adult tale of life and years. You will not be sorry you read it. (Maybe this should be number 6.)
  8. And actually this should be no. 2. Kristin Lavransdatter. Sigrid Undset won the 1928 Nobel Prize for this trilogy. The three volumes cover the 50 or so years of the heroine’s life, in 14th-century Norway. Undset, in this and an earlier novel based a couple of centuries earlier, worked out a language usage to give a period sense without being archaic; as subsequently with Tolkien, the work involved created an unforgettable linguistic triumph. But what stands out most is Kristin’s conflicting thoughts and longings–her religious devotion and her love for home and father, versus her desire for the dashing Erlend and her commitment to the children and life they build together. The intensity of Kristin’s mental life, the swift sweep of her changes from doubts to acceptances, from duty to longings, from the way of the world to the way of the cross–and back again, with many variations over many times–is only matched by the intensity of Raskolnikov’s persona. And here, instead of 19th-century St. Petersburg, we have the late-medieval world of the first half of the 14th century (hah–and I just gave away a major plot element). Life, love, conflict, history, a recreation of the period’s religious life–this is a book to live within.
  9. You have your choice–Borges’s Labyrinths, Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Kafka, or any volume of Poe’s short fiction.
  10. You’re probably expecting War and Peace or Anna Karenina, and maybe you’ll get one. Because Anna Karenina, which is really about Levin’s questionings and marriage, has the wonderful near-end section where Tolstoy has Levin suddenly realize that (his) life is actually . . . .  And this sudden recognition works. Works very well–even though every course in writing or literature you ever take says this can’t work. A more recent book, for which its author received a Macarthur grant, The Mind-Body Problem (and we know where Rebecca Goldstein got that title for her novel, don’t we?), does the same thing–makes a sudden final realization work, swelling and closing the plotline beautifully, enobling the narrator, and–hey wow, showing that it can be done! But, as noted–and for the no. 10 place here–Tolstoy first showed the way.
  11. Okay, this is really really really really hard. This is who-gets-left-out land. Do I toss no. 11 to the Goldstein book, thus avoiding having to write another capsule rendition–and besides the book deserves the place. Or do I hand the laurels to the old Modern Library giant volume, The Complete Novels and Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne, some of these being so very good? And what of those teenage favorites, Catcher in the Rye and Hersey’s The Wall and Balzac’s La Quete de l’Absolu and Hardy’s Jude the Obscure (or the later-read Tess of the d’Urbervilles)? What of The Old Wives’ Tale? Or Piercy’s Vida or Three Women, Sarton’s As We Are Now? Or Le Guin’s works, or Tolkien’s trilogy, or A Canticle for Leibowitz? Nevertheless, the place goes to House on the Strand, one of the last novels by underrated English 20th-century author Daphne du Maurier. This novel (like du Maurier’s French Creek, with its heroine who captivates a pirate) is about coming to “maturity” and giving up youthful romance for the daily grind and commitment. It’s a novel that interweaves the late 20th century and the mid-14th century. And it’s really a novel about the magic and danger of writing. Trust me, it’s good.

‘unwed mothers’ and other outlaws: April 28 reading/discussion at Portland’s In Other Words feminist community center

I’m excited to be reading from my novel The Rescuer’s Path and leading a very related discussion, “‘Unwed mothers’ and other outlaws: Nonconforming mothers, single pregnancy, social activism–then and now,” at the newly revamped In Other Words Feminist Community Center, 14 NE Killingsworth, Portland, Oregon, on April 28, 5 to 6:30 p.m.

Never solely a bookstore, and now more than ever a center for community activities, In Other Words is a most inviting place for this reading and discussion of issues ranging from the social pressures on “unwed mothers” pre-Roe to the hardships confronted by impoverished single-parent families today, from the risks confronting antiwar and civil rights activists of “the Sixties” to the dangers, present and to come, for Occupiers and others who confront today’s militarized police, privatized prisons, and dismantling of basic Constitutional protections.

Ursula Le Guin calls The Rescuer’s Path “exciting, physically vivid, and romantic,” and Small Press Review says “the writing is lyrical and poetic, the characters vividly drawn, and the story captivating.” “I could not top reading this novel,” notes Flannery O’Connor Award winner Carole Glickfeld, and acclaimed Portland author Cheryl Strayed says The Rescuer’s Path “held me from the first page to the last.”

In The Rescuer’s Path, a Holocaust survivor’s young daughter finds and aids a wounded fugitive, the half-Arab antiwar leader suspected of a lethal truck bombing. The two become friends, then lovers, and eventually flee the FBI to seeming refuge in the Colorado Rockies. But, after a brief idyll, pursuit closes in and leads to tragedy. In the aftermath, the couple’s baby daughter is yielded at birth for adoption; thirty years later, in the shadows of 9/11, this grown daughter seeks the truth about her heritage.

With flashbacks to Holocaust rescue, scenes from a 1980s-1990s Berkeley marriage, refugee family tales, and basic issues of mortality and of righteous living, The Rescuer’s Path provides lively meat for reading and discussion.

Spring Oregon Readings–The Rescuer’s Path

You are invited!

Three Oregon readings now scheduled for The Rescuer’s Path, my new novel of the antiwar movement, the struggle for justice, an adoption reunion, and the love between a Holocaust survivor’s sheltered daughter and an anguished half-Arab peace activist suspected by the FBI of a lethal truck bombing:

The Rescuer’s Path: photo of cover

Hood River Library, Hood River, Oregon, April 1, 2012, 2 p.m. Cosponsored by the library and Waucoma Books, Hood River, Oregon.

In Other Words–Women’s Bookstore and Community Center, Portland, Oregon, April 28, 2012, 5-6:30 p.m. Reading, with discussion “Unwed Mothers and Other Outlaws–1960s and the Present Day”

White Salmon Valley Library, White Salmon, Washington, May 12, 2-4 p.m. Three Regional Authors Read.

Small Press Review praises The Rescuer’s Path

I’m happy to tell you that the prestigious and nationally distributed Small Press Review praises my new novel, The Rescuer’s Path, very glowingly–mostly–in the Jan.-Feb. 2012 issue. Here’s the review; enjoy!

Small Press Review—review by Marie C. Sanchez

The Rescuer’s Path

by Paula Friedman (2012; 195 pp; Pa; $15.95; Plain View Press)

From the first page, Friedman illuminates a world near Washington DC of gullies and game trails and Gavin Hareem, a Nixon-era wounded antiwar leader who is accused of the deadly bombing of an army truck. While Malca Bernovski rides a horse off-trail, she encounters the wounded half-Syrian fugitive and, by aiding him, sets off a blossoming romance that sends them both on a desperate struggle for survival and justice. The sheltered Malca, 16-year old daughter of a Holocaust survivor, reveals surprising resources and choices.

If you’ve ever wanted to enter the mind of a pacifist who eventually turns to violence, this is it. Gavin alternates between reality and insanity, clarity and confusion, brilliance and absurdity, striking just the right notes of believability.

Years later, the lovers’ child searches for her parents and the story moves seamlessly from the nation’s capital to the Colorado Rockies, from the Warsaw Ghetto to post-9/11 San Francisco.

Time itself appears among the major characters. Deft strokes unobtrusively fill in the couple’s histories without slowing the story, and elegant leaps propel the story forward years and decades. However, Friedman’s adroit touch fades toward the end where the treatment of time feels more like gaps than well-timed jumps.

The couple’s daughter searching out her birth parents in the last third of the book starts out promising, but at the end, seemed unfinished. The treatment of daughter and time at the end of the book seemed disappointingly lackluster, given such an incandescent beginning.

That said, the writing is lyrical and poetic, the places finely detailed, the characters vividly drawn and the story captivating.

—JanFeb 2012 SPR—

The occupation of authors

The Amazon.com price for my debut novel, The Rescuer’s Path (pub. Jan. 1, 2012, Plain View Press), list price $15,95, is now between $8 and $9. This means no net profit or royalties for either myself or the publisher.

This means neither authors or publishers can earn back any financial investment in a book’s production and publicity. But books, which generally are produced print on demand through Ligthtning Source, at this point one of two only major sources of short-run print jobs, are mostly distributed through Ingram, the main distribution channel of (physical, hardcopy, real) books in this country (and in others, I suppose). Ingram automatically markets those books through online “stores” including, when it chooses (always), Amazon.

So, basically, anyone not using a “major” publisher—i.e., one of the 5 or 6 owned by one of the international megaconglomerates that control the U.S. “majors” along with more profitable, and thus more favored, industries, and that run these “publishing” companies, necessarily, based on profit-making blockbusters—must be wealthy enough to either write for a hobby only (or to lose money) or else publish only in ebook form. And guess who owns and controls the major ebook readers? One is Barnesannoble with its Nook readers—and its price reductions for print books that often or usually lowball even Amazon’s; the other, of course, with its Kindle, is, once more, Amazon.

In high school many years ago, we learned of “vertical” corporation control of industries; this was supposedly stopped by the reforms of—oh my—the very early 20th century.

Okay. Occupy.

Unless one belongs to the 1 percent who can afford to spend years writing books for a hobby. And buying publicity for $million$.

Listing through snow

We were snowed in for four days, electricity off at all hours through most this time. Icy and beautiful one night, trees–their limbs–tinkled in the wind, falling. Today outside was sunny and still and bright, brilliant sparkles on the white, blue-shadowed, rolling-heaped snow.

A time to make lists, worn out from building wood fires in the tiny stove, digging out the car, shivering in the cold, changing from wet clothes.

The Rescuer’s Path, my new novel, is now (available on amazon, barnesandnoble, plainviewpress.net, etc., and) up on Goodreads. To “drive traffic to one’s book,” should I make Listopia lists? Rather than let people know, This is a novel of a Holocaust survivor’s daughter who aids a half-Arab antiwar leader suspected of the lethal bombing of an army truck, and of the trust and love that blooms between them, of their flight and the long pursuit–? Rather than tell people that Ursula Le Guin calls this novel “exciting, physically vivid, and romantic,” and that Cheryl Strayed, Carole Glickfeld, Heather Sharfeddin, Barbara Mullen, folksinger/writer Carol Denney, blogger Harriet Klausner–all speak highly of this book.

All right, lists. (That last sentence had a list.) I love lists. And movie and science fiction dystopias. And really, really good films–books and films. Here they are, then–

10 Best Films of all time (features)

The Seventh Seal

The Official Story

Children of Paradise

Odd Man Out

La Jetée

(Wajda’s trilogy) A Generation, Kanal, Ashes and Diamonds

Au revoir, les enfants

Duel in the Sun

A Place in the World

oh okay, Casablanca. But there’s Coup de grâce. Citizen Kane. Battle of Algiers. Midnight Cowboy. Four or more of Bergman’s best. And . . .

Next time–10 Best Novels of all time.

Which would you list?

In the New World–The Rescuer’s Path is now available

The day of debut, January 1, 2012. The day of true debut, January 9, 2012–The Rescuer’s Path is now published (Plain View Press, $15.95). The Rescuer’s Path is available for online purchase through Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, etc.,  and listed on LibraryThing, already reviewed on MainstreamFiction and various other blogs, soon to be in several print publications.

“Exciting, physically vivid, and romantic”–Ursula K. Le Guin. “I couldn’t stop reading this novel”–Carole L. Glickfeld. “Vivid, humane, and wise”–Cheryl Strayed. Many other strong, positive blurbs by admired women authors.

“A wonderful family epic”–Harriet Klausner, MainstreamFiction. Other strong, positive reviews by other bloggers. . . .

Is this what I had always in mind? Imagining The New World of Being an Author (with a published novel), is this what I expected? Life going along afterward just as before? Some congratulations, much enthusiasm from friends and acquaintances, mixed bookstore reactions, mixed reviewer reactions (from promised reviews to brushoffs), constant work-beyond-work twelve hours a day on p.r.–this is the great golden ring, the nirvana-in-the-real-world, (etc. etc.), I had in mind?

Well, not exactly, no. Imagine all the circus days of childhood, all the glory days of hope, the “State Fair” (40s movie) happy-happy here-together, over the top, unending joy of blossom springtime, weddingcake festivities of . . . oh you know, you get it, you imagine, you can image, cue the rising theme, the music, soundtrack of the glorious, the successful, the most-fully-reached, a-c-h-i-e-v-e-d in glory, whatnot and all that, forever life.

Oh yes. Well it’s a book–a good book. About a Holocaust survivor’s daughter who, in 1971 Washington DC, rides in a park and finds and helps a wounded man, a fugitive, a Syrian refugee’s son, who is the antiwar leader hunted for the lethal bombing of a US Army truck. They turn distrust to trust, to friendship, to love, but police pursue . . .  You get it, right? But not yet–years go by, their child is given up, grows up, seeks for her origins, the days of 9/11 loom . . .

If you like it, say so on the Amazon, LibraryThing, Goodreads, etc. ratings/rankings/reader-reviewing sites. I’d love people to know of this good book, to read it. We live in this world, we writers and readers, ours to know is real.

In new antiwar novel, Jewish-Arab couple flee implacable police

New, progressive, and a page-turner, The Rescuer’s Path recounts a tale of inter-ethnic love and the struggle for justice. The Rescuer’s Path is forthcoming January 1, 2012, from Plain View Press and available through amazon.com, barnes&noble.com, plainviewpress.net, etc., and by bookstore order, beginning in mid-January. Retail price is $15.95

I’ll be reading from The Rescuer’s Path at the Ballard Library in Seattle on Feb. 9, with readings and booksignings planned for early spring in the Columbia River Gorge area and elsewhere. Contact paula@paula-friedman.com if you’d like to arrange a reading and/or signing for your reading group or organization.

The Rescuer’s Path tells what happens, in Nixon-era Washington DC, when a Holocaust survivor’s young daughter discovers and aids a wounded fugitive, the half-Arab antiwar activist who is the prime suspect in the lethal bombing of a US Army truck. Overcoming hesitancies and distrust, the two young people become friends, fall in love, and flee cross-country, pursued by an implacable FBI. High in the Rockies, they discover each other’s depths of love and their own real courage, but the pursuit soon closes in.

Three decades later, in the shadow of 9/11, the young couple’s birth daughter, raised by adoptive parents, searches for the truth about her origins.

Ursula K. Le Guin calls The Rescuer’s Path “Exciting, physically vivid, and romantic.” Flannery O’Connor Award–winning author Carole L. Glickfeld says “I could not stop reading this novel–I loved it.” Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild and Torch, notes, “Vivid, humane, and wise, The Rescuer’s Path held me from its first page to its last.” “A story of what it means to do the right thing,” says Heather Sharfeddin, author of novels of today’s rural west; “These characters will break your heart and put it back together again.”

The Power of a Book

Today, 11-11-11, I reread John Hersey’s book Hiroshima (1946).

This is a book written long before films sported iconic mushroom clouds, a la Children of Men (2006), or bristled with pamphlet-perfect flash-‘n-blast, like the playground scene in Terminator 2 (1985). It’s a book from well before the “nuclear literature” that later became material for graduate-level fields—a book from before the Cold War or the years of post-Dr.-Strangelove sophistication.

This is a book of journalism, built from interviews with six persons who survived an unforeseen actuality in the moment when the Bomb and its effects had been unknown and were still inconceivable, entirely new.

Thus the presentation, moment by moment, of these survivors’ (and, in the writing, the author’s) confrontation with worsening, unimagined horrors can cut, even today, past our defenses.

It’s a good book to read when people in power talk about “taking out” Iran or Israel, Damascus or D.C. It’s a book that may have helped, if people in power opened and read it, in 1946, in 1962, yesterday.

A good book to read those hours one wonders if writing’s a waste of time.

With our own hands

Since we were kids, we’ve each heard: “Most people can never be real Writers!” Just as we’ve heard that most people cannot be musicians, cannot learn algebraic topology, cannot “really” embrace their full feelings, cannot “actually” cause much political change . . . Well, you know who such cautions benefit, don’t you? What the marxists call “the owner class,” that’s who—meaning the Big Owners, the folks who give their kids a publishing house or enough stock to manage a minor country, for a birthday present—the folks who are much happier if we don’t take our (political) destinies in our own hands.

Let’s not listen to such discouragement. Let’s, in fact, take our writing (and other) destinies, to the extent humanly possible, into our own hands. And minds and hearts. And share this empowerment, and mutual encouragement, and skills tips; let’s thus strengthen one another and our writings.

Obviously, we still have to learn and polish our techniques, our skills, our knowledge. In fact, for any of usl, it is necessary, beyond “talent,” to write, to learn the guidelines of grammars and styles, to read the finest of writings, and to write, and to write, and to write.

Welcome to my blog. Here we can discuss the struggles and possibilities of writing and literature, writers and others in the world. This is a new blogsite, begun as my debut novel, The Rescuer’s Path, approaches publication (2012, Plain View Press, $15.95—available beginning in January 2012 through the press and through Amazon, B&N, other online bookstores, and by order through your local independent bookstore).

The Rescuer’s Path tells what happens in 1971 when a Holocaust survivor’s daughter aids a wounded fugitive, a half-Syrian peace activist wanted in the lethal bombing of a U.S. Army truck, and with him must flee an implacable police and FBI pursuit. Then, years later, in the shadow of 9/11, their grown birthdaughter determines to seek her origins . . .

I want to know about your novels, too—and your writing experiences, tips, and struggles. Soon I hope to post guest blogs here (articles 100 to 400 words), so contact me if you would like to contribute one!