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Holy crapolla! I should have asked Karen Joy Fowler who’s going to win the National Book Award! (And 7 things I like about one of the finalists.)

November 12, 2016 by Reader's Connection

Anyone who attended the Meet the Authors session at the Indy Authors Fair on October 29th had a chance to ask questions of any of the award winners and finalists, and I’m realizing now that I blew my chance.

Karen Joy Fowler, who i the 2016 winner of the Indiana Authors Award as a National Author, is one of the judges in the fiction category for this year’s National Book Awards.

I could have asked her who’s going to win the award!

She wouldn’t have spilled the beans, of course, assuming she even knew the answer at that time; but it would have been fun to ask.

News of the WorldI can’t very well campaign for News of the World by Paulette Jiles, since it’s the only nominated novel that I’ve read, but I’ll tell you what I like about it.

1. The elderly widower Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd earns living in 1870 by riding around and reading newspapers aloud to audiences who have paid a dime each to listen. In our age of smart phones and instant news every minute, I am charmed by Kidd’s vocation.

2. It is already the case in 1870 that some people are eager for their fifteen minutes of fame. As he rides toward Lampasas, Texas, Kidd is warned not to read at a saloon called The Gem, because the Horrell brothers frequent the place, and they’re upset because they’re never in the news. Captain Kidd plans to avoid the Horrells, but they find him.

You’re the man that reads the news.

Yes, I am.

Well how come we ain’t in the news?

I don’t know, the Captain said, I don’t write the newspapers.

. . . We killed a right smart of Mexicans. You think they’d put in something.


3. Most glorious of all reasons to like this book: On its first pages, while in Wichita Falls, Texas, the Captain accepts a perilous mission. A ten-year-old girl named Joanna Leonberger–whose parents were murdered when she was kidnapped by Kiowa Indians at the age of six–has been returned to “civilization,” and needs to be transported to an aunt and uncle who live near San Antonio.

The girl speaks almost no English and wants to return to the Kiowa. The Captain and Joanna’s journey, and the way they grow together, is the book’s story.

4. There’s a wonderful gunfight.

5. Captain Kidd isn’t narrating the story, but much of the time the prose feels like something he could have written. At the end of one chapter, he’s at a hotel preparing to go and do a newspaper reading. In the next room, Mrs. Gannett–a friend to whom he is attracted–is trying to deal with Joanna.

The sobbing died down. Mrs. Gannett sang “Black is the Color.” Not an easy song to sing unaccompanied. An old folk song in the Dorian mode. The girl was listening. It was much closer to the Indian way of singing. The unexpected turns and strange Celtic intervals. He wondered why he had not in the past year offered his attention to Mrs. Gannett and then he knew why. Because his daughters felt that he should remain forever loyal to the memory of their mother and if they found out about it Olivia and Elizabeth would have had a galvanized tin hissy, one apiece.
At last it was quiet on the other side of the deal board wall. He turned down the kerosene lamp. Nearly eight. Showtime.

6. I received the book as a birthday gift.

7. (SPOILER ALERT) Conservative author William F. Buckley and his wife had a reputation for being wonderfully hospitable. Author & critic Wilfrid Sheed once said that being welcomed to the Buckley house was like the end of a Dickens novel. When the Captain and Joanna arrive at their destination, it is not like the end of a Dickens novel. It’s much more problematic, and quite moving.

News of the World is also available as an eBook and in large print. That’s not one of the book’s virtues. It’s just something I say.

The National Book Awards will be presented on Wednesday, November 16th.

Juniper Fuse

November 9, 2016 by Reader's Connection

Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination & the Construction of the UnderworldI probably won’t, in this lifetime, enter any of the prehistorically painted caves in Europe; but I’ve done the next best thing. I have read Clayton Eshleman’s Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination & the Construction of the Underworld.

Over a period of 25 years, Eshleman and his wife Caryl visited 50 out to the 320 “ensouled caves” in southwestern and south central France, and his book itself is a sort of cave. To read it is to be immersed in prose and poetry that grow into and out of one another–there is sometimes no point in making a distinction between the two–and photographs of the cave art, and reproductions of drawings that others have made.

When exploring this cave, I always had a hand or foot in the Notes and Commentary at the end of the book. With their photographs and poetic excursions, these aren’t the sort of notes that you read sometime later.

A cave that the Eshlemans visited more than once was Lascaux Cave, which was discovered in 1940:


The title Juniper Fuse is derived from the fact that “wicks made of quarter-inch juniper branches were used in many of the 130 hand-lamps found in Lascaux.”

Fragments are reprinted here with permission of the publisher, Wesleyan University Press.

As an example of how things flow in this book, here’s a photograph and its caption, then a poem–some of it in “prose”–with two endnote numbers. In the Notes and Commentary, works by poets Charles Olson and Paul Blackburn are cited.







Yes, Eshleman was writing at the Hotel Cro-Magnon. There’s also a Rue de la préhistoire. The presence of the caves has had an effect on some of their surrounding areas.

Most of the book’s photographs were taken within the caves, not at their entranceways. Eshleman argues that the many depictions of animals had little to do with the hunt for food. Rather, the Cro-Magnons, back at “the origin of image-making,” were looking at animals and at the fellow members of their evolving species, and were “separating out” from the other animals.

The Stolen ChildWhen reviewing Keith Donohue’s novel The Stolen Child, with its changelings–its children being stolen and turned into something else–I wrote I hope I don’t scare you away by saying that this is a beautiful novel of childhood and growth and identity. What are people, anyway? How do we turn into ourselves? Clayton Eshelman, in his work of nonfiction, is looking at prehistoric moments when those questions were being asked about our whole species. What are we turning into?


For a glimpse of some of the book’s pictures, here’s a YouTubed lecture by Eshelman about Juniper Fuse.

Depending on your idea of what poetry is and how it should behave, you might wonder if what some of what Eshleman is doing here actually qualifies. Here are lines from a poem called “Notes on a Visit to Le Tuc D’auboubert.”



Okay, I’m reminded of
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.

But that’s because when washing dishes at the Waffle House I sometimes turned off the little radio that was always playing (and to which no one really listened) in the kitchen, hid it up on food sacks in the closet, and recited a poem that I had memorized. There weren’t many of those, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” was a common recital number. The cooks would be searching for the missing radio, and I would be spouting,
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

It’s likely that most of Eshleman’s poetry won’t remind you of anything you’ve heard or read before. Let him take you exploring.

Eshleman has been away for years, but he was born and started turning into himself in Indiana. I love his line from the poem “The Atmosphere, Les Eyzies.”
A single smoking road runs from Indianapolis to Lascaux!

I’m grateful to him for taking that road.
His poem “Indeterminate, Open” is made up of several drawings of “human figurations” in the Combarelles cave, and Eshleman’s description of them. Here’s one:


Even though I was in a cave, I sometimes felt while reading Juniper Fuse that I was up to my eyes in horizons.

A few words from the Indiana Authors Award winners, after the ceremony

November 5, 2016 by Reader's Connection

After the Indiana Author Awards dinner and ceremony on October 29th, the recipients were summoned up into one of the reading rooms at Central Library. Click the pictures to hear their reflections on Indiana, on being writers and on winning these awards.

My favorite story here from Karen Joy Fowler: She was once in a bookstore, and saw a poster advertising the Jane Austen Book Club. She thought, with envy, that it was a great title for a book; and then she realized that the poster was about an actual book club, and she could write the book. She was working out the story while driving home.



I’m unsure of the chronology of Philip Gulley’s remarks. Was he already a Quaker pastor when his mother-in-law-to-be and siblings-in-law-to-be were arguing against the marriage? Whatever the case may be, I’m delighted that Gulley’s writing income (beginning with Front Porch Tales) allowed his wife to move into a career she enjoyed, as a children’s librarian!



Listen to April Pulley Sayre talk about when she decided that she would rather write (for kids) about science than be a scientist. At the Indy Author Fair, I bought a copy of
Best in Snow. This book is so gorgeous. I have to figure out which niece is going to get it for Christmas.



Growing up as a Hoosier has given Sarah Gerkensmeyer the gift of “seeing the weird that exists in the ordinary every day.” Moving away gave her the chance to look back and realize what a weird place this was. As I mentioned in another blog post, I am drawn to weirdness and bought a copy of Gerkensmeyer’s What You Are Now Enjoying at the Indy Author Fair.

Susan Neville’s Iconography

November 3, 2016 by Reader's Connection

Iconography: A Writer's MeditationI just finished reading Susan Neville’s Iconography: A Writer’s Meditation, and beware: you are about to be buried to the gills in quotations.

Are there legal issues, here? Blame the over-quoting on Google, which makes it so easy to dry-wall the page with text. And of course blame the author.

Indianapolis, 1999: Neville enrolls in an icon-painting class, but soon drops out. She’s not religious, and


Neville makes a writer’s vow–to write something in a journal every day during Lent–and voilá we have a book.

She has found what sounds like a writer’s paradise, Broad Ripple-style.


You see what I mean about the excerpts. I was aiming for that paragraph about Broad Ripple as ground zero for certain sorts of endeavors. Thought it might amuse you. But other paragraphs stuck to that one.

Neville has not “escaped” into this paradise. She writes of family life, of the mental illness that her mother had suffered, of her own susceptibility to depression. She feels it may be unhealthy to have lived in the same town, the same neighborhood, her whole life, and to be obsessed with her dining room furniture.

When she reads of a high-level architect who leaves his job to design Lionel Trains and their systems,


ConfessionsNeville reads St. Augustine’s Confessions, and thinks there’s something fishy, something too literary about the the way his conversion happens exactly halfway through the book. But she reads on.

Remember, when Neville quotes St. Augustine, that he addressed his book to God.


Again, after planning to just use that paragraph about how Augustine told us everything that physicists have told us, I kept wanting more.

I love it that Augustine got sick of training youths who would use the teaching to engage in “law skirmishes.”

Iconography: A Writer's Meditation

Iconography is an enjoyable Lenten journey, but don’t get your hopes up about reading a conversion story. There’s no road-to-Damascus experience for Neville, halfway through the book. She does go back to the icon-painting class, though. That’s her icon of the Virgin Mary, on the cover of her book.


Since this fulfills another requirement in the Indiana Bicentennial Reading Challenge, I must announce that in 2009, Neville was the first-ever winner of an Indiana Authors Award in the Regional Author category.

Candy corn and bats in your closet and jars in the cellar! Readings by the Indiana Authors Award Winners and Finalists

October 31, 2016 by Reader's Connection

The Indiana Authors Awards were presented at Central Library on Saturday, October 29th. Prior to the dinner and award presentation, the authors were asked to give readings from their works. They weren’t encouraged to mention Halloween, but most of them mentioned something scary, or just being scared.

We’ll begin with Regional Author Philip Gulley, who managed to give the most Halloween-oriented reading, from his book I Love You, Miss Huddleston, and Other Inappropriate Longings of My Indiana Childhood.

Regional Author Winner Philip Gulley.

From her collection Black Glass, National Author Winner Karen Joy Fowler reads from a story called “Go Back.” Bats!

National Author Winner Karen Joy Fowler

Are you seeing that title right? Rah, Rah, Radishes!? Yes, you are. April Pulley Sayre, first-ever recipient of a Genre Excellence Award, reads from this “vegetable chant” and some of her other books.

Genre Excellence Award Winner April Pulley Sayre (I got to sit next to her at the Awards dinner! It was so cool!)

Emerging Author finalist Edward Kelsey Moore doesn’t mention Halloween, but he manages to work in an occult connection between hot flashes and death in a bar fight. He reads here from his novel The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat

Emerging Author Finalist Edward Kelsey Moore

Bill Kenley, another Emerging Author Finalist, reads from his novel High School Runner: (Freshman), about track runners becoming “officially scared” at a practice.

Emerging Author Finalist Bill Kenley

Emerging Author finalist Sarah Gerkensmeyer had spoken at a panel during the day about discovering that she was a “weird” writer. After hearing that, I bought a copy of her collection, What You Are Now Enjoying. Lo and behold, she turned out to be the Emerging Author Award Winner!

Emerging Author Winner Sarah Gerkensmeyer