Participate in the Pulitzer Dialogues

Read 5 Pulitzer Titles in 5 Months!

To commemorate the centennial of the Pulitzer Prizes, six libraries from across New Mexico are partnering with the New Mexico Humanities C...

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Questions for Donnelly Library's Discussion of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Donnelly Library’s Pulitzer Prize Challenge reading group has its fifth and final meeting on Thursday, December 01. Below are a few questions to think about for the upcoming discussion of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz.

Take a look at the questions and please post your own questions or discussion points for this novel in the comments below. 
  • What does Díaz reveal about Dominican history and culture in this novel?
  • From the Fantastic Four epigraph at the beginning of the book to allusions to Lord of the Rings, comic books, fantasy, and science fiction references pervade the novel. What is the role of popular culture in the novel?
  • The narrator Yunior believes that Oscar and his family are suffering from a family curse, “a high-level fukú” (152). What does Díaz show as the source of the family’s troubles? Are they indeed cursed?
  • The title of the book places Oscar as the main character, but the women of his family (La Inca, Beli, Lola) are some of the strongest characters. What is the role of women in this novel?



Donnelly Library's Lovely, Dark, Deep Discussion Highlights

Donnelly Library had its fourth meeting of the Pulitzer Prizes Reading Group on Thursday, November 10, 2016 when we got together to discuss Joyce Carol Oates’s short story collection, Lovely, Dark, Deep.

This was our reading group’s second time to meet and discuss a short story collection; at the third meeting, we had discussed Cheever’s short story collection. Oates is a divisive author. Some reading group members love Oates and some hate her writing. However, no matter how participants felt about the stories, there was dynamic discussion at our meeting. Some of the highlights from the discussion include the below. 
  • The stories focus on the relationship between the sexes and often include fragile women characters who depend on male approval, often the approval of a husband or father. The group discussed if Oates’s portrayal of women is old fashioned or if many American women today still define themselves in relation to the men in their lives.
  • Group members noted a lack of dialog between the characters in these stories or at least a lack of serious discussion between the characters. Participants observed that a lot is communicated between the characters without being said. This was seen in the first story of the collection, “Sex with Camel,” where the grandson and grandmother joke around with each other, but Oates still lets the reader know how much the characters care about each other and how ill the grandmother is.
  • Two of the stories that the discussion focused on were stories about authors: “Lovely, Dark, Deep” and “Patricide.” The group discussed why stories about authors are popular and if they may be especially appealing to authors and awards committees. These two short stories also sparked a discussion about how what we know about an author can color how we view their work. We discussed if literature should be judged entirely separately from the author and if it is possible to divorce a poem or a novel from the image of the creator.
  • Short story collections can pose difficulties for reading group discussions as there isn’t one main narrative for the group to discuss together as there is when the group is reading a novel. Reading group participants may all want to discuss different stories. On the other hand, short story collections provide reading groups with the opportunity to explore many different works by an author at one time.
Personally, reading Oates always makes me what to read more Oates (or in the case of this collection, I wanted to read more of Oates’s fiction and to revisit Robert Frost’s poetry).

What did you find most interesting about the fourth meeting’s discussion or about the short stories? Please post in the comments below.

Books truck display of books by Joyce Carol Oates,
Robert Frost's poems, and books about Frost.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Stories of John Cheever - South Broadway Library






On October 22nd, we met to discuss The Stories of John Cheever.  We discussed four stories in particular: Goodbye, My Brother; The Five-Forty-Eight, The Swimmer, and The Jewels of the Cabots.  The discussion began with Good-bye, My Brother and we quickly decided that Cheever's examination of family dynamics was very morose. Lawrence, the youngest brother, is quite the black sheep in the family and the events he precipitates by his presents are symbolic of the decay of the "American Dream." The Five-Forty-Eight was a psychological story about a mentally ill woman who is an agent of karma returning to exact justice on a man who preys upon women through the use of the position and power.  The narration during the train ride on the title train is superbly constructed with the use of metaphor and imagery.  The final scene left many cheering for Miss Dent as she put a "dent" in Blake's life.  The Swimmer was described as an allegory for Neddy's (The Swimmer) passage from youth to old age.  His journey from one swimming pool to another becomes increasing more difficult and each pool seems to drain his energy.  The story ends with Neddy arriving home after dark and finding the house dark and abandoned.  One can only conclude that Neddy has lost everything and is in a state of denial or delusion about his situation.  The last story we discussed was The Jewels of the Cabots.  Cheever weaves a tangled web of a story with many tangential stories including one involving a male prostitute (!).  One is uncertain of which story is the main one until the very end when we find out that Mrs. Cabot's daughter is the jewel thief who takes her mother's jewel and recreates a life for herself in Egypt.  There is the usual Cheever use of swimming that takes place at the end of story  The narrator uses swimming techniques as way to separate the classes.  The side stroke, which is proletariat and lower class, is more efficient and more conducive to lifesaving, whereas the "overhand" stroke is indicative of the upper class because it is more stylish. The narrator makes this observation while swimming in the Nile river.  In the end, Cheever's stories reflect a slice of American life that takes place during the height of the "American Dream," and while the characters may be living the dream, they are also victims of it.  Their lives are set in rigid manner that doesn't allow for much individualism, and those who express individualism are not shown in a positive light.  Our next discussion will be on "Lovely, Dark, Deep" by Joyce Carol Oates on November 19th at 2:00 pm at the South Broadway Library.

Questions for Donnelly Library's Discussion of the Lovely, Dark, Deep

Donnelly Library’s Pulitzer Prize Challenge reading group has its fourth meeting on Thursday, November 09. Below are a few questions to think about for the upcoming discussion.

Take a look at the questions and please post your own questions or discussion points for this short story collection in the comments below.
  • A common theme of the books we have read for this reading group is that characters are haunted by their pasts. What events or traumas haunt the characters of Oates’s short stories?
  • Oates writes a great deal about the relationship between the sexes in these short stories. What does she have to say about the role of women and the role of men in American society though these stories?
  • In the title story of the collection, Oates paints a dark, brutal portrait of beloved American poet Robert Frost. In this story what is Oates criticizing, Frost himself, literary celebrity, literary biographies, biographical interpretations of literature, or a combination of these things?
  • Including this short story collection, Joyce Carol Oates has been a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction finalist 4 times (her other finalist books include her novel Black Water, finalist in 1993, her novel What I Lived For, finalist in 1995, and novel Blonde finalist in 2001). Why do you think she continues to be nominated for the prize, and why does she continue not to win?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Donnelly Library's The Stories of John Cheever Discussion Highlights

Donnelly Library had its third meeting of the Pulitzer Prizes Reading Group on Thursday, October 13, 2016 when we got together to discuss The Stories of John Cheever

This was the longest and most daunting of the book selections so far at over 700 pages and including over 60 stories written over the course of Cheever’s career.  During the discussion of the short stories many different things were discussed including the below. 
  • The role of the short story in the history of American Literature and how Cheever and the magazine he published the most frequently in, the New Yorker, fit into this history. It was interesting to learn that several MFA (Master of Fine Arts) programs in writing call Cheever’s collected short stories the “Orange Bible,” and consider him to be at the height of short story craftsmanship. It was also interesting to learn from the facilitator that though Cheever is thought of as writing realistic stories, it is his surreal stories like “The Swimmer” or “The Enormous Radio” for which he is best known.
  • Several reading group participants noted Cheever’s careful and skillful use of language and imagery in his writing. Together the reading group took a close look at key phrases and sentences in several stories. 
  • The group discussed if part of Cheever’s popularity was due in part to a bias toward New York centered fiction from both publishers and literary award committees.
  • The group further discussed the literature of the postwar suburbs and how Cheever fit into this tradition. Other important works about the suburbs of 1950s America, such as Sloan Wilson’s The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road, and the New Yorker short stories of John Updike, were discussed and were on the book truck display during the meeting. 
What did you find most interesting about the third meeting’s discussion or about the short stories? Please post in the comments below.


Donnelly Library's Plague of Doves Discussion Highlights

Donnelly Library had its second meeting of the Pulitzer Prizes Reading Group on Thursday, September 22, 2016 when we got together to discuss Louise Erdrich’s novel Plague of Doves. As with our first meeting, the discussion of the book and the author was lively. Some of the highlights from the discussion include the below.
  • Erasure of modern Native American lives and stories in most of American literature and how Erdrich’s novels include tales of contemporary Native Americans. 
  • How the landscape of the Great Plains is a character in the stories that comprise this novel. Reading group participants from this region remarked that her stories capture the landscape and its influence on area residents’ lives. 
  • Reading group participants also noted that this novel is more a cycle of stories than a traditional novel. It was interesting to learn that sections of the novel had been published separately as standalone short stories. 
  • Erdrich’s elliptical storytelling style was also a point of discussion. The characters and their relationships with each other unfold slowly throughout the different stories of the novel much like how we learn about other people in life. 
  • Religion and spirituality are important to many of the characters in the novel. These are important to many people, but are not always included in American literature. 
What did you find most interesting about the second meeting’s discussion or about the novel? Please post in the comments below.



Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Questions for Donnelly Library's Discussion of the Stories of John Cheever

Donnelly Library’s Pulitzer Prize Challenge reading group has its third meeting on Thursday, October 13. Below are a few questions to think about for the upcoming discussion.

Take a look at the questions and please post your own questions or discussion points for these short stories in the comments below.

Questions
  1. The Pulitzer Prize for fiction is awarded to a book "preferably dealing with American life." What do Cheever's short stories say about American life? What parts of the American experience do they draw on?
  2. How reliable are the narrators of Cheever's stories? Do they tell the truth about their situations and the other characters in the stories?
  3. What do the characters in these short stories want? What is a happy ending in Cheever's stories? What are readers supposed to take away from these stories? 
  4. Why do Cheever's stories set in a particular place and time still resonate in 2016? What is the enduring appeal of stories of the suburbs? 








Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Intro to John Cheever and Questions for Goodbye, My Brother

Hello everyone!  I am writing this post as a brief biography and background about John Cheever and am giving you a few questions about the first story we are discussing.

John Cheever was born on May 27, 1912, in Quincy, Massachusetts. His father owned a shoe factory until he lost it due to the Great Depression of the 1930s (a time of severe economic hardship). His mother owned a gift shop and supported the family with the shop's profits.

The style of writing that John Cheever is known for follows the plot line:  the characters are good people who begin life with a sense of well-being and order. Later that order and well-being are stripped away and never quite fully restored.  These are themes that inundate a genre of literature known as "Cheever country."

In the end Cheever could not fit the image he carefully developed for himself— much like the fictional characters he created. John Cheever died of cancer on June 18, 1982.


By now you should have read the first story in The Stories of John Cheever.  In "Goodbye, My Brother," there are several themes:  paralysis, letting go, change, acceptance and denial.  These are all brought together in the story of a family.  Consider the following questions as you read or re-read the story:

1.  How does the house symbolize the relationship between family members?
2.  What do the wedding dress worn by Helen and the old football uniform worn by the narrator symbolize?

3.  What role does Lawrence play in the family?  What role does he play in the events of the story?
4.  Who changes in the story and who doesn't?  

Post your thoughts or questions if you have any about this story.  Stay tuned for more questions about "The Five-Forty-Eight."