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...

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.

  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." 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Reading The Stories of John Cheever at Donnelly Library, Las Vegas, NM

Donnelly Library’s Pulitzer Prize Challenge reading group has its third meeting on Thursday, October 13, 2016 to discuss The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever.

The list of my (April's) top ten favorite stories so far is below. Brandon said "The Swimmer" is his favorite Cheever story of all time. What stories stood out to you from the collection? Post your favorite stories in the comments below. 

  1. Goodbye, My Brother, p. 3-21
  2. The Enormous Radio, p. 33-41
  3. The Sorrows of Gin, p. 198-209
  4. The Day the Pig Fell into the Well, p. 219-235
  5. The Five-Forty-Eight, p. 236-247
  6. The Housebreaker of Shady Hill, p. 253-269
  7. The Country Husband, p. 325-346
  8. The Angel of the Bridge, p. 490-497
  9. The Geometry of Love, p. 549-602
  10. The Swimmer, p. 603-612

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Gallup Discussion: Golden Mongooses

This week we discussion The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao at Octavia Fellin Library in Gallup, New Mexico.  And before our discussion began there were some important things to clarify about the setting of the story and some of its symbolism.

Unlike other stories we discussed, some of our readers didn't immediately know the background of the Dominican Republic or the characters in the story.  Just reading the story, you learn a lot of more recent Dominican history, but not everyone remembers off the top of their head where the Dominican Republic is or the significance of its location.

The DR is on the island of Hispaniola.  People who know "a little" history might recall that Columbus discovered America in 1492.  The first place he "discovered" was Hispaniola, an island, and on the modern DR side of that island was where the first permanent Spanish settlement in the Americas was built, also making it the location of the first European colony in the Americas.

Notice how I said, "the modern DR side" above.  That's because, unlike most Caribbean nations, the DR has a border with another country.  Reading the story, you might not some passing references to Haitian genocide, derogatory references to Haitians, maybe a mention of looking like "you speak a little French" as a coded insult.  That's right!  The DR borders Haiti, and they have not had a healthy past. 

The DR was a Spanish colony and while they shipped a lot of slaves to the region, it wasn't half as many as were sent to Haiti for French plantations.  Skin color is a big deal in the story, and there's a lot of coded (and not so coded) language related to it.  Dark skin is usually seen as a terrible thing, handsome means white, as noted with Beli's first paramour, Jack Pujols, and when someone suggests you might speak a little French, it suggests you have darker skin, or in other words, you look Haitian.

The Sauron of our story is Rafael Trujillo or El Hefe, and he is portrayed as a pretty terrifying, incredibly evil guy.  I think the book actually gives you plenty to go off of, but I wanted to show a picture of him, because he doesn't look the super villain, child rapist, mass murdering monster that he definitely was... or at least, he doesn't look like I quite expect him to...

he looks...gassier...
Finally, let's talk about the Golden Mongoose in the story.  This is not really based on any bit of history or folklore.  So if your book club is sitting around scratching their heads and saying "What does the mongoose mean?" in deep, philosophical tones, here it is in the words of Junot Diaz, himself:
“My mother got lost when she was young in a coffee plantation (my father used to grow coffee) and she was lost for like three days and everyone thought she died and by the third day they just went and bought fucking—I mean, it shows you the difference, if a child were lost for three days today, we would still have hope, we would still be looking, but in the DR they were like ‘Three days? ’That kid’s fucking dead man’—they went out and bought funeral clothes, they were going to bury this little outfit and then my mother shows up. And my mother tells this story and she was like I had gotten lost and was just desperate and this mongoose came up and was like ‘you lost?’ ‘Well, I’m tired right now but I’ll come back tomorrow and lead you out.’ So he did and my mother arrived home the next day.” - Junot Diaz 
These are just a few things to keep in mind if you ever have a discussion or book club on this fantastic work.  A little background can help a lot when discussing a book, especially one as closely tied to a time and place as this one.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao discussion photos- South Broadway Library

Group Photo
Great discussion

More great discussion
Never a dull moment
Here are some photos from the South Broadway discussion of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao on September 17, 2016.