Participate in the Pulitzer Dialogues
To commemorate the centennial of the Pulitzer Prizes, six libraries from across New Mexico are partnering with the New Mexico Humanities C...
Monday, December 12, 2016
- The style of the book. Díaz’s novel is full of 1980s popular culture references. Reading group members who grew up around the 1980s understood most of these references, but reading group members who grew up before or after this time period mostly missed them. This could be Díaz’s way of disorienting many of his readers and making them feel like outsiders to the characters’ lives and cultures.
- The shifting tone of this novel also made for interesting discussion. The story starts out being very funny and then shifts to being a very serious tale. This causes a complex response in the reader as she or he follows the various characters through the different strands of the narrative.
- The title of the novel was another highlight of the discussion. Reading group members could agree that Oscar’s life is certainly brief, but it is up for debate if his life could be called wondrous.
- The reading group scholar brought up the parallels in Oscar’s desire for women and the dictator Trujillo legendary womanizing. This led into a discussion of whether or not the reader is supposed to find the title character Oscar likable or not. Most reading group members did not find him likable, but rather found the narrator the more sympathetic character.
Thursday, December 8, 2016
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
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?
- 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.
|Books truck display of books by Joyce Carol Oates, |
Robert Frost's poems, and books about Frost.
Thursday, November 10, 2016
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
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.
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
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.
- 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.
Friday, October 21, 2016
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
- 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?
- How reliable are the narrators of Cheever's stories? Do they tell the truth about their situations and the other characters in the stories?
- 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?
- 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
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.
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."
Friday, September 30, 2016
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
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.
- Goodbye, My Brother, p. 3-21
- The Enormous Radio, p. 33-41
- The Sorrows of Gin, p. 198-209
- The Day the Pig Fell into the Well, p. 219-235
- The Five-Forty-Eight, p. 236-247
- The Housebreaker of Shady Hill, p. 253-269
- The Country Husband, p. 325-346
- The Angel of the Bridge, p. 490-497
- The Geometry of Love, p. 549-602
- The Swimmer, p. 603-612
Saturday, September 24, 2016
“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 DiazThese 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
|More great discussion|
|Never a dull moment|
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
|First Meeting of the Readng Group|
Monday, September 19, 2016
The theme of this book is "a hopeful quest, sad love story, a nerd hoping to have a sexual relationship, moving toward his doom". The language used in the book is somewhat different - possibly the language that the author grew up with and language of the culture. A person may not know the exact meaning of some of the words or phrases used in the book, but gets the jest of what is being said/written. Junot Diaz puts an insight into the novel. He delves into the politics of their country/culture and ours. These things need to be known/studied.
Several participants in the book discussion commented on how they thought the footnotes were very helpful in understanding certain phrases, sections of the book and the history relating to the culture.
The novel begins with the narrator's description of the curse, called fake americanus—a curse which was brought over to the islands of Antilles when the Europeans came. Oscar seemed to be the person that was the "victim" of his family's fukú. Oscar is very polished, speaks in elvish - literary compliment. He is both heroic and foolish. He felt that this is what he had to do - his mission.
- Although there is no ghost in Erdrich’s novel as there is in Morrison’s Beloved, the past haunts the communities of this novel. What events haunt the characters of Plague of Doves?
- Erdrich uses multiple narrators in this novel. Why do you think she chooses to use changing perspectives? What do the different narrators reveal about the history of the communities in this novel?
- How does religion and spirituality effect the different characters’ lives?
- What is the role of the murder plot in this novel? Can this novel be called a murder mystery? How would you describe this novel?
Friday, September 16, 2016
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Thursday, September 8, 2016
Please check it out and have a great day. I can't wait to see you all next Saturday.
Thursday, September 1, 2016
The first thing you'll notice reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is the language. If you Google the title you'll find article after article discussing the code-switching, the use of "Spanglish," no explanation of the Spanish words, and whether Diaz did this just to frustrate readers or he did it to make a point. There is a lot to discuss in "Wondrous," but I can't imagine having a discussion on this book and not talking about the language.
Why did Diaz choose not to include English translations to his Spanish words and phrases? What effect does the seamless blending of Spanish and English create? Why does Diaz choose not to italicize Spanish words the way foreign words are usually italicized in English-language text? These are just a few things to think about as you embark on The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I've also included a recording of a 2008 NPR interview with Junot Diaz discussing his Pulitzer Prize winning novel. It's a great jumping off place for getting into the book!
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
The first Pulitzer Challenge discussion on Saturday was a wonderful experience for us here at South Broadway Library. The dialogue was lively and people were engaged and enthusiastic. The discussion mostly centered on themes in the Plague of Doves: religion, doves, racism, guilt, the Land, small towns, Native American customs, and storytelling—just for starters. I feel like we just barely scratched the surface on some of the topics that were brought up; we certainly could have talked about the book for another hour! Not everyone liked the book and some had a difficult time with certain parts of it, but I think we all came to appreciate, or at least have a better understanding of, what Louise Erdrich was trying to accomplish with the novel.
Saturday, August 27, 2016
2. Participants discussed what the criteria for a title to win a Pulitzer Prize.
3. The Fuku is mentioned throughout the novel and participants discussed the ramifications in Oscar's and his family's lives.
4. Many of the participants enjoyed learning of some of the history of Santo Domingo.
5. Participant also discussed the references to literature and what some classified as "nerd" culture.
6. Oscar's personality is multi-layered and causes him to become an outcast among his fellow Dominicans, but in the end Junior describes his death in a way that seems heroic.
Thursday, August 25, 2016
Want to keep track of how many Pultizer Fiction winners you have read? You can print your own Pulitzer100 bookmark checklist by visiting http://www.pulitzer.org/page/print-your-own-pulitzer100-bookmarks.
Saturday, August 20, 2016
- How does Toni Morrison connect the idea of slavery and the idea of haunting? Is America haunted?
- The novel is a narrative about trauma and recovery. What does it mean to recover from trauma? How does Sethe recover?
- This novel is about the relationships between mothers and daughters. What kinds of relationships do the characters have? How do they change over the course of the novel?
- Is the ghost real?