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, June 28, 2016

Nothing that happens, nothing, is not connected here by blood.

So says Judge Antone Coutts in Louise Erdrich's Plague of Doves. Over generations, survivors of a tragedy--and their descendants-- in the town of Pluto end up as family, friends and lovers. Some reviewers think that makes Plague of Doves a quintessentially American story.

Warning! Family tree involves spoilers!
Retrieved from Plague of Doves Weebly

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich Discussion

Our discussion focused on piecing together the diverse narration and the details that intertwine the narrator's stories. Other topics included the power of music, conflicting religious beliefs, secrets, racial tension and the inability to move beyond generational curses.

Friday, June 24, 2016

"The Plague of Doves" Discussion @ Octavia Fellin Library

I'm pretty sure everyone else has moved on to the next book in the Pulitzer series, but I want to linger on "The Plague of Doves" for a while.  The Octavia Fellin Library Pulitzer Discussion Group read through Louise Erdrich's novel this week and found a lot to unpack, and I'm going to take a couple posts to do that.  So let's start off with the one thing that left everyone head scratching: Doctor Cordelia Lochren.

This is the point where you shouldn't keep reading if you haven't finished the book.

A lot of information about Dr. C is revealed towards the end of the book and one thing that really stood out to our readers was the fact that she wouldn't treat Natives.
"She had let it be known, generally, that she would not treat our people.  They all knew why.  It was more than your garden variety bigotry.  There was history involved..." p.292
This person had been Judge Coutts' lover and she had treated him in the past, but it is revealed to him that she "had turned people down - even in a crisis." For the Judge, this is an epiphany.  His ex never wanted to be seen with him and she would never stay with him because she has a deep-seated hatred, something "more than your garden variety bigotry."  It answers all his questions and the scales are lifted from his eyes... Sort of.

The very next chapter, we get Cordelia's perspective on the matter, and it ends up being a lot more than that garden variety bigotry.
"One thing shamed her, only, one specific paralysis.  She was known to turn Indians away as patients; it was thought that she was a bigoted person.  In truth, she experienced an unsteady weakness in their presence.  It seemed beyond her control..." p.298
For the readers in our group, this explanation was slightly less than satisfying.  She clearly didn't hate them from her perspective, but feeling an "unsteady weakness" didn't really justify abandoning one's Hippocratic Oath in a crisis.  Some thought that the complex feelings she had towards Natives and especially the Judge should have made her more willing to help them.

Having a long standing hatred, as the Judge was taught to believe seemed the more logical answer in many ways.  Cordelia's truth was muddier, like many truths in the book, and really gave our group pause.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

"Oates’ short stories are captivating, sad, compassionate, and haunting. They continue to capture the uncertainty, hurt, and darkness in all of us. Her fertile mind is our gain."

Libraries in Deming, Clovis, and Las Cruces are currently reading Lovely Dark, Deep, by Joyce Carol Oates.  Read along with us, join the conversation.  To help get you started, read the Washington Independent's Review of Lovely, Dark, Deep.

review/lovely-dark-deep-stories by the Washington Independent

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Here are some of the questions we will be discussing at tomorrows get together at the Waymaker Christian Bookstore in Deming, NM. Give us some input on what you think of Lovely, Dark, Deep.

  1. “Sex with a Camel” is a story with the most positive relationship in this collection. There’s a suggestion that there is something different about a relationship between a grandchild and grandparent and something special that these two characters share. How would you describe it? How did they both nurture the connection between them? What do you think of the symbolic meaning of the grandmother driving to the hospital and the grandson driving home?
  2. . In “Sex with a Camel,” the story focuses on the boy taking his grandmother, who has cancer, to the hospital for treatment. At one point the boy thinks that he is “sick of his own sad story.” Do you think that there is more to his sad story than what we are reading about here?
  3. “The Mastiff” is a suspenseful story with a high level of fear deliberately created. “If you are not afraid of much in life, you haven’t experienced life yet! There is much, much to be fearful of, though perhaps it is not a good idea to know this. The disasters that you might expect are not likely to happen, but others will, totally unexpected ones. Out of nowhere, they will come, and you will say, ‘but I had no idea’. That is the point: you have no idea. Just wait?” How does this attitude toward fear and the unknown resonate or not with you?
  4. In “The Mastiff” the author made a conscious decision to refer to the two characters as “the woman” and “the man” though their names come up at some point. What do you think was the reason for that? Are they intended to be types or specific people? Did it engage you or distance you from the characters?
  5. In “The Mastiff”  the main character, Mariella, is a single (never been married) woman about to turn 41, while in “The Hunter” the main character, Violet, is also a single (never been married) woman about to turn 40. One owns an art gallery and the other is a successful poet. Reading these two stories together, what do you think about how JCO presents these independent woman?
  6. “The Hunter” has several threads running through it as opposed to, say,  “The Mastiff.” Oates brings in the underground railroad, an affair with a single middle aged poet and the President of a small college, the looming death of the woman’s father and an italicized incident of a homeless man biting her lip – a visible vulnerability. Why do you think Oates brought all these threads into the story? Do you think that she resolved them? How did this affect your sense of the story?
  7. The opening couple of pages of “The Hunter” are a brilliant description of the setting-the college president’s historic mansion. How does this description of the setting skillfully lay the groundwork for the climax of the plot and the themes of the story?
  8. The majority of short stories use the technique of flashback to inform the reader about what’s happened in the past of the story. In “The Disappearing” there is a nine page flashback to an incident that took place when the couple was young and newly married and they came home to find their house burglarized and they called the police. This is a lot of pages to devote to a flashback in a short story, so how is what we see in that flashback so crucial to this whole story? Do you feel it represented a turning point in their marriage?
  9. “The Jesters” is a surreal account of a pivotal summer in the lives of an aging suburban couple where life seems to be falling apart as they knew it. Confronted by a mysterious, evolving  yet questionable presence, the “Jesters” become a foil for their lives as well as an active player in it.
    How did these “Jesters” bring into focus the character of the couple’s life together and the direction it is taking?
  10. What do you make of the bizarre turn the story takes when the couple in “The Jesters” actually drive to the neighbors’ house to find it an abandoned wreck where an arson involving fatalities occurred some years back? Does this shift the story from what seemed like realism into a Ghost Story in this climatic scene?
  11. Both “The Disappearing”  and  “The Jesters” are about empty nesters—two upper middle class couples who seem to be falling apart emotionally. The wife in “The Jesters” thinks: “She no longer made inquiries. Much of his life was separate from hers as if each was on an ice flow, drifting in the same direction yet drifting inevitably apart.” In “The Disappearing,” the wife thinks: “In marriage the most intense conversations were often with oneself.” What view of the empty nester marriage do you get from these two stories? How relevant does it seem that both couples seem to be from the same socio-economic class?

Lovely, Dark, Deep by Joyce Carol Oates, hosted by the Marshall Memorial Library-and Waymaker Bookstore

Reading and discussion of Lovely, Dark, Deep by Joyce Carol Oates at the Waymaker Christian Bookstore and Espresso Shop, Wednesday, June 22, at 10:00 am held at the Waymaker Christian Bookstore and Espresso Shop.   

To learn more about Lovely, Dark, Deep, check out NPR's Book Review.

Book Review by NPR

Joyce Carol Oates: Creating Characters

Joyce Carol Oates' characters are sometimes so vivid they live with you long after you've closed the book covers. Watch this video to learn how she approaches this work.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

"The Plague of Doves" Book Discussion @ Branigan Library

A Plague of Doves, takes place in the small town of Pulto, North Dakota.  The novel begins with an unknown man standing in a room filled with the scent of blood.  He plays the violin solo on a gramophone while he repairs his jammed gun. The screaming baby in the crib is soothed by the music.  This gruesome murder in 1911, of one of Pluto's white families was unsolved.  Innocent were hung and distortions of truth transform the lives of Ojibwe living on the nearby reservation.

Spirituality is a powerful theme in the book. Doves always seem to represent peace.  The doves can also wreak havoc and destroy crops.  The Catholics frighten away the locust-like invasion of white doves in the field with Hail Mary's where Mooshum and Junesse met and later eventually marry.  The doves are a symbol that stand for something other than themselves and convey meaning.  They are ubiquitous.

Everyone's life is bound up with everyone else's.  The Native American and the White cultures interact and weave together into mystery, humor, sorrow and history that lives on in stories.  There are different traditions and backgrounds and yet we are much more alike than we realize.

Many years later, a violin takes its revenge on the infant's family's murderer.


"The Plague of Doves" family tree

I found a family tree online on a weebly page entitled "Multiple Perspectives in The Plague of Doves".  We noted that a couple of people are missing, but the family tree gave a good direction while we were reading and discussing the book.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Stories of John Cheever at the Waymaker Christian Bookstore in Partnership witht the Marshall Memorial Library

The Marshal Memorial Library held their book discussion on May 25 at the Waymaker Christian Bookstore.  Here are some of the questions that were explored during their discussion.

1. In the Enormous Radio, why do you think the wife was the only one consumed by the drama on the radio? Do think it's the same today?
2. Did you notice the detail that Cheever goes into in his stories? How does that help or hinder the story?
3. What similarities did you notice throughout the stories? What differences?
4. Why do you think Cheever leaves his stories somewhat unfinished, or finishes them abruptly?
5. Do you think the darkness in the stories can be tied in with his alcohol problem?
6. Do you feel these stories were based on personal experiences he had throughout his life or are they merely his imagination at best?

--Lucas Marsh, Marshall Memorial Librarian and Facilitator for the Pulitzer Dialogues

In Praise of the American Short Story

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

An Evening with Joyce Carol Oates

Some readers around New Mexico have been dipping into Joyce Carol Oates' stories for the first time, and may be wondering what the writer is like. Enjoy this video of Oates talking about writing and culture.

More Memes! Joyce Carol Oates Quotations

Because last week's were so much fun.

Meme Time! Joyce Carol Oates Quotations

It's Thursday and we're having a little fun with Lovely, Dark, Deep. What's your favorite quotation from the book? Tell us and we'll illustrate it for you.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

What's the buzz?

Lovely Dark Deep is one of the more recently published Pulitzer titles on our list and it's still making quite a buzz. We turned to the boards at Goodreads to see what people had to say about it.

Reading this is like savoring several mini flutes of extravagant yet extremely diverse wines. :)

Why do I read JCO? 
Because she sizes me up, gouges my heart out, fillets it, and chomps it down. 
Because it is her heart, too. 

They are tragic, emotional, and realistic examples of life and suffering. That's what makes them so frightening because you can see yourself (or a family member/friend) living through the subject matter of each story.

What do you think about Lovely Dark Deep? Do the characters resonate with you? Tell us in the comments!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Clovis-Carver Public Library Plague of Doves Discussion Date Change

The Plague of Doves discussion date  is Thursday, June 16, 2016 at the Clovis-Carver Public Library in the Ingram Room. Now you have an extra week to explore the book further (or procrastinate longer). Please share your thoughts and questions about the book in the comments. Happy Reading!

"The Plague of Doves" by Louise Erdrich

Our 3RD book discussion will be on Thursday, June 9th @ Thomas Branigan Library @ 2:00pm.  If you are interested in joining in our book discussion, please email
Louise Erdrich's mesmerizing novel, centers on a compelling mystery. The unsolved murder of a farm family haunts the small, white, off-reservation town of Pluto, North Dakota. The vengeance exacted for this crime and the subsequent distortions of truth transform the lives of Ojibwe living on the nearby reservation and shape the passions of both communities for the next generation. The descendants of Ojibwe and white intermarry, their lives intertwine; only the youngest generation, of mixed blood, remains unaware of the role the past continues to play in their lives.
Evelina Harp is a witty, ambitious young girl, part Ojibwe, part white, who is prone to falling hopelessly in love. Mooshum, Evelina's grandfather, is a seductive storyteller, a repository of family and tribal history with an all-too-intimate knowledge of the violent past. Nobody understands the weight of historical injustice better than Judge Antone Bazil Coutts, a thoughtful mixed blood who witnesses the lives of those who appear before him, and whose own love life reflects the entire history of the territory.
In distinct and winning voices, Erdrich's narrators unravel the stories of different generations and families in this corner of North Dakota. Bound by love, torn by history, the two communities' collective stories finally come together in a wrenching truth revealed in the novel's final pages.
The Plague of Doves is one of the major achievements of Louise Erdrich's considerable oeuvre, a quintessentially American story and the most complex and original of her books. (From the publisher.)

Discussion Questions 
1. Spirituality is a powerful theme in the book. What might be the symbolic meaning of the doves? Do you see them as Christian messengers, or (given that they're not white) do they represent a Chippewa heaven?
2. You might talk about the different kinds of spirituality as they compete for the human soul. Also, think about how sexuality is treated differently in the Chippewa and Christian religious traditions.
3. Another theme is the land—the Chippewa's ties to and identification with the land and their dispossession from it. Despite her dreams of Paris, Evelina comes to understand that her identity is tied up with her tribe's loss of their land.
4. Storytelling is a structural device Erdrich uses in the novel as a way to bind past and present—as well as a way to evoke Chippewa traditions and way of life. Do the stories enlarge your understanding of the novel or do you feel they are a distraction? Or what?
5. How does your understanding of Mooshum change by the end of the book?

Short Stories: "Something of a Bum"

To call an American writer a master of the short story can be taken at best as faint praise, or at worst as an insult... (In Praise of the American Short Story)
Although he earned the highest praise for his short stories, John Cheever was the first to admit that this writing form is considered "something of a bum." Cheever was lucky enough to write (and thrive as a writer) during a time when scads of magazines published short fiction. But today, most of those literary periodicals have vanished, and short stories have come to be seen as preludes to "real" writing.
...I told non-writer friends that my book was a short story collection they were congratulatory but fervent in their expressed hopes that I would someday, finally, write a novel. (Let us Now Praise Famous Short Story Writers and Demand that They Write a Novel)
What does the short story offer that novels don't? One reviewer suggests that short stories are much more like life, where we glimpse the lives of others for a brief span, before the relentless tide of our lives sweeps us apart.  
The imperial ambitions of a certain kind of swaggering, self-important American novel — to comprehend the totality of modern life, to limn the social, existential, sexual and political strivings of its citizens — start to seem misguided and buffoonish. More of life is glimpsed, and glimpsed more clearly, through Barthelme’s fragments, Cheever’s finely ground lenses or the pinhole camera of O’Connor’s crystalline prose. 
As we move on from The Stories of John Cheever  to Joyce Carol Oates' collection, Lovely, Dark, Deep, it may help to keep in mind that these two art forms are separate but equal. The relationships a reader develops with a novel may be akin to becoming best friends, but in the words of one Pulitzer Dialogues participant,
You can not only meet acquaintances but also find lifelong friends in short stories. Or at least wonder about them for a long time.