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...

Friday, July 29, 2016

Gallup Discussion: Lovely, Dark, Deep - Frosty Reception

Joyce Carol Oates' "Lovely, Dark, Deep" was a divisive collection.  At our discussion in the Octavia Fellin Public Library, one story probably stood out as the most divisive of them all, and that was the titular tale, Lovely, Dark, Deep.

To briefly summarize the story: a female journalist interviews a famous and beloved poet, attacking the image he has cultivated for himself, revealing the far more awful man below the surface.  What makes this a particularly controversial story is that the poet is Robert Frost, a real poet who is both famous and beloved.

More than one voice in the discussion group brought up an interesting question, "Why couldn't this story have used a fictional poet instead of Robert Frost?"  The interviewer, Evangeline Fife, is a fictional character, so despite Oates' claim to base the story on real sources, it is an entirely fictional one.  Frost never had this confrontation.  So why not just create a fictional poet instead?

There was an interesting response to that argument.  One woman at the discussion thought that because he wasn't a fictional character people had stronger reactions.  Without Robert Frost, it's just two pretend people having a conversation.  None of our preconceived notions about Frost align with the image created by Oates.  Perhaps, Oates was shattering an idol.

This lead to many other issues.  For example, the lack of sources sited by Oates.  If Frost had been an actual good person, did Oates have the right to demonize him?  And if Frost was not who we all thought he was then what should we think of his works?

There were two sides to this argument.  The first side thought that we could look past a flawed man to embrace his works.  One person asked, "Does the character of Bukowski or Pound ruin their works?"  A fair question.  Without a doubt, these were great writers.  On the other side of the argument was a much more contemporary figure: Bill Cosby.  It would be hard to appreciate The Cosby Show knowing what we know about Bill Cosby now.  In that situation, the legacy of the man seems to have ruined the works.

I'm not sure there are any correct answers here.  Sometimes great works transcend the people who write them.  Sometimes great works are destroyed by them.  There was no universal consensus on Frost or Oates, and most everyone had very mixed feelings on the story, but we all walked away with a greater perspective.

Plague of Doves in Deming

The Pulitzer Dialogues in Deming had a lively discussion around Louise Erdrich's Plague of Doves! Kudos to these active and engaged readers for tackling so many aspects of this book so deftly, from spirituality to romance. Everyone was thrilled to get their copy of the next book, Junot Diaz' Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Meet the Author: Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich is the author of fifteen novels as well as volumes of poetry, children’s books, short stories, and a memoir of early motherhood. Her novel The Round House won the National Book Award for Fiction. The Plague of Doves won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and her debut novel, Love Medicine, was the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. Erdrich has received the Library of Congress Prize in American Fiction, the prestigious PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. She lives in Minnesota with her daughters and is the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore. From HarperCollins' bio

More about Louise Erdrich at Notable Biographies.

Video: Junot Diaz Discusses Oscar Wao

Is there anything that plagues the human animal more than love? Junot Diaz tackles that question and more in this interview about The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao Sample Discussion Questions

"Lovely, Dark, Deep" Book Discussion

Our group had several comments about this book written by Joyce Carol Oates.  A similar consensus was - the stories were captivating and haunting - dark and funny at the same time.  Several of the stories left us mystified but also left us with a myriad of insinuations of the plots of each story. We were glad to get together to discuss our different interpretations of the stories. 
  In the story, "Sex with a camel", it seemed like the boy was trying to make things "lighter" in dealing with the event of his grandmother's illness.  There seemed to be another time that they went through this process in another hospital, maybe with the grandmother or the boy's mother.  The boy deals with the pull of suicide and the grandmother battles against her illness. The grandmother and the boy find humor and companionship to succeed in dealing with their issues.
  In "The Mastiff" we all wondered why the owner would bring this vicious dog out around others.  Maybe the dog sensed fear in the woman and attacked because of this.  Since the man was her hero, the woman felt obligated to take care of the man while he was in the hospital.
In "Lovely, Dark, Deep", the female became very assertive toward Robert Frost who was very "cantankerous".
We discussed all the titles in this collection of diverse stories.
The review below covers some of the points we brought up in our book discussion.  Reading "Lovely, Dark, Deep" and all the stories in this collection was a "challenging experience."

..."The prolific Oates (Carthage, 2014, etc.) returns to short stories with this collection of 13 tales examining the reactions of humans confronting the final baby boomer frontier—death. Oates’ characters—including an assortment of deteriorating “great men,” isolated, lonely, middle-aged women, and couples on the downslide—encounter harbingers of their eventual fates with every canker sore, abortion, scab and biopsy. Elusive neighbors, living beyond an area of unexplored boundary woods, haunt the lives of aging suburbanites in “The Jesters” while a puzzled wife, in “The Disappearing,” mulls over the significance of her husband’s divestiture of his personal possessions. The enervating effects of a brush with death are examined from the points of view of a survivor, in “Mastiff,” and, in a twist on 1950s teenage-car-crash ballads, a victim, in “Forked River Roadside Shrine, South Jersey.” The collection’s titular story delivers a skewering of Robert Frost in its unsympathetic riff on the facts of the poet’s life as well as a testimonial to the role of the poet’s craft as a hedge against mortality. The aging literary lion in “Patricide,” Roland Marks, allows Oates another opportunity to poke at the myth of the “great man” of literature while providing clues as to which man of American letters may have annoyed Oates the most."... Kirkus Review - Sept. 9th, 2014

Thursday, July 21, 2016

"The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz

August 18th is the date for our last Book Discussion at Thomas Branigan Memorial Library for the Pulitzer Reading Challenge......  The time for the discussion is 2:00pm. 
The book we will be discussing is: "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz

Junot Diaz on The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao


Friday, July 15, 2016

The Annotated Oscar Wao

The characters in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao blend science fiction, fantasy, graphic novel and popular culture references with Dominican idioms. If you find yourself struggling with the references to Galadriel or Stan Lee or "totos" then keep this link handy:

Clovis-Carver Public Library Discusses Lovely, Dark, Deep by Joyce Carol Oates

Lovely Dark Deep Discussion Questions:

Have you had any experiences similar to any characters in the stories

2. Did any of the stories change the way you think?

3. How do the main characters demonstrate significant character growth or decline?

4. How is the setting used to enhance the stories?

5. Which passage did you find particularly profound or interesting?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Pulitzer Dialogues in Gallup

Lovely, Dark, Deep - Joyce Carol Oates

Our Next Book Discussion @ Thomas Branigan Library will be held:
     Thursday, July 14th
                – “Lovely, Dark, Deep” by Joyce Carol Oates

"I don't think I'm morbid by nature. Serious writers have always written about serious subjects. Lighthearted material doesn't appeal to me, and I don't read it. I think I'm a realist, with a realistic sensibility of history and the tragedy of history." -  Joyce Carol Oates

"Any kind of creative activity is likely to be stressful. The more anxiety, the more you feel that you are headed in the right direction. Easiness, relaxation, comfort - these are not conditions that usually accompany serious work." -  Joyce Carol Oates

Celestial Timepiece: A Joyce Carol Oates Patchwork

Here is a link for some discussion questions we may utilize as part of our discussion: The Big Read Discussion Questions

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Louise Erdrich on Native American Heritage

Meet the Author: Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates is a contemporary American writer who is considered “One of the United States's most prolific (producing a lot of work) and versatile (producing a wide variety of work) contemporary writers, Joyce Carol Oates focuses upon the spiritual, sexual, and intellectual decline of modern American society”
-Encyclopedia of World Biography.

“Oates has established herself as a highly prolific scribe who has written dozens of books that include novels, short story collections, young adult fiction, plays, poetry and essays. Her first published book was the 1963 story collection By the North Gate, followed by her debut novel With Shuddering Fall in 1964.
     Other notable works among many include National Book Award winner them (1969), a layered chronicling of urban life that was part of Oates' Wonderland Quartet series, and her 26th novel We Were the Mulvaneys (1996), the story of an unraveling family which became an Oprah Winfrey Book Club selection. The novels The Falls (2004) and The Gravedigger's Daughter (2007) were both New York Times bestsellers, while 2012's Patricide was published as an e-book novella. Oates has also written suspense novels under the pseudonyms Rosamond Smith and Lauren Kelly.
     Inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1978, Oates has won scores of awards over the course of her career, including the Prix Femina Etranger and the Pushcart Prize”.

Lovely, Dark, Deep: Stories is a 2015 Pulitzer Prize Finalist. To learn more about Joyce Carol Oates visit her website.

Friday, July 1, 2016

"The Plague of Doves" @ Octavia Fellin Library (Part II)

In an earlier post, I mentioned one the more confusing plot points in Louise Erdrich's "The Plague of Doves" and how our group discussed it.  While I thought this was the most interesting part of our discussion, it was far from the only one.  Here, I'm going to run through some other topics we discussed.  If you ever find yourself in a book club with "The Plague of Doves" in front of you, these are all great aspects to bring up!

Early in the discussion, religion was brought up, and differing religions in the story play a central role in many ways.  Mooshum and Father Cassidy argue over elements of Catholicism and Mooshum's soul.  From sexuality to transubstantiation, Mooshum takes Father Cassidy's beliefs and turns them around.  In a similar situation, snakes and doves seem to have their roles reversed from what they would be in traditional Christianity.  Marn Wolde describes the snakes as having "judgement in them... And they have love"  (p160).  On the other hand, a swarm of doves is described devouring crops and crushing houses on the first page of the book.  That's not even getting into the cult founded by Billy Peace.

We found that characters were constantly haunted by the past, particularly their crimes or sins, and just as frequently they end up trying to avoid those ghosts as long as they can.  As a major spoiler, the man who committed the crime three Native men were executed for spends his entire life trying to avoid a meeting with the sole survivor of his murderous actions, only to be nursed to health by her.  John Wildstrand forces Billy Peace into kidnapping his wife.  As a result of this, Billy flees the town, joins the army, and founds a cult.

While these were just a couple of the topics we touched upon, there were a lot more.  Race and sexual identity both came up, particularly in relation to Evelina.  We touched on how the characters in the book deal with trauma and how labels/identities change how they perceive each other.  There was a lot in "The Plague of Doves." It was a great discussion and I think everyone in the group would highly recommend it.

Pulitzer Dialogues in Columbus

Join the Pulitzer Dialogues at the Columbus Village Library! Find the library at: 
112 West Broadway
Columbus, New Mexico 88029

  • The Stories of John Cheever: May 10
  • Lovely, Dark, Deep: June 14
  • Plague of Doves: July 12
  • The Brief and Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao: August 9
  • Beloved: September 13