Wednesday, April 10

Please respond to anything that particularly interested you in Interior Chinatown. Here are some prompts to get you started thinking:

  • One of the most striking aspects of this novel is its form.  What do you think Yu gains by writing the novel as a screenplay?
  • In  your own reading of the novel, where did you think reality ended and metaphor began?  In other words, did you think all these characters were really actors playing roles in various tv shows and movies?
  • Talk about Willis’s desire to become Kung Fu Guy.  What do you think are the social, political, and/or metaphorical connotations of this dream?  Does Willis hold onto it all the way to the end of the novel?
  • Discuss a particular supporting character such as Older Brother, Willis’s father (Sifu), his mother, or Phoebe and “Phoebe Land.”  What does your chosen character represent?  Why are they important in the novel?
  • What did you think about the cop show Black and White?  What is its function in the book?
  • How does the novel address history, especially the history of Chinese immigration and oppression?  What about the theme of assimilation?
  • Did you find the novel funny?  Were there scenes you especially responded to?
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Wednesday, March 27

Like always, you’re welcome to respond to another student’s post or to discuss anything that interests you in the novel.  But here are some prompts to get you started thinking:

  • Discuss the book’s title
  • Why does the novel begin with the goat-killing scene?
  • In an interview on PBS NewsHour, Ward said that the use of the supernatural in a novel “has to make sense. It has to be believable.”  Did you find the ghosts in the book believable?
  • What do you think the “haunting” by ghosts represents on a symbolic level in the novel?  What kinds of things are these characters haunted by?
  • Talk about Ward’s choice of three specific narrators:  Jojo, Leonie, and Richie.  Why these and not others?
  • Why do you think the middle generation in the novel—Leonie and Michael—seem to be the most troubled?  Or maybe you don’t agree with this statement…
  • Discuss Ward’s depiction of white characters in the novel.
  • Talk about the ending—the tree of ghosts and Kayla telling the ghosts to go home.
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Wednesday, March 20

You should respond to anything that particularly interested you in Fun Home.  Here are some questions to get you started thinking.  Also, feel free to respond to another student’s post, if you’d prefer.

Title and Overall Structure: Discuss the implications of the book’s title.  What does it literally refer to in the text?  What are some of the title’s possible other meanings and how do they work in the book?  How has Bechdel organized her chapters?  What seems to be the relationship between the captions that appear at the top of the panels and the speech balloons that appear within the panels?

Old Father, Old Artificer: Why do you think Bechdel has chosen this phrase to begin Chapter One? Who’s the artificer here and why? How do the references to Daedalus and Icarus fit in? What about imagery of the labyrinth?  How are these images revisited at the end of the book?

Sexuality: How is Bruce’s sexuality first raised?  (See especially p. 17, p. 20).  The center of the book has sometimes been compared to a centerfold (pp. 100-101).  Comment on this image.  What’s interesting about it?  What function does it serve in the book?  What about Alison’s depiction of her own sexuality?

Literature: Why all the references to other literary texts within the memoir?  Perhaps choose a particular text such as Ulysses or The Great Gatsby and discuss its significance. What do you think about the relationship between art and reality as presented in this book?  Maybe talk about how these issues relate to other works we’ve discussed in the class previously.

OCD and the Self: Talk about Alison’s foray into Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which she discusses in Ch.  5.  What seems to be the root of this, in her own adult speculating?  (See especially p. 138 and her reading of Dr. Spock).  What about her diary writing?  What begins to happen?  What does this seem to say about the relationship between language and reality?  About memoir-writing?

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Wednesday, March 13

Like always, please respond to anything that interested you in Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres.  Here are some topics to consider:

  • Consider the novel’s epigraph from Meridel Le Seuer. How does this quote shape and inform the book?
  • Is Ginny Cook an entirely reliable narrator? Can we completely trust her perception of events?  Why do you think Smiley chose Ginny to narrate the story?  How would the book have been different with a different narrator?
  • If you’re familiar with King Lear, talk about Lear parallels in the novel. How well do you think these work?
  • Some reviewers argued that Smiley went too far in her depiction of Larry Cook and what he does to his daughters—that she robs the Lear character of his majesty, making him unambiguously bad. Do you agree or disagree with this assessment?
  • What are we supposed to think about Jess Clark? Is he a villain or a victim?
  • How do you read the ending of the novel? Is it entirely tragic?  Does Smiley leave us with any hope for the future?
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Wednesday, February 28

While you’re free to write about anything in Tracks that interested you, here are some prompts to get you started thinking:

  • What do the “tracks” of the title refer to? Are there literal “tracks” in the novel?  How do tracks work as a metaphor?  Why do you think Erdrich chose this title?
  • Discuss the structure of the novel. Why does Erdrich choose two alternating narrators?  How does this form relate to the novel’s content?
  • What are we to think of Pauline Puyat? Is she simply crazy?  Are we to feel any sympathy/admiration for her at all?  What does her function in the novel seem to be?
  • Look at Erdrich’s prose style. How would you characterize it?
  • What are we to think of Fleur? Why doesn’t Fleur tell her own story?  Why does she hasten her own destruction at the end?
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Wednesday, February 21

Here are some questions you might want to comment on in relation to Song of Solomon.  But, of course, you should feel free to respond to anything else in the book that particularly interested you.

  • Discuss the novel’s title and how it reverberates throughout.
  • Talk about the novel as a quest.
  • Discuss the significance of history or the past in the book.
  • Look at either Macon Dead II, Ruth, Pilate, or Hagar and discuss this character’s function in the novel.
  • Examine a particularly memorable image or recurring motif in the novel (Ruth’s watermark, eggs, gold/ginger, the rose petals sewn by Lena and Corinthians, the peacock, etc.) What function does this symbol seem to serve?
  • Discuss the emphasis on names and naming in the novel. Perhaps examine individual character’s names?  Talk about the relationship between names and history?
  • What are we supposed to think about Guitar Baines and The Seven Days? Is Guitar an appealing character or an appalling character?
  • Provide a close reading of the very end of the novel. How are we supposed to read and interpret what happens here?
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Wednesday, February 14

Respond to anything in the book that interested you. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Talk about the book’s form. How does it play with audience expectations? How does O’Brien blur fact and fiction?  What do you think O’Brien gains with his use of metafictional commentary? What effect did the book’s structure have on you as a reader?
  • O’Brien has said in an interview that the tiny kernel of inspiration he started with when writing the book was the line, “This is true.” What does O’Brien say about truth in the book?  Is he interested in certain kinds of truth over other kinds?
  • Choose a specific story to comment on–why do you think the story’s important? How does it fit into the rest of the collection? What particularly struck you about it?
  • Discuss the narrator’s search to understand what courage in wartime means–especially in what many consider to be an unjust war.
  • Talk about O’Brien’s presentation of masculinity and femininity in the novel.
  • Something said so often about war experience that it’s become something of a cliché is this: “If you weren’t there, you can’t possibly understand what it was like.”  Do you think O’Brien believes this?  Does the book suggest that he believes trauma can be successfully communicated through storytelling, or does he believe that trauma must be experienced to be understood?
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Wednesday, February 7

We’ll be discussing Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise this week. As always, you’re free to comment on anything in the book that interested you.  You’re also free to respond to another student’s post.  But here are some prompts to get you started thinking about the novel:

  • What do you think the “white noise” of the title refers to? Where in the book itself do we see this white noise manifested? What does the white noise suggest about contemporary American culture (at least circa 1985)?
  • Do you think DeLillo critiques or appreciates our media-obsessed, consumerist society? Or does his vision involve a more complicated mixture of the two? Cite particular scenes and examples in the book to support your view.
  • Choose a particular supporting character (Heinrich, Denise, Steffie, Wilder, Murray Jay Siskind, Babette, Orest Mercator, etc.) and discuss what role this character seems to play in the book.
  • Look one of these particular scenes in the book and provide a close reading of what you think’s going on here:
      • The scene in the evacuation shelter when Jack hears his daughter Steffie mutter the words “Toyota Celica” in her sleep (near the end of Chapter 21).
      • The scene beginning in Chapter 39 when Jack confronts Willie Mink.
      • The scene at the hospital with the German nuns.
      • The scene at the very beginning of Chapter 40, in which Wilder rides his tricycle across the highway.
  • Finally, do you think DeLillo believes humans are simply the “sum total” of their data?
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Wednesday, January 31

Like always, feel free to discuss anything that particularly interested you in the book or to respond to another student’s post.  Here are some prompts to get you started thinking:

  • Comment on the book’s style. How would you characterize it?  What makes it unique, interesting, easily recognizable?  (You might talk about tone and voice; level of formality; sentence length, structure, or syntax; diction; paragraphing; use of figurative language; etc.)
  • What do you think is the point of the self-reflexive opening chapter of the novel in which Vonnegut meditates on his own difficulties in writing the book?
  • Why choose a “hero” like Billy Pilgrim?  Why do you think Vonnegut chooses to make Billy come “unstuck in time” in the novel?
  • What are we supposed to think about the Tralfamadorians and their world-view? Does Vonnegut believe (and want us to believe) that the Tralfamadorian philosophy of life is more sane and reasonable than that of earthlings?  Or do you believe that Vonnegut satirizes the Tralfamadorian view—that he presents it ironically?
  • Do you believe this is an anti-war book or not? Vonnegut concedes in the opening chapter that trying to stop wars is like trying to stop glaciers.  Is he a fatalist, as some critics have charged, or does he think change is possible?
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Wednesday, January 24

Please respond to anything that particularly interested you in Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle.  Here are some questions to get you started thinking:

  • Merricat Blackwood is a pretty amazing fictional character.  Talk about her. What do you think Jackson gains by using Merricat as a first-person narrator?  Any parallels between Merricat and Holden Caulfield?
  • Discuss all the food/cooking in the novel. How does Jackson depict domesticity?
  • Did the Blackwood family deserve to die?
  • How complicit is Constance?
  • Is this novel a kind of fairy tale?
  • What do you think about the Blackwood family’s relationship with the villagers?
  • In the end, Merricat says, “Oh Constance…we’re so happy.”  Ironic or not?
  • Is this a feminist novel?
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