Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Book Discussion: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Some great insight into the book https://www.wired.com/2014/03/geek-love/

The original book cover showed 3 mutant letter "e"s. The Knopf logo on the spine that is a Russian Wolfhound has a fifth leg in honor of the Binewskis. Chip Kidd is the designer of the cover and he also designed these famous covers: Jurassic Park, several David Sedaris Books including Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, covers for Donna Tartt, John Updike, 1984 by Haruki Murakami.

Geek Love was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1989, up against E. L. Doctorow’s Billy Bathgate, Oscar Hijuelos’s Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, and John Casey’s Spartina. (Spartina won.) Do you think this recognition was deserving?

Katherine Dunn employs many unusual words in Geek Love: skootching, skuttered, rooched, snorking, frowzled, etc. What do such words add to the flavor of the novel? In what ways is such language appropriate to the story Dunn is telling? Did the language add or take away from the story. Did it set a tone for the book?

The book is full of illustrative adjectives and descriptive sentences such as on page 137 when papa states "you girls look a bit better now. Less like a demon crew and more like hungover angels." p. 187 "to doss down on a cot in a trailer shared with twelve sweaty, spitting, cursing, chortling roustabouts who viewed him as one rung lower than last nights beer farts" Were there some passages that you found particularly shocking, funny, offensive?

The novelist Karen Russell (whose Pulitzer-nominated Swamplandia! owes an obvious debt to Geek Love, and who thanks Dunn in the acknowledgments) describes Dunn’s prose as a “pyrotechnic medium so far removed from our workaday speech that it feels unfair and inaccurate to call that fire-language ‘English.’” An example from chapter 8: “A carnival in daylight is an unfinished beast, anyway. Rain makes it a ghost. The wheezing music from the empty, motionless rides in a soft, rained-out afternoon midway always hits my chest with a sweet ache. The colored dance of the lights in the seeping air flashed the puddles in the sawdust with an oily glamour.” Or this reflection from Arty, the boy with flippers, in chapter 9: “We have this advantage, that the norms expect us to be wise. Even a rat’s-ass dwarf got credit for terrible canniness disguised in his foolery. Freaks are like owls, mythed into blinking, bloodless objectivity.”

This book was written in the early eighties. Does is reflect or satirize American culture from that time period?

In what ways did you have to suspend your disbelief in this story? Were you successful and how did this allow you to enjoy or not enjoy the story?

In his journal, Norval Sanderson writes, "General opinion about Arty varies, from those who see him as a profound humanitarian to those who view him as a ruthless reptile" [p. 273]. Which of these views is more accurate?

What power does Arty hold over each of his family members?

What are the Arturians seeking? How does disfiguring them give them a sense of purpose?

Why do you think Vern the Bag Man went to Arthuro after being released from prison for killing his ex-wife. What drew him in?

On page 251 Why did Al go along with the idea that the twins were to marry the Bag Man? Why was he so dismissive of them when they were expressing their true feelings to him? What power did Arty have over him?

On page 109 Chick describes to Oly how he is able to move things with his mind. stating that "it moves itself. I just let it." He goes on to give the illustration of water always wanting to move. That he lays the path for things to move. How did this description help you visualize or understand how Chick was able to perform so many great feats with his mind (eg: Impregnating Oly, performing surgery)

In the second half of the book when the dreamlings are teenagers Al and Lil seem to be fading away and are no longer a guiding force in the children's lives. What is the reason for this? How would it be different for the children if their parents were more like they were in the beginning of the book?

What are Arty's believes on cults? Do you think he believed he was running one?

Where do Elly and Arty get their selfish drive. What holds Iphy, Oly and Chick back from becoming more like them?

In the end Oly kills Mary Lick and herself. Why did she make this sacrifice. What did it mean for her to stop Miranda from amputating her tail? Was it for the best for all three women? What are Oly's hopes for Miranda?

Oly writes a letter she leaves for Miranda explaining who she is and where Miranda came from. Do you think it was always going to be her intention to let Miranda know upon her death. Do you think she ever would have let Miranda know while she was still alive?

What do you think happened with Chick and the fire that destroyed the circus and so many people?

In what ways are Al Bineski and Mary Lick similar and different from each other?

Olympia says that Miss Lick’s purpose in arranging disfiguring operations is to "liberate women who are liable to be exploited by male hungers. These exploitable women are, in Miss Lick’s view, the pretty ones." After they lose their beauty they can "use their talents and intelligence to become powerful" [p. 162]. Is this a valid critique of the constraints of attractiveness for women? What does the novel as a whole say about the relation between appearance and power?

In one of Arturo’s statements to Norval Sanderson, he says, "I get glimpses of the horror of normalcy. Each of these innocents on the street is engulfed by a terror of their own ordinariness. They would do anything to be unique" [p. 223]. Is he right? Do most people fear being ordinary?

The reviewer for Kirkus wrote that the novel is about "love and hubris in a carnival family." How does love motivate the main characters in the novel? Who is guilty of hubris? What are the consequences of this overreaching ambition?

Why do you think this book has risen to the status of "cult classic?"

Monday, September 25, 2017

Book Discussion Questions:

Why do the two stories make sense together?

In comparing Burnham and Holmes what are some similarities/differences?

  • both handsome and blue eyed
  • Burnham tall, Holmes small and slight
  • Both able to gain trust of others with relative ease
  • both self-made men
  • Both created great facades: the castle and the white city which is is to evoke sheer awe. The facades of the fair buildings are meant to appear as marble and are in fact painted staff. 
In what ways is the Columbian Exposition, as the subtitle to Larson's book claims, "the fair that changed America"?
  • Shredded Wheat cereal, Cracker Jacks, Aunt Jemima's pancake mix, Juicy Fruit chewing gum
  • choosing Westinghouse over General Electric, Burnham established the superiority of AC power over DC
  • clean water 
  • Preventing crime
  • A carpenter named Elias Disney was among the thousands of men who helped build the White City; he would later share memories of that experience with his son, Walter (p. 153). Readers who have visited Disneyworld will undoubtedly see echoes of the White City in Walt Disney's vision: in the lake that flanks the park, in the careful landscaping and utter devotion to cleanliness, in the proliferation of carefully engineered, but "seemingly accidental moments of charm" like those Olmsted recommended for the White City (p. 276). The White City also shaped another magical city: L. Frank Baum visited the fair and patterned his Oz on it (p. 373). It is in these idealized cities, perhaps, that those of us less attuned to architectural history make our closest emotional contact with Burnham's vision and with the legacy of the fair.
Do you think a fair of this size could happen in today’s America? What advantages or disadvantages can you foresee with such a project?

What did you learn about architecture? What do you think the fair contributed to the architectural landscape in the United States?

What is the relationship between the White City and the Black City that surrounds it?
  • The White City was Burnham's dream of what a city could be
  • The White City is a dream, offered so much to Chicago when it was in operation but the black city took over after it closed 
  • The White City became the black city-many buildings burned
What do the "secondary characters" contribute to the primary story?
  • Frederick Law Olmsted, George W. G. Ferris, and Patrick Prendergast
How does Larson’s description of the time period help set the mood for the story? Did any of the descriptions surprise you?

What narrative techniques does Larson use to create suspense in the book?

At the end of The Devil in the White City, Larson writes "The thing that entranced me about Chicago in the Gilded Age was the city's willingness to take on the impossible in the name of civic honor, a concept so removed from the modern psyche that two wise readers of early drafts of this book wondered why Chicago was so avid to win the world's fair in the first place" [p. 393]. What motives, in addition to "civic honor," drove Chicago to build the Fair? In what ways might the desire to "out-Eiffel Eiffel" and to show New York that Chicago was more than a meat-packing backwater be seen as problematic?

How was Holmes able to get away with so many murders without becoming suspect? Were you surprised by how easy it was for him to commit crimes without being caught?
  • Could this many murders and/or disappearances have gone undetected in a different city?What about today?
At the end of the book, Larson suggests that "Exactly what motivated Holmes may never be known" [p. 395]. What possible motives are exposed in The Devil in the White City? Why is it important to try to understand the motives of a person like Holmes?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Book Discussion: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

Did you find one narrator to be more reliable than the other?

Was Captain Pollard a coward?

What do you think happened to the african american crew members?

What would have you done within the first few hours of the shipwreck.

Would Chase have been a better captain than Pollard?

Were there any moves that the survivors made that you would have done differently?

If you were a survivor would you have stayed on Henderson Island or gone on to sail?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Book Discussion: Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Which story did you enjoy most? Was there one you didn't care for?

Throughout the book characters intersected in interesting ways. What are some that you made note of?

Which characters story allowed you to connect with Eva the most?

Food is one of the main themes in this book. What are examples from the book where food brought people together or apart. Do you have any examples from your own life?

There are times where the author seems to be poking fun at foodie culture. Can you find some examples of this commentary?

Eva remains very mysterious throughout the novel. What is it about her that draws people to her?

Cindy has always claimed she would never be a good mother. Why does she insist on this and do you believe her? Do you think Eva was better off without her?

The recipes prepared in Eva's feast at the end of the book chronicle her memories and life. How do foods or recipes play a role in your own memory or life story?

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Gilmore Girls Trivia Night

I love doing my annual trivia night at my library. They are always a bit of work but totally worth it. I had a feeling I would get a big turnout with this one and boy was I right. I had 57 adults show up and had to cap registration at 65 people! I probably would have had even more register but 15 teams showed up and that was plenty!

I had myself MC, a friend do the scoring and another friend do the greeting, checking-in and seating of participants.
After looking at the answer sheets at the end of the night it looks like many of my questions were really tough, even for die hard fans. The most popular round was number 5 (fashion timeline.) I invited teams to bring their own food and they went all out (as you can see in some pics.)

I encourage everyone to do this program. It was a great group and not our regular patrons either. I spend about $15 to boost the event posting on FB to females ages 18-65 in the local area. This seemed to go a little viral and was the reason we had such good attendance.

Please feel free to use and adapt any of the materials in this posting for your library. If you end up presenting at a conference with this program or an article appears in a professional journal please give me due credit: Leah LaFera.

Thanks and enjoy the below narrative and materials.

Grading Sheets
Team Table Signs
Gilmore Girls Font - The handouts below won't appear right without installing this font on your PC

ROUND 1-Fill-in-the blank
PowerPoint with the Questions (and answers at the end)
Blank pages and answers, what I read from but your could also forgo the powerpoint and hand this out instead)
In this round I project on the screen quotes where they have to give the correct answer for the word or words that are missing.

ROUND 2- Trivia
Handouts and answer key
This is a traditional trivia round. I read each question twice through and only twice through.

ROUND 3-Music
Handouts and answer key
I play 30 second clips from songs that appear in the show. They must name the band or artist who sung the song. This was a tough round. I used Quick Time on a Mac to clip the original MP3's down to smaller files.

ROUND 4- Dialog
Handouts, scripts, and answer key
One of my favorite rounds. At the beginning of the night I ask for volunteers to write their name and team number on  a piece of paper and put into a basket to earn one bonus point for their team. In the dialog round I give each reader (A, B or C) a script for short dialog and they perform it in front of the room twice through. Each reader gets 1 bonus point for their team. The audience must correctly ID all the readers in the scene in whichever order they choose.

ROUND 5-Fashion Timeline
Blank Timelines
In this round I cut out photos from the show depicting different fashions. They get the timeline and an envelope with the pics and a gluestick. Their job is to put the photos with the season they come from. Each season has 2 photos. Each correct photo is worth one point.

I gave out little piles of GG themed prizes all purchased from Etsy. The 1st place team got first pic, 2nd got second pick and third got the prizes left. I also gave a box of pop tarts to the best team name.

Here are the prizes I purchased. There were a huge hit!

The team names were especially on point: Hep (illegal) Alien, Copper Boom, The Kirkettes, One Night in Paris Geller, Babette Ate Oatmeal, Luke's Diners, Mrs. Slutsky's Neighbors, Firday Night Dinners, Tie Your Tubes, Idiot!, Luke-alikes (all dressed like Luke,)DAR Darlings, Pop Tarts, In Omnia Paratus, A Team by Kirk and Coffee Coffee Coffee!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Book Discussion: Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

Discussion Questions:

What is the significance of the crow? What does he represent?

On page 16 the crow states "I find humans dull except in grief. There are very few in health, disaster, famine, atrocity, splendor or normality that interest me but the motherless children do. Motherless children are pure crow. For a sentimental bird it is ripe, rich and delicious to raid such a nest." What does the crow mean when he says they are pure crow?

On page 35 Dad is remembering a tender moment with his wife where she states "my body is no bird-like." With all the bird symbolism in the novel, what do you think she meant by this?

In several stories including the one on page 37 the boys tell partial truths to the reader. What is the significance of that?

On page 98 Dad states "Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project." Have you found this to be true?

Representations of crows: death, destiny, personal transformation, intelligence, trickster, fearless, bad omen,

What are some other famous crows in literature?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Book Discussion: Homegoing by Yaa Guasi

Who is the firewoman that Akua sees in her dreams? Or what does she represent?

The black stone necklace is passed down Effia's family line. Esi loses hers in the dungeon at the Castle. What is passed down among Esi's family line?

Scars emerge as a theme in this book.  Does the author believe that scars can be inherited or passed down from one generation to the next?

Who was your favorite character and why?  Which chapter did you like best?

What effect do the British have on Africa as slave traders?  as missionaries?

How is race defined in different ways within the novel? How do we define race in our country currently? By skin color, by speech?

Yaw is a teacher of history.  What does he teach his students about the learning of history?  How is the theme of storytelling important within this chapter as well as throughout the novel?

James seems to be a turning point in the Effia story line where he is realizing that "everyone is responsible" for the slave trade in Africa. What do you think would have happened if the peoples of Africa stood united against the Europeans?

Which family storyline did you enjoy more? Esi's or Effias?

Akua says the curse of enslavement, is “like a fisherman casting a net into the water. He keeps only the one or two fish that he needs to feed himself and puts the rest in the water thinking that their lives will go back to normal. No one forgets that they were once captive, even if they are now free.” What are your thoughts on that quote?

Explore the theme of belief. What forms of belief are depicted in the book and what purpose do these beliefs seem to serve for the characters? Does the author reveal what has shaped the characters' beliefs? Do these beliefs seem to have a mostly positive or negative impact on the believer and those around them?

Evaluate the treatment and role of women in the novel. What role does marriage play within the cultures represented in the novel and how are the women treated as a result? Likewise, what significance does fertility and motherhood have for the women and how does it influence their treatment? How different would you say the treatment and role of women is today?

Would this novel have changed much if it was not written in the point of view of so many narrators? Would it be as impactful?

Why does Akosua Mensah insist to James, "I will be my own nation" (99)? What role do patriotism, heritage, and tradition play in contributing to the injustices, prejudices, and violence depicted in the book? Which other characters seem to share Akosua's point of view?

Explore the theme of complicity. What are some examples of complicity found in the novel? Who is complicit in the slave trade? Where do most of the slaves come from and who trades them? Who does Abena's father say is ultimately responsible (142)? Do you agree with him? Explain why or why not.

Examine the relationships between parents and children in the book. Do the children seem to understand their parents and have good relationships with them and vice versa? Do the characters' views of their parents change or evolve as they grow up? How do the characters' relationships with their parents influence the way that they raise their own children?

What significance does naming have in the book? Why do some of the characters have to change or give up their names? Likewise, what do the characters' nicknames reveal both about them and about those who give or repeat these names? What does this dialogue ultimately suggest about the power of language and naming?

Sonny says that the problem in America "wasn't segregation but the fact that you could not, in fact, segregate" (244)? What does he mean by this? What does Sonny say that he is forced to feel because of segregation? Which of the other characters experience these same feelings and hardships? Does there seem to be any progress as the story goes on? If so, how is progress achieved? Alternatively, what stymies and slows progress in this area?