Nabokov and Good Reading

Nabokov’s perspective is very interesting and easy to digest. You can’t look at a book before you’ve read it the same way you can look at a painting. The art is only fully displayed for you when you re-read. This is similar to re-watching movies and getting different things from it each time. This is because you know the story and you now have that leverage to interpret the dialogue or imagery. I have shown friends shows with major plot changes that assume they can review the show after watching a couple episodes. This is very frustrating and annoying. It is a fair point to make that when you dip your toes into a story that you don’t always want to go all in from the get go. Not every piece of media has an attention grabbing opening that hooks you. Some times, you have to swim a little farther before your caught on the hook. There is no solid answer to solve this small conundrum. There is advice and second opinions but that’s it. An example for me would be when I began watching Neon Genesis Evangelion, I automatically interpreted the entire show to be about a depressed kid who gains confidence through fighting with giant machines. I’m so glad I came back and finished it because it is one of the best written shows ever made

Discussing “Sonny’s Blues”

Use the comment section for this post to engage in a discussion of James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues.”

To see your requirements and parameters for our discussion, see our Reading/Discussing Short Stories guidelines. Strive for a vigorous exchange, including debating differing interpretations, but always strive for mutual recognition of each other, working toward enhancing our collective understanding of the story.

Watch your period’s group presentation on the story and see the DQs below, if you are looking for inspiration.

period 1
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  • A lot of the story takes place with characters on the move, whether this is on the subway, in a taxi, world travel, or walking the streets. What could this constant motion symbolize?
  • Do you think the narrator sees potential in the boys he teaches or only sees their potentially rough futures?
  • After leaving work, the narrator runs into one of Sonny’s old friends. What do you think this interaction symbolizes?
  • There are short references to music scattered throughout the story, what do these inclusions add to the meaning of the story?
  • Do you think that the narrator truly cares for his brother’s well being or is only in his life because of a moral family obligation?

period 2
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  • How does the narrator deal with his suffering?
  • Will Sonny relapse and start using drugs again?
  • If everyone suffers and deals with their suffering individually, then is all expression an expression of suffering?
  • Why do those who grew up in darkness and suffer because of it raise their children in the same darkness?
  • How does Sonny and the narrator’s fraternal relationship affect their interactions and issues?

period 3
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  • What do you think caused Sonny to start using drugs?
  • What does the music being played symbolize at the end of the story?
  • How does Grace dying have an impact on Sonny and the rest of the story?
  • Do you think the story would be different if told from a different perspective?
  • What is the correlation between the drink Sonny receives at the end of the story and his life?

Discussing “Barn Burning”

Use the comment section for this post to engage in a discussion of William Faulkner’s short story “Barn Burning.”

To see your requirements and parameters for our discussion, see our Reading/Discussing Short Stories guidelines. Strive for a vigorous exchange, including debating differing interpretations, but always strive for mutual recognition of each other, working toward enhancing our collective understanding of the story.

Watch your period’s group presentation on the story and see the DQs below, if you are looking for inspiration.

period 1
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  • What’s the significance of the final line in the story?
  • Considering he liked setting fires, why did Abner Snopes build such small fires on regular nights?
  • What was Abner Snopes’ real involvement in the war? What does this mean about him? About his son’s view of him?
  • What does Abner Snopes ruining the de Spains’ rug symbolize?
  • Why does Faulkner continuously compare Abner Snopes to tin?

period 2
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  • Consider the father’s relationship with wealth. His approach to the war seemed to indicate greed and materialism, yet his treatment of de Spain’s carpet points to a resentment of wealth. Do you think the father desires wealth? Why or why not? What other priorities interact with his desire for wealth, or lack therefore?
  • While the battle between “blood” and “law” is one that permeates the entire story, the narrator has a clear shift between taking a beating for his family’s honor in the beginning and betraying his father in the end. What might have caused this shift?
  • Faulkner opens the story with a description of the first court’s smell of cheese, filling the rest of the paragraph and even page with vivid descriptions of food and other sensory images that may seem tangential to the story. What purpose do these sensory descriptions serve?
  • When Colonel Sartoris and his father come across the de Spain’s house, the boy is awestruck and forgets about most everything else. What does this reveal about Colonel Sartoris’s views of the world? His relationship & similarities/differences with his father?

period 3
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  • Why was the son named Colonel Sartoris?
  • Why did Abner Snopes lie about his role in the Civil War?
  • Why did the father believe Colonel Sartoris Snopes would have told the judge? Why does he lie about his intentions even though he was not going to tell the judge what his father did?
  • Why does Colonel Sartoris Snopes decide to run?
  • In the end of “ Barn Burning” does Colonel Sartoris regret his decision to run?

Discussing “The Elephant Vanishes”

Use the comment section for this post to engage in a discussion of Haruki Murakami’s short story “The Elephant Vanishes.”

To see your requirements and parameters for our discussion, see our Reading/Discussing Short Stories guidelines. Strive for a vigorous exchange, including debating differing interpretations, but always strive for mutual recognition of each other, working toward enhancing our collective understanding of the story.

Watch your period’s group presentation on the story and see the DQs below, if you are looking for inspiration.

period 1
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period 2
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  • Can we really trust the words of the narrator?
  • What does the relationship between the Elephant and Zookeeper represent?
  • What really happened to the elephant at the end of the story?
  • What happened to the narrator’s “balance” since the elephant’s disappearance?
  • What does the story say about the relationship between balance and unity?

period 3
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  • How does the relationship between the zookeeper and the elephant contribute to the story? And how does their relationship contrast that of the zookeeper and other kids visiting the zoo?
  • How does the narrator’s conversation with the magazine editor woman alienate himself from both her and society?
  • What does the elephant symbolize?
  • The ending is very abrupt and does not solve the problem. Why do you think the author ends the story like this? And how is this a reflection of the narrator’s perspective?
  • What does the elephant represent to the narrator? What does the elephant represent in society?

Discussing “Secret Woman”

Use the comment section for this post to engage in a discussion of Colette’s short story “Secret Woman.”

To see your requirements and parameters for our discussion, see our Reading/Discussing Short Stories guidelines. Strive for a vigorous exchange, including debating differing interpretations, but always strive for mutual recognition of each other, working toward enhancing our collective understanding of the story.

Watch your period’s group presentation on the story and see the DQs below, if you are looking for inspiration.

period 1
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  • What purpose does the continual usage of colors and descriptions of the costumes serve in the story other than just simply describing disguises?
  • Why do you think they both lied to each other?
  • Who do you think is more in the wrong in this situation? The husband or the wife?
  • Do you think the husband’s “decision” on what she’s doing is accurate?
  • Do you think he should’ve told her or continued the one sided secrecy?

period 2
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  • Why do you think Irene said she did not want to go to the opera ball but still ended up going?
  • What do you think Colette is trying to say about Irene when she calls her a “pierrot”?
  • Why do you think that the husband never confronted his wife?
  • Do you think the wife knows that her husband has been spying on her?
  • What are some power relationships in this text?

period 3
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Discussing “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”

Use the comment section for this post to engage in a discussion of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ short story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.”

To see your requirements and parameters for our discussion, see our Reading/Discussing Short Stories guidelines. Strive for a vigorous exchange, including debating differing interpretations, but always strive for mutual recognition of each other, working toward enhancing our collective understanding of the story.

Watch your period’s group presentation on the story and see the DQs below, if you are looking for inspiration.

period 1
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  • In the short story, there are characters who believe that the man with wings is an angel and characters who do not. Do you think the man is an angel?
  • How is this magical world Marques has created reflective of modern society? Is she trying to highlight how people would treat a holy figure if it were present in our world today?
  • When the angel gets the chicken pox, the doctor listens to his heart. What do you think the whistling in his heart and sounds in his kidneys is? Also, chicken pox is usually a sickness kids get, and the angel is a very old man. What does this say about the angel?
  • The man is finally able to fly away at the end of the story. Do you think the family whom he stayed with was more helpful or hurtful? Did they help him recover, or make his recovery time longer?
  • In the story, it is stated that a woman who disobeyed her parents was turned into a spider as punishment. In many cultures, spiders symbolize an increase of awareness. Do you think that Marquez kept this in mind when she decided to turn the woman into a spider? If not, why do you think she chose that specific insect?

period 2
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  • How would the story be different if the Very Old Man had been a Very Little Baby?
  • What impact does the combination of magical and ordinary details have on the reader?
  • In the story why do they choose to include another supernatural creature in a spider person?
  • How did the old man with enormous wings gain enough strength to fly out of the coup?

period 3
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  • What do you think the crabs may symbolize?
  • Do you think that religion had a major influence over the story and the belief among the people in the story?
  • Why do you think that the couple mistreated the angel and had much antipathy towards him?
  • Do you think that the old man with wings was an angel, a literal man who had wings, or something else?
  • Why do you think that the old man with wings leaves at the end of the story? How was he able to flourish after being really run down?

Discussing “Bloodchild”

Use the comment section for this post to engage in a discussion of Octavia Butler’s short story “Bloodchild.”

To see your requirements and parameters for our discussion, see our Reading/Discussing Short Stories guidelines. Strive for a vigorous exchange, including debating differing interpretations, but always strive for mutual recognition of each other, working toward enhancing our collective understanding of the story.

Watch your period’s group presentation on the story and see the DQs below, if you are looking for inspiration.

period 1
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  • What binaries are created through the dependence of the Terrans on T’Gatoi? How are they created?
  • What are some parallels you can find between the Preserve and the role of T’Gatoi in their home? What rhetoric does Octavia Butler use to portray these parallels?
  • To what extension is this a story about self-sacrifice and familial bonds?
  • One of the main themes of the story is the interdependence of two very different species. What is an example of a similar interdependence in your own life?
  • On page 28 and 29, Gan responds to T’Gatoi’s statement about protecting terrans by saying,“‘ Not protected,’ I said. ‘Shown. Shown when we’re young kids, and shown more than once.’” To what extent do you agree with Gan’s statement? Can this same sentiment be applied to our education system and how we expose kids to the evils of the world?

period 2
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  • What type of planet do you think they live on? What do you think the land/environment looks like?
  • What would you do if put in the same position as Gan? Would you fufill your “duty” even if you personally did not want to?
  • Would you trust someone who took care of you like Qui, his brother or a someone like T’Gatoi?
  • Have you had a person in your life that is as selfless as Gan and Gan’s mother?
  • How important is family to you?

period 3
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  • How could humans come to be dominated by this species?
  • Why do the aliens have such human personalities and why do some have so much empathy for the humans?
  • Does the mother refusing the eggs imply that she wants to die?
  • Is the preserve the only place where humans are living or do they exist in other parts of this world?

Discussing “Black Box”

Use the comment section for this post to engage in a discussion of Jennifer Egan’s short story “Black Box.”

To see your requirements and parameters for our discussion, see our Reading/Discussing Short Stories guidelines. Strive for a vigorous exchange, including debating differing interpretations, but always strive for mutual recognition of each other, working toward enhancing our collective understanding of the story.

Watch your period’s group presentation on the story and see the DQs below, if you are looking for inspiration.

period 1
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  • Do you think her life went back to normal after she returned?
  • What do you think would have happened if she used one of her devices wrong and her designated mate found out?
  • Do you think she went on this voluntary mission to feel successful like her husband and father?
  • Why do you think she chose now in her life to go be a spy?
  • Do you think there is a secret society of spy beauties?

period 2
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  • What does the author do in the story to ‘defamiliarize’ or create a sense of detachment? What does this potentially say about humanity in relation to either patriarchal society, traumatic experiences, or sacrificing for the greater good?
  • Why do you think the author decided to publish this story in a series of tweets? What influence does this have on her writing and overall comprehension in readers? What about the various illustrations included throughout the story?
  • Do you support the notion that this story is about feminism/female empowerment? Why or why not?
  • This story does not align exactly with the stereotypical ‘sci-fi’ genre. Meaning, while it does feature advanced technology and alternative life situations, it still seems plausible in today’s society. This being said, what do you think the story could be an allegory or symbol of other than patriarchy?
  • What difference does it make that the story is written in second-person narrative? How do you think this contributes to the paradox of the main character being a ‘black box’ and us readers seemingly reading her black box itself?

period 3
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  • How does having the story in second-person perspective affect the theme?
  • Before handing over the recording of her mission she can edit and delete personal thoughts, does she include these personal thoughts intentionally?
  • How far is too far when it comes to patriotism?

A Conversation About “White Gaze” and Careers

In the short story “A Conversation About Bread” by Nafissa Thompson-Spires, the concept of people’s perceptions of stories is brought up and analyzed. The theory of the “white gaze” that applies to story telling or living with a roommate.

People bring their own subconscious opinions to everything in life. For instance, when Brian’s mom’s roommates was taking pictures of Brian’s mom out of the shower, “the girl was sending the pictures home to her family, like, look at this elephant I saw at the watering hole or this native with a disk in her lip” (179), she was bringing herself into the narrative and making comparisons (racist comparisons).

Similar to the white woman in the library overhearing their conversation about their short story who was “now very interested in their conversation” (181) and was “impressed by [Brian’s] use of the word ‘monolith'” (176) because she had some preconceived notion about how a black person should talk.

More people in the field of anthropology need to come from different backgrounds and be able to “ignore the white gaze until it no longer came to mind. Then, ‘and only then’… ‘black people can be free from all the double consciousness bull” (181). Diversifying different career fields will allow for different perspectives and new ideas that wouldn’t be brought up otherwise.

Fascinating or Creepy

The story “A Conversation about Bread” by Nafissa Thompson Spires, is a story about two boys that were assigned to complete a writing assignment. Eldwin has to write a story about an interesting moment from Brian’s life. As we follow Eldwin through the many revisions and edits to his writing, Brian shows the reader his interesting point of view on storytelling.

There seems to be a recurring motif in the story of a white woman creepily watching and observing people of color. There is the white woman who takes notes while they are writing, there is stalker Kim, and there is the lady that went to college with Brian’s mom. I believe this was done intentionally. Throughout the short story, Brian seems to get mad at Eldwin when he writes about his life, because he believes that the way Eldwin is writing, is almost as if he is “fetishizing” people of color in order to make the story more “interesting” for the reader. This idea of white people “fetishizing” stories of people of color is present in many stories today and can actually come off as creepy or distancing. This is also demonstrated when Brian tells Eldwin about his mom’s roommate in college. Brian says “So she could catch her in her ‘natural state.’ The girl was sending the pictures home to her family, like, look at this elephant I saw at the watering hole or this native with a disc in her lip”(179). In these instances, this extreme fascination makes the person being observed feel uncomfortable and “exotic”. This is demonstrated again when Brian says  that “ both men felt like unicorns in their grad program” and that “ he was more self-conscious about his black maleness than his disability”(177). I find this interesting because I have never noticed this before. After reading this story I realized that many of the pieces of literature that I have read in the past fit this exact idea. I believe that we should strive to make stories interesting and appealing to the reader, without singling out races different from our own as “exotic”.

“Good Country People” or not so much

I read the story the ” Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor and I thought the story was good but the characters were so weird. For example Mrs.Hopewell was supposed to be this kind women but she was so mean to her daughter. She would say things like ” If you can’t come pleasantly, I don’t want you at all”(2), when she would try to walk with her mom. Mrs.Hopewell also had so many negative thoughts about her daughter and the most shocking one was that she had not come into realization that her daughter only had one leg. Even though the accident was over twenty years ago and you would think that Hulga would not have realized it but it was actually the mom. Also I think Mrs. Hopewell is super fake in a way. Like she not that fond of Mrs. Freedman but she still kept her in the house. Another example of her being fake was her blaming her daughter for not having a bible because she was try to get out of talking to Manley. I just felt like she did not have to lie on her daughter and she could have came up with a better excuse.

A Good/Evil Struggle Connection

In class, we read the short story, “Escape from Spiderhead” by George Saunders. In this story, the main character Jeff has a constant inner struggle of whether or not Abnesti (the scientist conducting multiple drug experiments) is acting as good or evil. He constantly informs Jeff that what he is doing will benefit humanity and that he is someone that he can trust. He states, ” You know me, how many kids do I have?” and “do I remember birthdays around here? “(33) He also doesn’t swear, showing that ideally he is a good person. But Jeff sees first hand the effect these experiments have on others. He watches Heather, another participant die after being given Darkenfloxx. Jeff has a past of criminal activity, and has killed someone, and doesn’t want to see others killed in this experiment. He ends up commiting suicide because he doesn’t want to be associated with this kind of evil.

In my summer reading book ” Scythe” by Neal Shusterman, there is also a struggle of finding out who is good and who is evil. The book is about a society in the future where humans can live forever, and if they do “die”, they can be revived and can also set their ages back. In order to keep the population under control, Scythes are in charge of killing people permanently. There is an on going conflict in this book on whether or not the different Scythes are using their power effectively, and if they are killing or “gleaning” as they say in the book, in the right way. The main characters, scythe apprentices, Citra and Rowan are constantly conflicted on the right and wrong way of ending people’s lives. One scythe, goes on mass killing sprees, where another scouts out individuals that seem to have lost a lust for life. Citra and Rowan are both conflicted with the idea that what they are essentially doing could be considered evil, but are also benefiting humanity.

Both stories were interesting reads, and had interesting ideals about the struggle of good and evil. Essentially both indicate that no one can be truly good when it comes to ending people’s lives.

On Authorial Intent and Mutual Recognition

Recently, I have been re-watching the Harry Potter series. I re-read the books last year, for the first time since I was in early middle school. But I have found myself hesitant to endorse this series that I love because of the comments of J.K. Rowling, the author of the books.

Over the years, she has made many claims about the books. Following the publication of the last book in the series, she announced that Albus Dumbledore had been gay all along. At one point, she claimed that she had envisioned Hermione Granger, one of the main characters, as a black girl. But these announcements came post facto, and were therefore far too late.

By introducing these ideas after the characters had been solidified in the public’s mind, J.K. Rowling robbed these characters of mutual recognition. These supposedly central parts of characters identities had been hidden for years. How could we mutually recognize characters for traits that had never been expressed? By withholding the information that she claimed to have known all along, Rowling’s pathetic attempts at inclusivity fall short.

No young black girl is reading Harry Potter and relating to Hermione because of her struggles with racism or colorism. No closeted teens are watching these movies and seeing one of the main heroes of the story be LGBTQ+ like them. If the people she now tries to include can’t recognize their struggles in these stories, is she really including them at all?

How are they trapped in the spiderhead?

While reading the story “Escape from spiderhead” I was truly shocked while reading the story. The whole idea that they were stuck in a science experiment because they were criminals or did wrong in their life was interesting. For example, Jeff was a criminal and he told the story about his crime ” Nearby was a brick. I grabbed it, glanced Mike in the head with it”(77). We also never knew exactly what were all the crimes each person committed. There were a lot of questions about the story that we did not get the answer too. Like how long they would be in this experiment ? Does jail even exist anymore? But having all these unanswered questions made you think about the story more when you were done reading the story. But I love a good ending where all the ties are wrapped together and I get all my questions answered.

Stories

Since the beginning of the year, we have been talking about stories and how they relate to us, each other, and the world. There is one quote from The God of Small Things that I think ties the book into the whole year. “…because kathakali discovered long ago that the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably” (218).

I think that the part of the quote that talks about wanting to hear the same story again speaks to this book. Although the book has very dark parts and isn’t the happiest book, it is still very well written and many people, including myself, would want to read it again.

Furthermore, I think the part that says, “The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably” is very important and truly does speak to all good stories. I interperate this as no matter whats going on in the world around you, if you pick up a good book you can get lost in the story and forget about reality for a bit. The book sort of takes you under it’s wing and takes care of you while you escape reality. I think that this can also apply to movies or tv shows, becuase they too are stories.

With everything going on in the world right now, I have found myself choosing my favorite stories and inhabiting them quite comfortably. Although it is important to stay aware of whats happening, I think it is equally important to lose yourself in a great story.

The Secret of Stories

At the beginning of Chapter 12, while Rahel is at the temple Roy’s words stood out to me about the “secret” formula of stories. While being home I have been watching a lot of movies that my parents liked to watch in the 80’s and around that time. Roy describes the Power of Stories and why people choose to rewatch a movie or reread a specific book even after multiple years, and they still enjoy it as much as they did the first time.

The secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. (218)

While the first part of the quote may seem unimportant at first, this is exactly the reason books or movies continue to be popular even though it has been years since they came out and are labeled “classics.” But the second part of the quote is what really ties it all together.

They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again. (218)

This was giving me flashbacks to the beginning of the year when we talked about the power of stories, which I think especially is true with God of Small Things. The language and the characters are “fresh and different” the book is something different and has a different feeling when you read it. I think something that makes this book so enjoyable is because the book from the beginning is familiar and easy to enjoy. It doesn’t require a lot of deep thinking, but is still able to communicate a deeper meaning. Overall, this quote really made me think about all of the books and even movies that I reread and rewatch and the reason I keep doing it even though I already know everything that happens.