Friday, May 25, 2018

Kicking off Invisible Man!

Sloan and Reneise helping one of our awesome readers!
We had a great crowd for our Big Book Challenge Kickoff event on Wednesday!  If you weren't able to make it, don't worry - all books that were on hold before the event are now on the hold shelf waiting for you.  And if you're still waiting for a copy, we've got more on order and they'll be in very soon.  Still interested in signing up?  Just fill out our RSVP survey.

If you missed our kickoff lecture by WashU's Dr. William Maxwell, please take a look at it by clicking the links below.  It was an incredibly informative and motivating discussion, with lots of audience participation.

Dr. William Maxwell Lecture, 1

  • The novel is full of dialogue, full of interruption, music interfering with high-falutin' conversation.
  • The novel deals with the very bottom of American racism, but it wants to envision a way out.
  • This is a book that wants its length, its density.  It's a book of the world.
  • It was a representative text of the black world (mid-century).
  • It has a habit of winning prizes...the National Book Award, 1953, the first African-American author to win the prize.
  • Ellison is one of the most willfully American authors.

 Dr. William Maxwell Lecture, 2

  • It is not only the representative African-American text of 20th century, it is perhaps the American novel of the long 20th century, at the period of America's greatest cultural, economic, and political influence.
  • For a long time, this was the earliest introduction to many Americans of the complexities of the African-American experience.
  • Ellison did not have a dramatic life, no paparazzi.
  • The Great Migration - a huge, voluntary movement - 7 million Americans, eventually
  • Ellison is from Oklahoma City, not part of the Great Migration - ironic, because Invisible Man is a great novel of the Migration
  • Oklahoma City has an important African-American community, but it's more southwestern, not part of the south-to-north story
  • Ellison almost sees himself as a cowboy
  • Attracted to ideas of individual character and strength
  • Ellison didn't believe he should talk about his own experience of suffering
  • He wanted to talk about racism with a sense of the highest artistic potential
  • Importance of Ellison's essay "The World and the Jug"
  • Proponent of the necessary mixing of groups
  • Ellison was looking for plurality

Dr. William Maxwell Lecture, 3

  • Ellison grew up in difficult circumstances
  • His mother, widowed, was a Socialist
  • Wins a music scholarship to Tuskegee
  • Arrives at Tuskegee and is beaten at the rail station by two white policeman
  • Still, Ellison's work emphasizes transcendence, culturally you can build something better
  • Ellison's second novel, Juneteenth, was never finished - it haunted him
  • Ellison was very technologically adept - assembled his own stereo, an early adopter of word processing for his writing

Dr. William Maxwell Lecture, 4

  • First paragraph of the prologue: what kind of person speaks this way?  he's educated (choice of vocabulary), he's a fan of American popular culture, elite reference to Edgar Allan Poe, someone who can move between levels of culture and discourse
  • Ellison desires to create a highly intellectualized hero, a thinker

Apologies - the last part of the lecture didn't record properly...

Dr. William Maxwell Lecture, 5

  • Importance of Louis Armstrong, reference to the song "What Did I Do to Be so Black and Blue?"
  • Why is Invisible Man's favorite dessert vanilla ice cream with sloe gin?

Friday, May 11, 2018

FAQs: Summer Reading and Invisible Man

  •  How soon may I pick up my book so I can get started?
We are hard at work getting the books and supporting materials ready to go for you.  Everything will be available at the kickoff May 23; if you have signed up through our online survey and are unable to attend the kickoff, your materials will be waiting for you on the hold shelf Thursday, May 24.

  •   Do I need to have a University City card to participate?
Absolutely not!  You can check out Invisible Man with a card from any of the libraries in the Municipal Library Consortium. If you don’t have one yet, or you’re not sure, we can sign you up for a UCPL card at the kickoff.
  •   Is there any cost to participate?
Never!  All programs are free for everyone, and there is no charge to check out materials.
  •   Must I commit to a particular discussion meeting time?
No, you may come to any discussions you wish, or even attend more than one per month if you are available.  If you can’t attend every month, that is perfectly fine.

  •  What do I win if I participate and finish the readings?
  Bragging rights: You’ll receive a specially designed Invisible Man button for your tote bag showing the number of pages completed, as well as a one-of-a-kind homemade bookmark.
  That all-important sense of accomplishment: We’re all working together to tackle a challenge and stretch our horizons!
  New friends: You’ll meet new people from your neighborhood and beyond.
  The best things in life aren’t things, right?

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Say YES to the Challenge!

Are you ready to join the best readers in town for a new reading adventure?

RSVP yes today!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Take a look at us on Twitter!

Another Great Summer of Reading at U City Library!

Just a few of the many points made in our discussions last week:

On David...

more discussion of the parallel between Uriah and David

not much narrative arc; just the rise of David, plus incidents

David is a surprisingly passive figure

the self-made is a new kind of victorian person

self-made man? - David didn't make it on his own - C Nicole Mason says explicitly that she had some luck and help

How old was David when he marries Agnes?

young David Copperfield is sort of like Harry Potter

a reader identified with Pip from Great Expectations and Oliver Twist when he read those as a young man - didn't have the same reaction to David - the character was a cipher

On Dora...

most troubling line for Miriam - it's better as it is (Dora, about her own death) - this allows David to be off the hook
Dora's loss of a child is described in one line and it's very obscure: I had hoped that lighter hands than mine...p 704 ch 48

No real explanation for Dora's decline - she needs to die

Pregnancy was the one taboo in victorian fiction

Dora is inadequate to what a professional man needs - what kind of partnership is required of women for this 'new victorian man'

reader: Dora is at least real, Agnes is not real

So many characters die - even Jip - so sentimental - it's almost comical, but people at the time wept over that

was anyone else surprised that he married Dora?

what would have happened if Dora had survived?

Other Characters...

Betsey points out - you know I never realized how much work goes into being an author

Betsey didn't stay with her husband, but she didn't divorce him

Character Littimer: character has no reason for being as despicable as he is - he exists in relation to steerforth = what does steerforth need to carry out his designs - very one-dimensional

Subplots:  Annie and Dr Strong,

Rosa Dartle - she turns on Mrs Steerforth and Emily - what is the source of her rage

Rosa is more tragic than evil

The Murdstones are never punished

Traddles' Sophy - another miracle woman

Why can Martha remarry but not Emily?  Dickens wants to save Emily as someone we can admire and look up to - she is divided from 'real' prostitutes

Traddles character - shows virtue of restraint, hard steady work

Micawber - a stretch that he turned out so successful

Uriah lost his Cockney accent during the period when he was confronted by David et al., picked up again in prison

Was Ham's body recovered after drowning? confusing to figure out this scene - why does David devote himself to Steerforth's body rather than Ham's?

Ham is the son of Noah.  Dickens loves boats that are shipshape

Mr. Dick - purely virtuous - precursor of Forrest Gump

Mr Dick - is the implication that in order to be truly good, having an intellect is a hindrance - he is so good, and supposed to be of limited intellect

Mr Dick - (Dixon per Micawber) - connection to Dickens' name

Steerforth had ambiguity, he did some good

General Points...

Women:  Fallen women, fallen angels, women are the motive force here.  David is saved by Betsey and her money; Agnes of course, always pointing upwards, many consequential women

emigration to Australia is a common piece of Victorian fiction

every episode has its own dramatic peak and then fades away

only people of color in DC - Julia Mills comes back from Australia with a servant who was a woman of color

Notion of respectability - the word is repeated many times in connection with Littimer

the prison scene is startling - who are these perfect inmates?  Uriah and Littimer - Dickens was interested in prison reform - is Dickens questioning the possibility of reform?   He felt that the system was soul crushing, esp. solitary confinement.  Who was successful in the system?  Those two know what to do, how to grease the wheels

drowning is a central metaphor - the caul is supposed to save a sailor from drowning - it's significant that steerforth

Dickens always talks about cleanliness, not just in DC

Uranus house - a charity Dickens started with philanthropist Angela Burdett Coutts - it was a home for homeless women (prostitutes)

significance of place in the novel - yarmouth vs canterbury - canterbury is a cathedral town - Agnes is in the cathedral town - Uriah is the worm who destroys the sanctified place

Yarmouth is where the working poor live -DC goes to yarmouth when he needs a break.  But he is the worm who ruins Yarmouth - he introduces Steerforth.

vulnerability of asking for help - David and C. Nicole Mason - (also appears in Hillbilly Elegy)

Was Dickens just getting sick of writing the book when he wrote the prison chapter?

Was fun reading and listening to audio in combo - the reader used great accents, and I heard them when I went back to the text

Is the jail system scene a comment on Jeremy Bentham / utilitarianism /  the Panopticon prison?

The book is an interesting commentary on the status of women, and class distinctions without hitting you over the head with it

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

It's our last Wednesday night for the Summer 2017 Big Book discussions. We have around 42 people here for the discussion of David Copperfield. Join us on Thursday at 3pm or on Friday at noon as we wrap up this summer's big read.

Monday, August 21, 2017

More Favorite Quotes!

 From reader Judi:

He had naturally a short throat and I do seriously believe he over starched himself. Page 553

I could not help feeling, though she mingled her tears with mine, that she had a dreadful luxury in our afflictions. She petted them, as I may say, and made the most of them.... we parted, overwhelmed with grief;  and I think Miss Mills enjoyed herself completely. Page 562
What else stands out for you?  Something sad?  Funny?  Significant?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Thanks for Great Discussions!

Dora Spenlow, as played by Joanna Page
Thanks to all who attended our 2nd round of discussions.  As always, they were interesting, enlightening and fun.  If you attended, please take a moment to complete this follow-up survey to help us plan future programs.

And regardless of whether you joined us in July, we'd like to know whether you're interested in our newest reading venture: the Classics Book Group, beginning this fall.  We'll meet the 3rd Tuesdays of the month at 2pm; our first meeting is September 19th at 2pm.  Take the survey and let us know what you'd like to read.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The 2nd Round of Davic Copperfield Discussions -- Wednesday Night edition

We had around 45 readers discussing chapters 19-39 if of Charles Dickens's novel David Copperfield on Wednesday night. We will have discussions on Thursday, July 27 at 3pm and Friday, July 28 at noon.
A giant thank you to Dr. Miriam Bailin from Washington University for leading this month's discussion!

Our Discussion:
  • Parents and children:
    • David and his mother
    • Steerforth and his mother 
    • Mr. Peggotty and Lil Emily (and Ham)
    • Uriah Heep and Mrs. Heep
  • Younger Women and Older Men:
    • Wickfield and Agnes
    • Doctor Strong and Annie
    • Mr. Peggotty and Emily
    • Murdstone and Clara
  • Dickens and disability:
    • Mr. Dick is treated well as a character despite his mental illness
    • Miss Mowcher is an admirable character despite her size (or becomes a better character when Dickens feared a lawsuit)
    • Uriah is not disabled, his physicality expresses his inner character
  • Characters who cannot let go of the past:
    • Mr. Dick
    • Rosa Dartle and her thwarted love for Steerforth
    • Wickfield and his late wife
  • Pairings of Opposites:
    • David and Uriah (see also King David and Uriah the Hittite vying for Bathsheba)
    • James Steerforth and Tommy Traddles
    • Dora and Agnes
    • David and Tommy Traddles
  • The few first-person novels of the nineteenth century:
    • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
    • David Copperfield by Dickens
    • Alton Locke by Charles Kingsley
    • Great Expectations by Dickens
Why is David attracted to Dora?
Why did Steerforth attend Creakles' school?
What do we think of David's continued love of Steerforth? Why isn't he angry?

Other points:
Tommy is willing to wait forever for Sophie, David is in a hurry to marry.
Class resentment and gender resentment are big in Dickens.
Academics didn't touch Dickens in the 1940s.
Dickens (and Thackery) changed the course of novels during serialization due to sales. Responsive to the public.

Recommended books on Dickens, especially with good Copperfield parts:

  • J. Hillis Miller Charles Dickens: The World of His Novel
  • Q. D. Leavis book Dickens the Novelist
  • Robin Gilmour The Companion to David Copperfield
  • Michael Slater's Charles Dickens

Other favorite Dickens novels from our attendees:
The Pickwick Papers
Our Mutual Friend
Bleak House

USS Tommy Traddles

Acquired by the United States Navy in 1917, but never commissioned, the USS Tommy Traddles was meant to be a patrol boat.