"The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" - up to page 237

Ooooh boy did I pick I tense place to stop! I’m tempted to keep reading, but would hate to slip and discuss something that someone with more restraint might not have learned yet. I am really getting into this book now. I don’t know about for you, but at times it’s been hard for me to pick it up again. I wondered if it was the fact that it is relatively depressing… but then, I’ve read the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series, and did so withIn a few weeks… so I doubt that’s it. Either way, I’m surprised that when we began the story I was only half-heatedly reading the footnotes about Trujillo, but it turns out he is the most exciting part.

I’ll keep my questions short this week. I’d love to hear any questions that you have/comments about other things that might not be “on topic.”

Firstly, I wonder what everyone thinks of the beginning of this second part. There is no chapter, no title only the quote:

"Men are indispenciple, but Trujillo is irreplaceable. For Trujillo is not a man. He is… a cosmic force… Those who try to compare him to his ordinary contemporaries are mistaken. He belongs to… the category of those born to a special destiny. -La Nación"

The part of the book that follows is clearly written by Lola about the time at the end of her stay in Santo Domingo. Why is this passage inserted in this part of the story? Is there a reason it isn’t part of a chapter? At the end she writes, “it was only when I got on the plane that I started crying. I know this sounds ridiculous but I don’t think I really stopped until I met you” (210). Who is “you”?

She also writes that “The only way out is in,” and supposes that’s what “these stories are all about” (209). What will we discover about each character’s struggle to get out? How will each of them up going “in”? Metaphorically? Literally?

I’ve been interested in Yunior’s references to the LOTR (Lord of the Rings… though this next question isn’t for you if you don’t know that). He continually compares characters’ struggles to events in LOTR. Most recently he compares hiding women from El Jefe like hiding the Ring from Sauron (217). This makes me imagine El Jefe as the Eye of Sauron as he glides over the reception line, he lingers on Abelard, like a nervous Frodo, who is able to hide just in time so as to avoid danger. What other comparisons do you find between LOTR and our story? Do you see similarities with Beli’s story? Yunior’s? Oscar’s? If so, which characters pay a role? Is there a Frodo? Gandalf? Sam? Sauron? Or is the comparison more theological than that?

Enjoy this next week’s reading! It’s getting exciting!

"The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" end of Chapter 3 - Chapter 4

So now we have a second name to our narrators. Yunior. Yunior finally(?) introduces himself in the fourth chapter. Does it seem to you that this is the first time he’s spoken? or has he been our narrator all along save chapter 2 where Lola was telling her story? Earlier “he” described this book has his zafa. Do you think we have a better idea of what his fukù is? Does it have to do with Oscar? With Lola? With other girls? He even tells Oscar at one point that he doesn’t believe in curses (p 194). What do you anticipate will change his mind?

How did you react to the rest of Beli’s story? Where you surprised, as I was that “The Gangster” wasn’t Oscar and Lola’s father? What about the title of the section where he is introduced? I asked before what you thought about its meaning: “The Gangster We are all Looking For.” Does reading this chapter change that for you? If you thought it was referring specifically to the Gangster, the man who impregnates Beli, why do you think the title is in the present, while the rest of the story is written in the past or imperfect? Do you think the Gangster will figure in the rest of the story somehow? That he will come back in a way that will make Yunior and the others want to search for him? Either by them learning something new about him or him physically presenting himself?

I’ve been inspired by Beli’s story to do some artwork and will be posting it when I have time to finish. Has anyone else been inspired by this story in some way? To look at images, maps of the DR… listen to Dominican (dog of god) music, or seek out Dominican art? or did it make you feel the opposite way? Despising that country for being so cruel to Beli and her family?

Ciao mis amigas!

"The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" Choose Your Own Adventure

Although I will not be posting anything for this week (to give those of you some time to catch up without any pressure), it sounds like there are some of you who would like to share your thoughts on what you’ve read so far. I’m so happy that you are getting excited about this book. I’m really enjoying it so far myself. So here you are… the forum is open!

"The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" Chapter 3 (till page 119)

I am not convinced that we have one sole narrator, be it Lola or a male narrator. I feel like the styles between the two has been too different. I feel like the intro and first chapter could have been told to us by a friend sitting in a run-down, old school diner in Brooklyn, while he slings a Cola around. While Lola’s piece could have been something out of her diary, or something that she didn’t intend to be heard, like we dove into her head. Reading this part of the third chapter I am more convinced of the differences. Small things like the difference in language, the fact that “it” is speaking in the first person (saying I and me), but still refers to Lola in the third person, and also the simple fact that we know this story is written after Oscar’s mami dies, but there is a footnote on page 114: “15. A favorite hangout of Trujillo’s, my mother tells me when the manuscript is almost complete.” Even if we didn’t know the fate of Oscar and Lola’s mom, it doesn’t seem like Beli to offer random information like that to her daughter as she writes a book.

I love the way the book is unfolding, how about you? We learned some interesting things about our narrator, but even more through what has happened to his family. We get each member’s experience with their fuku. What do you think each person’s zafa will be? We know the narrator’s is it’s writing, if you believe the narrator is Lola, then that is her’s. What about Oscars? His writing? A girl he falls in love with? What about Beli’s? Do you, like I, think that La Inca’s zafa is also her fuku? Her husband died, which is terrible yes, but by dressing in black and mourning his loss the rest of her life, she is making a sad passing into a life-long curse.

Does your new understanding of Beli help you understand why Lola and Oscar grew up the way they did? Does it seem right for Beli to have the children she does?

I’m excited to get to know the gangster and find how what the narrator means by “The Gangster We’re All Looking For.” Are they looking for him currently because of an event later in the book? Or is the narrator saying “the type of person we all look for” as in “the gangster” is the kind of guy everyone aspires to be and/or know?

I am excited to see what the book has struck in you!

Happy reading!

"The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" Chapters 1 & 2

The questions I am going to pose today have mostly to do with the narration. Because we are still learning about some of the characters and haven’t delved too far into the plot, I thought this would be a good place to start. I’m also hoping that questions about the narration will open a dialogue about more plot-based questions or comments you might have.

Firstly, I would like to compare the introduction of the narrator to “classic” literature. In older literature, when a narrator is presented as someone who lives within the fictional world of the novel, he (almost always a man, but we’ll touch on that in other novels) must be shown to have certain credentials so that he can be believed by the reader as telling the truth. Think of novels where the narrator discusses the fact that he is a doctor, scientist, professor or presents information about the plot/main character that could only be known by someone close to him/her. How does our narrator convince us that he (we’re assuming he is a man) can be believed without ever telling us exactly who he is? Does this make him more credible than other narrators, or less?

How does our narrator use argot and spanish? Do you feel this detracts or adds to the narration? Think about the flow of your reading. Where you able to skip over spanish words you don’t understand without feeling like you were missing something? Did you look everything up? Does his slang add to your understanding of the story as a modern reader, or does it make him seem less credible?

The narrator also references pop-culture often. Read page 16 for a good example of this. How do you feel it helps the narrative? Or does it?

Finally, how does the author (dis)use quotations? How does this differ from other authors like Cormac McCarthy?

P.S. Who else thinks the description of our “hero” as a 7-year-old sounds just like Manny from American Family?

Book One - “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”

I will be giving everyone a few days to purchase this book, and will let you know a stopping point/date for our first discussion. Till then, I’ll point everyone over to a New York Times review by AO Scott. I prefer a review over the Wikipedia page so that we get some info, but not so much that it spoils our discussion! Have any others heard of this book? If so, what have you heard? Personal impressions?

"Without the horrors and superstitions of the old country, without the tropical sweetness that inflects Díaz’s prose even at moments of great cruelty, Oscar Wao would be just another geek with an Akira poster on his dorm-room wall and a long string of desperate, unconsummated sexual obsessions."

From our NY Times article

I’d like everyone to keep this quote in mind as we begin to read. What parts of Wao’s life do you notice as something you see in yourself, or in someone you know? Which parts seem foreign? Is there a modern, American equivalent to Wao’s Dominican superstitions?

the List

This will be a continually changing and evolving list of titles that people would like to read. As they’ve been read I will cross them out. This will be something everyone can reference in order to keep current on suggestions and decide on a new book.

- Junot Dìaz - “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”

- Tom Robbins “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” and other books

- Anthony Bourdain - “Medium Raw”

- Patti Smith - “Just Kids”

- Abraham Verghese - “Cutting for Stone”

NPR is always a great spot to find books - they even have a book club section.

Introduction

I have been looking {for some time now} for a serious book club. I do not mean one that it so rigorous that they meet once a week and talk about nothing but literature and pontificate on the meaning of the story at hand in the context of their own lives and the world as a whole. What I have wanted in a book club is one that meets on a semi-regular basis, and keeps the book as the main subject during meetings. Unfortunately, we are very social beings, and without instruction or an institution it is hard to keep people on task, both when it comes to being available for meetings and keeping on task once everyone has gathered. My plight has become more desperate as I am finishing up my French studies. For the past several years I have been enrolled in french film and literature classes where we analyze different works to different ends. We finished our last book last Thursday and I already miss it.

A Book. A Blog. Un Bois. is a space for people to share their ideas about literature. My plans are to run it like a book club, by having all subscribers read a given book together, with certain dates to reach a set page/chapter/etc. Then we discuss. The difference here is that you do not have to make plans to head to a location outside of your home (or neighborhood, or town), and you will be able to post and discuss the most recent section of the book from the deadline for reading it, up until the deadline for the next section of the book is posted. I will set each deadline two weeks apart and gauge how much to read based on the difficulty of the book. Each deadline will be set on a Wednesday. So, for instance… we read the first 100 pages of “Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbury. We officially begin the book yesterday (the 30th of November), that means you have until the 14th of December to read those hundred pages before I start posting thoughts about the book. However, you can comment about that section at any point after my initial post, up until the post for the next section is up two weeks later. If this turns out to be too fast/slow… my posts will be adjusted accordingly.

This is going to be an open forum. I welcome anyone to read along with our books as well as comment. I am happy to even hear, “I love this book… my favorite part is…” but I hope you feel inspired to read more in depth into the text and express your thoughts on it. I would be equally happy just to know that people are following along, even without commenting. Some times you just need a reason to read.

I am also hoping to get some design involved. I have been inspired by The Fox is Black to have a book-cover creating contest. Although I will not be able to give out $100 gift cards to Amazon, I’m thinking of having some sort of prize for the most interesting book cover. I’ll allow people to post/submit book covers throughout our reading of the book. I think it will be interesting to see how people’s art changes with their feelings about the book/in-depth analysis of the piece.

Please subscribe/comment to show your interest. Tell me what books interest you - Is there anything you would like to read? Anything you have heard about that would be interesting? That you have always wanted to read, but just haven’t?

I am very excited to get this started!

EDIT: I am thinking it would be nice to do a monthly meeting in person. Once a month, I will pick a location and be there during a set time. At that time, people are welcome to come and discuss, if not, they will just have to wait for the next post.