Thursday, July 03, 2008

Auto-Win Book Club #1a: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (page 165)

Git yer ass off the couch, slackers, it's time for literature, I made a graphic. I hope you're at page 165. I've come up with some "discussion questions" both from my own little baby mind and from the great Book Clubs of the Internets (thanks Cait!). If you've already read past 165 (like mememeeme!) then you can't give any spoilers away, just remember what it was like when you were younger like during the Beatles, when you were at page 165 -- which, btw, ends with Beli at sixteen, getting on a plane for New York City.

Did you know that Google is allowed to break youtube's 10 minute time limit? ['cause google owns youtube now] They've got a 49 minute "Authors @Google: Junot Dìaz" on youtube. It's actually incredibly awesome. He swears a lot.

Also, y'all should read this. Compelling on about 300 levels. I'm semi-awestruck by my as-of-late appreciation of all Gessen's online statements (beginning with "money" in n+1). [The Eggers Advocate interview example he cites in the post -- I relate to that, like ... 'who am i talking to?].

Other lit-related things to read today, besides this discussion: I cannot wait for MagHound, it sounds delightful (@folio @bookslut), remember the reader (@washington post), alison bechdel's entertainment weekly strip (@bookslut), janice erlbaum's book trailer (@mediabistro), betraying the novel (@the reading experience), "I love blogging. I LOVE IT": novelist celebrates her one thousanth post. (@Justine Larbalestier), have I linked to this before? Probably. I'm doing it again: writer's rooms. (@the guardian uk books), Is this really the golden age of the biography? (@gub), What is poetry's place in the 21st century? (um ... everywhere?) (@the chronicle of higher ed).

A lot of the "big picture" questions I'm saving for our book-has-been-completed discussion -- but I already have some! So these questions are focussed squarely on the hypothetical situation of being at page 165, with no idea what will unfold on 166 or 167, or any pages following those pages. When's that gonna be, you ask? The 18th? I'll be on a ship. But I'll try. [Also, we have an advice column coming soon, hope nothing was too urgent]


OK. Discuss on the comments. I'll discuss too, we'll all discuss! Yeah? YOU DO NOT HAVE TO ANSWER ALL THE QUESTIONS. Just talk about what you want, these are just ideas.

I realize I sound like an English teacher, so any suggestions on how to not sound like an English teacher, please advise. Thank You, Sincerely Anonymous, Love, Tinkerbell. [I feel like these questions generally focus too much on the Dominican-ness, I think I'm just trying to think of things we can talk about that won't give anything away, so sorry if it seems too um, libroethnocentric.]:

Pre-Question: Did you take the jacket off to read the book? If so, why and if not, why not? Just for the record, I did. Cait did. LK and Alex -- not coincidentally, they're both graphic designers -- did not. I feel like the jacket just makes it so bulky and hard to read.

1. Wao doesn't mess around with obtuse foreshadowing but goes straight for the "this is what's gonna happen." The title predicts that Oscar's gonna have a short (but wondrous) life. Page 36: "Later she'd want to put [Mister] on his gravestone, but no one would let her, even me." Pg. 164: Beli doesn't know that "the man next to her would end up being her husband and the father of her two children, that after two years together he would leave her, her third and final heartbreak, and she would never love again." How does this affect your reading? I feel like it might be like the fukù itself -- your fate is destiny already, but you stick around for the story just the same?

2. If you do know Spanish, did you feel like you understood the text on another level than people who don't know Spanish? And if you don't know Spanish, did you look everything up, try to gloss it from context or just keep going, and then how do you feel that affected your reading experience?

3. What would be your fantasy ending? If you could have it your way, what would happen next?

4. What character do you find you relate to the most?

5. Did you know about Trujillio before you read this book? If not, did you feel like an ignorant asshole for not knowing? I did.

6. Raise your hand if you have a crush on Lola.

7. One thing I've noticed in a lot of award-winning critically acclaimed novels is:

a) Sometimes the author forces you through 5-50 pages of slow-moving prose in order to get to the good stuff (e.g., Franzen's The Corrections), like they're testing you to see if you can make it all the way through, like if you're really in it to win it and will stick around through the hard stuff.
b) Most of the Pulitzer-Prize winning novels I've read have involved massive chunks of family/town history as well as an individual, "present tense" narrative -- Jeffery Eugenides's Middlesex, Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Richard Russo's Empire Falls (which I loathed, p.s.), etc.

Have you noticed that too? What do you think it does for the narrative -- and does anyone else feel that the backstory is often the most boring part of the book to get through, but also feels -- when you've finished -- to be 100% absolutely necessary to tell the story and to give it the grand import it needs to become a great and timeless masterpiece?

Does timelessness simply mean that the circumstances are so well detailed that the mysterious Readers of the Future won't have to do the research on their own? Is it an author's ability to make that part pleasurable that enables their success?

Unlike his prize-worthy predecessors, Diaz's book takes off from the first page -- there's no hard-to-get being played. It does do that "but first, a history lesson" thing -- he just does it so well. I don't know if I really have a question here. Why don't all authors just do this, is it 'cause they don't WANT a National Book Award? Um. Um: DISCUSS.

8. Did certain parts of the book make you uncomfortable? If so, why did you feel that way?

9. This is the question that those of you who didn't do the reading can raise your hand and talk about so the teacher won't know you didn't do the reading --

"And there's something really cool about, you know, a Dominican kid, a writer of color, a writer of African descent, immigrant kid from a nowhere place in New Jersey, spent 11 years writing a book, and anybody who wanted to read it, and that anybody wanted to give it an award, it's -- I'm like, a, that's great personally, but it's also kind of hopeful for other people.

I mean, there's a lot of young writers and artists of color and a lot of young writers, period, from the sort of backgrounds that people don't expect much from. And I'm like, "Let me tell you something: If I can do this, they certainly can do it."

So I'm wondering this --- I know I'm addressing an international readership, but that's about all I know. So, if you're a part of the "majority" race/ethnicity/culture of your town/city/state/country, do you feel you gravitate towards books written by authors with a similar background? And if you're in the "minority," do you find that the opposite is true, and furthermore, do you think you have more difficulty getting into the "cannon" of dead white males traditionally forced upon us by schoolteachers than your nearly-dead white male classmates?

I'm very intrigued by a lot of what comes out w/r/t readership statistics, but something that always really baffles me is that statistically, men just do not read books written by women. They just don't do it. But women are perfectly willing to read books by men, even "lad lit" like Nick Hornby or Chuck Palhlinuk. So I wonder if there are any interesting issues like that w/r/t race.

There's a lot of emphasis in the book on what's expected of Oscar specifically as a Dominican male -- he's not "one of those Dominican cats everybody's always going on about" 'cause "he wasn't no home-run hitter" with "a million hots on his jock." How do you feel your family's history plays a role in your own perception of your achievements and priorities?
Interview in "Other Voices" - old, but interesting how much it says about Wao before Wao was finished. From talking about the years that passed between "Drown" and his novel --

"That moment when people were waiting, when there was a sense of held breath, that’s since dissipated. I feel much better this way. Now I can just do it. In a way I hate to say this because it sounds so disingenuous, but after this many years you just don’t give a fuck ... I don’t care. And I’m writing a book that in its structure reflects the I-don’t-careness ... when you’re trying to cultivate or preserve the same audience that had been giving you all this attention, you write in certain ways. You tend to extend some of the things you’ve been doing ... It’s natural to want to extend or preserve the kind of attention you got, which leads to certain limitations in your artistic production. On the other hand, if you decide to really challenge this “audience that you’ve built,” or to shatter it, and try to create a new audience with new kinds of work, that’s really good, that’s just really interesting. It keeps you fresh."

"And I was really fascinated by that idea, that like, you know, this is a book about this idea that you can wake up, you can be born inheriting a story that you had nothing to do with, in some ways, and, even more crazy, you have no interest in it." (source )

Your Daily Junot Dìaz Photograph:

Junot says: "Talk about whatever you want!"


Anonymous said...

Woah! FIRST?! I thought there'd be like 85,000 comments already!

+ + +


Wow wow wow wow WOW.

I don't even know where to begin. I've only read to page 165, and already I'm feeling some weird sort of affinity with this book. Like, I am loving it so much that I cannot even believe I endorsed it as a selection without really knowing anything about it (not even Michiko Kakutani's uncharacteristically laudatory review of it). So, a warning that I may get a little passionate, weird, etc., and definitely probably not make any sense more than once, while discussing it. Also, I learned from one of the most amazing comp lit instructors ever (who will likely be working this title into her next seminar on post-colonialist literature, I've absolutely no doubt), never to read criticism first, so excuse me if I unknowingly belabor points already made in the amazing array of ancillary materials you've already suggested (and that I'll def. be reading once I'm finished entirely with the novel). [Also I am not bothering with accent marks as that tends to make me anal and would take far too long for me to get this posted so apologies to any Spanish readers / speakers; I am usually quite diligent about this, I swear!]


Well first, I never remove the dust jackets. Like, I'll peek underneath, obvs, but I always put them back on. Full disclosure: I, too, am a graphic designer.

Um. Ok. One. (And def first of all, thank you for coming up with such amazing discussion-starting questions; they are truly awesome.) I think that you're absolutely right about the lack of obtuse foreshadowing acting as the fuku itself, and I'd even go further and say that by doing so Diaz makes the reader, to further your analogy, create her own "zafas" along the way. That is, we know (kind of) that the fuku is coming, but that doesn't keep us from trying to invoke the zafa that will forestall it. I think this also plays into what you address in a later question regarding the usual 5-50 pages of slow material that Diaz seems to plow right through, i.e., by structuring the story within the whole "frame" of fuku / zafa, we as readers just keep on lapping the story up even though we know (or, kind of know) that there's a big fuku coming at SOME point.

Two. I do know Spanish. Obviously it helps the story move more fluidly if you do know the language, but more importantly in my opinion are the nuances contained in the language, with which characters, and in which geographical / sociopolitical contexts. But a lot of that nuance can't only be achieved just by knowing word definitions, either. Simply knowing that "verguenza" means "shame," for example, in no way conveys the really negative insult that the Spanish word (and, in this novel, the people who utter it) means.

Three. Dios mio. I can't even answer this.

Four. I related to each of them on a very deep level, but I related to Beli the most. I don't know if it's because I've had the honor of knowing some really formidable Latina women in my life of whom she reminded me, or because I felt an affinity between her own dichotomous impulses to be strong and rely on no one but herself, and never ceasing to hope that someone would save her eventually. It's tough to go through life like that, sometimes tougher than the physical brutality she suffered near the conclusion of this portion of the novel.

Five. Yes, I knew about Trujillo and SOME of the political history of the DR prior to reading this. HOWEVER, I have the year I spent renting the basement apartment of a Park Slope brownstone from the fabulous domenicana who lived upstairs to thank for that knowledge. (Also I did some post-colonialist lit study in undergrad, some of which focused on island narratives.) But yes, I would have felt like an ignorant asshole had I not had those previous experiences.

Six. *totally raised* God. I loved her during the Oscar segment, and then when the narrative changed and it was her I loved her even more, if that's possible. Fucking fabulous.

Seven. Hmmm. I could go on for days about this. I thought about this A LOT when I came across the first footnote, which I must admit made me groan because I immediately remembered what a CHORE it was to get through the footnote annotations in Puig's Kiss Of The Spider Woman. And yet, you couldn't have that novel without them; they are absolutely necessary to the create the psychological context of the story. So to keep my comment on this short I'll just say that I think Diaz does it so freaking well because, A) the movement between the footnotes (or other necessary-to-the-narrative yet potentially-slow-moving portions) and the story itself is so fluid, and, well, B) Diaz's narrative VOICE is so consistent across the entirety of the story arc that what with other writers could be perceived as slow-moving is, with him, completely forward-moving.

Eight. And this will sound odd, possibly, because I usually interpret "uncomfortable" in quite a different way than it's usually meant. The scene in which La Inca prays to La Virgen de Altagracia was just...devastating to me. And it made me uncomfortable only because it was so emotional, so passionate. I don't think I've come across anything like it, or reacted so emotionally to any passage, since that passage in Morrison's Beloved in which (and I forget now which character it is) the slaves are told to love their hands, their arms, their backs, their throats, etc. The subject in both instances was so profoundly moving to me that it made me...uncomfortable. And that's what makes them SO GOOD, in my opinion.

Nine. I think I'm very atypical when it comes to this, since I kind of gravitate toward everything, and I think I have my parents to thank for that, actually. I've worked my way through the traditional white male cannon, but I've also gravitated toward literature written by female, African-American, Latino, Jewish, Asian, gay, alpha-male, etc. In fact, if anything, racially speaking, I would say I gravitate to works that are far different from my Caucasian perspective the most, if only because the stories are invariably more interesting to me BECAUSE of that difference.

Ten. I think that most people's family histories play a very distinct role in their perceptions of achievements and priorities, but I think this is even more true with certain cultures. For example, I thought MY family history gave me a higher-than-most level of perceived achievement, until I got into long-term relationships with a Latino and a Chinese man, both of whose family histories had set their expectations or definitions of achievements far higher than my own. Not to generalize across all Latino / Asian cultures, just saying, in my experience and compared to my own.

So I think that's it for now. (Is this too long to post? LOL?) I cannot WAIT to read what everyone else thought.

Also, as a final topic of discussion? Was anyone else who perhaps is more studied in the genre of magical realism than am I (e.g., Garcia Marquez, Vargas Llosa, Borges, etc.) not COMPLETELY IN AWE of how Diaz carries this tradition on but like for an entirely new generation of readers, with the whole anime / genre / Tolkien thing? Amazing, I thought.

Ok also I am not even editing this, I'm just posting it so I don't spend the next five hours editing it.

Mira said...

-Was there SO much spanish? Granted I studied it and knew some but as for what I didn't know, it didn't rub me the wrong way.

-3. I want Oscar to get laid. I am wanting this to become an 80s movie and the most popular girl in his school will get a crush on him and then ask him to the prom. Everyone will be jealous and the girl whos name i forget will feel really bad for spiting him.

-Re:6--I had to lower a hand to type but I had it raised.

-9. I'm half Korean, but I feel very distant from that side of my family and don't read many books on that side (Park Kyung-ni is recommended to me often), but I don't read many white men either. I think I prefer outsider authors.

I love the book ! Good choice. And I'd wanted to read it anyhow, my roommate just did and so I borrowed it from her.

I have more thoughts but I'm commenting now so that I'm first!

Word verif is "ljjogme." I think that's Korean for "livejournal."

LK said...

1. To me, the act of picking up Wao as a reading choice was not unlike being intrigued by the story behind an old photograph, knowing that the subject(s) have died but wondering what the story may have been at the time the photo was taken — the dynamism of non-linear narrative lies in the author’s ability to keep us in the now instead of constantly anticipating a definitive outcome. I’m hooked on the language of Diaz’s immediacy.

2. Knowing Spanish made it much more intimate. The nuances of idiom are the subsumed soul of any language. I’m sorry that a non-Spanish speaking reader may lose some of that.

3. Wao doesn’t drive me to fantasize endings. I just want to bathe in the almost magical realism of each character’s narrative thread.

4. The fukú.

5. I did not know of Trujillo, but there are enough other shitfaced U.S. backed dictators in my sociopolitical/historical knowledge repository for me to not have felt too ignorant for having overlooked this beast. This guy most certainly gets a black star in my book.

6. Raised. Rather high.

7. This may have more to do with a fine tuned attention span and less with form. The questions to ask are: Does the prose of a slow-moving narrative make the reader suffer, or is it simply the pace of divulgence that makes the reader anxious? Does the “Reader of the Future” have no capacity for history?

8. Define uncomfortable.

9. Is there a first generation immigrant (to the SF Bay Area but displaced on the East Coast), liberal, spiritual, lesbian, Caucasian girl from a former Soviet Bloc country (that is no longer whole) genre? If so, I’m not privy. This kind of question is very much an American phenomenon — rife with political correctness but little substantive value.

10. It steps aside and lets me have the illusion of reinventing the wheel.

riese said...

@atherton - Yeah, where is everyone? Maybe it's taking everyone a while to decide what to say, or they are slackers and didn't do the reading? Hm. Well, time will tell.

Okay i Have to leave the house in about 20 seconds, but I'm gonna say a little bit right now and then get back to it later:

@1. I felt zafa too, I think entertaining the possibility that someone's fate would change through the whole book. Maybe it did, maybe it didn't ... but I never seem to believe a narrator when they tell me what's coming up, I'm like "well ... maybe not ..." Like how even if I'm 20 minutes away from where I need to be in five minutes, I'm like "well, I'm not late YET."

@2. I know some Spansh (I studied it for eight years) and a lot of the colloquial stuff I just knew from working in restaurants where "maricon" is thrown around quite a bit. Spanish sounds so much better than English, and I think a lot of what makes this book work is the same things that make slam poetry work (when it does, which is rarely) -- the energy, the flow, etc.

@3 @mira@lk@atherton: All of your answers made me LOL.

@4. Lola, obviously. It was her that brought me to the book to begin with, via "Wildwood" in the new yorker. I imagined her looking like this girl I had a crush on in high school who always wore serious boots. She had me at:

"If I could have I would have broken the entire length of my life across her face, but instead I screamed back, And this is how you treat your daughter?"

(@atherton@4) I wasn't the biggest fan of Beli, but hearing why you are makes me like her more. To me she seemed too proud/stubborn, but I can see how that's also a good thing.
(@lk@4: brill!)

(@atherton @7): I liked that he used footnotes 'cause I feel it recognized that some people might not already know the history, but at the same time recognizing that really we ought to know the history, and if we don't, we're kinda ignorant. Like he won't just stick it in the narrative assuming that we need it there. I don't know if that makes sense.
@lk@7: The thing is, I worry that the Reader of the Future has no capacity for history. Do you? I guess the question is ... does it matter? Should writers worry about appealing to everyone, or getting more people to read and know things, or should writers just worry about the literary audience they are already a part of simply by writing well? I think a lot of these questions are addressed in Franzen's infamous Harper Essay, "Mr. Difficult,' which's in How to be Alone. Have you read that?

@lk/9 - I think this might be the first time I've been called out for being too politically correct! ha.

I think there is a value to these kinds of questions because the publishing industry, as much as we may loathe to admit it, exists and drives what can logistically be "out there," and as our media becomes more and more centralized and independent presses struggle to survive in an economic climate like this one, authors who aren't white & male often get marginalized into categories that never make it to the front of the store: "Urban Fiction,' "Chick Lit," "Latino Lit," "Queer Lit," etc. Many queer books that are worthy of a mass readership never have the chance to make it out of the "pink ghetto" (as it's called), let alone win a Pulitzer or a National Book Award or be on a school reading list. So when a book does do that, like this one, I think it's interesting to ask if its readers are people who'd traditionally explore other sections online or in the bookstore, or if they'll just read whatever's on the front table.

'Cause the category-obsession is damaging because it does encourage the fetishization or exocitization (I just made up that word) of anything written by a non-white male author, as if it can't exist on its own outside of its labels.

So, why does this matter? Because I think there's a shitload of ignorant assholes in this country who beat their wives, burn cars when their favorite football team loses, and tip cows for fun.

It's an American question because America has serious problems with attention span and value of reading, which's absurd considering that we can afford to read -- most americans have library acccess (not all, of course, 'cause you need an address for a card -- though you can read anything in-store), most have light, some even have money for books -- and if American children don't grow up reading, and keep reading, we're gonna to have even more morons in this country. Like our president. I can't imagine anyone who's reasonably literate or even slightly informed would've voted for him. I guess I think that these things start locally and become macro issues over time.

I don't know if that sounds too insane. I might not know what I'm talking about.

cao said...

SO here we go!!!

pre: the first thing to go. this book has travel up and down the coast of CA this past month. the cover would of just gotten in the way.

one: i kind of like the idea of deadlines. they allow me to see more of the details because I'm searching for those moments. What's going to happen to Oscar!!!!Those are the times in the book that gave me a rush to piecing it together. I may have read more then 165 pages because of it.

2. I know some spanish but not enough to fully understand the entire i hoped that whatever came before or after would help explain what was going on. However,a lot of the time I feel like I had missed something. Mainly in how the characters define themselves through dialogue.

3. My fantasy ending that will never happen.... I want Oscar to fall in love but be loved back. And that through the power of love his mother (because she's sick already) will see his love and somehow take his place in death and take the fuku with her to the grave. ok who's a sucker for a happy endings?

4: I really have a strong pull towards Lola. I think this comes for a need to get out and become more then the place you first call home.

5. Who's Trujillio? I had no clue about it. Over the past few years, they had been a number of book by women about the Iran revolution. That I also had no idea about. How could we not know!! Looking back over my San Diego childhood...i don't think I knew anyone from DR.

6. My hand is up. It's the legs.

7. It was a little rough at the begining. There's alot of information to take in. Maybe it wasn't as bad for some. It greatly depended on if you know DR history and culture before. But without this information I don't think I would of understood some of the curse and past events. plus waiting to see how it will effect Oscar.

I don't think I answered this question right. oh well next one.

8. some of the abuse in this book makes me a little uncomfortable. i think any abuse makes me uncomfortable. I want this characters to...i don't know live of something.

9. as a half mexican, quarter german, quarter irish who grow up with a single "white" mother but looks full mexican but can't really speak spanish. I have tried and tried to learn. I read books about subjects I'm passion about regardless of race or gender. Lately I have been reading books about Mexicans inrelation with CA orange groves because of my grandparents and the way they met (in a tent city).

10. i only really started to understand my own family's history when I was in college taking a folklore class. I had to talk to both sets of grandparents about family issues, cures, etc. I came to the conclusion that I'm a mix and i can do whatever the hell i want to. or my real answer is my family has been through alot of shit and has come out of it will a winning hand. and i can see that in my life as well. and when i'm in the shit it gives me something to think about.

i haven't answer questions like this in about three years. I may of been a little rusty. I hope next time i will have better response. Or maybe I'm a little to hard on myself.

Thanks again for doing this book club thing.

Me and "Oscar" are leave on a road trip on to St. Louis. We'll be back on the 16th.

Lewnard said...

I still have the jacket. That way when I’m carrying it people will be like, wow stranger, what are you reading? You must be very smart! Can I take you out on my sailboat this weekend? We can discuss literature under the stars.

Or at least that’s the way it happens in my head.

1. I always make an effort to avoid any knowledge of an ending, I don’t read reviews, book jackets, avoid previews etc. but it doesn’t bother me so much here. There is so much going on in this book that it doesn’t hinge on some crazy m night shamalyan ending. A journey, not a destination.

2. I think Spanish knowledge would help a lot. I keep getting confused, thinking words are names and vice versa.

3. Oscar meets a fat girl at a star trek convention who likes him in all his nerdom. Lola becomes a doctor.

4. All of the fella’s in this book are so extreme. Oscar isn’t just a nerd, he’s a the king of the geeks. The gangster isn’t just a ladies’ man but the ladies man. The dad is a dead beat, Truiljo is a top ten all-time asshole, Pujols is a rich coward. I think I’m too moderate.

5. No. I did not. Yes, I do. I tried studying Castro for a while, took some Latin American studies classes, never heard of him. I used to smoke a lot of pot.

6. She seems like a nice enough person but I will not raise my hand. Mom had cancer. Seriously.


8. I straight up skipped the narrative when Bela got beaten in the cane field. It was gross and the thought of the baby, I just didn’t think I needed to read the gruesome details to get the point.

9. I tend to enjoy books by men from a different background. I mean, if they have the same background I do then why read it? I can just live my own life and learn more. There are some exceptions like Sedaris (white, middle class, Midwest etc.) but he is hilarious and has crazy stories. I don’t read books by women.

10. I think the ‘nard family expectations were that I would go to college and start a career. Which I did. The priority was education, no? From where I’m sitting (a cubicle) placing the priority on getting chicks seems pretty cool.

dorothy said...

Pre-question: Didn’t take the book jacket off. The book jacket is supposed to stay on and I am a rule abiding girl. I did peek under though and thought the hard cover was very pretty. Also also also I have been using one of my Auto-Straddle stickers as a bookmark. (They were a fun surprise, like confetti in a birthday card.)

Foreshadowing: Knowing these things- that Oscar is going to die, that Beli will have her heart-broken again- does affect my investment, I don’t want to get too attached to Oscar, I’m pre-disposed to dislike the man on the plane. It is a question in my mind- when is this going to happen? When will Oscar go? When will Beli be broken? At the same time for me the narrator is a story teller and when you sit down to hear a story you usually know the end.

Narrator/Backstory: There is something conversational in the style. I am drawn in because I feel like I am sitting there with the narrator listening to the stories. This is the reason that I like the footnotes (which normally make me batty) because they are the story teller’s asides. The reason for learning about them and their history is because these things (Oscar’s death, Beli’s heartbreak, the life the got them there) happened, it gives a point to the story telling.

I agree with athertonbartleby that the foreshadowing and the backstory are tied together. I think for me it goes back to this idea of story teller, how can you tell a story in this way and not foreshadow?

Discomfort: When Beli is beaten in the sugar cane field and loses the baby. Why? Her fear, her absolute trust that Gangster would come for her, her love of her unborn child, who I am, my feelings on power dynamics, the terror involved in that type of physical strength and brutality existing in an individual, the blind rage.

Family History/Character I Relate To: My family’s definitions of priorities and roles plays in to my every day. I actually use these rules to hide from and avoid the things that scare me the most. The “if . . . then . . .” self-talk I do usually is around these definitions/roles, which leads to the character I identify with- Oscar. I get the desire to make changes but the inability to really do so. The watching how easy it seems for others, but not being comfortable breaking out of my own norms. The responsibility of and for family.

Lola: Such a crush on her. I was actually reading and thinking about something you (Riese) wrote about always waiting for the lesbian reveal (w/r/t Written On the Body I believe). I kept thinking the only thing that will make her more awesome is being gay.

And I am going to post this but sadly cannot actively participate in discussion over the next 3 days as I will be no where near a computer (which is the reason why I spent a ridiculous (obvs only in the opinion of my employer) amount of time at work today working on this).

caitlin said...

hiii---sorry, crazy day, but here i am, let's have a book club..

- why does the book cover on the blog not look like the book cover that i have?

also, i took the jacket off after like 4 pages, i mean, it's lovely and i still have it, but it made it hard to turn the pages. ok here we go for real.

1. i feel like my answer to this question needs to be told after we finish cause i don't want to give anything away, but there was a certain turning point for me, when i was like ZOMG.

2. i don't speak spanish, but i was able to pick up context clues, google totally helped, and otherwise i felt like it just flowed nicely and although i could be totally wrong, i don't think i missed out on much by not knowing spanish.

3. i want oscar's life to be wondrous, i am waiting for that to happen and i am worried that at this point his life has already been pretty brief and not so wondrous.

4. i really like Yunior, i liked his narrations and i felt like he really tries to hold the whole thing down. like overall for the whole book, i felt like he and i would be friends, no spoilers, just saying.

5. no, knew nothing about it. i didn't feel like an ignorant asshole, namely cause i feel like it's probably impossible to know the names and the historical significance of every insane goverment/political/religious situation in the world. also, i mean, i think it's good we all read this, cause now we know about it, whereas maybe we wouldn't have otherwise.

6. oh totally, i loved that she was so protective of oscar.

7. sometimes i feel like authors make the first pages hard to get through so that only people that are seriously invested will get through it. then i think that's the dumbest idea ever and possibly it's that because the story is interesting the THEM, they think it's interesting to EVERYONE, and umm it's not. i also think it's such a lovely sweet nugget when you get through the rough part and it's amazing, and it's like, wow that was totally worth it.

8. it's hard for me to read the "n" word some many times. i totally understand that it's acceptable for certain groups to use it, but sometimes it just gets annoying and in my opinion unnecessary. also, the shit that went down in the cane field, was just too much and i skimmed that part. i mean, it's one thing to say that something like that happened, but to write about it in such detail, kind of a lot to read. i felt like if i was watching the movie version (which i would never do, cause most of the time it ruins the story for me) i would have closed my eyes at that part. for reals.

9. pretty much, i'll read anything, although i don't enjoy cheesy romance novels, but other than that, i pretty much will read anything with pages or a binding. i wouldn't necessary seek out a book written by a white woman, but actually, i totally read AM Homes cause she is gayish. so did i just contradict myself?

10. i don't have any real ties to my ethnicity. i mean, my dad is german and my mom is irish and we don't do anything that is super irish or german, except i have a serious temper and my sister has red hair, so sometimes i don't understand when people are super into cultural things. in the book i found myself amazed by the way the narrator was always talking about such serious cultural stereotypes, ie: dominican men being great lovers, etc, like i dunno, i think huge generalizations are dangerous, so to keep perpetuating that was strange to me. i did love all the NJ talk though, i felt like i was reading about people that i have seen in patterson or at the mall or something.

so yay, i am really glad this book was chosen, initially i was upset, i didn't want to read it, but was hooked from the start and loved every moment of it. also, i know this is impossible, but i wish that i could see how everyone pictured all the characters, like, what did oscar look like to you? anyone? i feel like that is such a major part of the story and i really wish we could make that happen.

i also just want to say that i have typed all this on my blackberry and my thumbs are sore so i cannot go on any longer.

dewey said...

Is now the time to admit i never even purchased the book....

In my defence i was busy with a gazzilion exams and then booked a holiday which meant i had like £6.06 in my bank account. Thats barely enough to buy a drink these days let alone a book.

Anyways...i wont take up anymore of the book club space and next month, I'm in!! (probably, hopefully)

girlinterrupted said...

I. Love. This. Ok, here goes:

Pre-Question) I actually didn’t take the jacket off—I’m not particularly sure why. Mostly because I use it as a bookmark, and if I take the cover off I feel as though I am doing some kind of disservice to its designer. Also, when I have books without the jackets I end up using absurd things as bookmarks like receipts or dollar bills.

1) I think what you said is what Diaz perhaps intended, “that your fate is destiny already, but you stick around for the story just the same.” I’m not particularly sure yet why we all stick around when we know, and what this says about us as readers but I definitely think it’s an interesting idea. Really, it’s the journey of this family—the fact that in some ways, we are undeniably connected from our own pasts and the pasts of those we come from. I think the novel is actually really subversive in this way, because it inverts the structure of reading that we would normally expect. In many ways, it reminded me of that movie “Memento” where you start at the end and (because he has no short-term memory) you see the movie in a backwards-kind-of-way. It also makes the novel achingly real—you know there won’t be some magical twist to save everyone in the end, because this is life—and of course, there is the fuku. It identifies the beauty in the process, the in-between, the things that people don’t often care about because we are so focused on the consequences, the successes, or the failures.

2) I don’t speak a lick of Spanish, I mean unless you count a butchered pronunciation of gracias or hola. Being a Texan, that is likely a sin or mildly illegal. Most of my knowledge of the Spanish language comes from “Weeds,” and now this book. I have taken French since I was about six years old, so that was helpful. I could understand some of the Spanish since both French and Spanish have similar roots, and the context clues were often helpful. I do admit, though, that I think those who do speak Spanish fluently likely had a different experience reading the novel. Perhaps, even, a greater connection to the characters. I often felt mildly frustrated when there was a sentence or two in complete Spanish that I had absolutely no idea as to what they meant. I didn’t look things up though…call it laziness, summer, etc., but I also know that looking up individual words on don’t always yield the right answers so I thought it was best to just let it be. Certainly, in the beginning of the book, I think I felt a sort of inexplicable distance from the characters that, in many ways, was forged by the barrier of sporadic, linguistic interjections. As the novel progressed, though, and I became more invested in the stories of the characters, as the layers of their histories all began to pile atop one another, language often became irrelevant.

3) Already finished the book…oops!

4) Lola, hands down. She just exemplifies all of that pent up, inexplicable angst that I cannot seem to ward off at all times. (At least in her teenage years). She resents her mother, often in ways that she cannot articulate, and she wants so badly to escape from everything and start anew. She feels a responsibility to her family, to take care of them, even though she exhibited behavior to the contrary in the past. She is definitely the character that I most identified with in the book.

5) I knew NOTHING about Dominican culture or history, and I was shocked to hear about this Trujillio guy. I felt extremely ignorant! I would like to think of myself as informed and this book definitely proved me wrong. What an asshole! How do we not learn about these kinds of people in school? What’s scary is there are so many instances of dictators like this in history, and we don’t know the half of the story or the impact they’ve had on so many people. This world is just too damn terrifying sometimes.

6) She is definitely awesome

7) I have definitely noticed this trend in books, especially the books that get the most acclaim. It’s as though you have to be close to planning out your suicide before the book actually seems to take a turn towards interesting. I think it’s annoying really. I’m an avid poetry reader, and this is something I find particularly aggravating. It seems as some of the most renowned poets have work that is so completely obtuse and abstract that you feel as though you missed some kind of important memo or meeting that explains what exactly they are talking about. That’s why I’m such a fan of poets like Stephen Dunn, Sharon Olds, and Charles Bukowski, they give it to you plain and simple, they string words together so that if you don’t know the background it’s irrelevant because the experience is articulated in such a profound way. I think its unfortunate really. I have picked up so many books that have such incredible reputations, but have found them so utterly boring that I haven’t been able to finish them. I think history is necessary in some novels. This book especially, I think the footnotes and the history about Trujillio are absolutely significant for understanding this family. Yet, there are some novels where it just isn’t, there are too many books out now that are so into the “name-dropping game,” where if you have enough references to other good writers and books, it somehow elevates your own writing abilities. I think writing should just be writing for its own sake, it shouldn’t be a history lesson, and if history is involved to tell the story it should be told in a way that is captivating. Perhaps that makes me a reader with bad-taste…but that’s just what I think.

8) Diaz certainly didn’t censor himself in his descriptions of sex, violence, and whatever else might be considered taboo. I never felt “uncomfortable,” really, but sometimes I was, admittedly, shocked by how frank he was with his writing in terms of sex.

9) In all honesty I wasn’t that enthusiastic about picking up the book, I often stick with reading books that I can directly relate to. As I am not Dominican, do not come from an immigrant family…am in fact white, I had my doubts about whether or not I would actually like reading this. I’ve definitely read my fair share of ‘immigrant family,’ novels for school, and I’ve often found them to be cliché and overwhelmingly similar. Perhaps that is why I enjoyed this book so much. I loved the review on the back cover that said, “this is a book about an immigrant family for people who don’t read books about immigrant families,” and I think that’s so true. This book is, of course, about a family from the Dominican republic, but its not one whose sole focus is “assimilation, diversity, etc.,” which I think can be interesting things to read about, but often walk the line between overdone and trite. That’s not to say I don’t care about other cultures, not in the least, I just think that everyone is always searching for something to latch onto—and not everyone can get lost in a story that they have absolutely nothing in common with. As for the correlation between women who read men’s work/men who read (or don’t read) women’s work, and racial divisions in reading—I think that there is a much larger number of people who are willing to cross racial barriers and read books about different cultures than men who are willing to read books by women. Perhaps that is a little feminist of me, but I think that it is realistically true. I go to an all women’s academic institution, and we read much more books by men than women (which is shocking), but we definitely read a ton of books that cross many cultural lines. I was at the airport the other week and I met this woman, a publisher, at a restaurant where we happened to be sitting next to each other. Somehow a conversation began and she said something that I haven’t forgotten, “I have always said that a black man (or a man of another race) will be elected president before a woman, the race gap is much smaller than the sex gap.” I wholeheartedly agree.

10) I really don’t feel any sense of responsibility to fulfill some kind of quota determined by my history. I think, instead of any cultural influence, its more directly related to the people I’ve come from—how successful they were, and feeling a self-induced pressure to exceed that.

This book club is great, I really loved the book and it’s awesome to see everyone else’s comments and thoughts about it.


Maggie said...

Pre-question: jacket on for a while and then get annoyed and remove it

1. I don't mind knowing the ending.

2. I don't find it annoying as it was pretty easy to glean the meaning of most of the words from the context.

5. Yes, from reading In the Time of the Butterflies which is actually referenced.

6. On a scale of one to ten, yes I do have a crush on her.

9. I actually read a lot of book by gay white men and I am not a gay white man. I enjoy books by people who have withstood a lot more hardship than I have.

Absolutely love this book! Excellent choice.

eric mathew said...

This has nothing to do with the book, which I am sure is good, but has Carly alerted you to your big screen debut soon? well if your other team mates are in, Ronnie and I are planning on coming Thursday to the game.

JD said...

So, originally I followed the "YOU DO NOT HAVE TO ANSWER ALL THE QUESTIONS. Just talk about what you want, these are just ideas" suggestion. I had written a comment about a major theme that revolved around this quote:
"It would have been one thing if like some of the nerdboys I'd grown up with he hadn't cared about girls, but alas he was still the passionate enamorao who fell in love easily and deeply," and the idea of fukus we're born with vs. fukus we're born into. Then I thought, "do I really want to be THAT kid in class/book club?" since you mostly avoided touching major themes and I'm sure that you and all of the commenters thus far have a lot of feelings on this subject. So no, I don't want to be that girl, and so I'll save my feelings for later. I still didn't answer every question, but here are some of my thoughts:

Pre-question: Kept the jacket on and totes spilled coffee on it (as I do with many things) the first day into reading. Never considered taking it off after that.

#2) Re: how all of the Spanish affected my reading. Honestly, I thought it was annoying. I don't know a word of Spanish (well, beyond hola and gracias). I should clarify- not annoying in the sense that I thought he should have just said what he needed to in English (or explained more terms the way that he did with pariguayo on pg 19, although that would have been nice- I mean if you're going to go for footnotes like he did, and be so good at it, just go buck-wild), but annoying in the sense that I should know more Spanish. I mean, I used the context and it was fine. Still, it bothered me since I thought that the narrative voice and his commentary were so hilarious in English that I think an understanding of the Spanish would have amped this up even more (side note re: narrator- For me, he immediately took on the voice of Rico from Six Feet Under. This is despite the fact that I'm pretty sure neither the actor who played Rico nor the character were of Dominican descent, and so I'm totes stereotyping. Howevs, it was very easy for me to transition mentally from this:
Nate: Rico, you gave him a foot?
Rico (gleefully excited): Yeah, yeah, you remember that leg of lamb your mom had in the back of her freezer for like, forever? EMBALMBED-wrapped in latex and duct tape.
to this-
"Her dead parents' genes on some Roman Polanski shit; like the older sister she had never met, Belie was transformed almost overnight into an underage stunner..."

#4+8) Re: Character that I identify with the most thus far- this is a cop out, but a mix of all of them. Beli in the same way that A. Bartleby mentioned wrt her independent spirit that longed for a caretaker. And then Oscar, not as if we led exactly parallel lives as adolescents but I identified with the "college boy"-type teasing (most of my friends didn't go, or went to the local community college and I went away), and especially the unrequited love arc with Ana. This is prob totes cliche, since I know we've all been there, but I have a soft spot for this plot device, esp when it is well done in writing or film or tv. As soon as Ana told Oscar about her period/before narrator explicitly told us how it would end, I thought "oh no, there it is- they're just going to be friends" and really, my heart broke a little. Then, of course, Beli with Jack. So, not surprisingly, these scenes were also the ones where I felt most uncomfortable- not offended or 'too graphic' uncomfortable, just "please I don't want to go back to that dagger through the heart feeling of my own past" uncomfortable.

mindy said...

Pre Q: I took it off. Took it all off. Slowly.

No really, I did. I take whatever book I’m reading around with me on adventures. To work, to the beach, to bed, to the kitchen…If I leave the jacket on it usually gets pretty beat up and this one was too pretty to ruin. I'm not a graphic designer but I studied it in school. So...there you go.

1. I kind of liked this style of writing. Tells me what’s going to happen and how the details of what I’m currently reading will come into play later. Telling me what’s going to happen before it does, doesn’t discourage my desire to find out how it’s going to happen.

2. I know a little Spanish, and what I didn’t know I could kind of figure out by the context. I think some parts were a little too heavy w. the Spanish though. I got confused, panicked, frightened and skipped these sections. But I wouldn’t say it was ever detrimental to the story.

3. No idea what I would like to see happen. In fact, this question has made me realize that I never really idealize the endings of things in general. What does this mean?!

4. I identified with Oscar to an extent. I was a painfully shy and lonely kid. True story. But mine wasn’t quite as extreme. I was never picked on, and my interests weren’t as nerdy, but I definitely identified with his longings.

5. I had never even heard of this “Trujillio” before this book. And I am an asshole.

6. I have a huge crush on her in that you’re everything I want, because you’re everything I’m not, kind of way. And she sounds cute.

7. I’ve noticed this. The best is when the author gives you the family/town/Zzz Zzz history as though the individual narrator is telling it. I’m trying to think of an example but nothing is coming to me. I don’t think having painfully long back stories are necessary to become timeless. If you look at some classics like Hard Times or Gatsby, they’re both considered social commentaries of their respective times, and considered to be timeless. Neither have ridiculously brutal explanations of things. Thank god.

8. The only part that made me specifically uncomfortable was when Ana’s boyfriend Manny met Oscar and called him corny. I hate that Manny judged him like that, and how such an off hand comment from him simultaneously affirmed that Oscar was a better guy, but still hurt him.

Manny is a tool.

9. I’m way too ethnically mixed to have any sort of valid opinion. My mother is German and Dutch, my real father was Chilean, I was born and raised in Australia and live in Connecticut with my family and Egyptian step father. Although, I do tend to gravitate towards National Geographic’s Atlas of the World.

10. This doesn’t answer the question as asked, but I want to sort of raise and discuss another that relates to it. (I pulled this move so many times in high school English classes it’s not even funny!)
As I’ve gotten older, my parents have told me more and more about their childhoods and their experiences- some good, some bad (some really bad) and I see how this has impacted them, how it’s impacted their parenting and how this in turn has become a part of who I am.

After reading Beli’s story, detailing her upbringing, and basically finding out how she became who she was, do you see how this impacted her parenting style, and how in turn that affected her children? How did Beli’s particular kind of parenting, which was so demanding of her children, impact them? Do you think she saw her own strong will and need for excitement as a younger woman mirrored in Lola, and that she acted to essentially protect her daughter from a fate like her own?

Riese, I really, really like this book. You made a great choice. For a while i've been meaning to make more time to read and this book club has definitely been a big motivator in making that happen. That and I'm conveniently sick, and have nothing else to do. hooray!

NEP said...

(1) even after the ominous title and foreshadowing, i still find myself believing in the possibility that it's not curtains for oscar just yet and that maybe beli's shriveled blackened heart can somehow be saved. i'm totally feeling you on the it being a fuku itself, but that doesn't mean i wasn't crossing my fingers and zafa'ing like whoa at certain parts in hopes of saving our boy wao.

(2) i know some spanish but still found myself hitting up the wiktionary every once in awhile. i think diaz is good with leaving enough context clues to sound it out so overall i don't think my crappy spanish made my reading experience any less enjoyable. if anything, i wish i was more into the fanboy shiz because i think i missed alot of the nuance oscar's references.

(3) my fantasy ending would be that oscar wao's wondrous life was brief bc he turned into don juan cabral, toto extraordinare.

(4) i find myself relating most to lola, because even tho' my relationship with my mom isn't as extreme as hers is with beli, i totally feel where she's coming from w/r/t her mom being a giant twatwaffle sometimes and having to have a thick skin when it comes to that relationship. i thought the whole harsh criticism/brutally honest put-downs was a strictly asian thing, but i guess bitchy moms are more common than i thought.

(5) sadly, i didn't know anything about trujillo before reading the book, and had to wiki it. and yes i did feel like an ignorant asshole for having to.

(6) ::raising hand:: i loved her even more for her sass towards beli, and wished i had the cojones to be as defiant and strong as her.

(7) whoa this question is so intense, you should have put it at the end for extra credit. umm, i agree the backstory is probs the most boring part of the book and its kind of a pain to get thru (although was fairly painless in this book), but do think that its necessary for elevating a story to timeless status. what makes it timeless i think is not so much that the author does all the work for you, but that the way in which he crafts the history and narrative together can make it relevant and affect readers in any era. i think the readers of the future will be able to relate to diaz's themes of injustice, political corruption, cultural identity, and obvs the whole finding true love thing. the fact that he gives us those great footnotes to actually give us the factual history without putting us to sleep is just an added bonus.

(8) there were def alot of instances of uncomfortableness for me, but i have to agree that the brutality of the beating scene made me physically ill. i kept wanting to skip ahead, but i couldn't and found myself cringing with every word and every blow. it just made me think that that type of savagery is not uncommon, which made me sad for humanity in general.

(9) i'm asian so in the minority, but i don't think that i gravitate towards books written by minorities. i think i read alot of random stuff, most of the time, i'm not even sure why i pick it up in the first place. howevs, i would prob be inclined to read a book narrated by an outsider just because i like nerdy/quirky more than boring/predictable characters.

(10) i have lots of feelings about this question. obvs everyone knows the asian stereotypes, but my family is so stereotypically asian that it hurts. every single person in my family is good at math and has a well-paying professional job that utilizes their affinity for numbers. i'm the black sheep of the family because i suck at math, never wanted to be a professional and majored in philosophy instead of business. needless to say, my parents are less than thrilled with my career choices and think the only way i can salvage my life is to go to law school. for them, happiness means financial security and a "real" job. i don't want either of those things and its probs bc i don't just want to be another indistinguishable j-hooper (although i'm browner than those j-hoopers bc i'm flip).

emilymiller said...

I bought a used book off Amazon. It's from a library in Staten Island so the jacket is covered in plastic and taped to the book. I feel guilty if my book was robbed from a future reader.

The upfront knowledge of Oscar's brief life did not affect my reading negatively. It made me curious more than anything. The story of anyone's life ends in the death - of course we read to know what happens in between.

I knew about Trujillo prior to reading - I thought the footnotes were fantastic and an entertaining way to refresh my DR history. The back story may have been slow but it was necessary. I’m not sure if all novels need to do this to become timeless masterpieces but if done, it is essential for the author to do it well… and Wao does! I loved the gradual growth and the history of the characters. I connected instantly. To the point where I couldn’t put it down until I was absolutely finished - 2 days. Particularly I connected to Oscar because we are both hopeless romantics trying to navigate this world like we belong. And lately my diet only consists of ice cream and I’m having lady trouble.

I don’t think there is a strong connection between race and book choice like there is with gender. That is all I will say for now because it’s too late for me to go on a feminist tangent.

My great-great grandfather was a wanderer - left his family, drew comics, and was found dead in a motorcycle accident in Miami. My great-grand father was an optometrist and stayed in one place for his whole life. My grandfather decided to pack up his family when my mother was 9 to live in a van traveling the country selling paintings. My mom went to 12 different schools and 5 different colleges - she is now completely OCD and wants to never move again. All that has been instilled in me is to either act on impulse or never leave where you are. There is a pattern forming and it just trickles down.

And it's interesting to read to the generations influences trickle down within the family - but I think I'm getting to far ahead with that one. I fear I'll be a`spoiler.

Meghan said...

Holy book club, Batman. I heart all of you and this discussion a lot. Due to exhausting life events and no free time this week, I'll have to wait to seriously participate, and watch read all the links you've given us. All I can do for now is:

Pre-question: I have the library binding, no book jacket. Also the Canadian jacket is different from the one pictured, but I don't have it anyway. I read books with the jacket on, though, I like using the flaps as bookmarks plus also the sailboat daydream.

Not a question: Something I really love is how reading/books contribute so much to the characters. C.f. weaving in the mythology of Tolkien/nerdiness and so on, but also with bits like deciding she's Dominique in The Fountainhead and so on. Love it.

Also I like Caitlin's answer to #5.

Okay srsly eyes heavy must sleep. Will definitely write more later or for the next round.

e. said...

0. Jacket on. Books take a beating in my bag--even though I finished Wao quite quickly (the print was big, yeah?), it already looks kinda rough. The underneath-cover is fine, though, thanks to the protective jacket! (Mission accomplished, book jacket, well done.)

1. Yes to the feelings of fuku/fate/pre-destination. Also, I too was gunning for a sort of zafa, like the allusions were vague enough for wiggle room, maybe there's hope? After all, we were promised brevity, but also wonderousness! (Have more to say, but I'm spoiled, so I can't yet....)

2. I know the Spanish well enough, but I found mere knowing to be lacking. I mean, some of the phrases used were very familiar to me--I know people who would use them, and I could kinda hear them, you know? I could feel the full richness, the taste of them, the rhythm. Other phrases I could technically understand, I knew the words, but even so couldn't comprehend them at full capacity, simply because I wasn't getting the feel of them. For me, it wasn't the words themselves, but kinda the flavour of them that was important, if that makes any sense. It probably doesn't, but whatever.

3. No.

4. I didn't exactly relate to any of them, except vaguely Lola, largely for the very same quote you have there, Riese, I have it annotated in my copy and everything. There are some aspects of each character that I recognize, and might even venture to claim I understand, but I think I'd be very hard pressed to strongly identify with any of them. Weird, right? It's like, where's my empathy? I usually have way too much...

5. Slightly and not really. I mean, I watched Salma Hayek in the Time of the Butterflies, but that was a long time ago. I know quite a bit about Pinochet though, and there's only so much dictator one can keep on the brain before something gets wounded or numb, and then I want to smash the walls and cry, so.

6. Mm. Sort of. I mean, sometimes I really liked her, especially when she stuck up for Oscar, but sometimes I could tell how she'd go about injuring someone like me. I liked how she was on the inside, but I don't really think she'd necessarily share that part, y'know? So my theoretical crushing is somewhat guarded.

7. This is a difficult topic.
a) I have two immediate theories off the top of my head. The first is that a lot of lauded authors are kind of pretentious, they like to show off for their colleagues and challenge their readers, and maybe they ascribe to the notion that difficult = good? The other theory is that the opening of a novel is wicked hard to write. I don't like the slog of a slow start, particularly, but better that than a fantastic beginning that the ending can't live up to.
b) I can really like a good back-story. If it's well done, it's just as pleasant as forward movement, and really, the richer one can make the context without slowing the story down too much, the better. I like to plunge into a book and just *feel* it all around me, like it's my own memory, you know? And if it takes a Dickensian word count or is as sparse as Hemingway, it's fine as long as it does the job. As for timelessness, I think it has to do with something very very humanly true being told very very well, as simple as that. It's often about portraying something deeply essentially us, whether on an epic scale (oh, Achilles!) or a much smaller, private one (oh, Clarissa!).

Plus it's all subjective and there's no accounting for people's tastes. I don't know, you ask hard questions, Professor Riese.

8. A bit at times, but not especially. Sometimes it was a bad uncomfortable, sometimes a good uncomfortable. To take two already cited examples, the repeated use of the n word was a bad uncomfortable, it chafed and irritated like a shirt-tag on the back of my neck. The scene with Beli in the cane field--which apparently nobody else liked--was a very good uncomfortable, the kind that stirs the deep emotions, the kind that lays one out vulnerable and tender, the kind that feeds one's humanity. And by one, I mean me, obviously. (It was actually the best part of the book, in my opinion, from La Inca praying to Beli escaping the cane field. Gorgeously written. It was dark and her legs trembled beneath her like smoke. It submerged me, I could feel the prickle of the ferocious moonlight, my bones ached in sympathy, and the passages settled heavily over my heart, crushing.)

9. Not really, but I'm a bit of a strange case, my origins and ties and identifications are hard to explain, I'm probably not a good person to ask this.

10. My family's cultural history? Gosh, I dunno, I'm a total mongrel, but my family's personal history, and the resulting expectations, are quite weighty. The guilt and fear of disappointing are very influential for me. I could empathize with Oscar's difficulty fulfilling his expected role, even though mine isn't that of a macho Dominican ladykiller,

These are my silly answers, obviously I'm overtired and overworked, but I wanted to participate. I love book club, I want to make up a cheer for us, then when we're at a party on the packed dance floor or whatever someone can yell it out, and all the book club members scattered around the party will cheer, like "Woo, Book Cluuuuuub, yeah!". Even if a lot of us don't know each other in RL. I'm glad we read this book together, y'all.

hazel said...

Mostly seven: I am especially impressed/intrigued by how Diaz uses the footnotes/backstory to create almost another dimension: the past, all of which is somehow contained in Oscar. There is something about the visual difference presented by footnotes that really solidifies this ability to create what feels like another layer/dimension. Further, I think it's essential that Oscar be obese; I feel like all these stories, this history, is somehow contained inside of him... and we already know, it's going to blow. How could it not? So much turmoil and pain. And more significantly, how amazing is it that so much is made of his immensity, and yet we know he's just a blip amidst the tumult of his family/cultural history?

There is also an interesting parallel between Oscar's obsession with fantasy (other dimensions, if you will) and the past as expressed through the footnotes/backstory, which is really quite fantastic, and yet seems of no interest to Oscar whatsoever. I mean, it be very timely of him to be a memoir writer, to explore his past, what made him, but instead he writes about the future...on other planets...with robots... or something like that. He's running away fast, and he doesn't even know what from.

Adam said...

You disabled comments on the vlog because you're mad at us.

Admit it.

You think we've been bad little readers, and so are taking away our treats.

It's ok. I won't cry. Much.

chaitee said...

I HATED OSCAR WAO BY PAGE 165. Actually, I hated it from the beginning but REALLY hated it by the time that Junot got his mad little way through the mother's frickin' history. And everyone else's history, and what the shit - Oscar Wao's life is surely SHORT but it's hardly frickin' WONDROUS YET. I am NOT interested. I abandoned it a day after book club started, with many, many tantrums and hysterical underlinings of spanish words - so many spanish words that I have yet to look up.

I like the sister though. I think the book should be about her. I devoured her section. So maybe I'll finish the book. And continue skipping footnotes and everything else, only reading what pleases me; as I am apt to do. I didn't know anything about Trujillo and I don't feel like an asshole just because I'm Australian. We get taught about how we're birthed of criminals and how indiginous people do some pretty mad rock drawings. Sometimes we get taught how to make damper and I sampled frog's eggs in primary school once, to get a taste of what international really is.

For you, Riese, I am going to re-start reading it. I didn't even notice the book cover, lolz. I was that disinterested, I watched a documentary on Stephen Fry and bipolar instead. AND IT WAS SO WORTH IT. Scout's honour I'll answer the questions to the best of my obviously-unintellectual abilities, as soon as I've struggled through the rest of Oscar Wao's brief and shitty life.

chaitee said...

K, so I like it more this time around. Mabes I was pre-menstrual when I read it last. I'll keep you posted.

Razia said...

First and foremost I'd like to say that due to exams/insane hours at work/travel prep I had no time to get the book until *gasp* yesterday. But, but, but, I am already at 165. Granted, I got two hours of sleep and a little lady here in Australia will soon realise that the sleep-deprived, bitch of a sales assistant actually charged her $300 rather than refunding it but other than that - all worth it.

The book is great. No, amazing. No, gramazing.

Also, I only found it in paperback here.

1. I really like how he does that. I have had too many drinks to explain why I like it but I do.

2. I did Spanish 1 at high school. Forgot most of it until I went to Spain last year and then forgot most of it again until I started reading the book. The Spanish words make sense to me, I don't know if it's bc I may have known these words a few years ago so they're buried somewhere in my subconscious or that he just uses them in the sort of context where you can't really not know what he means. Even just slightly. Maybe it's a combination of the two.

3. I don't like to think about that.

4. You know, I think if I answered that question I would be getting too raw. There were some parts that really hit close to home. Almost too close.

5. I didn't know. I totally felt like that.

6. *raises hand*

7. *decides this is a good time to sneak a cigarette outside*

8. Refer to #4

9. You know, I don't really see race at all. I guess I would be considered a minority here in Sydney or anywhere that's not Afghanistan really but yeah, I don't see it so I guess I'm not a good gauge for this question. Oh but I did read A Thousand Splendid Suns (I know, groan) and I didn't really look at it differently just because the dude was writing about/is from where my parents are from.

10. I don't think I'd be half as motivated to go to Uni and get a flash job if my mom wasn't as fucking brilliant as she is. On the flip side, my dad is a total nutter/jerk so my number one goal in life is to not be a nutter/jerk.

riese said...

Okay, I love all of your answers and enjoyed reading all of them. I'm gonna try to give my answers to my own questions, bringing up what other people said sometimes but if I don't bring up what you said specifically it's not 'cause I didn't la-la-love or enjoy or find interest in it, it's more about where the browser was at the moment I answered the question myself.

Also ppl who raised new questions, I'll defo be using those for the next go 'round.

Pre: Okay, first off I don't understand how everyone is reading it with the cover on! Doesn't it fan out and get unwieldy? The cover I used in this post was I believe the British edition cover, and I used it just 'cause I felt I'd over-used the American cover as a graphic for a long time.

Also I think in Britan and Australia and stuff they release books in a sort of large paperback edition (that's what the cover in this post is from).

I used to use it as a bookmark, like girlinterrupted but I liked doing that with the library books 'cause you could really cram it in there. Like mindy and cao, my book goes on adventures with me, so the jacket has got to go.

1. I try not to read criticism first too, mostly 'cause I'm afraid of spoilers, but also mostly 'cause I'm very easily influenced, and I never read the back of the book 'cause I had an english teacher who told us not to.

I really loved all of everyone's answers for this. I'd go through and quote y'all, but that'd take forevs.

2. I totally agree with JD: "I don't know a word of Spanish (well, beyond hola and gracias). I should clarify- not annoying in the sense that I thought he should have just said what he needed to in English (or explained more terms the way that he did with pariguayo on pg 19, although that would have been nice- I mean if you're going to go for footnotes like he did, and be so good at it, just go buck-wild), but annoying in the sense that I should know more Spanish." Also imagining Rico, that's funny. I just imagined some Dominican slam poets that I've seen, and a few kids I used to smoke with in college.

NEP -- I think i almost felt like the fact that I totally understood all the fanboy references and the way he talked (totally new guys like that, had an entire magic the gathering table at my middle school) maybe made up for what I missed in espanol. Like how Meghan said I always enjoy books where you see how books factored into the protagonist's development.

3. I didn't think about this either, aside from wanting Oscar to get some and I think also wanting Oscar to "be loved and loved back" (as cao said) -- it's bizarre, I think, when i read, the difference between what I want for a character and what I know the character needs in order for the story to happen.

Howevs, props to my brother (lewnard) for the Star Trek convention shout-out (obvs he & I have actually been to one) and to NEP for the possibility of his life being brief 'cause he turned into "don juan cabral, toto extraordinare. "

4. I liked Lola's fierce will, and how passionately she stood up for her brother and looked out for him -- like she didn't think her Mom was doing a good job of it and so she stepped up and took over. Also just really as the book goes on, I admire a girl who sticks to what she wants and doesn't sacrifice her integrity for anyone or anything. So maybe I don't relate to her so much as I wish I did.

Also I identified with Oscar's alienation, but I think as a kid I tried to do what I could to fit in, and I don't think he did.

5. Obvs as this question implies, I didn't know about Trujillio and I totally felt like an asshole for not knowing. I mean, I know a lot of stuff about the Holocaust, and about the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and Saddam Hussein's reign of terror, the Japanese internment camps, but I didn't know anything about Dominican history, and I've had some Dominican friends too. I don't know, it just reminded me of how ethnocentric my education has been and that makes me feel like an ignorant dumb American which I guess I am.

6. So glad that we're all on the same page here. (@dorothy - omg, there's nothing that would've been cooler than a lesbian reveal) (@e. , I found this interesting: "sometimes I could tell how she'd go about injuring someone like me. I liked how she was on the inside, but I don't really think she'd necessarily share that part, y'know?" and agree.)

7. Again -- found everyone's answers really interesting on this one. mindy mentioned Gatsby -- I read it outside of school, and honestly I didn't get it, I was like "why is this such an important book?" I mean,it was good, but it wasn't until I did some background research that I understood where it fit into the cannon. But maybe that's okay too -- that I had to do a little work. Empire Falls for me is the best example of a book that just felt like nonstop misery, the history being additional misery on top of the present misery of the narrative itself. And yeah like e. said, it's just hard sometimes to start off a novel maybe.

girlinterrupted: yay for the Stephen Dunn shout-out!

A lot of people mentioned how his voice made it work -- the history and everything -- and I agree.

8: I think I felt uncomfortable only when Beli's massive ta-tas were being described in detail. It was just a hard image to deal with.

Also, oddly, get upset when he talks about how fat Oscar is. Like no matter how many times he said it, I wanted to believe that Oscar was more spritely and approachable and attractive than he really was. I don't know why I want this, or why reading about really ugly protagonists always makes me feel uncomfortable for them. My screenwriting teacher one pointed out that all of my characters, when initially introduced, were described as "attractive." I was like, 'I dunno, I just like to write about good-looking people." Of course I was 16 then, and probs wished I was good looking and therefore tried to live vicariously through my characters.

I blame America and the media for this. Also it made me sad, thinking about how he wanted this girl but she wouldn't like him back 'cause he was too fat. We've all known dudes like that, and it hurts.

9. I think I do read stuff that's written by people kinda like me more often than I should. It's one of many things I loathe about myself, and why I was an English major, to be forced to read things I might not pick up on my own. Most of my favorite books seem to be by writers of similar backgrounds.

Like girlinterrupted said: "I just think that everyone is always searching for something to latch onto—and not everyone can get lost in a story that they have absolutely nothing in common with."

10. I think as a Jew, most mothers would expect me to marry a doctor and have babies and go to shul. But instead, my mother I don't think expects anything from me besides to be smart. REally anyone with expectations of me would be disappointed. But I've found 100% across the board that my friends/girlfriends who are African-American or Latino/a or Asian (I really don't even know what the PC terms are here) seem to have much tighter ties to certain familiar expectations than any straight-up white people I know. Though I guess technically I'm half german/polish/jewish and half native american/german/revolutionary war stock. Dunno.


Other things:

- It's in paperback in Australia and Britan, yeah? Why can't we get that happening here.
- This is an interesting thought (@hazel): "There is also an interesting parallel between Oscar's obsession with fantasy (other dimensions, if you will) and the past as expressed through the footnotes/backstory, which is really quite fantastic, and yet seems of no interest to Oscar whatsoever." as is Atherton's question about magical realism. Maybe we can talk about that at the end, or now, or something.
-Why my brother is amazing, Reason One: "I still have the jacket. That way when I’m carrying it people will be like, wow stranger, what are you reading? You must be very smart! Can I take you out on my sailboat this weekend? We can discuss literature under the stars. "
- Ok, as it's somewhat surreal to be going "Caitlin, I also wonder what Oscar looked like a lot," when caitlin is sitting right here and we just had a conversation about what Oscar looked like for real.
-Also @cait ... loved this, re: New Jersey: i felt like i was reading about people that i have seen in patterson or at the mall or something.
-eric mathew: I think we are forfiting the game on thursday 'cause Carly can't play 'cause her ankle is sprained, marin and lauren can't come, and cait can't come either.
-adam - You made me LOL for real.
-chaitee - you made me LOL too, especially since you're the one who said you bought Oscar Wao and were going to read it whether I picked it or not.

supr said...

ok for serious, book club extreme!! yowza. yow!ZA! but... even the sturgen and the way, may get the urge and start to play.. music note.

Bridget said...

I have never, to my knowledge, met a Dominican person. I have a severely limited knowledge of Spanish. I knew of Trujillo, but barely. Unfortunately, the History curriculum tends to be focused on nations with which Australia has strong geopolitical and economic interests: virtually none where the Dominican Republic is concerned. I have not yet read, for the reasons cited by others, any reviews or criticism. In all likelihood, you could not have picked a novel with a history, language and (seemingly, but I will get to that) a culture more foreign to me.

But you know what? This is why I read. For me, this novel is a window to an ethnocultural understanding that I would not otherwise have gained in my first seventeen years of life. I can't be anything but grateful for that. The last thing I ever want to be is ignorant (or bored to death by the traditional literary canon).

Having said that, personality transcends borders, languages, and I have met these characters. I have known Oscar Wao my entire life. Having grown up with a Magic: The Gathering, Warhammer and World of Warcraft-playing; Fantasy/Sci-Fi-reading; Star Wars, etc-watching brother, his friends and friends of my own, the supergeek thing was particularly endearing to me and Diaz captured it perfectly.

I didn't meet Lola until my first years of High School but I have met her over and over again since. I mostly love her because of the light/shade relationship she has with her brother (I may elaborate on this another time), but also because she is one of those girls I always want to be (probably more than) friends with. Sensitive but tough: an enchanting - and sometimes inevitable - combination.

To be continued when it's not 3am.

a;ex said...

I feel like I just walked into a room where everyone just walked out, and I totally missed all the awesome conversation and now I'm standing there with my tonic-tonic talking to myself...

(I'm okay with being late, as its better than my high school performance of almost never reading anything.)

p.s. I'm up to page 183... and I like.

- - - - - - - - -

Pre-question: You answered this for me. But here's the twist - the jacket is off my book at this very moment. *GASP!*

#1 - Up until page 166, I didn't know who the first narrator was and it was driving me crazy. I feel like I'm given random glimpses of something and I'm trying to put it all together but I can't, and this may also be driving me crazy.

#2 - I knew maybe half the spanish they used, which is disgraceful being of Puerto Rican descent. Mostly, I enjoyed my familiarity with words that my Dad has called me ("Pendenja", "bruta") or uses when he's angry ("garajo cunyo!")
When I didn't understand words/phrases, yes, I felt like I missed something important fo sho.

#3 - Umm... I have no imagination.

#4 - I related to Lola, obvs. Mostly with the younger brother thing.

#5 - Yeah, I had no idea about the Trujillo... Which is frustrating on many levels to me.

#6 - omg those legs? My hand is raised.

#7 - My opinion is marinating... I'll probs have one after I read the whole thing. At the moment, my feelings are not favorable of how Diaz does the history lesson thing... but I'm totally open to revising that opinion.

#8 - I don't think I was uncomfortable? hmm...

#9 - I gravitate towards books that don't hurt my brain when I read them (i.e./e.g. non-fiction, or magazines,) or anything Riese tells me to read.

#10 - I understand the whole 'expectation based on family history/culture' thing, though it doesn't apply to me. Mostly, I see how it applies to other people (my dad) in my family.

It's so weird to talk about a story that isn't over yet! I'm racing to the finish cause I wanna talk about it for real.

aaaaand I'm done talking to myself I think.
Hi Riese!

Bridget said...

I loved the Authors@Google video. Really appreciated what he had to say about Chabon/genres/etc and his response to being a so-called "voice" for Dominicans.

Can't tell you how much I enjoyed the second half of this novel. Like, for real. I can't wait to discuss.

And, speaking of discussions, where did everyone go? Are we done here?

Also, I can't stand book jackets. I have a large, cobwebbed collection of them somewhere. But, in regards to this novel, there was none. Just a very, very colourful, laminated paperback cover from the library.

riese said...

supr: I don't know what you're talking about but I'm pretty sure it's amazing.

bridget: really? not a one dominican person? I've known a few. Actually one of them is super pretty and has fake boobs but I've never touched them. Anyhow.

Right on; re - everything you said about why you read. I mean, I think that's why people should read. I'm always glad to know more about things I don't know about ... and I also totally grew up around a brother who did that stuff ... and a family ... I mean. Actually. I sort of did it the most, I may have been a dungeonmaster.

the narrator describes one of the girls that oscar has a crush on as "She was this peculiar combination of badmash and little girl." I thought that was perfect, and remembered it as being about Lola when it really wasn't.

a;ex: I'm here, want a vodka tonic? Tinkerbell wants a vodka tonic. I'm schooling you.
I want you to know if you're ever alone in a room with a tonic-tonic, then I will be there, the vodka to your tonic. actually, hm, that's sort of an apt metaphor.

Anyhow. I have a lot of feelings about your Dad calling you pendeja. Thanks for answering all the questions, champ. We're all proud of you here! I like it when you have insights. About anything. Hi! Miss you!

bridget: I didn't get to watch the whole video 'cause it was so long, what's the minute mark for the chabon/genres thing? I'm so bad at watching videos, I'm way better at reading.

i can't wait to discuss the second half either, I think it really picked up. I like the idea also of book jackets with cobwebs, like the closet where book jackets go to die.

I'm not sure exactly how to mediate a discussion, but I'll for sure be figuring that out for next time. I think it's hard when we're all at different spots in the book?

Bridget said...

The question re: Chabon/genre is asked just after the 22 minute mark. Diaz says something like "when you're a writer of colour in the US, you're considered a genre no matter what you write". Do you agree? And, if you do, do you think a novel like this can break down (at least to some extent) those barriers?

And no, not a one Dominican person. Not personally. I mean, Australia has a virtually non-existent (in terms of size) Caribbean population, but I'd never really considered that until I read this novel. Obviously it makes sense geographically but I did question my own ignorance.

Admittedly, most of the books I have removed jackets from have suffered severely because of it, like my now completely naked Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Obviously I was about ten and did not know how to treat large hardcover books. I probably still don't but I also don't buy them anymore. Problem solved!

Anonymous said...