Karen Russell’s Sleep Donation Book Club

I stumbled onto Atavist Books and was intrigued with the synopsis as well as the book cover of Karen Russell’s digital-only novella, Sleep Donation.  I am on a novella (short novel) kick, so I downloaded it to my Kindle straightaway.

The plot follows the protagonist Trish Edgewater who lost her sister, Dori, due to an incurable case of insomnia and now works for the not-for-profit Slumber Corps urging others to donate sleep through the emotional appeal of her sister’s death.  Furthermore, the story follows Edgewater as she works closely with Mr. and Mrs. Harkonnen whose infant, “Baby A,” possesses sleep vital for this life-threatening epidemic.

In unfolding the plot, Russell’s use of simile throughout offers vivid descriptions for the reader:

” . . . Donor Y wrote in tiny all-capitals, like a scream shrunken down into a whisper”  (Location 469).

“My wife just died, you see, and she’s saturated my sleep like coffin milk”  (Location 506).

” . . . the freak blue Maybelline [personally, I never know where to put that blue] smuggles in between the taupe and the gray, which Dori always said was like the strawberry you’re forced to buy in Neapolitan ice cream . . .”  (Location 1093).

In addition, the imagery of the moon found at the beginning and the end of the novella offers full-circle writing which could be discussed at length in the critical thinking classroom.  Yes!

While reading this short work of fiction, I was on the edge of my seat especially during the scene with Mr. Harkonnen and Edgewater, but ended up expecting a bit more.  Also, confusion for me was towards the end where Trish is referred to as “Mrs. Edgewater”  (Location 1565) when no mention of a husband occurred anywhere in this writing.  Instead, an intimate give and take appeared in Sleep Donation, but a co-worker shared the scene with Edgewater in lieu of a spouse.

For the purposes of book club, one may consider serving “loaves and fishes . . . ”  (Location 1004) or “poisoned apple[s]”  (Location 1034), but I prefer “green pistachios. . .” (Location 1165) and a risque “purple sleep cocktail. . .”  (Location 1316).

M.J. Rose’s Seduction Book Club

Wondering if those eerie feelings of deja vu could possibly mean anything?  Then, M.J. Rose’s Seduction is the novel for you.  With portions based on the biography of one of the famous literary figures in France, Victor Hugo, one may never look at a Ouija Board the same way again after navigating through this complex storyline of connected characters spanning various timeframes.  Thus, a reader of this fiction may find a quiet escape, by the sea no less, the perfect setting in which to read.

Interestingly enough this piece of fiction was written entirely in chirography which did not hamper her manipulation of words for the purpose of vivid descriptions one scintilla:

I’d only seen you two or three times but had been acutely aware of your sadness.  You wore it like a frock.  It clouded your eyes, turning the blue sky to gray.  Even the scent that lingered in a room after you’d left it reminded me of grief.  It was the fragrance of flowers past bloom in their death throes (52) . . .

These giant hulking rocks have stood here for all time, seen all things, watched silently as men used them for shelter, religious rituals, burials, for crimes, trysts, for hiding places.  (218)

Simile and personification at its finest . . .

For the purposes of book club, Rose offers recipes as well as suggested background music here.  Furthermore, your club may even wish to invite Rose to your discussion virtually via Skype, a reader’s dream come true.

Exploring Hispanic Literature: Cisneros and Soto

In teaching English 111, I like to have the students analyze a variety of short stories exploring various genres and cultures.  For a sampling of Hispanic literature, I have chosen Sandra Cisneros’ “The Storyteller,” and Gary Soto’s “One Last Time,” both of which are found in our textbook, The Blair Reader.  I have students work in pairs in order to explore the following discussion questions:

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1. Evaluate the “hook” of this essay. Effective? Why, or why not?
2. Cisneros’ father is an opinionated man. Use the text to prove this point.
3. Cisneros makes use of the senses in her writing. Use the text to prove the use of the following senses.
4. Give an example of a metaphor in the reading. Significance?
5. Cisneros discusses the importance of a conclusion. Does her conclusion fill her own requirements of an effective conclusion? Why, or why not?
6. Although Cisneros is writing largely about past events in her own life, she often uses third person and present tense. Where does she use first person? Where does she use third person? Explain the significance of these shifts in her writing.
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One Last Time” by Gary Soto
1. Explain the “hook” Soto uses in his essay. Effective? Why, or why not?
2. What can you infer from, “Mother also found herself out there when she was separated from Father for three weeks” (P 2)? Significance? How do you know your inference is true? Use the text to prove your position.
3. Why does Mother drive in silence while Gary “rambled on . . .” (P 3)? Use the text to prove your position.
4. Explain the significance of the knife in this essay. Prove this significance with use of the text.
5. Find three similes in this essay. Significance?
6. How does Soto show respect for his mother? Explain.
7. Give some examples from the text where Soto judges others. Thoughts?