Thursday, October 29, 2009

1. Toulouse-Lautrec often based his images on women from all walks of life. Who are some of the women who inspired him?

2. Lautrec's greatest artistic achievement was his contribution to the art of lithography. Who were some of his predecessors and contemporaries?

3. Who were the painters among his contemporaries admired by Lautrec? Do you see any similarities bewteen his work and theirs (for example, the works of Degas)?

4. What are some of the themes dealt with by Lautrec in his work?

5 Choose an example of an early work by Lautrec and compare it with an example of a later work.

6 Apart from his achievement as a printmaker, what do you consider to be Lautrec's most important contributions to the history of art?

Friday, October 2, 2009

That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Prouix

1 'Long recitations of local history give a sense if having lingered too long in a county library. 'Do you agree with this estimations of Prouix's novel?

2 Would you describe the sub-stories as 'pointless' or does this judgement miss the point?

3 One critic remarks that Prouix's 'cartoonish names sometimes threaten to topple the novel's sense of reality.' What did you think of the author's nomenclature? Why is Bob Dollar so called?

4 Is the novel realistic? Why/why not?

5 Is Bob Dollar's job morally indefensible? Why/why not?

6 Why does Orlando turn up at Woolybucket?

7 Are hog farms simply another environmental horror in a long chain of horrors? Is 'business' (LaVon's term for capitalism) the culprit? discuss

8 Why does the author portray her main idealist, Brother Mesquite, as a member of a religious order?

9 Orlando's risque means of making a fortune strikes us as a comic ploy, but what comparison might Prouix be making between post modern 'occupation' and the traditional ways she clearly values? (pp249-251)

10 The Old Ace in the Hole is on the whole a 'white' novel. What is Prouix's reason for introducing an old Indian hitchhiker in Chapter 27?

11 Annie Prouix usually doesn't offer and upbeat ending. how does this one fit with the panhandle history of hardscrabble lives that forms the substance of this book? What did you think of the way the novelist rounded everything up?

12 'There is such a longing, on the part of the author and reader, for the panhandlers to beat off Global Pork Rind, that there is a danger, not entirely averted, of the story becoming sentimental. What's your opinion?

13 What hope do you think the author has? What hope do you have in the face of ongoing environmental destruction?

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini

Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them --- in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul --- they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation. With heart-wrenching power and suspense, Hosseini shows how a woman's love for her family can move her to shocking and heroic acts of self-sacrifice, and that in the end it is love, or even the memory of love, that is often the key to survival.

1. The phrase “a thousand splendid suns,” from the poem by Saib-e-Tabrizi, is quoted twice in the novel – once as Laila’s family prepares to leave Kabul, and again when she decides to return there from Pakistan. It is also echoed in one of the final lines: “Miriam is in Laila’s own heart, where she shines with the bursting radiance of a thousand suns.” What do you think it's signifence is to the book?

2. Mariam’s mother tells her: “Women like us. We endure. It’s all we have.” Discuss how this forms Mariam’s life and how it relates to the larger themes of the novel.

3. By the time Laila is rescued from the rubble of her home by Rasheed and Mariam, Mariam’s marriage has become a miserable existence of neglect and abuse. Yet when she realizes that Rasheed intends to marry Laila, she reacts with outrage. Given that Laila’s presence actually tempers Rasheed’s abuse, why is Mariam so hostile toward her?

4. Laila’s friendship with Mariam begins when she defends Mariam from a beating by Rasheed. Why does Laila take this action, despite the contempt Mariam has consistently shown her?

5. Growing up, Laila feels that her mother’s love is reserved for her two brothers. “People,” she decides, “shouldn’t be allowed to have new children if they’d already given away all their love to their old ones.” What lessons from her childhood does Laila apply in raising her own children?

6. At several points in the story, Mariam and Laila pass themselves off as mother and daughter. What is the symbolic importance of this subterfuge? In what ways is Mariam’s and Laila’s relationship with each other informed by their relationships with their own mothers?

7. One of the Taliban judges at Mariam’s trial tells her, “God has made us different, you women and us men. Our brains are different. You are not able to think like we can. Western doctors and their science have proven this.” What is the irony in this statement? How is irony employed throughout the novel?

8. Mariam refuses to see visitors while she is imprisoned, and she calls no witnesses at her trial. Why does she make these decisions?

9. Among other things, the Taliban forbid “writing books, watching films, and painting pictures.” Yet despite this, the film Titanic becomes a sensation on the black market. Why would people risk the Taliban’s violent reprisals for a taste of popcorn entertainment? What do the Taliban’s restrictions on such material say about the power of artistic expression and the threat it poses to repressive political regimes?

12. While the first three parts of the novel are written in the past tense, the final part is written in present tense. What do you think was the author’s intent in making this shift? How does it change the effect of this final section?