Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Bloomsbury Cafe- I'm in book club heaven!

Quite a while back, my friend Alicia and I were discussing how much we missed discussing literature. I think we both equally missed the intellectual stimulation of undergraduate education, and especially of our English major courses. Alicia was the first to come up with the idea of a book club. Fast forward a couple of months to the creation of our very own English major book club- The Bloomsbury Cafe. Right now the cafe consists of Alicia Johnson, Megan Welton, and Kristi Peters Millett.

To start the club off, Alicia sent us a series of questions, the answers of which you can find below. After that we got our first reading assignment- Toni Morrison's A Mercy. My response to the book will be coming soon. For now, enjoy the reading below!

1. Name: Krystal Nanette Downs (
2. Favorite place you have lived: Camarillo, California
3. Place you would like to live if you could: Can I pick more than one? Ireland. Southern California. Italy.
4. What do you do when you aren't reading? I WORK. Right now I have a full-time job and and what feels like a full-time internship. When I have the occasional spare moment, I enjoy swimming, riding my bike, going to bookstores (that doesn't count right?), dancing, listening to a wide array of music, laying in the sun, meeting new people, traveling, watching trashy T.V. shows, and going to the beach if I'm near one.
5. 3 favorite films: Right now they are: Fargo, The Hours, The Departed
6. 3 favorite foods: Sushi, fruit, Indian
7. Major, specialty in major if any: English. Minors: sociology and women's studies
8. Favorite literary time period: Post-modern lit/post 1950's.
9. 3 favorite books and why: 3 favorites! Well if I have to choose...

God of Small Things by A. Roy. I read this book a long time ago, and so cannot completely explain why I love this book so much. I always loved the fairy tale type storytelling that one find in Indian literature, so I know that is part of it. I remember this book touching me on so many different levels. It was one of those books that stays with you long after you read the last line. I love Roy's language that seems playful and tragic. So many simple phrases knocked me down with their power. She breaks all the rules of language in all the right ways. Her moral judgements on her characters are clear and brutal. And her judgements on her readers are unbending; not once was I allowed to break free from her words and the critique behind them.
Here is an excerpt: "Perhaps it's true that things can change in a day. That a few dozen hours can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes. And that when they do, those few dozen hours, like the salvaged remains of a burned house---the charred clock, the singed photograph, the scorched furniture---must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. Preserved. Accounted for. Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstituted. Imbued with new meaning. Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story." AWESOME!

Anna Karenina by Tolstoy
I took a Russian Literature class while at BYU and loved it. It gave me an excuse to read so many brilliant books. I had read Anna Karenina on my own before, but fell in love with it the second time around. The characters are all so hopeless; I wanted to shake them all and say look at what you're doing, ruining your life, for what? In this case, most of the characters are ruined because of love or at least what looks like love. My favorite character by far is Levin who is always searching for something, be it truth or love, and never can seem to find it.
His thoughts and speeches are so remarkably poignant, that when I was reading the novel I wanted to underline everything. That is how quotable Anna Karenina is.

Lolita by Nabakov
I know Alicia is squirming right now. I really do love this book though. Yes, the characters and themes are a little disturbing. But I love his writing more than almost anyone else I've read. I feel like each of Nabakov's sentences are words of poetry. He makes pedophilia, incest, and the most vile and disgusting sound and look beautiful. You can really see that he is a true master of language.
Just listen to his genius first lines: Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.
Nabokov would always tell people that he thought in images and that letters and words for him were colored (literally). Not surprising considering language like the above, no?

10. How do you like to approach literature? Do you have a particular reading strategy you usually employ? My inclinations push me towards a feminist approach, although I do think that if one is a true critical reader, one must look at literature from many, if not all, modes of reading. I also have a deep love of Marxist criticism. Down with the man!
One of the specific strategies I like to employ is a kind of reader response. If I find something profound, I highlight it. If I have a thought that needs out, I write it down in the margins. These notations often help me connect previous concepts to current and future themes.

11. What does literature "do" for you? Or in other words, why spend the time? My love of books began at a very early age. I used to love to read simply for the juvenile pleasure of it. Now that I am much older and wiser :) books mean so much more to me. Books make the world seem smaller, they make the differences between people seem insignificant. Reading connects me to experiences and feelings I might not have felt had it not been for a book or character. Literature pushes me to think critically, to challenge norms, to question authorities and truths. Literature makes the small things big. It makes me and you and everyone significant. It makes us all beautiful.

12. The really big question--how do you know Alicia? I met Alicia my Junior year of college (Fall 2006) when I moved into the condo at Victoria Place II. She was my room roommate. I was constantly amazed that I had got so lucky; we both got along extremely well, and were both English majors. She would give me advice about what professors to take classes from, and was continually encouraging me to be and do better. I really enjoyed being her roommate for that semester.

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