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MPPL's staff blog about books, movies, music and the talent behind them.

Staff Pick: John From Cincinnati

Picture of JohnDavid Milch’s brilliant, confounding HBO series John From Cincinnati defies easy classification – the closest most come is “surf noir” – but ultimately, it’s about the same thing as his previous series (the all-time classic Deadwood):  how strange and damaged people come together to form unlikely communities.

Fiction: Unwanted by Kristina Ohlsson

Unwanted book coverHenry, a conductor for Swedish National Railways, was enjoying a fairly uneventful journey until a signaling problem stopped the train for a spell. He thought it odd when he saw a woman step onto the platform without the little girl he’d seen with her earlier, but it wasn’t until the train was again on its way that everything went wrong. When alerted that the frantic mother had been left behind, Henry was relieved to discover the girl sleeping unaware. A ruckus forced him to step away for only a few moments, but when he returned, the only sign she’d been there were her shoes arranged neatly by the seat. Unwanted by Kristina Ohlsson is a tense thriller that will captivate fans of Scandinavian crime fiction, especially those who are waiting for next books from Jo Nesbø, Anne Holt, or Camilla Läckberg.

2015 Folio Prize Shortlist

As the first English Language book award to recognize novels written internationally, The Folio Prize is dedicated to celebrating the best of literature. Announced at the beginning of February, the shortlist was narrowed down to eight selections from a longlist of eighty titles. Chair of Judges William Fiennes explained in developing the shortlist, “We were looking for boldness, freshness… books in which the form or structure of the story was perfectly matched to the ideas. You feel reading these eight books that you’re witnessing fiction discovering new possibilities for itself.”

The young prize is only in its sophomore year, and will be announcing the 2015 winner March 23. You can view the full shortlist on The Folio Prize website.

Cover of Family Life Cover of Dust Cover of Dept. of Speculation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family Life by Akhil Sharma
Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Cover of OutlineCover of How to Be Both Cover of 10:04

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outline by Rachel Cusk
How to be Both by Ali Smith
10:04 by Ben Lerner

                    2014 Winner:
Tenth of December by George Saunders

 

Cover of Tenth of December

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music: Testimony by August Alsina

Image of Testimony by August AlsinaR&B artist August Alsina begins his debut studio album, Testimony, with an introduction of who he is and where he’s come from with the song “Testify.” The confessional ballad sets the tone for an album covering a lot of ground. In fifteen songs, the young artist explores the addictions of his father, the death of his brother, and the constant pull of his dreams. While the songs are largely reflective and involve Alsina’s history, the energetic rhythm and occasional song about partying bring additional flavor to the mix. Although this BET Best New Artist of 2014 stands by himself, some songs feature other rap and R&B artists such as Yo Gotti, Fabolous, B.o.B., and Trinidad James.

Discussion Questions: Spring Moon by Bette Bao Lord

Cover of Spring MoonTitle: Spring Moon
Author: Bette Bao Lord
Page Count: 464 pages
Genre:  Historical Fiction, Family Saga
Tone: Lyrical, Poignant, Moving

Summary from publisher:
Behind the garden walls of the House of Chang, Spring Moon is born into an exclusive world of luxury and privilege. Her servant, Plum Blossom, attends to her every need and inadvertently alters the course of her life forever. Her uncle, Bold Talent, who has returned to China from the United States with radical new ideas, educates her against the wishes of the family, and intervenes at the moment when Spring Moon most needs his help. But the tempests of change sweep Spring Moon into a new world — one of hardship, turmoil, and heartbreak; one that threatens to destroy her husband, her family, and her darkest secret love.

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

1. What was Bette Bao Lord’s purpose in writing this novel?

2. One review (New York Times 12/1/81) felt that Lord covered too much history in her novel and that it overwhelmed her characters. Do you agree or disagree?

3. What was Lord’s reason for providing the stories in italics at the beginning of each chapter? Did it add or detract from the story?

4. What was Spring Moon’s role in this story? Was Spring Moon the main character of the novel?

5. How would you describe the relationship between Spring Moon and Lustrous Jade? How did that relationship change throughout the years?

6. On page 350, why did Spring Moon demand that Lustrous Jade kneel before her? Why was it so difficult for Lustrous Jade to kneel before her mother, yet she easily kneeled before shopkeepers and others to get them to join her cause?

7. Did you feel that August Winds and Lustrous Jade belonged together as man and wife?

8. How did the role of the family change or not change in China?  Consider the theme of devotion to family versus devotion to one’s principles. What characters were more devoted to family? What characters were devoted to their principles? Was it possible for them to be devoted to both?

9. What were the differences in the love Spring Moon had for her first husband, Glad Promise, and the love she had for her lover Bold Talent?

10. Do you think the clan suspected the love between Bold Talent and Spring Moon? Were they jealous of Spring Moon’s ability to read?

11. Did Bold Talent love his wife, Golden Virtue?

12. Do you think Bold Talent knew that Enduring Promise was his and Spring Moon’s son? What about Golden Virtue?

13. On page 248, Spring Moon was about to leave Bold Talent to return to her mother-in-law, and Bold Talent talked about what was wrong with the Chinese. He said, “Do you not see what is wrong. In the end, we always yield – to tradition, to foreigners, to family, to authority, to duty. To everything and everybody, living and dead-except our needs, our dreams, our passions! If we do live for ourselves, it is not for long. A moment here, a month there. As long as no one knows. As long as nothing is truly changed. Then, once more we yield. Once more we live as others would have us live.” Do you agree with this assessment?

14. How did you feel when Spring Moon took her son away from Dummy and her husband?

15. What was the relationship between Lustrous Jade and August Winds? How about between Lustrous Jade and Resolute Spirit? How were they similar and how were they different?

16. On page 383, in a letter to Bold Talent talking about parading elders in dunce caps across public squares, Noble Talents asks, “Is this what revolution means?” What did revolution mean to Lustrous Jade?

17. How did you feel when Bold Talent, Lustrous Jade and Resolute Spirit left Bold Talent’s body behind in order to smuggle Lustrous Jade and Resolute Spirit to safety?

18. How did the women of the Chang family change throughout the years?

Other Resources

Lit Lovers’ Discussion Questions
Interview with Bette Bao Lord
Video interview with Bette Bao Lord

If you liked Spring Moon, try…

Cover of Twentieth WifeCover of Snowflower and the Secret Fan Cover of The Bathing Women

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
The Bathing Women by Tie Ning

More...