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Mark Olival-Bartley studied applied linguistics at Hawaii Pacific University, attaining B.A. and M.A. degrees in Teaching English as a Second Language, and poetry at the City College of New York. He is now writing a dissertation on the sonnets of E. A. Robinson at LMU, where he tutors composition alongside editing flyers on poetry and style. His poems and translations have appeared in journals on both sides of the Atlantic. He is the resident poet at EcoHealth, where his science-themed verse is regularly featured, and a senior copyeditor at Review of International American Studies. He also teaches at Münchner Volkshochschule and leads the Amerikahaus Literaturkreis.


6 July 2016: Amerikahaus Literary Circle

A Discussion of Anne Tyler's A Spool of Blue Thread

1.  As always, let us begin with a general impression:  Did you enjoy the novel?  Why, or why not?

2.  Anne Tyler has made an illustrious career out of plumbing the comedic workings of middle-class families in her native city of Baltimore.  One literary critic has argued that criticizing Tyler for returning to this theme time and again is as myopic as criticizing Shakespeare's sonnets for always comprising fourteen lines of iambic pentameter; others have said that she tills no new ground:  What do you think?

3.  Consider the dramatis personae of the Whitshank family—Junior, Linnie Mae; Red, Abby; Amanda, Hugh; Jeannie, Hugh; Denny; Stem/Douglas, Nora:  Which characters left the greatest impressions on you?  Which relationships between the characters left the greatest impressions on you?  Did your sense of the characters evolve over the course of the novel? 

4.  A stock device in Tyler's literary toolbox is the catalogue of things, which is sometimes rendered in a near monologue chunk of dialogue, as when Abby describes wandering about after the storm on pages 129-130, an effect that serves both to delineate character and vary the usual neutral tone of narration.  Another is that of the singular detail—say of Mozart's Horn Concerto or Denny's String Cheese Incident t-shirt—that comes to reappear in a telltale way at some pivotal point.  What other novelistic devices did you appreciate?

5.  What roles does the color blue have in this story? 

6.  Tyler's prose is admired for it elegance and grace.  Her dialogue has also been noted for its verisimilitude in the way it mimics real, idiomatic speech.  Did you agree with these assessments?

7.  In some ways. the story of the Whitshanks is the realization of an American Dream—through the sheer plod of hard work, one's station in life can be  elevated—yet there are many expressions of class struggle rendered here in each of the family's generations.  What can we say of them?

8.  How effective was the disruption of the chronological narrative?  How did you enjoy the ending?  Were this novel yours, how would you have changed it?

Meetings and Titles for 2016

6 July 2016:  A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
5 October 2016:  The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger 
2 November 2016:  Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
7 December 2016:  The Moons of Jupiter by Alice Munro

Sponsored by the Amerikahaus Verein and Bavarian Center for Transatlantic Relations, the Amerikahaus Literary Circle is a free book club open to the public.  Meetings (usually) take place on the first Wednesday of each month from October through July.  The titles are nominated and voted upon by the members twice a year.  To join the mailing list, contact Mark Olival-Bartley at olivalbartley@gmail.com; to check on the calendar of Amerikahaus events (including the meetings of Literary Circle), visit amerikahaus.de.

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