Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Week Five: Girl in Landscape, An Outsider’s Point of View

Jonathan Lethem’s Girl in Landscape is a difficult novel to define as each page brings questions of uncertainty.  My reading experience was something along the lines of comfortable discomfort.  Throughout the story, I hesitated to believe the truth behind any event; the author constantly forced us into inquiries such as, “Is this really happening to Pella or is she dreaming?” and “Is this normal behavior among the Archbuilders?”  As Pella drifted off into her reveries or her deer state of mind, she herself was unsure whether her experiences were real or imagined.  The entire novel was in a setting that no reader can relate to: first futuristic Brooklyn and then a different planet entirely.  The author still incorporated relatable elements through his characterization and tragedies (Caitlin’s death, for example), but even then the story plays out in an unfamiliar way.  When Pella’s mother collapsed in the bathroom, her son continued to watch television like nothing had happened.  Of course, one could argue he was in denial of a tragic event, but because the setting is a pre-determined unknown environment, as readers we must ask ourselves: has the craze with TV and media become this sick in a futuristic world?  I believe Lethem wanted to create something fresh – a twist on the typical genre.  Thus, I sort of dived into the reading with the notion that nothing should be expected.  He introduced us to a world that could potentially make sense if we were raised in it.  However, Pella was an outsider and her observations and ideas regarding the new culture became our own.

However much the novel led me to confusion, I found it very refreshing.  Many authors pull from their past and their surroundings to create a story for the reader to curl up in and become part of.  Jonathan Lethem has created a story for the reader to watch curiously from the sidelines.  I think that every novel has to be relatable in some way, however miniscule, and Lethem achieved this by handing his audience the same position as his main character.  Pella has stepped blindly into a new land, only knowing what her mother has informed her (which, of course, we’ve been informed as well).  I think the defining aspects, then, are not the events that actually take place, because their validity is always in question, but instead Pella’s reactions to these events.  This embraces her coming-of-age and learning from unfamiliar experiences and this is something everyone can relate to.  If we were reading Girl In Landscape through the eyes of an Archbuilder, I think we’d be completely lost.  But we read it as Pella, an outsider, and find it relatable in this way. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Group Discussion 9/10/13: Genre

What is genre?

A "genre" is a category that defines literature, throughout which contains recurring characteristics of character, setting, theme, and the like.  A genre is highly visual or based on imagery, especially in film.  For example, a western film would not be much of a “western” if the setting was in a spaceship and the characters dressed like astronauts.  It encompasses literature, as all novels fall into a certain genre. 

Genre is certainly strongly dependent on the physical attributes.  Authors may have a certain “style”, but they can incorporate this style in multiple genres.  J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter is obviously fantasy, but if the physical parts were different (different characters, setting, and the like), then it would be classified into another genre.  In fact, she is currently writing detective stories; her style is not genre-specific.

What is the purpose of a genre?

It’s very money-driven.  Writers know what to include to draw people in.  People stereotype genres and this creates a strong attitude on which stereotypes are “better”.  It often could be considered a marketing strategy.  If moviemakers notice a strong draw to a particular genre, they’ll most likely make more just like it. 

How are characters defined differently in genre pieces?

It has to do with the physical aspects of the character (their appearance) as well as their motives and behavior.  They have to be pre-defined, though.  If the characters in Harry Potter were not defined as “wizards” or “witches” by the author herself, we may not classify it as a fantasy novel.  Characters remain the same throughout literature because traits from characters in prior novels are incorporated into new works.  In other words, the personality of a genre-specific character is built upon over time but still contains within him or her a strong "type".

What defines the genre of the novels we read?

A film or book can have more than one genre, but there is generally a prevailing genre.  Genre, in a way, becomes an ingredient for literature.  Authors pull from several genres and mix them together, but there should be a strong “set of rules” to help the reader experience the story.  If the author doesn’t clearly define what they hope their story to be, it may be confusing to the reader.

How does genre evolve?

Genre develops based on real world events.  American technology and lifestyle have changed dramatically over the years and you can see this transformation in film and literature.  Especially in romance for example, the roles of men and women have changed based on new equality of men and women.  Video games have become popular, thus Wreck It Ralph was recently made, and certainly wouldn’t have been made in the past.  Also, genres have evolved by mixing with each other.  Romantic comedy has become a genre in itself because both love and laughter are key components throughout.

What is the difference between literature and genre?

Literature seems to have come first - authors wrote what they wanted to write and in the past, several books were just “books”.  They weren't separated in book stores, but instead they were all simply considered "literature".  But readers started to classify them into categories.  Audiences choose the aspects of novels they like and they began to fall into categories.  Writers, in turn, see this categorization and now use it as a marketing strategy.

Genres are strongly dependent on aspects of our own personalities.  Books have unique flavor when the stories are pulled from things the author has experienced.  Novels also depend on our own personalities, as we connect to books that are comfortable and relatable.  

-Brenna, Megan, Garrett, Maurice

Week Four: Agatha Christie's "Partners in Crime" 1920s Radio Style

Partners in Crime

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Week Three: The Act of Reading a Comic Strip

For this week’s assignment I chose to read Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie.  Having never read a collection of comic strips such as this, I wasn’t sure what to expect and was actually surprised to find not a flowing story, but instead a series of short scenes.  I felt that the act of reading a comic strip more closely paralleled watching a weekly television series than reading a novel.  Like a TV show, all you obtain from a comic strip such as Little Orphan Annie is dialogue and visuals; there is no narration or description or thought.  Yes, Annie has many soliloquies and monologues, particularly when she’s expressing her opinions of people or questioning peculiar happenings, but the reader rarely gets insight to her deeper thoughts or the opinions of those around her.  She had to endure so many tragedies, but when she had something taken away from her, when she was fooled by her guardians, when she was sent back to the home when the guardians didn’t want her anymore – she always put on a smile and claimed to be lucky for what she had, forcing herself to keep a positive attitude.  However, these were words she spoke aloud to herself.    As a reader, how do we know she’s not secretly feeling anger or remorse underneath false convincing?  We don’t – we only know the limited information that a comic strip is able to convey.

There are many factors that assist the dialogue in telling the story.  For example, when Annie was beating someone up (which was strangely cavalier, even for a girl growing up without steady guardianship), or when disasters occurred, onomatopoeia helped give a better sense of the emotion or environment.  And in the rare occasions when Annie did cry over her adversities, “sniff sniff” or “boo hoo” were the only reasons we knew she was crying.  That’s one advantage a television show has over a comic strip: still images can’t convey much action.

Another reason that the act of reading a comic strip is like watching a television series is that they both typically follow an actual calendar.  For instance, Christmas in Annie’s world echoes Christmas in reality.  What’s more, the time period plays a huge factor in the overriding story.   Money was one of the major themes in Harold Gray’s writing, which presented much conflict in conjunction with The Great Depression.  A reader gets the chance to see the world he or she knows through someone else's eyes.

Finally, one of the biggest differences in reading a comic strip is the lack of a set climax and resolution.  It’s just a series of short scenes that jump through life spontaneously, which mirrors the way the work was written.  I think it’s safe to assume that Gray did not plan the entire plot prior to writing.  This yields less expectation; like life, the story continues with no particular focus.  Fate jumps in whenever it pleases and the author has a lot more freedom in plot twists.   In this way, a comic strip allows for the reader to develop a strong connection between his or her life and the life of the characters.  The act of reading a comic strip leads to a strong relationship between the life inside and outside of the fantasy world.