#Bookhour is an open forum twitter discussion between scholars and the public that takes place the last Tuesday of the month.
Every month U.S. Studies Online hosts a 90 minute book discussion on twitter based on a selected title. This title may be a new release that is generating interest or an American classic that has been re-released in a new edition or is fast approaching an important milestone anniversary. Each discussion is guided by questions submitted by a team of scholars beforehand.
#Bookhour is an opportunity to share thoughts and reflections on the text in question and connect with other scholars and readers. Anyone is welcome to join the chat. Get in touch with Christina at Christina.Brennan[at]postgrad.manchester.ac.uk if you would like to take part in #bookhour
OUR NEXT #BOOKHOUR
Our next #bookhour will be on Tuesday 30th May from 8:30-10pm (UK time) on Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award for Science Fiction, Whitehead’s genre-bending novel follows Cora, a teenage slave seeking freedom through the underground railroad, which Whitehead turns into a literal, steampunk subway system, rather than the actual network of safe houses and routes. This is not Whitehead’s only departure from historical fact: the novel thrives on troubling the boundary between history and narrative, on interrogating different accounts of the past, and the stories we tell about it.
Michael Docherty (@maybeavalon) is a PhD student at the University of Kent’s Centre for American Studies, researching literary reconstitutions of ‘the frontier’ in depictions of mid-20th century Los Angeles. Other research interests including the contemporary American novel, metafiction, and the sociocultural history of rhythm and blues music.
Dr Christopher Lloyd (@clloyd9) is a Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Hertfordshire. He is the author of Rooting Memory, Rooting Place: Regionalism in he Twenty-First-Century American South, journal special issues on American Exceptionalism and the 21st-Century Southern Novel, and essays on Hurricane Katrina, the Southern Gothic, Corporeality and Cultural Memory.
Dr Rachel Sykes (@rachelizasykes) is Lecturer in Contemporary American Literature at the University of Birmingham. Her first book, The Quiet Contemporary American Novel, is forthcoming with Manchester University Press and she has recent articles in Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, C21 Literature: Journal of 21st Century Writings, and Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society.
Dr Diletta De Cristofaro (@tedilta) is a Lecturer in English at De Montfort University, Leicester. Her research takes place at the intersection of literary studies and philosophy to interrogate the way in which contemporary narratives play a key role in our construction of time and history. She is working on her first monograph on the contemporary post-apocalyptic novel and has published on Jim Crace, Cormac McCarthy and the Anthropocene. She is the Vice-Chair of the Contemporary Studies Network.
- What are the effects of Whitehead choosing to make the Underground Railroad a ‘literal’ one in the novel?
- How does the novel’s representation of slavery connect to other cultural representations of this past (e.g. like museums, films, etc)?
- Whitehead makes frequent use of historical material in the book, be it the incorporation of real advertisements for escaped slaves, or the use of slave narratives as the basis of certain scenes. Is there anything potentially problematic about Whitehead’s repurposing of such factual testimonies for fictional ends?
- The Underground Railroad sits uneasily between genres: even its own publisher’s website lists it as both ‘literary fiction’ and ‘historical fiction’, while it has recently been nominated for a major science-fiction prize – the Arthur C. Clarke Award. How, if at all, should we thus attempt to categorise The Underground Railroad and what are the stakes of its engagement with the terms of multiple genres?
- In her review of The Underground Railroad, novelist Brit Bennett calls Whitehead’s use of narrative voice ‘chameleonic and distant’. How would you describe it?
- How does Whitehead deal with the ‘unrepresentability’ of slavery, trauma, and violence? How does he represent embodiment under and out of slavery?
THE #BOOKHOUR TEAM
A team of literature scholars organise #bookhour each month. Founded by Michelle Green, the bookhour team is now led by Christina Brennan and includes Donna Maria Alexander, Diletta De Cristofaro and Sam Cutting.
Christina Brennan (@cmbrennan_) is a PhD in the division of English Literature and American Studies at the University of Manchester, UK. Her thesis examines representations of natural disaster in cities in late twentieth-century and twenty-first-century North American fiction. She previously studied at the University of Leeds and her wider research interests include literature on war, migration and displacement in the United States.
Donna Maria Alexander (@americasstudies) recently completed her PhD thesis on “Chicana Poetics: Genre and Style in Gloria Anzaldúa and Lorna Dee Cervantes.” She completed her research in the School of English and Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies in University College Cork. Her research focuses on contemporary Chicana poetry. Her broader research interests include Chicana/o literature, race and representation in contemporary American literature and television, American gothic, and American women’s writings. She teaches modules on Chicana/o literature, American gothic fiction, research methods and digital skills in University College Cork (UCC). Donna blogs at Américas Studies.
Diletta De Cristofaro (@tedilta) is a Lecturer in English at De Montfort University, Leicester. Her research takes place at the intersection of literary studies and philosophy to interrogate the way in which contemporary narratives play a key role in our construction of time and history. She is working on her first monograph on the contemporary post-apocalyptic novel and has published on Jim Crace, Cormac McCarthy and the Anthropocene. She is the Vice-Chair of the Contemporary Studies Network.
Sam Cutting (@samcutting) is a PhD student at University of Brighton. His project looks to read the event of digital mediation in the twenty-first century anglophone novel, in conjunction with the ethics of Emmanuel Levinas. His other research interests include the work of Julian Maclaren-Ross and the novels of Graham Greene. He is on the executive committee for the British Association for Contemporary Literary Studies (@BACLS) and he was a teacher in sixth form colleges for 6 years.
PAST #BOOKHOUR ORGANISERS
Michelle Green (@MGnotts) is an AHRC-funded PhD student in the department of American and Canadian Studies at the University of Nottingham, UK and former co-editor of U.S. Studies Online (2014-2016). Her current research examines representations of fatness and “obesity” in late twentieth-century and twenty-first century North American fiction, building on her wider interest in medical moral panics, gender and genre theory, and contemporary Anglo-American writing. She has previously published on writer Margaret Atwood. Michelle is also the web editorial assistant for the British Association for American Studies (BAAS), and the web editor for the European Association for American Studies (EAAS) and the European Journal of American Studies (EJAS).
Joanne Mildenhall (@doneoveroff) is a final year PhD candidate and Associate Tutor at the University of East Anglia. Her thesis looks at ways in which the natural environment influences and defines ideologies in antebellum, and particularly Nineteenth Century, American literature.
Would you like to suggest a title for #bookhour? Get in touch with Christina at christina.brennan[at]postgrad.manchester.ac.uk
Find out more about our next #bookhour here.
PAST #BOOKHOUR DISCUSSIONS
THE MANDIBLES by Lionel Shriver, Tuesday 25th October 2016
October 2016 marked our two year anniversary of #bookhour, and to celebrate this ongoing feature former U.S. Studies Online co-editor Michelle Green hosted a discussion of ‘financial crisis dystopia’ The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver with a panel of US and UK researchers. During the discussion Dr Kirk Boyle, Amy Bride, Sarah McCreedy and Michelle Green discussed Shriver’s depiction of material culture, emotions and capitalism, and to what extent the novel is a dystopia or plays with dystopian tropes. Debates arose around how self-conscious Shriver’s novelistic writing is, and if the novel is a Libertarian Candide or postmodern parody. The panellists ended the discussion by returning to The Mandibles as a neonaturalist novel, and left the chat asking, do the Mandibles achieve their capitalist utopia, and is a capitalist utopia achievable?
BLACK DOVE: MAMA, MI’JO AND ME by Ana Castillo, Tuesday 27th September 2016
On September 27th 2016, #bookhour organiser Donna Alexander, and Jessica Shine, Zalfa Feghali and Aishih Wehbe discussed Black Dove: Mamá, Mi’jo, and Me by Ana Castillo. The dominant theme of their #bookhour chat was motherhood. They considered the centrality of maternity and cross-generational relationships among women in Castillo’s Black Dove, as well as other books in her oeuvre. They also considered the ways in which motherhood is interwoven with identity in terms of race, class, gender and sexuality. Discussion leaders also investigated the role of activism in her writings, the expression of Xicanisma, and how even her choice of small, independent publishers is an act of resistance. The #bookhour closed with a consideration of the memoir genre, how Castillo and other Chicana writers of her generation play with and formally disrupt the memoir genre, Black Dove demonstrates that the act of remembering one’s past goes beyond traditional narrative linearity.
ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW by Nathaniel Rich, Tuesday 30th August 2016
On Tuesday 30th August 2016, Dr Arin Keeble and Dr Lieven Ameel (with questions from Dr Sebastian Groes) joined #bookhour organiser Christina Brennan to discuss Odds Against Tomorrow (2014) by Nathaniel Rich. The discussion explored themes of visibility and time in relation to large-scale environmental decline and climate change. The conversation considered questions relating to ‘slow violence’ and its framing devices in contemporary literary; state complacency in the face of climate change; and the representation of disaster after 9/11. Other themes included questions of individual agency in the aftermath of environmental catastrophe and the ethics of prediction and algorithms in monitoring disaster.
HYSTOPIA by David Means, Tuesday 2nd August 2016
On Tuesday 2nd August 2016, Dr Dorothy Butchard, Dr Ciarán Dowd, Dr Deirdre Flynn, and Dr Dan King joined #bookhour organiser Dr Diletta De Cristofaro to chat about David Means’ Hystopia, in the longlist for the Man Booker Prize 2016. The discussion focused on the form of the novel, both in its postmodern nested narratives and framing devices, and in its various story arcs; on the relationship between alternate history and trauma, as well as on that between individual agency and state intervention; and, finally, on the text’s use of Baudrillardian tropes and its problematic depiction of women.
ZERO K by Don DeLillo, Tuesday 31st May 2016
On Tuesday 31st May, Dr Kasia Boddy, Dr Catherine Gander, Dr Doug Haynes, Dr David Hering, and Professor Mark Osteen joined guest #bookhour organiser Rebecca Harding to discuss Don DeLillo’s Zero K. The discussion explored the way themes from DeLillo’s earlier fiction resurface in the novel, and the effect of this reusing of material. The conversation also focused on the presence of various art forms in the text and DeLillo’s continuing interest in visual art in his work. Questions were also raised about the success of the novel’s narrative techniques, and the role of humour, capital, and political elements in the text.
ON SUCH A FULL SEA by Chang-rae Lee, Tuesday 5th April 2016
On Tuesday 5th April, Dr Andrew Tate, Dr David Bell, Dr Louise Squire and #bookhour organiser Dr Diletta De Cristofaro discussed Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea. The chat focussed on the defamiliarisation produced by the first-person-plural narration, on how the novel negotiates between the collective and the individual, on acts of resistance as well as the notions of utopia and hope within the text, on the narrative’s extrapolation from present circumstances and on what this extrapolation may suggest in terms of current ecological issues.
SIGNS PRECEDING THE END OF THE WORLD by Yuri Herrera, Tuesday 23rd February 2016
February’s #bookhour marked the first of Twitter chat of 2016. Donna Alexander hosted a discussion of Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, translated by Lisa Dillman. She was joined by Dr Francisca Sánchez Ortiz, Dr Laura Smith, and Lisa Dillman. They considered a range of issues including, the myth of emptiness, the allegory of the underworld and how this worked with Mesoamerican mythologies alluded to by Herrera. They also discussed the role of nature, the representation of cultural hybridity, and how the novella engages with the notion of global cities. Developing out of this is a discussion of the significance of location and language in Herrera’s work and how these issues effected Dillman’s approach to translation. The panellists also shared examples of other works of Mexican and Mexican American literature that engage with the border in similar ways to Herrera, sharing ideas from their research and teaching portfolios.
THE HEART GOES LAST by Margaret Atwood, Tuesday 24th November 2015
During November’s #bookhour, Sam Cooper, Terri-Jane Dow, Dr Karma Waltonen, and #bookhour organiser Dr Diletta De Cristofaro discussed Margaret Atwood’s latest dystopia, The Heart Goes Last (2015). The chat considered the satiric aspects of Atwood’s novel, the characters, and the narrative focalisation – elements which sparked debates around the believability of the plot. The discussion also focussed on the notions of utopia and dystopia, on the role of surveillance and desire in the Positron Project, on the economic crisis and the text’s suburban imagery.
PURITY by Jonathan Franzen, Tuesday 27th October 2015
October marked our twelfth #bookhour, and to celebrate the one year anniversary of this feature U.S. Studies Online co-editor Michelle Green hosted a discussion of Purity by “Great American Novelist” Jonathan Franzen with a panel of Franzen experts. During the discussion Dr Kristin J. Jacobson, Dr Daniel Mattingly, Iain Williams, Joanna Wilson and Michelle Green discussed Purity‘s position in the wider trend of ‘big, so-called Dickensian novels’, Franzen’s wide-spanning critique of ideology as shrouding personal and corporate gain, and the noticeable lack of diversity in the novel that is accentuated by its inter-/intra-national context. Debates arose around Franzen’s depiction of feminism, feminist characters and his authorial persona, along with the novel’s intertextuality and the recurring presence of memoir in his later novels. The panellists ended the discussion with thoughts on Purity‘s conclusion, and left the chat asking, does Pip change in the end? Or is she doomed to repeat her parents’ cycle?
THE WATER MUSEUM by Luis Alberto Urrea, Tuesday 29th September 2015
During September’s #bookhour discussion, Dr Gwen Boyle, Dr Laura Smith, Dr Mila Lopez-Paleaz Casellas and #boohour organiser Dr Donna Maria Alexander conversed about The Water Museum by Luis Alberto Urrea. The stories in Alberto’s collection gave way to a discussion about the range of genres and styles evident across the collection, from cli-fi to magical realism, and how these genres and styles reflect on the themes of environmental destruction, borders, loss and disappearance. The topic of disappearance led to a discussion of the representation of male and female characters in the stories, speculating on the relationship between the portrayals and absences of women with the recent femicides in Ciudad Juarez. The #bookhour closed with a consideration of the role of intertextuality in the collection with a particular emphasis on the role of the many film and music references that appear in the stories.
HERLAND by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Tuesday 25th August 2015
During August’s #bookhour discussion Dr. Fran Bigman, Dr. Ben Nichols, Dr. Joanna Freer and #bookhour organiser Joanne Mildenhall chatted about Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “Herland” (1915). The discussion looked at the question of Herland as utopia, considering the roles of the male protagonists and the functions of gender, sexuality, romance and love in the novella. Participants focused on the central concept of motherhood, and questioned whether Gilman’s text could be considered feminist. The discussion also looked at the role of the state and considered the lack of diversity in the book, finally speculating on Gilman’s possible motivations in creating the fictional world of Herland.
STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel, Tuesday 28th July 2015
On Tuesday 28th July, Diletta De Cristofaro discussed Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel with Fran Bigman, Niall Harrison and Dan King. The panel focussed on the contrast between the beauty and violence of the post-apocalyptic world, and whether the novel could be considered a “quiet” post-apocalyptic novel; the structure of the plot and the connections it traces between space and time; the binary “great” art/popular culture – especially in light of the comic Dr Eleven and of the Shakespeare performances – and the lack of creativity of the post-apocalyptic world. The discussion also touched upon the ending of the book, the diversity of the characters and the Museum of Civilization.
GOD HELP THE CHILD by Toni Morrison, Tuesday 30th June 2015
During June’s #bookhour chat U.S. Studies Online co-editor Michelle Green (Nottingham) discussed Toni Morrison’s most recent publication God Help the Child with a panel of Morrison experts from the US and the UK. Together Michelle and Professor Susan N. Mayberry (Alfred), author of the award-winning monograph Can’t I Love What I Criticize? The Masculine and Morrison (2007), Dr. Justine Baillie (Greenwich), author of Toni Morrison and Literary Tradition (2013) and Dr. Leah A. Milne (Indianapolis) discussed how Morrison writes against the ‘white gaze’; embraces a more didactic style in her later fiction; and has learnt to do more with less, as can be seen in the length of God Help the Child. The conversation frequently returned to God Help the Child as a survival manual for the black community and how the representation of money, child abuse and privilege compliments this reading . The panellists ended the chat with thoughts about Rain, the bodily transformation of Bride and God Help the Child‘s intertextual links to Ovid, Metamorphosis and Benjamin Button.
CAPE COD by Henry David Thoreau, Tuesday 26th May 2015
During May’s #bookhour discussion Dr. Ben Pickford, Dr. Michael Collins, Dr. Thomas Ruys Smith and #bookhour organiser Joanne Mildenhall discussed the practical and literary economies of Thoreau’s Cape Cod (1865), the role natural and human histories play in the narrative, and the book’s place in Thoreau’s canon as well as in the larger arena of American literature. Debates arose around Thoreau’s treatment of public and private property in relation to both land and literature, the relevance of historiography in the narrative and the significance of the book’s structure. Comparisons were discussed with the work of Washington Irving, Herman Melville and Sarah Orne Jewett, centering on humour, genre and depictions of the natural environment. The discussion then moved on to the relevance of the book’s environmental and human concerns today, and its significance in Thoreau’s trajectory as an author.
MANANA MEANS HEAVEN by Tim Z. Hernandez, Tuesday 28th April 2015
During April’s #bookhour discussion Dr Niamh Thornton, Dr Nicola Moffat, Eilidh Hall and Dr Donna Maria Alexander discussed the deeper meaning of the narrative and paratextual elements of the novel, the significance of biography in the third person, and how the landscape and cityscape functions alongside the two key characters of Bea Franco and Jack Kerouac. A number of questions arose from the discussion, including the extent to which the novel mediates differing notions of the American Dream in relation to race gender and class, and how the novel can be read as a departure and even a critique Kerouac’s traditional ethnographer stance to authorship and writing. They rounded off the discussion by considering other books that have retold stories of marginal characters in books and history. The discussion leaders were joined by the author, Tim Z. Hernandez who responded to their questions and commentary.
EUPHORIA by Lily King, Tuesday 31st March 2015
During March’s #bookhour discussion Dr. Rachel Sykes, Alice Lilly, Sima Jalal Kamali, Maxine Davies and U.S. Studies Online co-editor Michelle Green debated to what extent Lily King’s Euphoria embraces and moves away from the historical fiction genre through the novel’s structure, context and narrator. They considered the representation of privilege and power dynamics across lines of race, nation, gender and class, and how this is compounded by intellectual exchange and research collaboration throughout the novel. The discussion highlighted several key questions such as, to what extend is this novel “about” history? How can readers interpret the surprising counterfactual endings of the central three characters and the legacy of their scholarship? To what extent does Euphoria offer a powerful rumination on the value of solitude in research while exploring its antithetical relationship with human nature?
AMERICANAH by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Tuesday 24th February 2015
On Tuesday 24th February 2015, 9-10.30pm GMT Dr. Madhu Krishnan (University of Bristol), Dr. Serena Guarracino (University of Naples), Dr. Rachel Sykes (University of Nottingham) and Sima Jalal Kamali (University of Sussex) joined U.S. Studies Online co-editor Michelle Green to discuss AMERICANAH by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
During this 90 minute chat we discussed the representation of “good” and “bad” blackness in the novel, and how this resonates with Adichie’s refusal of the Afropolitan label and Ifem’s “blackless” Nigeria. We debated what the novel loses in prioritising the love story at the close of the narrative, and some of the weaker aspects of the writing, such as Adichie’s representation of success, contemporary media and blogging as a form of social commentary. Finally we ended the discussion with reflections on Americanah’s effortlessly successful heroine, Ifem – how much does femininity help Ifem in America? How do we make sense of her success in relation to Obinze who more fittingly reflects the Afropolitan theme of being “hungry for choice and certainty”? Is the title a critique on her development and her story?
REDEPLOYMENT by Phil Klay, Tuesday 27th January 2015
On Tuesday 27th January 2015, 9-10pm GMT Assistant Professor Aaron DeRosa (California State Polytechnic University), Dr. Peter Molin (Rutgers University) and Associate Professor Patrick Deer (New York University) joined U.S. Studies Online co-editor Michelle Green (University of Nottingham) to discuss REDEPLOYMENT by Phil Klay, the winner of the 2014 National Book Award.
During this hour long discussion we discussed if the canon of war literature now demands a non-fragmentary war narrative that moves towards the novel form; the ambiguity of evoking military language as an exclusionary or inclusionary narrative device, and if this changes over time; and a few limitations of the collection – is Klay’s voice too prevalent? Could Klay have been bolder by including a story from the perspective of a women, a gay officer or an Iraqi or Afghani civilian? Or do we perceive this absence as a limitation due to our own normative expectations of contemporary war fiction?
LET ME BE FRANK WITH YOU by Richard Ford, Monday 29th December 2014
On Monday 29th December 2014, 9-10pm GMT scholars Jennifer Daly (TCD) and Dr. Gillian Groszewski (TCD) joined Co-Editor Michelle Green (University of Nottingham) to discuss the fourth instalment in Richard Ford’s Bascombe series, his 2014 novella Let Me Be Frank With You. Catch up on their conversation here and see how they tackled Ford’s controversial representation of race, place, Hurricane Sandy and Obama’s legacy. Find out what they thought of Frank’s character development (does he develop?), his contradictions (can he really say “place means nothing” now?), and his future (is the last we have seen of Ford’s “uncommon man”?)
LILA by Marilynne Robinson, Tuesday 25th November 2014
In the first ever #bookhour twitter chat Marilynne Robinson scholars Dr. Rachel Sykes (formerly University of Nottingham), Anna Maguire (University of Sussex) and Jenny Daly (TCD) joined U.S. Studies Online Co-Editor Michelle Green (University of Nottingham) to discuss Marilynne Robinson’s latest publication, Lila, the final novel in Robinson’s Gilead trilogy.
What emerged was an insightful and fast-paced discussion in which the group explored the idea of Robinson as the true central character of the series, and to what extent Robinson’s Gilead trilogy can be described as a series of “shared intimacies” with Ames. They rounded on the question, is Lila an American novel, and if so whose “America” is this? How ordinary or extraordinary is Lila and her circumstances? Does Lila include a social reformist message, and does it translate to our era?