Lapham's Quarterly will run discussions on Visit From The Goon Squad and Blood Meridian on Saturday 10th December and on City Of Quartz on Sunday 11th December. Special guests will also take part in the conversations, including Stuart Evers, author of Ten Stories About Smoking who will take part in the Blood Meridian and Visit From The Goon Squad discussions. Whether you love the books or hate them--or haven't had the chance to read them yet--come prepared to talk! Advance topics of conversation on each title can be found below! We have copies of the books and of Ten Stories About Smoking to give away to the first attendees each day.
To reveal the questions for each book hit their title:
VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD
CITY OF QUARTZ
1. "All great works of literature establish a genre or dissolve one," wrote Walter Benjamin in 1929. Blood Meridian blends aspects from various genres--Western, Bildungsroman, historical fiction--and defies our expectations of what each of those forms imply. Is his novel an attempt to establish a new genre or dissolve an old one, or show that you can't reduce all novels to one genre at all?
2. At once Blood Meridian is strikingly unique, unlike any other book, and also epic in a spirit that many have found reminiscent of, among other works, The Odyssey, Moby-Dick, the Bible. What books does it remind you of, either directly or indirectly?
3. What purpose does the gratuitous violence serve over the course of the novel? What is the point of having, say, the judge drop two puppies into a raging river or having babies smashed against a stone wall like watermelons? To what extent does excessive violence in a novel or movie cease to be shocking--and is that sometimes the point?
4. The novel begins with the kid and ostensibly ends with the kid, but for a large part of the middle, he is rarely mentioned, though he is always riding among Glanton's gang. What does his absence do for the novel? How much of the novel ends up being about him?
5. How much of Blood Meridian reads like a skilled artist's attack on his country's national mythology? His descriptions of the West are stunning, exquisite; does this counterweight the America of raping and marauding drunkards who as young men went west?
6. What power do fictional accounts of real history hold to highlight truths about that history that a normal nonfiction book would not hold? Are there any historical novels you feel especially explore an episode or period in history better than history books themselves do?
7. The judge says "War is god" in the middle of the book and at the end, "Only that man who has offered up himself entire to the blood of war, who has been to the floor of the pit and seen horror in the round and the learned at last that it speaks to his inmost heart, only that man can dance." Implicit in the judge's actions and his sermons is that war purifies, that man in his essence is a fighter. In this, he sounds like Kurtz in Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness. Does Blood Meridian, on its own terms, legitimize the judge's views?
8. What, for you, are the most memorable passages from the book, the ones that stick out for any reason? A scene, a sentence that you feel you will not easily forget? Do we all have different images burned into our minds, or are there a few that for some measure of poignance and placement appear most often among us?
1. Okay, let's get it out of the way and talk about the PowerPoint chapter. Thoughts? Approval? Disapproval?
2. The novel's two epigraphs both come from Proust's In Search of Lost Time--one about the power of memory and the other about the "unknown element in the lives of other people." It seems that these are the two fields of Jennifer Egan's exploration in Goon Squad. What do you take away on those themes after reading the book?
3. Reviews of Goon Squad have suggested it is neither a novel nor a collection of short stories. How would you characterize this book? Does its non-linear, episodic structure create an atmosphere for you? Does it work in the service of Egan's explorations?
4. Egan attempts to bring you into fairly deep emotional connections with characters in very short spans of time, sometimes just a few pages. How would you measure her success rate? Do you have a favorite character/chapter?
5. Voices and tenses shift chapter by chapter; the second person is even employed in one instance. Do these shifts work to highlight the kaleidoscope of experience and perspective Egan is trying to share? Have there been any stories written in the second person that you've ever liked?
6. How would you define the role of music in Goon Squad, perhaps the book's only central character?
7. Early on, Bennie Salazar laments the disappearance of tape from the recording process. The debate over digital or analog recording has literally been going on for decades at this point. Do you think it will continue, or are we on the verge of submitting completely to our computer overlords?
8. In the middle of the book we meet Bosco, former member of The Conduits, the band through whom Bennie and Sasha met. At what he thinks is the end of his life, he wants to go on one last tour that will so punish his decaying body he will most likely die in the process. This likelihood will be publicized--in fact, he'll call the tour The Suicide Tour--and the attraction will be the uncertainty of when it will occur. Bosco pictures the desire to be there when it does happen fueling reality-TV obsessed crowds to flock to his shows and turn his suicide into a fantastic circus. Ever since the executives in Network plotted assassinating Howard Beale on television, spectacles of this sort have not seemed too distant from the realm of possibility; how close do you think we are now?
1. According to Davis, Los Angeles is a landscape without a past, a place without the patina of age. But this lack of a past, inhabited by restless and nomadic writers and intellectuals (Adorno, West, Didion, Fitzgerald) has become an iconic element of the city's very history. Is it fair to say LA is still that landscape without a past? How long does it take for a city to mature into a lasting metropolis?
2. The cityscape of LA is characterized as a place where talents are "prostituted," "wasted" or irrevocably "damaged." What is the difference between this kind of city, and one where somebody goes to make it "legitimately" like New York?
3. Spend any appreciable time in Los Angeles, particularly around the movie/TV business, and you'll find that most people you meet are from somewhere else, and that the city they sought out is one that existed for them largely in fantasy and imagination. In fulfilling that search, they become part of a constant cycle in which the myth of LA is forever recreated by those who seek it out. What, then, makes a city? The city dwellers, or the place itself?
4. Bertolt Brecht described LA as simultaneously "too pleasant to work in" and " a hell of Shelleyan proportions." Is this the essence of Los Angeles as a noir city? What makes a city noir? Do we have any noir landscapes in the twenty-first century?
5. "Real and false were fused here so perfectly that they became a new substance, just as copper and zine become brass that looks like gold. It mean nothing that Hollywood was filled with great musicians, poets, and philosophers, It was also filled with spiritualists, religious nuts, and swindlers. It devoured everyone, and whomever was unable to save himself in time would loose his identity, whether he though so himself or not." Erich Maria Remarque, Shadows in Paradise (pg 50) Does the presence of hucksters (spiritualists, religious nuts, and swindlers) always undermine the presence of "art" (musicians, poets, and philosophers), or do they make city life rich with contrast? Is art able to exist in a city like Los Angeles, one without the public places and street life like London or Paris?
6. Davis describes a city that is fortress-like, constantly under surveillance. Do you feel more policed in your city today, more than ten or even twenty years ago? Or have we begun to police ourselves, constantly announcing our presence and intentions to each other through social media?
7. Davis' "excavation" of Los Angeles is reflective of a late 80s, early 90s sensibility: a time of booming real estate, inner-city race wars, huge homeless populations, and the sequestered comfort of the suburbs. Which cities today uniquely reflect the problems of the 2010s?
8. In the early 90s, encampment was primarily the act of the homeless in cities like LA and NYC, but the act of encampment has recently been politicized by the Occupy movement as an action by the unemployed, sometimes even the affluent, as an act of protest. Does this reflect an attitude shift toward public space over the past ten or twenty years?