A Set of Prompts for MAYOR OF THE ROSES & NYTBR 20 April 2008

The sun is shining.

Even better, you do not have to teach today.

A few months ago (Time is a regular galloping chariot these days, especially when one leaves the realm of youth and graduates to the realm of whatever), you asked fab teacher Liza Erpelo if you could post the list of essay prompts she had devised for your collection, Mayor of the Roses. And, of course, you never did get around to posting the essay prompts, as so many things happened to you. To wit: Ying (leukemia), class from hell (still ongoing), not winning this or that writing contest (for which you paid a $30 entry fee), trip to Tel Aviv etc etc

But, today, today is the day when you finally get around to doing it. And here are the prompts:

* * * *

ESSAY Prompts for Marianne Villanueva’s Mayor of the Roses

1) In several of the short stories in Mayor of the Roses by Marianne Villanueva, the narrators were told stories that were meant to be warnings. Identify the “warnings” in each of these stories, and investigate the significance of these messages. What is the importance of storytelling for these narrators? In developing your response, consider such important factors as who tells these stories and delivers these “warnings,” what each of the narrators were warned against, and what each character does with the advice.

2) Even though the main protagonists in Villanueva’s short stories tend to be women, men also play important roles throughout this book. Identify these roles, and in your essay, consider how the men are portrayed as well as the reasons why they are portrayed these ways.

3) In a San Francisco Chronicle book review from 2005, the reviewer wrote, “An appropriate marketing scheme for Bay Area resident Marianne Villanueva’s collection of short stories, Mayor of the Roses, would be to offer a coupon for a cocktail with each copy; you will need something to lift your spirits.” Do you agree with the review? Why or why not? Use specific examples from the short stories to support your claims.

4) The themes of desperation, fragmentation and abandonment echo in many of Villanueva’s short stories — particularly when it comes to “family.” Choose a character whose actions reflect these themes, and describe the significance of this character’s actions. Why does this character behave the way he or she does? How is “family” portrayed or defined for this character? You may use more than one story to develop your response to this question.

5) Throughout the book, the author makes use of a variety of images that may be symbols, things that represent something else. Identify the patterns of images you see and use specific evidence from the text to investigate the significance of those images as symbols. Think about how the symbols influence your interpretation of the novel and determine what the author was trying to convey by means of the symbols.

It occurs to you, looking over these prompts today, that they are genius, just genius, dear blog readers. To Liza and her students, self’s most heartfelt thanks.

And now, to Part Deux of this post, the list of books self is interested in reading after perusing The New York Times Book Review of 20 April 2008:

(1) After reading Valerie Steiker’s review of Susan Nagel’s latest, Marie-Thérese, Child of Terror: The Fate of Marie Antoinette’s Daughter:

Susan Nagel’s Marie-Thérese, Child of Terror: The Fate of Marie Antoinette’s Daughter

(2) After reading Louisa Thomas’ review of Elizabeth Strout’s “novel in stories,” Olive Kittredge:

Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kittredge

(3) After reading Marilyn Stasio’s review of the new mystery by Booker Prize Winner John Banville (writing under the pen name Benjamin Black), The Silver Swan:

Benjamin Black’s first mystery, the Edgar Award Nominee for Best Novel, Christine Falls

(4) After reading Karl Taro Greenfeld’s review of Martha Sherrill’s Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain, about “a legendary breeder of prize-winning Akita dogs” :

Martha Sherrill’s Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain

Self is Alive

Okey dokey, m’lovelies: Self is alive.

Yes, alive — though barely kicking.

After teaching a truly wuuunnerful class, in which one of self’s better students scolded the yahoos who were giggling over Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” (“The grandma is incredibly stupid, we can’t help it, professor!” — It is moments like these that remind self that writing is a truly forlorn business. Not only do you not make any money, but you are forced to teach. So, next year, next year, self promises herself, even if hubby’s start-up goes belly-up and there is no money in the till, she will bite the bullet and — and — beg Dearest Mum for part of the proceeds from the family corporation??? Gulp. Perhaps self prefers teaching, after all)

Anyhoo, self is alive. And she thinks she even has the energy to attend Valerie Miner’s talk on “How I Write,” which begins in approximately one hour, in the basement of Margaret Jacks Hall (Building 460, for those of you who know the Stanford Quad). And self thinks it will be so wonderful to be back on campus, in the heart of that intellectual enclave, where no one giggles over Flannery O’Connor and everyone thinks seriously about literature and writing. Niece, unfortunately, cannot make the talk because she flew home last weekend and is now behind on all her papers.

Self will be sure to have fun, even though she will be by herself (Hubby, of course, never goes to things of this nature)

In the meantime, self is killing time by watching CNN. Earlier they had an interview with Michele Obama and Caroline Kennedy. Now they have “Larry King Live” and he has Michael Moore on, talking about Obama’s candidacy.

Yesterday afternoon, self made it back to decrepit Century 12 theatre on Bayshore, and got to the end of “Street Kings,” though it was very slow going. For one thing — and this is such a shock — Keanu was no longer the absolutely most gorgeous man on the screen. And self must have looked at least 10 times at her watch after one hour. And Forrest Whitaker was chewing the scenery. And Hugh Laurie was completely wasted as an Internal Affairs officer named James Biggs or something that sounded like that. And self doesn’t know why all the reviewers, including Roeper, made such a big deal of Keanu uttering the F word multiple times. To self, it seemed like he only said it every third sentence. And it still didn’t convince her that he was truly bad. Because there’s just something so likeable about Keanu and —

Holy Smoke! It is now time for self to get going or she’ll not be able to make it to Valerie’s talk on time!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

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