Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Webcast with Ernest J. Gaines

Our final event ended well, with the live, interactive webcast with Mr. Gaines. Galveston College hosted this event in the Fine Arts Auditorium. The program started at 7 pm and ended at 8:30 pm.

With the help of GC’s IT staff, Dale Harville and Andy Moon, our connection was tested, up and running, well before anyone arrived. Thanks to Michael Berberich for making this event happen at Galveston College and John Gorman for being a ready and willing facilitator! In addition, Ms. Geisu Lewis, Coordinator of Student Activities, and Dr. Phyllis Mingus-Pepin, Vice-President of Academic and General Studies are greatly appreciated for their support.

Leading up to this event, Dr. John Gorman, Dr. Steve Curley, Dr. Dale Taylor and Poom Taylor had the opportunity to interview Mr. Gaines by phone. He alluded to some questions the audience brought up, such as the death penalty and the autobiographical aspects of the book, based on one of the two main characters, Grant Wiggins. Mr. Gaines believes that there’s a little of him in all the characters, and a little of his aunt in the two female characters, Tante Lou and Miss Emma. His aunt, who brought him up, until he was fifteen, was crippled, and one can discern some similarities with the Tante Lou character.

He described the writing process by which he wrote A Lesson before Dying, and then took questions from the audience for half an hour.

There were more than 60 people in attendance, our dedicated Galveston County Reads members, and various community readers who attended some of the previous events or book discussions.

Book Nomination Email~

Please send in your choice for 2009 to:

Voting ends April 25, so start reading and vote!

Choose one of the four books listed, see summaries in previous post:

The four titles nominated are:

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan

Glass Castles: a Memoir by Jeannette Walls

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Gaines Interview on Pelican Island

Literature, the Latin-speaking old timers used to say, is for delight and instruction. Galveston Countians should get plenty of both from Ernest J. Gaines at Galveston College (4015 Ave. Q) on Tuesday night. The author of A Lesson before Dying will be visiting via an interactive videoconference in the auditorium, Fine Arts-207 at 7:00 pm. This high-tech conversation--admission free-- concludes a stimulating season of discussions for Galveston County Reads.
At 75 Gaines is one of the strongest African American presences in American literature. Probably the best-known of his many books is The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. His characters, many white, are mostly black. “We have more in common than in difference,” he says. He proves that in smooth-reading yet sophisticated tales that are never soft or “sentimental.”
To get ready for the face-to-face, three local professors and a staff expert from the Rosenberg Library talked by speaker phone with Mr. Gaines and his wife at their home in Louisiana. What does he want from his readers? “I try to put you in a jungle, in a swamp, with a good machete. I try to let you strive and get out of there the best you can.”
The tangled growth in A Lesson involves family, love, race, justice (or its opposite) and the roles of godmother, preacher and teacher. The time is 1948 in rural Louisiana. A very young man, numbed by the battering he has taken in life, approaches death in the electric chair.
Gaines says that, while he is often asked about capital punishment, it is a structuring tool in his book, not a personal cause. “I was trying to write a novel about two men growing up.” Jefferson, the younger man, will die. Grant, who had paid little attention to Jefferson when he was his pupil at a small plantation school, either will or won’t go deeper into the role of teacher, one he doesn’t entirely want. The double tension draws readers relentlessly.
How does Gaines do this to us? “I write and rewrite and rewrite.” he says. “A friend of Flaubert asked, ‘What did you do yesterday?’ he said, “That comma we were talking about yesterday, I took it out.’ “What did you do this afternoon,” the friend asked. “I put it back in there.”
Though he’ll mention the great French novelist and remark, after his own style is praised, “the Bible is simple that way too,” Gaines wants readers to stay in the time and place of his books. As a young man he went to California, spent 15 years and returned to Louisiana. “The food, the color, the culture, music, our jazz, our blues just everything. You can’t stay away.”
Thanks to A Lesson before Dying, and an interlocking body of other novels and stories we can always go there. We can feel the universal human drama in a perfectly rendered local world. There are too many aspects of Gaines’s book to point to in a short article. Come to Galveston College and meet (electronically, but for real) the man himself.

Short List for 2009!

Galveston County Reads Announces Short List for 2009:

Community invited to vote.

Galveston County Reads announces the short list of candidates for the sixth year of the community wide book club. In the spirit of the electoral process, the voting will be open to the public this year. Copies of the books are available at local public libraries, including Rosenberg Library, and at area bookstores. The committee is a volunteer organization that invites your participation. To cast your vote or become a committee member, please email Karen Stanley at or call 409.763.8854 x119. Voting ends April 25, so start reading and join the discussion.

Following are the book nominations for the 2009 season:
The Glass Castle
By Jeannette Walls
In The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls takes us on a journey of her childhood that begins with setting herself on fire at the age of three while cooking hot dogs on the gas stove and ends with her struggle to create a sane, stable life for herself. Walls expertly develops the characters in the book, slowly revealing bits and parts of their personalities to help the reader understand what drives their bizarre actions. High praise for any novel, but The Glass Castle is a memoir and the characters are the members of the Walls family. As she chronicles the often terrifying events of her childhood, Walls shares intimate glimpses of the family. Fleeing town in the middle of the night so often that no place can ever become “home,” being taught to hold your nose in order to stomach eating rotten ham and barely surviving a ride in the back of a u-haul with the doors flapping open as the parents obliviously ride in the safety of the cab are just a few examples. Many of the images Walls shares are horrifying, yet they are balanced with humor, hope and a belief in the ability of individuals to rise above struggle, adversity and even deprivation to discover who they truly are. The Glass Castle takes the reader to a new understanding of mental illness and homelessness, but also illustrates the power of familial love even in the most dysfunctional setting. Book available in paperback, hardback, Large Type, CD and cassette.

Orxy and Crake
By Margaret Atwood
Reviewers have called Orxy and Crake a work of science fiction that is more like Jonathan Swift than Robert Heinlein because there are no flying cars in this book. Although it is set in the future there are already parallels that can be drawn between the events in the world of this novel and those in the real world today. The narrator, Jimmy, who calls himself Snowman, may be the last human alive. In flashbacks, he tells the reader of the events that lead up to his present circumstances. Margaret Atwood, a talented Canadian author, spins a great narrative that includes genetic engineering, an unknown apocalyptic event and an ending that allows for intriguing speculation. This book is a vast departure from other Galveston County Reads selections and from titles on the list this year. However, it is a masterfully written thriller that has lots of dark humor and endless possibilities for discussion. It is available in hardback, paperback, audio and download. May also have limited availability in Spanish.

Water for Elephants
By Sara Gruen
Water for Elephants is a novel told in flashback by Jacob Jankowski, now in his nineties and spending his days in a nursing home. Jacob takes readers back into the Depression when he was a young man preparing for veterinary exams at Cornell. Jacob receives the sad news of his parents’ demise and finds himself facing a mental breakdown. Jacob flees school and his old life to join the circus where he’s hired to care for the animals. Jacob learns the inner workings of circus life, falls in love, and begins to understand himself a little better in his new and strange surroundings. This is a beautiful and well-written historical novel that will likely touch the reader by the emotional honesty and depth of Jacob. Book available in paperback, hardback, Large Type, CD and Spanish, Aqua Para Elefantes

The Worst Hard Time: The untold story of those who survived the Great American Dust Bowl
By Timothy EganTimothy Egan, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, has brought to life the heartbreak and hardships endured by the families that attempted to eke out a living in the American Great Plains during the extensive drought of the 1930s. Through interviews with survivors and the use of newspaper accounts, journals, and letters written at the time, Egan provides moving portraits of several families struggling to exist while watching their farms blow away. Much of the action is centered around Dalhart, Texas, one of the hardest hit areas in the 400 million acre dust bowl. Egan examines government policies on homesteading, water, and wheat subsidies during the wars as well as farming practices of the times as contributing factors to the disaster, prompting the necessary discussion of water policies that will haunt our near future. Informative, moving, and highly readable, this book is available in hardcover, paperback, audio CD, audio download, MP3 CD, and Kindle book formats.