Thursday, December 3, 2009

Reading The Reader

The Alexandria Campus Book Club met on campus for the first time on Thursday 19 November to discuss Bernhard Schlink's The Reader. Discussion focused on Hannah's decision to go to jail rather than admit her inability to read, and a more general discussion on shame in western culture -- especially in matters of educational accomplishment.

Although several book club members also saw the film, no one took a bath at the meeting.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Book Club Date Change!

The Book Club will meet again on campus on Thursday Nov 19th in room 158 at 2pm.

This is a change from an earlier date which conflicted with an author talk on campus the previous week.

This month's selection is Bernhard Schlink's The Reader (also a motion picture with Kate Winslett). Copies of the book are still available in the Library, and a copy of the film is also on Reserve. You are encouraged to come if you have read the book, or seen the film or both!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

It's the Romance and Suspense, stupid!

A multi-disciplinary group of Alexandria Campus faculty* met on Fri 25 September to consider the Teen/ Young Adult phenomenon Twilight. We concluded the combination of romance, suspense, and short sentences plus vampires account for the popularity of an otherwise somewhat unintersting book. And some of us liked the film better.

From Vampires to Nazis...

The Book Club next takes up Bernhard Schlink's The Reader (also a major motion picture!). The Book Club's next meeting will be at 2pm on campus on Thursday 12 November.

* we're not all English profs! Teaching disciplines represented included history, mathematics, biology, economics, physical education, and political science. Plus librarians.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Twilight is a like a vampire... sucks.

So why is the Book Club reading this trashy teen novel? Because teen-agers (and college-aged young adults, and a good many normal adults) are also reading it. What is the appeal of this abstinence-parable (or rape fantasy depending on where you're standing) and why has it sold over 20 million copies? And how did it become a blockbuster movie -- of which which even Peter Travers of Rolling Stone says "The love story has teeth."

(even if some of us thought less love story and more bad vamps would be an improvement):

Stephanie Zacharek of went on to pronounce "If you care about pop culture at all, you owe it to yourself to see Twilight." The Alexandria Campus Book Club, dutifully caring about pop-culture, will discuss Twilight on Friday 25 September. Contact Sylvia Rortvedt for more info.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Allure of Vampires

Why do vampires occupy such recurring and enduring place in our popular culture?

The Sunday Times takes on that question in its review of another vamp pop cult hit, True Blood:

"Vampires are different. Vampire movies transcend their blood-soaked genre in ways that werewolves, mummies and even the misunderstood progeny of Dr Frankenstein can only dream of. Each generation plunders the bloodsuckers’ coffin, pulling out symbols and stories to retell in urgent contemporary narratives that draw in politics, culture and — of course — sexuality.

Vampire stories were created when it was impossible to write about sex openly, so they arrived laden with sexual metaphors,” says the psychologist Andrew Bates. “At the same time, I think they deal with more existential themes: what happens when you die and how it feels to be the outsider. That’s why they’ve survived the opening up of sexuality in art — although they’ve had to face some pretty grim ironic retelling along the way. Today, there’s a huge mainstream interest in the romanticism of longing and losing they represent.”

Except Twighlight is really all about sex (or at least not having it in high school...).

If Stephanie Meyers doesn't strike you as the Emily Bronte of our age, you might return to the literary fountainhead of vampire stories: Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Friday, July 24, 2009


What do the new kid in school, smoldering romance, vampire orphans, chaste teenagers, and supernatural danger have in common? They are the themes explored in Stephanie Meyer's wildly successful debut novel Twighlight.

Why is the Alexandria Campus Book club reading a runaway teen-age/ young-adult romance? Twighlight's wild popularity among NOVA students means that this is what our students are reading. Think of it as competitive intelligence.

Also now a major motion picture. Surely no one would watch the film instead of reading the book -- teen idol cast notwithstanding.

The Book Club meets to discuss Twighlight on 25 Sept 2009.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

It's Aliens!

The Alexandria Campus Book Club wrapped up the year with something new: science fiction short stories by James Tiptree. Tiptree, who was actually McLean resident Alice B Sheldon (she adapted the name from a jam jar:

wrote acclaimed short stories in the 1960s and 70s dealing with issues of gender, society, consciousness and (usually) death, generally in dystopic present or future settings.

A die-hard few Book Group members met on Friday 24 April to discuss the remarkable and strange stories, the remarkable and strange life of the author, and the (to some of us at least) remarkable and strange genre of science fiction.

As the Book Club looks forward to another interesting year of reading and discussion -- we want to hear from YOU, the Alexandria Campus faculty and staff. Please send suggestions for Book Club titles to Sylvia Rortvedt.

When you're not sure how to end a story after an all-nighter on amphetimine high, try aliens!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Was Gertrude Stein a Fascist?

Alexandria Campus faculty came to grips with that question after reading Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice. Although author Janet Malcolm doesn't exhaustively explore Gertrude Stein's political life, she does inform us that Stein was an opponent of Roosevelt, deplored the New Deal, felt that people should take responsibility for their own economic well-being, and was a vocal supporter of Franco in the Spanish Civil War.

Right-wing politics were the way to go among the literary avant garde in mid-century. Stein's near contemporary TS Eliot once described himself as an "Anglo-Catholic in religion, a classicist in literature, and a monarchist in politics." Ezra Pound moved to Italy in the 1930s and was an outspoken supporter of Mussolini. Evelyn Waugh converted to the Catholicism and staunchly supported conservative social and political positions throughout his life (Waugh was convinced, for instance, that Picasso was a hoakster who was taking people in).

Was Stein a fascist? Despite being Jewish, and living in a straightforwardly lesbian relationship with Alice B Toklas, she managed to survive (and indeed prosper) in occupied France throughout WWII.