Sunday, March 06, 2011

True Stories: a Reading List

I'm teaching a 200-level Contemporary Literature course next semester, which I've taught 3 or 4 times already, and I'm thinking I want to switch it up a bit. Instead of roughly following a "greatest hits of postmodernism" kind of thing, I'm going with the theme "True Stories" focusing on literature of the last 50 years that focus on purportedly true stories that, in their execution, raise issues about the instabilities and the uses of the true, either in terms of life-writing or of history (or, frequently, the intersection of all those things). I haven't quite set my list yet, but I'm looking for other suggestions to add to the list as well. Some possibilities include:

  • David Foster Wallace's essay "E Unibus Pluram"
  • Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
  • Jeannette Winterson, Oranges are not the Only Fruit
  • Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior
  • Doug Wright, I Am My Own Wife
  • Rita Dove, Museum
  • Suzan-Lori Parks, Venus
  • Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis
  • Tom Stoppard, Arcadia
  • Tim OBrien, The Things They Carried
  • Art Spiegelman, Maus
  • Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
  • Robin Soans, Talking to Terrorists
This list is already too big, and I have some ideas of which texts to cut, and why, but I'm looking for a great text to act as an exclamation point on the semester, a "good read" that raises interesting questions at a point in the semester when many of those questions have already been raised, and when students are also overwhelmed with end-of-the semester work.

So, my friends, if you have any advice on good texts to add to the list (particularly the very contemporary), or experience teaching any of these texts to a broad swath of students, from gen. ed. students to senior English majors, I'm all ears.


Tom said...

I'd leave off the Eggers as too long, and not enough interesting as History, but one might disagree. J G Ballard's Empire of the Sun is great and terrible (like Oz), and would add another British title. Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan (also great and terrible, in a different way) has a fascinatingly complex and difficult autobiography/fiction dynamic, and would be a third graphic work. But it's a very difficult read. Joanna Russ, The Female Man???

Sisyphus said...

_Everything Is Illuminated_ (the book version, haven't seen the movie) is explicitly (maybe infuritatingly) self-conscious and pomo and all about the idea of a supposedly true story being brought into question. But I really loathed it while I was reading it.

Older and more off the beaten path, _The Mixquiahuala Letters_ by Ana Castillo is a series of letters written back and forth between two Chicana women as they travel through Mexico and the US. Castillo claimed her book was inspired by Cortazar's _Hopscotch_ and there are instructions, or maybe a "recipe," for what order to read them in. If you read them (they are selections) in the orders given, it's kind of like a choose-your-own adventure novel, in that stuff happens in different orders and not all of it happens. Plus, it is on the shorter side. And all about Latina sexuality! A nice addition to your list.

Other peeps in my department loved _Canícula: Snapshots of a Girlhood en la Frontera_, which I guess has a lot of lies and contradictions between the text and the photos in the story, but I haven't read it.

For pomo history and Asian American lit, you'd have to go with Theresa Cha's _Dictee_, but damn is it weird and hard. Like watching a 1969 avant-garde film (which it is partly based on) or a novelle roman (also based on) or psychoanalytic theory (yep, also based on).

I could come up with even more, if you like! Watch out! Wheeee!

Dr. Koshary said...

Perhaps a bit older than you want, but a reasonably accessible (if upsetting) text is In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I remember reading that my freshman year of college, and it stimulated at least a little interesting discussion. In essence, much of the book is Capote taking a couple of cold-blooded murderers at their word for how they came to be such, and as people later pointed out, Capote got really rich from that. You could get some mileage out of getting students to think about what it means to commercialize other people's suffering under the guise of literature. (Apologies if this was too obvious to mention to an English prof!)

natalie said...

Gotta talk to Dave about this one! I'll give him a nudge to comment.

Anonymous said...

don DeLillo Libra

Bardiac said...

The Latehomecomer, by Kao Kalia Yang. It's a family memoir, and well written, smart, and works great for students.