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Inaugural Weird Book Club May 7th!

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message 1: by Read (new)

Read Weird (readweird) | 6 comments Mod
Join us here on Saturday, May 7th at 1 PM EDT for our inaugural Weird Book Club! We'll discuss Helen Oyeyemi's short story collection What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours!

Come prepared to discuss with your thoughts, questions, and critiques. Have a topic you'd like to see covered in our discussion? Tweet it to us @readingweird using the hashtag #weirdbookclub.


message 2: by Read (new)

Read Weird (readweird) | 6 comments Mod
We'll be starting our Weird Book Club discussion of Helen Oyeyemi's What Is Not Your Is Not Yours right here in about 45 minutes!


message 3: by Read (last edited May 07, 2016 10:03AM) (new)

Read Weird (readweird) | 6 comments Mod
Hi there, we're going to jump into our discussion of What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours now!

First of all, we wanted to frame this discussion in terms of weirdness. What makes this collection weird, or not? Why is it weird, and how does Helen Oyeyemi achieve weirdness in What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours?

To start this conversation off, we had a few questions or observations about the particular weirdness of this book. Feel free to respond to these questions, or jump in with your own questions or comments about What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours.

1. Many of the stories in this collection don’t have conventional endings--they end without clear resolution, or in a moment of anti-climax. What effect does this have, either for you as a reader or on the collection as a whole?

2. There are several recurring characters in these stories. How do you feel about these interconnected stories? Does this change how you look at the collection as a whole?

3. In a lot of the interviews Helen Oyeyemi’s done for this book, she’s been asked about the way keys are functioning as a symbol in these stories. What do you make of the role of keys? What other recurring themes do you notice?

4. Most of these stories are fairly linear in terms of their progression, but a couple are not. How is Oyeyemi handling structure? We were thinking especially of “is your blood as red as this?”, but “books and roses” is also structured in a non-linear way, to some extent.

5. We were interested in the way Oyeyemi is playing with form in this story--including epistolary elements (like in “books and roses” and “a brief history of the homely wench society”) or the bullet pointed list that end “sorry doesn’t sweeten her tea”. Did you notice other elements of formal experimentation here? What do you make of these instances?



message 4: by Lindsay (new)

Lindsay | 18 comments I keep thinking about the structure of "is your blood as red as this?," which strikes me as particularly weird. I think this relates to some of the general weirdness in the collection, where the titles of the stories aren't necessarily 100% or clearly connected to the content of the stories. "books and roses" is a pretty straightforward title, but "is your blood as red as this?" doesn't seem to play by those same rules. Especially not when the story is broken into two parts in what appears to be an "answer" to the question: "no" and "yes." what's going on here?


message 5: by Carlea (new)

Carlea | 20 comments Lindsay, I'm really intrigued by the connection you're making between the structural weirdness and the apparent obscurity of the titles. I feel like there's a lot I don't quite understand in this collection -- almost as if there's an inside joke, or something going on just outside my peripheral vision. It's strangely inscrutable to me in some places -- which isn't a bad thing, but there's definitely something slippery about this collection, or hard to pin down.


message 6: by Carlea (new)

Carlea | 20 comments One of the things I find so intriguing about this collection is the way it resists conventional endings. Oyeyemi seems almost determined not to give us what we're looking for. But at the same time, because so many of these stories are interconnected, we get to see the wider life of these characters beyond the scope of just one story, which I think challenges what really counts as "resolution" and also what counts as an individual "story". Is this a short story collection, or a novel in stories? It's not entirely clear to me. Formally, it doesn't seem as tightly interconnected as something like Jennifer Egan's "Visit From the Goon Squad" or Yoko Ogawa's "Revenge," but it's also not an entirely disconnected set of stories. Where do you draw the line? I'm not quite sure.


message 7: by Lindsay (new)

Lindsay | 18 comments Carlea wrote: "Lindsay, I'm really intrigued by the connection you're making between the structural weirdness and the apparent obscurity of the titles. I feel like there's a lot I don't quite understand in this c..."
Yes, that's exactly right! In some ways, the slipperiness is exactly what makes this collection work. The stories in this collection take place in a bizarre world, so slipperiness might be a way of letting people in (even though that seems counter intuitive. I'm thinking, for instance, of Kathryn Davis' Duplex). In other ways, I want more.


message 8: by Carlea (new)

Carlea | 20 comments Lindsay wrote: "Carlea wrote: "Lindsay, I'm really intrigued by the connection you're making between the structural weirdness and the apparent obscurity of the titles. I feel like there's a lot I don't quite under..."

The phrase "bizarre world" makes me think that maybe that's another way of thinking about the interconnectedness of these stories. While some of these stories are clearly connected through shared characters, others are not. But maybe it's less of a set of interconnected stories and more a set of stories that take place in a shared universe. That is, the characters in "books and roses" exist in the same world as those in, say, "presence," even though we don't see a direct connection. Certainly all these stories seem to share the same set of sensibilities and the same kind of oddness seems to permeate them all.


message 9: by Lindsay (new)

Lindsay | 18 comments Carlea wrote: "One of the things I find so intriguing about this collection is the way it resists conventional endings. Oyeyemi seems almost determined not to give us what we're looking for. But at the same time,..."
In preparation for this book club, I detailed a sort of story web in order to establish connectivity. There are nine stories total in this book, but 4 out of the 9 are completely unconnected to the 5 interconnected stories. Before this, I had never read a partially interconnected story collection, and it's kind of weird. I wasn't sure whether I needed the same characters to be at play in other stories. For instance, I'm not sure I needed to know in "presence," for instance, that Radha and Myrna essentially get a "happily ever after" to their story ("is your blood as red as this?")


message 10: by Carlea (new)

Carlea | 20 comments Lindsay wrote: "Carlea wrote: "Lindsay, I'm really intrigued by the connection you're making between the structural weirdness and the apparent obscurity of the titles. I feel like there's a lot I don't quite under..."

Also, I don't think that's counter-intuitive at all. Some of that slipperiness opens up space for possibilities. It is inviting, in that it leaves for the reader's imagination, or curiosity, or wonder. But it's also unsatisfying somehow. What I can't work out is whether it's unsatisfying because something is truly missing that would make it a "good" story, or if it's just that I feel disoriented because Oyeyemi is disrupting my conventional expectations about how a story "should" behave.


message 11: by Lindsay (new)

Lindsay | 18 comments Carlea wrote: "Lindsay wrote: "Carlea wrote: "Lindsay, I'm really intrigued by the connection you're making between the structural weirdness and the apparent obscurity of the titles. I feel like there's a lot I d..."

I think it's true that a lot of these stories can exist in a shared universe. The only one that felt really and truly separate to me, I think, was "drownings." That story seemed to be connected in terms of sensibilities, but something about it seemed... different.


message 12: by Carlea (new)

Carlea | 20 comments Lindsay wrote: "Carlea wrote: "One of the things I find so intriguing about this collection is the way it resists conventional endings. Oyeyemi seems almost determined not to give us what we're looking for. But at..."

That particular example is one I was really happy about. I spent a lot of the time reading "is your blood as red as this" feel kind of . . . nervous, I guess I would say? It really seemed like something terrible was going to happen to those characters, and to know things worked out well for them (apparently) was kind of a relief. I had a very tender response to that detail. But as to whether it added anything to "presence" -- yeah, that I'm not as sure of.

Maybe in some sense, in the context of an interconnected collection, it becomes less a question of how those connections affect the individual stories, and more how they affect the overall ecology of the collection, if that makes sense.

(Also, of course you made a story web! That's awesome!)


message 13: by Lindsay (new)

Lindsay | 18 comments Carlea wrote: "Lindsay wrote: "Carlea wrote: "Lindsay, I'm really intrigued by the connection you're making between the structural weirdness and the apparent obscurity of the titles. I feel like there's a lot I d..."

YES! Is it unsatisfying because I as a human would like the gratification of a tidy ending, or is it satisfyingly unsatisfying because I as a reader would like things to be slightly messier?


message 14: by Carlea (new)

Carlea | 20 comments Lindsay wrote: "Carlea wrote: "Lindsay wrote: "Carlea wrote: "Lindsay, I'm really intrigued by the connection you're making between the structural weirdness and the apparent obscurity of the titles. I feel like th..."

Exactly! I actually tend to dislike endings that are too tidy. And I think with some of these stories, it really raises questions about what is at the heart of a story. Since the ending tends to teach us how to make meaning in it, if the ending seems anti-climactic, sometimes I think that's because what I thought was at the heart of the story and what is actually at the heart of the story are not the same thing. A lot of times the really satisfying open-ended endings are the ones that surprise me in that sense -- that give me a new understanding of what's really at issue at the heart of the story.


message 15: by Lindsay (new)

Lindsay | 18 comments Carlea wrote: "Lindsay wrote: "Carlea wrote: "One of the things I find so intriguing about this collection is the way it resists conventional endings. Oyeyemi seems almost determined not to give us what we're loo..."

That's a really good point, and one that kind of also explodes the notion of what a short story does. "presence" was satisfying in part because it gave us resolution to a story that was DEFINITELY very nervous-making. So can a story exist to give us resolution to another story? That's kind of a weird idea, and one I'll have to ponder some more


message 16: by Lindsay (new)

Lindsay | 18 comments Carlea wrote: "Lindsay wrote: "Carlea wrote: "Lindsay wrote: "Carlea wrote: "Lindsay, I'm really intrigued by the connection you're making between the structural weirdness and the apparent obscurity of the titles..."

Ooh, I like this idea that an anti-climactic ending might mean that we've been looking for a story's heart in the wrong place. I feel like that applies to "'sorry' doesn't sweeten her tea," where the ending of the story is literally written in bullet points. In certain circumstances, this might appear to be lazy, but I kind of dig it here.


message 17: by Lindsay (new)

Lindsay | 18 comments Read wrote: "Hi there, we're going to jump into our discussion of What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours now!

First of all, we wanted to frame this discussion in terms of weirdness. What makes this collection weird, o..."


Totally unrelated to any question, but I love Dornicka's hip lump more with every passing day. Just the right amount of gross out for me.


message 18: by Carlea (new)

Carlea | 20 comments Lindsay wrote: "That's a really good point, and one that kind of also explodes the notion of what a short story does . . ."

Yeah, I don't know if I have a good answer to this. On one level, I'm skeptical of the idea that one story should just exist to respond to another story. But on the other hand, isn't that what so many of the fairy tell retellings do? Don't many of them stand up better if you know the original, and can see how the author is changing and challenging things? I feel like there's a rich tradition of authors writing in response to other writers. A great example of this, I think, is that J.G. Ballard story "The Assassination of JFK Considered as a Downhill Motor Race," which is so intensely referential to the Alfred Jarry story "The Crucifixion of Christ Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race". Does Ballard's story stand up on its own? Can it possibly? Or do we have to judge it as part of a literary conversation, rather than by its own merits as a work of fiction?


message 19: by Carlea (new)

Carlea | 20 comments Lindsay wrote: "Ooh, I like this idea that an anti-climactic ending might mean ..."

Yeah, me too! I think a lot of times when open endings feel cheap, it's because they've simply stopped before the resolution. But when they're really good and dense, it's because they've complicated the story in some way, or enriched my understanding of what's really at issue in the piece.


message 20: by Carlea (new)

Carlea | 20 comments Lindsay wrote: "Totally unrelated to any question, but I love Dornicka's hip lump"

Dornicka's hip lump is one of the most terrifying things in this entire collection. It really freaked me out! There's something so intensely sinister about it -- the way the girl can smell it, and just the sense of the inevitable, that something terribly wrong is going to happen because of it. It's the weird version of Chekhov's gun -- it's there on the mantelpiece, and you just know something bad is coming.

But then the story swerves in this totally unexpected direction. The resolution of that story is really kind of brilliant, because it feels inevitable once you get there, but I absolutely didn't see it coming.


message 21: by Carlea (new)

Carlea | 20 comments Lindsay wrote: "I think it's true that a lot of these stories can exist in a shared universe . . ."

I agree that "drownings" was one of the stories that was more difficult to reconcile with the others for me. Whereas with a story like "books and roses", it seems possible that the magic could be what unites the stories, in "drownings", it's more the . . . fable-like element, or the macabre lightness of it. It's one of the least fantastical of the stories in the collection, I think, but I think what keeps it in conversation with the others is Oyeyemi's voice.


message 22: by Lindsay (new)

Lindsay | 18 comments Carlea wrote: Dornicka's hip lump is one of the most terrifying things in this entire collection. It really freaked me out! The..."

The ending DOES totally feel inevitable! This story also goes along with the idea of fairytale retellings & your example of Ballard's story--"Dornicka..." stands on its own, but is also enriched by our knowledge of Little Red Riding Hood. "Dornicka..." introduces several new ideas, though; I especially loved the idea that Little Red Riding Hood is a story that gets repeated, and that "Dornicka..." is just at the beginning of the wolf's reincarnation. That was one of those moments that, as a writer, I was really jealous of.


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