Reading Together

What if the entire community read the same book at the same time? Read and discuss David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars with people of all ages and walks of life.

Blog

Examining Good Literature

What qualities contribute to a book’s lasting value? Can we predict what will become a classic?

On March 9, Dr. Nicolas S. Witschi of Western Michigan University’s Department of English was our guest speaker for “The Book as a Literary Classic.”  Describing Snow Falling on Cedars as a “complex and rich book for evaluation and interpretation,” he said it contains many qualities consistent with good literature. Here are some highlights:

  1. Sophisticated techniques. The framing narrative is a murder trial. As the trial unfolds, we learn other stories as well, so not only do we see the progression of the trial but we know the events that led up to it. Guterson adds depth and richness with a plethora of “structured binaries” — the push and pull of paired opposites such as just/unjust, true/untrue, war/peace; past/present; young/old; power/powerlessness; chaos/control.
  2. Evocative detail. Guterson’s texture of language and words “develops a tapestry.” In one example, the author describes a natural setting that also mirrors a character’s state of mind.
  3. Literature that informs the novel. Snow Falling on Cedars is “keenly aware of its literary forebears,” Dr. Witschi said, offering a short list of influential titles, among them: Moby Dick, To Kill a Mockingbird, Sense and Sensibility, and Winesburg, Ohio;
  4. Multiple themes. Snow Falling on Cedars is a romance, a murder mystery, and a story of endurance amidst hardship and racial prejudice. It also is the story of an artist coming into his own. At the end of the book, we get the sense that Ishmael has changed, has found himself as a writer, gaining a sense of where his place should be. And as Ishmael begins to write, we are left to ponder what will become of him as a writer?

Book

Book as a Literary Classic
book-as-a-literary-classic-160
http://www.flickr.com/photos/kalamazoopubliclibrary/sets/72157623514308377/
LisaW

More blog posts


Press Coverage

March 18, 2010
David GutersonDavid Guterson
Perseverance paid off in short order...
March 14, 2010
Artistic Rewards Artistic Rewards
The better part of a decade to write...
March 11, 2010
WMUK InterviewWMUK Interview
Arts and More with Lorraine Caron
Feb 17, 2010
Racial PrejudiceRacial Prejudice
A prelude to the race exhibit...
Sep 27, 2009
Book Selection Book Selection
A meditation on race and prejudice