The Encore Series
Bringing You the Best of Brandeis
Through shared learning with the Brandeis University community, The Encore Series utilizes videotaped presentations of renowned Brandeis faculty and guest speakers discussing a variety of subjects—programs that appeal to the student in each of us.
The DVDs can be screened in small-group settings or can easily be projected for larger groups. The Encore Series includes the DVD and discussion questions.
By Marilynne Robinson
Ruthie narrates the story of how she and her younger sister Lucille are raised by a succession of relatives in the fictional town of Fingerbone, Idaho (some details are similar to Robinson's hometown, Sandpoint, Idaho). Eventually their aunt Sylvie (who has been living as a transient) comes to take care of them. At first the three are a close knit group, but as Lucille grows up she comes to dislike their eccentric lifestyle and moves out. When Ruthie's well-being is ultimately questioned by the courts, Sylvie returns to life on the road and takes Ruthie with her.
The novel treats the subject of housekeeping, not only in the domestic sense of cleaning, but in the larger sense of keeping a spiritual home for one's self and family in the face of loss, for the girls experience a series of abandonments as they come of age.
** Enhance your reading! Take a look at the questions Brandeis students received. **
The Known World
By Edward P. Jones
Set in Manchester County, Virginia, 20 years before the Civil War began, Edward P. Jones's novel, The Known World, is a masterpiece of overlapping plot lines, time shifts, and heartbreaking details of life under slavery. Caldonia Townsend is an educated black slaveowner, the widow of a well-loved young farmer named Henry, whose parents had bought their own freedom, and then freed their son, only to watch him buy himself a slave as soon as he had saved enough money.
Although Henry Townsend was a fair and gentle master by the standards of the day, he had learned from a former master about the proper distance to keep from one's property. After his death, his slaves wonder if Caldonia will free them. When she fails to do so, but instead breaches the code that keeps them separate from her, a little piece of Manchester County begins to unravel.
It is impossible to rush through The Known World as it is a complex, beautifully written novel with a large cast of characters, that rewards the patient reader with unexpected connections, some reaching into the present day
A Good Fall
By Ha Jin
National Book Award-winner and Brandeis alumnus Ha Jin's new collection of short stories focuses on Flushing, one of New York City's largest Chinese immigrant communities. With startling clarity, Jin explores the challenges, loneliness and uplift associated with discovering one's place in America. Many different generational perspectives are laid out, from the young male sweatshop-worker narrator of "The House Behind a Weeping Cherry," who lives in the same rooming-house as three prostitutes, to the grandfather of "Children as Enemies," who disapproves of his grandchildren's desires to Americanize their names.
Anxiety and distrust plague many of Jin's characters, and while the desire for love and companionship is strong, economic concerns tend to outweigh all others. In "Temporary Love," Jin explores the inevitable complications of becoming a wartime couple, or men and women who, unable to bring their spouses to America, cohabit to comfort each other and also to reduce living expenses. With piercing insight, Jin paints a vast, fascinating portrait of a neighborhood and a people in flux.
By Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore
Professors Jane Kamensky, Brandeis University, and Jill Lepore, Harvard University, have created a romance and murder mystery that takes place in Boston a decade before the American Revolution. Told largely in letters written by the heroine, the novel centers around Stewart Jameson, a Scottish portrait painter who has fled Britain because of a mysterious debt, and the "boy" he hires to clean his brushes. The "boy" is Fanny Easton, a daughter of a Boston Brahmin. Needing to find work, she sees the ad for the job, and presto, her breasts are bound, and Fanny Easton becomes Weston, a boy.
Neither character is what he or she seems. Both have notable blind spots about themselves and others.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
By Junot Diaz
Junot Diaz's critically acclaimed novel won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for fiction just one month after receiving the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Novel of 2007. The author spent 11 years writing the tale of teenager Oscar Wao, who lives in New Jersey, haunted by the vision of Trujillo's ruthless rule in Wao's native Dominican Republic.
The story is radiant with the hard lives of those who leave and also those who stay behind; it is a rousing hymn about the struggle to defy bone-cracking history with ordinary, and extraordinary, love.
By Alison Bechdel
A Best Book of the Year, this groundbreaking, best-selling graphic memoir charts Alison Bechdel's difficult relationship with her late father. In her hands, personal history becomes a work of amazing subtlety and power, written with controlled force and enlivened with humor, rich literary allusion and heartbreaking detail.
Distant and exacting, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home, which Alison and her family referred to as the "Fun Home." It wasn't until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was gay. A few weeks after this revelation he was dead, leaving a legacy of mystery for his daughter to resolve. Alison Bechdel began keeping a journal when she was 10, and since then has been a careful archivist of her own life.
How to Read the Bible
By Marc Brettler
Master Bible scholar and teacher Marc Brettler argues that today’s contemporary readers can only understand the ancient Hebrew Scripture by knowing more about the culture that produced it. And so Brettler unpacks the literary conventions, ideological assumptions, and historical conditions that inform the biblical text and demonstrates how modern critical scholarship and archaeological discoveries shed light on this fascinating and complex literature.
By Tobias Wolff
"Old School" is a celebration of literature and a delicate hymn to a lost innocence of American life and art. Set in a New England prep school in the early 1960s, the novel imagines a final, pastoral moment before the explosion of the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the suicide of Ernest Hemingway.
The Places in Between
By Rory Stewart
In 2002, in the midst of war and a typically harsh winter, Rory Stewart walked across Afghanistan, surviving by his wits, his knowledge of Persian dialects and Muslim customs and the kindness of strangers. By day he passed through mountains covered in nine feet of snow, hamlets burned and emptied by the Taliban and communities thriving amid the remains of medieval civilizations. By night he slept on villagers' floors, shared their meals and listened to their stories of the recent and ancient past. Along the way, he met heroes and rogues, tribal elders and teenage soldiers, Taliban commanders and foreign-aid workers.
Through these encounters, Stewart makes tangible the forces of tradition, ideology and allegiance that shape life in the map's countless places in between.
Polio: An American Story
By David M. Oshinsky, Ph.D.'71
Historian David M. Oshinsky won a Pulitzer Prize for his portrait of America's polio scare. Oshinsky dramatically recounts our country's unparalleled mobilization against the 20th century's most-feared disease. Materials include author's presentation and questions for discussion.
Profiles in Courage Series
Revisit the popular television series based on JFK's memorable book. The DVD series includes the appointment of Louis Brandeis as the first Jew to the U.S. Supreme Court during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson and the Leo Frank story. Episodes are on DVD and accompanied by questions for discussion by Thomas Doherty, professor of American studies at Brandeis University.
By Don Lee
Set in the fictional California town of Rosarita Bay, Don Lee's "Yellow" explores what it means to be Asian in America through the post-immigrant examination of identity, race and love. In this provocative collection, Korean, Japanese and Chinese Americans flirt across and within racial lines, and end up racking not only fears of being ethnically "yellow," but also the universal terror of failure and abandonment.
By Nancy Kricorian
This is the story of a family's discovery of its Armenian heritage and cultural identity through the passing of the family matriarch, Zabelle. The book touches upon the theme of identity, the complexity of human interactions, coming to terms with one's own identity and finding a place in a larger community.