Find
10 South Emerson, Mount Prospect, IL 60056 | 847/253-5675
Font:

Check It Out

Book Discussion Questions: Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Cover of Half the SkyTitle: Half the Sky
Author: Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Page Count: 294 pages
Genre: Nonfiction, Social Issues
Tone: Inspirational

Summary from publisher:

With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope. They show how a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad.

 

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

1. Half the Sky is not the first book to raise worldwide social issues. What about this work makes it stand out? Why do you think it has taken hold, even sparked a movement?

 2. Would you describe Half the Sky as a difficult book to read? A worthwhile one? Believable? Tragic? Overhyped?

3. From the introduction: “Many of the stories in this book are wrenching, but keep in mind this central truth: ‘Women aren’t the problem, but the solution. The plight of girls is no more a tragedy than an opportunity.’” Do they make their case?

4. How did you read this book? In large chunks? Small sections? Audio? How do you think that impacted your experience?

5. Have any of you seen the documentary before or after reading Half the Sky? Before or after? How did that complement your experience? Any significant differences?

6. How did you respond to the writing style and the book structure? Would you say these choices are what makes it accessible?

7. Gender politics and issues can be tricky. Do the authors succeed in moving this beyond a “women’s issue” to a “human rights issue”? Would the case have been more difficult to make if two women were writing about the issues?

8. “Frankly, we hesitate to pile on the data, since even when numbers are persuasive, they are not galvanizing. A growing collection of psychological studies show that statistics have a dulling effect, while it is individual stories that move people to act. In one experiment…”

Is this a fair representation? Do we rise to stories but nod-and-pass too easily with statistics? Is it true across the board or do you think it differs according to individual? Were there numbers that shocked you?

9. The authors do rely on stories to bring the issues to life. Which ones stood out? Even if you don’t recall names — which situations, images, atrocities have stayed with you? What proposed solutions excited you or seemed most promising?

 10. Did it surprise you at all that so many were willing to share such painful stories with a male American journalist? In what ways does owning and telling the story empower the individual?

11. “Rescuing girls is the easy part…the challenge is keeping them from returning.” How could this be true?

12. How does a book like this affect how you view the world?

13. Were you surprised by the extent to which women were involved in oppression or abuse of other women? Why or why not?

14. Did you find the book balanced in revealing what doesn’t necessarily work/unintended consequences without cherry-picking results?

15. Some raise the concern that journalism of this type can be sensationalistic, voyeuristic, or even endanger the subjects. In what ways are these valid? Does the good outweigh the bad?

16. Did you sense any political agenda or bias in the writing?

17. Even though the book focuses on Africa and Asia, many of the problems addressed occur in Europe and the U.S. as well. How are these issues similar across regions, and how do they differ?

18. The writers address the idea of cultural imperialism: “If we believe firmly in certain values, such as the equality of all human beings regardless of color or gender, then we should not be afraid to stand up for them; it would be feckless to defer to slavery, food-binding, honor killings, or genital cutting just because we believe in respecting other faiths or cultures.” How do you respond? How do we walk a tightrope in terms of telling another culture what they believe is right or wrong?

19. From the documentary: “Sometimes people want to do too much, so they do nothing. They say, ‘I cannot help.’ Everyone can help. Everyone can do one thing.” Is there truth in this? How do we overcome those mental obstacles?

20. The book was first published in 2009. Do you think anything has change? Have you heard of the “movement” before reading Half the Sky?

21. When we feel convicted or inspired by a work such as Half the Sky, how do we keep that active? How do we keep ourselves from forgetting or sinking back into complacency?

Other Resources

 Half the Sky Movement webpage
Lit Lovers Discussion Questions
Videos produced by Half the Sky Movement
Discussion facilitation guide for Half the Sky
Video interview with Kristof and WuDunn
Extended interview with Kristof and WuDunn
Article: What’s So Scary About Smart Girls?

If you liked Half the Sky, try…

Cover of Paradise Beneath Her FeetCover of A Call to Action Cover of The Blue Sweater

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paradise Beneath Her Feet by Isobel Coleman
A Call to Action by Jimmy Carter
The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on March 25, 2015 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books, Nonfiction

Book Discussion Questions: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Cover of The Round HouseTitle: The Round House
Author: Louise Erdrich
Page Count: 321 pages
Genre: Coming of Age Stories, Literary Fiction
Tone: Reflective, Moving, Bleak

Summary from publisher:
One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface because Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe’s life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared. While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

1. The Round House is a book for which a sentence or two summary cannot fully capture the experience it holds. How would you describe the feel of reading this story?

2. As you read, were you conscious of the fact that it was an older Joe looking back on this summer? Did that impact the narrative for you?

3. This work has been described as a coming-of-age story. In what ways are Joe’s experiences universal? In what ways are they specific? Does this category do justice to the narrative?

4. One of the ways a typical adolescence is explored is through sexual curiosity and preoccupation. Were you at all uncomfortable with these depictions in a story that is incited with a brutal sexual assault? Was this intentional?

5. The Round House deals with some deeply troubling themes and struggles. How was that balanced? Were there elements that lightened the story for you?

6. Describe Joe’s friendship with Cappy. What did he add to the story?

7. Is Joe proud of his heritage? What does this narrative have to say about cultural identity?

8. Much of the complication for Geraldine’s case is the question of jurisdiction. How does the legal relationship between the U.S. and the Ojibwe complicate the investigation?

9. Why didn’t Geraldine simply lie and say she knew where it happened? Do you agree with her reasons?

10. When Joe makes his decision, he says it is about justice, not vengeance. What do you think? How does that decision change him? Does his decision change your perception of him?

11. One reviewer shared, “In Erdrich’s hands, you may find yourself, as I did, embracing the prospect of vigilante justice as regrettable but reasonable, a way to connect to timeless wisdom about human behavior. It wasn’t until I put the book down that I recognized – and marveled at – the clever way I had been manipulated.” Was your experience similar to that of the reviewer? Does this affect your assessment of the book and/or the author?

12. How would you describe Father Travis and his role in the story?

13. Near the end of the story (p.306), Joe’s father talks of “ideal justice as opposed to the best-we-can-do justice”. What did he mean? How is this borne out in the story?

14. What else did Joe’s father want him to understand from that conversation? Did he make his point?

15. What was the importance of the wiindigoo motif?

16. Do you feel you have a good understanding of what Geraldine was like before the incident? How does the author convey this?

17. At one literary festival panel, during a discussion of the general lack of strong marriages in fiction, author Lorrie Moore said she felt the marital life of Joe’s parents was a central part of The Round House. In what ways would you agree or disagree with this statement?

18. What were the most uncomfortable scenes for you? Did these lessen your enjoyment of the book as a whole?

19. What was the significance and the symbolism of the Round House? Why choose this as the title?

20. How would you describe the author’s writing style and storytelling choices?

21. At the conclusion of the novel, when Joe’s parents are driving him home and they don’t stop at the roadside café, Erdrich writes, “we passed over in a sweep of sorrow that would persist into our small forever. We just kept going.” What do you think she meant?

22. The Round House won the National Book Award and was later selected for Book Crossing, a shared reading program between Mount Prospect Public Library and our sister city, Sèvres, France. What elements make this book a good choice for discussion?

 

Other Resources
LitLovers guide
Video of National Book Award honors
NY Times Q&A with Louise Erdrich
Resource guide from Minnesota Book Awards
University of North Carolina questions for reflection
Another perspective: book response

If you liked The Round House, try…

Thirteen Moons Canada Perfect

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier
Canada by Richard Ford
Perfect by Rachel Joyce

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on March 11, 2015 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books, Literary

Discussion Questions: Spring Moon by Bette Bao Lord

Cover of Spring MoonTitle: Spring Moon
Author: Bette Bao Lord
Page Count: 464 pages
Genre:  Historical Fiction, Family Saga
Tone: Lyrical, Poignant, Moving

Summary from publisher:
Behind the garden walls of the House of Chang, Spring Moon is born into an exclusive world of luxury and privilege. Her servant, Plum Blossom, attends to her every need and inadvertently alters the course of her life forever. Her uncle, Bold Talent, who has returned to China from the United States with radical new ideas, educates her against the wishes of the family, and intervenes at the moment when Spring Moon most needs his help. But the tempests of change sweep Spring Moon into a new world — one of hardship, turmoil, and heartbreak; one that threatens to destroy her husband, her family, and her darkest secret love.

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

1. What was Bette Bao Lord’s purpose in writing this novel?

2. One review (New York Times 12/1/81) felt that Lord covered too much history in her novel and that it overwhelmed her characters. Do you agree or disagree?

3. What was Lord’s reason for providing the stories in italics at the beginning of each chapter? Did it add or detract from the story?

4. What was Spring Moon’s role in this story? Was Spring Moon the main character of the novel?

5. How would you describe the relationship between Spring Moon and Lustrous Jade? How did that relationship change throughout the years?

6. On page 350, why did Spring Moon demand that Lustrous Jade kneel before her? Why was it so difficult for Lustrous Jade to kneel before her mother, yet she easily kneeled before shopkeepers and others to get them to join her cause?

7. Did you feel that August Winds and Lustrous Jade belonged together as man and wife?

8. How did the role of the family change or not change in China?  Consider the theme of devotion to family versus devotion to one’s principles. What characters were more devoted to family? What characters were devoted to their principles? Was it possible for them to be devoted to both?

9. What were the differences in the love Spring Moon had for her first husband, Glad Promise, and the love she had for her lover Bold Talent?

10. Do you think the clan suspected the love between Bold Talent and Spring Moon? Were they jealous of Spring Moon’s ability to read?

11. Did Bold Talent love his wife, Golden Virtue?

12. Do you think Bold Talent knew that Enduring Promise was his and Spring Moon’s son? What about Golden Virtue?

13. On page 248, Spring Moon was about to leave Bold Talent to return to her mother-in-law, and Bold Talent talked about what was wrong with the Chinese. He said, “Do you not see what is wrong. In the end, we always yield – to tradition, to foreigners, to family, to authority, to duty. To everything and everybody, living and dead-except our needs, our dreams, our passions! If we do live for ourselves, it is not for long. A moment here, a month there. As long as no one knows. As long as nothing is truly changed. Then, once more we yield. Once more we live as others would have us live.” Do you agree with this assessment?

14. How did you feel when Spring Moon took her son away from Dummy and her husband?

15. What was the relationship between Lustrous Jade and August Winds? How about between Lustrous Jade and Resolute Spirit? How were they similar and how were they different?

16. On page 383, in a letter to Bold Talent talking about parading elders in dunce caps across public squares, Noble Talents asks, “Is this what revolution means?” What did revolution mean to Lustrous Jade?

17. How did you feel when Bold Talent, Lustrous Jade and Resolute Spirit left Bold Talent’s body behind in order to smuggle Lustrous Jade and Resolute Spirit to safety?

18. How did the women of the Chang family change throughout the years?

Other Resources

Lit Lovers’ Discussion Questions
Interview with Bette Bao Lord
Video interview with Bette Bao Lord

If you liked Spring Moon, try…

Cover of Twentieth WifeCover of Snowflower and the Secret Fan Cover of The Bathing Women

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
The Bathing Women by Tie Ning

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on February 25, 2015 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books, Historical Fiction

Discussion Questions: Quiet by Susan Cain

Cover of QuietTitle: Quiet
Author: Susan Cain
Page Count: 352 pages
Genre:  Non-Fiction
Tone: Thought-provoking, Reflective, Accessible

Summary from publisher:
Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. Taking the reader on a journey from Dale Carnegie’s birthplace to Harvard Business School, from a Tony Robbins seminar to an evangelical megachurch, Susan Cain charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the twentieth century and explores its far-reaching effects.

 

 

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

1. Quiet has had a lot of popularity and has been on numerous bestseller lists, including the NYT bestseller list for sixteen weeks. Why do you think Quiet has been a bestseller of this magnitude?

2. How did your perception of introversion and extroversion change or not change after reading Quiet?

3. Why do you think Western society evolved from a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality?

4. Is it better to have people perceive you as a “competent leader” or overlook your leadership?

5. Why do you think we’re more inclined to follow those who initiate action?

6. What are ways we can look past sparkly speaking skills on a group level? How about when you are speaking with an individual?

7. What studies or facts surprised you?

8. Cain uses a lot of anecdotes to back up her claims. Would you count anecdotes as a credible source?

9. How do you think Cain did writing a book on the strengths of introverts without discounting the value extroverts bring to society?

10. What are the advantages of being an introvert? What are the advantages of being an extrovert?

11. One of the anecdotes Cain shares is of a tax lawyer who had trouble performing speaking events with very short notice. She thought it spoke poorly of her skills and knowledge, but it turns out she needed more advance notice for speaking. Cain writes, “But once Esther understands herself, she can insist to her colleagues that they give her advance notice of any speaking events” (126). This is one example of one of the kinds of tweaks, Cain suggests introverts make for their success. How do we begin to understand ourselves, so we can make these kinds of tweaks in our own lives?

12. How realistic do you think those tweaks are that we might make in our daily life? How about in the tweaks Cain talks about in the workplace?

13. Cain shares a statement by a woman from Taiwan who attended graduate school at UCLA, “Oh in the U.S., as soon as you start talking, you’re fine.” How does this statement ring true in the U.S.? How does it differ? Are there situations when this could be of benefit or of detriment?

14. There is a part of the book where Cain talks about fixed and free personality traits, basically saying that there are some personality traits that we are not stuck with having, and there is more flexibility in our personalities. She asks the question, “But if we’re capable of such flexibility, does it even make sense to chart the differences between introverts and extroverts?” (206) How would you answer that question?

15. What lessons did you glean from Quiet about interacting with the people around you, whether you’re an extrovert, introvert, or ambivert?

16. What are ways you can modify your behavior to better connect with introverts? How about extroverts?

17. Do you think introverts or extroverts tend to use the internet to communicate more, whether it be email or social networks like Facebook?

18. Who wouldn’t like this book? Who would disagree with it?

19. This book was divided in four different parts discussing essentially the workplace, the biology of introversion, Western culture and other cultures, and finally relating to others. What section or sections did you find most useful or interesting?

20. Do you think Quiet will have any lasting power? It’s popular now, but will it still be popular/enlightening/necessary in ten years from now? How about twenty? Or forty?

21. Cain is advocating for the Quiet Revolution in which we go about in life paying more attention to introverts. What would be risked if we pay more attention to introversion? What would be gained?

22. Do you see the emphasis on groups appearing in places other than work or school?

23. Do you trust Susan Cain as the author? Why or why not?

24. Do you have any suggestions of interesting psychology/science nonfiction books?

Other Resources

Publisher Discussion Questions
Susan Cain’s TED Talk
Networking for Introverts (Video)
Q&A with Susan Cain
The Accidental Creative Podcast with Susan Cain

 

If you liked Quiet, try...

Cover of The Introvert's WayCover of The Circle Cover of Multiplicity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Introvert’s Way by Sophia Dembling
The Circle by Dave Eggers
Multiplicity by Rita Carter

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on February 11, 2015 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books, Nonfiction

Book Discussion Questions: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Cover of The Orphan TrainTitle: Orphan Train
Author: Christina Baker Kline
Page Count: 278 pages
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Tone: Thoughtful, Poignant, Sobering

Summary from publisher:
Penobscot Indian Molly Ayer is close to “aging out” out of the foster care system. A community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping Molly out of juvie and worse…

As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly learns that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.

Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

1. Were the orphan trains a good thing? Why or why not? What, if any, better options were available at the time?

2. What did you notice about the style of writing and how this story was put together?

3. Thinking back on the children that were highlighted in the book, Carmine, Dutchy and Niamh, what were the motivations of the families who took in these orphans? How did these differing motivations affect the children’s lives?

4. What similarities or differences are there between the past as shown in the story and our present foster care system?

5. In what ways are Molly and Vivian similar? How are they different?

6. Do you have things that you don’t use or are stored away but you can’t part with? What are those things and why do you keep them?

7. What would a timeline of Vivian’s life look like? Use a white board to diagram this or just do it verbally. What characterizes each segment of her life?

8. What would a timeline of Molly’s life look like? What characterizes each segment of her life?

9. “You can’t find peace till you find all the pieces.” How is this true in Vivian’s life? How is it true in Molly’s life?

10. Molly’s charms on her necklace are mentioned throughout the story. What is their significance? What did Vivian’s Claddagh cross and Molly’s charms mean to them?

11. How has Molly changed Vivian’s life? How has Vivian changed Molly’s life?

12.  Read the prologue aloud to the group. Having read the book and rereading the prologue what does this tell you about Vivian’s view of the people in her past? What does this show about her character?

13. How did you feel about the way the author ended the story? Is Vivian’s happy ending enough?

14. If you were to write additional chapters to the book what would happen to Vivian, to Molly?

15. The American Experience, a PBS show, has a program on the orphan trains. There was also a movie made in 1979 called The Orphan Train. Do you think this book will come to the big screen? Would you want to see it?

Other Resources

Lit Lovers’ Discussion Questions
Video interview with Christina Baker Kline
History of orphan trains from The Children’s Aid Society
Huffington Post interview with Christina Baker Kline

If you liked The Orphan Train, try...

Cover of The Forgotten SeamstressCover of Austerlitz Cover of The Language of Flowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Forgotten Seamstress by Liz Trenow
Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on January 21, 2015 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books, Historical Fiction

Book Discussion Questions: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Cover of Cutting for StoneTitle: Cutting for Stone
Author: Abraham Verghese
Page Count: 688 pages
Genre:  Literary Fiction,  Family Sagas
Tone: Haunting, Moving, Richly Detailed

Summary from publisher:
Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon. Orphaned by their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution.

Moving from Addis Ababa to New York City and back again, Cutting for Stone is an unforgettable story of love and betrayal, medicine and ordinary miracles—and two brothers whose fates are forever intertwined

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

“Writing has many similarities to the practice of internal medicine. Both require astute observation and a fondness for detail.”

“At heart I am a physician. It is my first and only calling. As a physician, things move me, and one way to talk about these things is to write about them. For me writing and medicine are not different parts, it is seamless, the same world view: fiction and healing promote the same cause.
~Abraham Verghese

1. As you reflect on this complex story, which scenes stand out in your memory? Why did those particular moments have such impact?

2. At the end of chapter 31 (379-380), Marion reflects on his home, including this statement: “I felt ecstatic, as if I was at the epicenter of our family…” Does this seem arrogant or appropriate for an adolescent to say? In what ways is Marion the epicenter of the book?

3. In what ways is Shiva something of a mystery to the reader? [Also consider, “’What I do is simple. I repair holes,’ said Shiva Praise Stone. Yes, but you make them, too, Shiva.” (577)]

4. Talk about Marion’s parting from his family when he is forced to leave the country (444).

5. Think about how the character of Genet is portrayed at different points. [e.g., “I wanted out of Africa. I began to think that Genet had done me a favor after all.” (457) and “she found her greatness, at last, found it in her suffering.” (601)] How is she integral to the story? How do you feel about her?

6. For a story that most often takes place in small settings with few people, somehow it has an epic “feel”. How is that?

7. When Ghosh returns from prison (350-351), he and Marion talk about a well-known story about a man who couldn’t rid himself of his slippers.

“The slippers in the story mean that everything you see and do and touch, every seed you sow, or don’t sow, becomes part of your destiny.”

Ghosh then shares about his past and has a lesson for Marion.

“I hope one day you see this as clearly as I did…The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and own the ones you don’t. If you keep saying your slippers aren’t yours, then you’ll die searching, you’ll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny.”

Do you agree? Are these sentiments borne out in the novel? What is the role of fate throughout?

8. In what ways is this book about legacy? About exile? Betrayal? Forgiveness?

9. Marion states that he became a physician not to save the world but to heal himself. Do you think he was healed in the end?

10. What do the female characters in the book reveal about what life is like for women in Ethiopia?

11. Did the medical detail add to the novel or detract from it?

12. The latter portion of the book contains commentary on medical practice in America, especially regarding foreign physicians (e.g., 492). Did this seem significant to you?

13. Did “The Afterbird” offer closure for you? For the characters? How did you react to its revelations?

14. Remember Stone’s favorite question? [What treatment in an emergency is administered by ear? words of comfort] How is this poignant, especially given Stone’s choices and manner?

15. What is the role of sexuality in Cutting for Stone? How would you characterize the scenes that are depicted, especially between Marion and Genet?

16. What romantic relationships are central to the story? How so?

17. Though the book earned excellent reviews, it wasn’t in nearly as much demand as it seems to be now. Why do you think that is? With over 600 pages, it isn’t an easy choice for book groups, but that doesn’t seem to be a concern. Did the length bother you?

18. Few works of fiction include a bibliography or an acknowledgment section which credits many literary allusions included in the story. Does this affect your opinion of the book?

19.Verghese said that his aim in writing Cutting for Stone was “to tell a great story, an old-fashioned, truth-telling story.” He has also said “my ambition was to write a big sweeping novel into which you could disappear, travel away as though in a space-ship, disappear, meet exciting people, and return to find that only a couple of days had passed in real life. That’s what happens to me when I am reading a good book.” In your opinion, did he succeed?

Other Resources

Lit Lovers book discussion questions
One Book One City resources
Video of Abraham Verghese discussing Cutting for Stone
Frequently asked questions answered by Abraham Verghese
Radio interview with Verghese on Ethiopia

If you liked Cutting for Stone, try...

Cover of Desirable DaughtersCover of Beneath the Lion's Gaze Cover of God of Small Things

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Desirable Daughters by Bharati Mukherjee
Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on January 14, 2015 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books, Literary

Book Discussion Questions: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Cover of The Light Between OceansTitle: The Light Between Oceans
Author: M.L. Stedman
Page Count:  345 pages
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Tone:  Haunting, Melancholy

Excerpted summary from publisher:

After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

 

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

1. Who was wronged in the book? Whose story would you say this is?

2. Are any of the characters “bad?” If so, who? What makes a person warrant the description “bad?”

3. How would you describe Tom? Why does he enjoy his lightkeeper duties?

4. Why does Isabel want to marry Tom? Why does he agree? What are his hesitations?

5. Did you find Tom and Isabel’s courtship convincing? Do you understand their attraction to one another and their decision to marry?

6. What are some of the signs and hints of Isabel’s manipulative nature early on in the book?

7. Which character were you rooting for more than the others?

8. Was there a character you identified with more? If so, did this change as you read the book?

9. Was there any one character that frustrated you more than others?

10. How does Tom’s quietness play a role in the story? What about Isabel’s quietness?

11. Are Tom and Isabel a mystery to each other?

12. As the reader, are Tom and Isabel mysteries to you as well? Do you feel you know Tom better or Isabel better?

13. How does Tom’s experience in the war affect his relationship with Isabel, being a lightkeeper, and response to the baby arriving?

14. Do you think the pregnancy and childbirth losses they went through affect the right or wrong of keeping the baby? Does knowing what they went through affect your judgment of their choices?

15. Tom and Isabel live a solitary life. How would their response to baby arriving been different if they weren’t isolated on island? How would their marriage have been different?

16. How did you respond to the focus on various characters in town in Part 3? Do you like the variety or is the book better when focused on Tom and Isabel?

17. What does it mean to be an “outsider” and how does that affect one’s perception?

Other Resources

An interview with M.L. Stedman
The Light Between Oceans Reading Group Guide
One Book One City Resources
Lit Lovers’ Discussion Questions
Reflection on a Light Between Oceans book discussion

If you liked The Light Between Oceans, try...

Cover of The OrchardistCover of The Lightkeeper's WifeCover of Latitudes of Melt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
The Lightkeeper’s Wife by Karen Viggers
Latitudes of Melt by Joan Clark

 

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on December 31, 2014 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books, Historical Fiction

Book Discussion Questions: The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton

Cover of The Wednesday SistersTitle: The Wednesday Sisters
Author: Meg Waite Clayton
Page Count:  288 pages
Genre:  Women’s lives and relationships
Tone:  Heartwarming, character-driven

Excerpted summary from publisher:

When five young mothers—Frankie, Linda, Kath, Ally, and Brett—first meet in a neighborhood park in the late 1960s, their conversations center on marriage, raising children, and a shared love of books. Then one evening, as they gather to watch the Miss America Pageant, Linda admits that she aspires to write a novel herself, and the Wednesday Sisters Writing Society is born.. In the process, they explore the changing world around them: the Vietnam War, the race to the moon, and a women’s movement that challenges everything they believe about themselves. At the same time, the friends carry one another through more personal changes—ones brought about by infidelity, longing, illness, failure, and success.

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

1. The first character we meet is Frankie.  She’s from Chicago but moves across the country to Palo Alto with her husband and two young children.  What kind of person is she?  What is it that brings her together with the other women in the park?

2. The next character we meet is Bret.  She is unique for wearing white gloves after that style is out of fashion.  We don’t find out why she wears them until much later in the book.  What did you think about the gloves? Were you surprised by why she wears them?

3. What was the significance of the mansion by the park?  What did it represent to the women and to the time period in which they lived?  Who was the person they saw walking around in the mansion? Why was she there?

4. Are the friendships realistic?  Do they seem similar to some of your own friendships?

5. Why was Frankie able to confess that she was trying to write a novel to Danny’s boss but not Danny?

6. This book takes place in the late ’60s at a time when things were beginning to change more rapidly for women in the United States, yet a lot of the old conventions were still in place.  In what ways did that affect the opportunities these women had, both in their personal lives and in their professional lives?

7. Some notable historical events that occurred at this time: moon landing, assassination of Bobby Kennedy, women’s liberation movement, and the Pentagon Papers.  Was this time in history particularly significant and/or more fraught with turbulence and change than periods since?  In what ways did that affect the characters and their generation?

8. Ally’s husband is Indian and they have trouble having a baby.  In what way does that affect her relationships in the group?  Does having or not having children not affect the women’s relationships amongst each other?

9. What do the books the sisters read say about them?

10. Frankie wanted to reinvent herself when she got to California.  She wanted to be called Mary rather than Frankie.  She imagined herself hosting parties and attending parties with her husband’s colleagues.  Was she able to reinvent herself?  How was her life similar or different to what she imagined?

11. How did Danny’s intelligence and success affect Frankie’s view of herself and their relationship?

12. Danny leaves his stable company to start a new venture in Metal Oxide Semiconductor chips without asking Frankie her opinion.  How does this make her feel?  Is this lack of communication indicative of the time they lived in or specific to their relationship?

13. What was the significance of the Miss America pageants to the women?  Why did they initially get together to watch it?  Over the course of the book, how did their feelings change?

14. In chapter 13, the sisters went to the funeral parlor and sat in a coffin.  What did that mean to the sisters?  (Page 84-85)

15. What do you think of the guidelines for mastectomy, as Linda experienced?  Was she powerless in the treatment process?

16. The women are so close to Stanford University and some encourage Frankie to go take classes there but she doesn’t feel like she can.  Why not?

17. The Wednesday Sisters have a big schism after they find out that Ally’s husband is Indian.  Why did Jim’s being Indian cause such a rift between the sisters?

18. What did you think of the scene on the Johnny Carson show?  How did the show mark a changing point in the lives of the sisters?

Other Resources

Discussion starter kit provided by author
Video of authors@Google talk with Meg Waite Clayton
Lit Lovers’ Discussion Questions
Interview with Meg Waite Clayton
Reading Group Guide

If you liked The Wednesday Sisters, try...

Cover of The Sweet By and ByCover of The Reading Group Cover of South of Broad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sweet By and By by Todd Johnson
The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble
South of Broad by Pat Conroy

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on December 3, 2014 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books

Book Discussion Questions: The Lobster Chronicles by Linda Greenlaw

Cover of The Lobster ChroniclesTitle: The Lobster Chronicles
Author: Linda Greenlaw
Page Count:  238 pages
Genre: Travel writing
Tone:  Richly detailed, Character driven, Nostalgic

Excerpted summary from publisher:
After 17 years at sea, Linda Greenlaw decided it was time to take a break and move back home to a tiny island off the Maine coast to pursue a simpler life as a lobsterman and find a husband. But all doesn’t go as planned. The lobsters refuse to crawl out, fellow islanders draw her into bizarre intrigues, and the eligible bachelors prove elusive. But just when she thinks things can’t get worse, something happens forcing her to reevaluate everything she thought she knew about life, luck, and lobsters. Filled with nautical detail and the dramas of small-town life, The Lobster Chronicles is a celebration of family and community.

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

1. What did the author hope to accomplish by writing this novel? Was this strictly a story of a typical season of lobstering as the author mentioned in “The Note From the Author?”

2. Do you feel you learned a lot about the lobstering business from reading this book?

3. Does the life of lobstering appeal to you?

4. How would you describe a typical small-island lobsterman? What personality traits do lobstermen share? Why do they choose this profession?

5. What are the pros and cons of living on a small island like Isle au Haut?

6. Did you like the author’s writing style?

7. Did you find this story funny? If so, what parts stand out as humorous?

8. Linda Greenlaw has a college degree. Why did she decide to fish and then lobster rather than get a “real job” like her parents wished she would do?

9. Why do you think her parents said they wished she would get a “real job”? Do you think they really meant it? Did you find it ironic that her dad quit his “real job” and joined her in lobstering?

10. On page 207, did Linda waste her education fishing and/or lobstering? Do you agree that whatever path a person takes, “education is always being used?”

11. Was Linda a good business person?

12. How did you feel about the way Linda handled her gay helper Stern-Fabio?

13. Describe Linda’s relationship with her father.

14. Were you surprised (on page 106) how strongly Linda felt about removing the mainlanders’ gear from the islanders’ protected area – when the rest of the islands gave up so easily? Why was she so passionate about this compared to how laid back she was when Stern-Fabio stole her truck?

15. On page 221, why did the author include the chapter on Dorothea “Dotty” Dodge, the lady that she didn’t know very well?

16. After reading the book, did you believe the author when she said, “As proud as I am to say I’m an islander, nothing makes me prouder than to say, ‘I’m a fisherman.’ And that is not apt to change.”?

17. What were your thoughts when Linda told us that she is building a year-round home, but is undecided about how much of the year she will stay?

Other Resources

Linda Greenlaw’s writing process
Greenlaw on BookTV (starts at 8:20)
Guide to Lobstering in Maine

If you liked The Lobster Chronicles, try…

Cover of Four Wings and a Prayer Cover of The Perfect Storm Cover of The Secret Life of Lobsters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four Wings and a Prayer by Sue Halpern
The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger
The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on November 19, 2014 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Nonfiction

Book Discussion Questions: The Dive From Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer

Cover of The Dive From Clausen's PierTitle: The Dive From Clausen’s Pier
Author: Ann Packer
Page Count: 432 pages
Genre: Coming of Age
Tone:  Moving, bittersweet

Summary from publisher:

At the age of twenty-three Carrie Bell has spent her entire life in Wisconsin, with the same best friend and the same dependable, easygoing, high school sweetheart. Now to her dismay she has begun to find this life suffocating and is considering leaving it–and Mike–behind. But when Mike is paralyzed in a diving accident, leaving seems unforgivable and yet more necessary than ever. The Dive from Clausen’s Pier animates this dilemma–and Carrie’s startling response to it–with the narrative assurance, exacting realism, and moral complexity we expect from the very best fiction.

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

1. This is Packer’s first novel. Why do you think it has become so popular? What is the appeal?

2. Packer originally wrote this in the 3rd person, but then rewrote it in the first person. Would you have felt differently about the book had she left it in the 3rd person? How and why?

3. What contrasts did you find in the book, whether in personalities or in other areas?

4. What was the major theme or themes of the story?

5. Carrie asks the question on page 133, “How much do we owe the people we love?” How much do we owe them? How does she answer this question thru her actions in the book? Does her answer change throughout the book? How?

6. What are the different perceptions people have of Carrie’s going to New York? What are her perceptions?

7. Carrie is feeling guilty about leaving and she asks her mother, What kind of person does that make me? Her mother replies, the kind of person you are. You could just have easily have stayed. But that wouldn’t make you a good person any more than leaving makes you a bad one. You’re already made, honey. That’s what I mean. Are people defined by what they do, or by how others perceive them, or by neither?

8. Compare or contrast Mike and Kilroy’s characters. What attracted Carrie to both of them? Were you surprised to find out that Kilroy was forty?

9. What was Carrie’s relationship to Mike based on? What about your relationship to Kilroy?

10. Jamie and Lane are both Carrie’s friends but they are very different also. On page 254 Packer describes their relationships. Do you see a relation between the two female friend characters and the two lovers of Carrie? How?

11. What part does sewing play in the story? How does it change throughout the book?

12. How far can we escape our upbringing? How does that question relate to Carrie? How about to Kilroy?

13. Does finding out the mystery of his family, both meeting his parents, and finding out about his brother’s death explain who Kilroy is? Why or why not?

14. What makes Carrie finally return home? Does guilt or obligation make her decide to stay or is it something else – what? Is she settling, giving up or being true to herself?

15. At the end of the book Mike asks,
“We never would have gotten married would we?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “It was beginning to seem like not the best idea.”
“I think I know why,” he said. “It was like we already were married – we’d gone too far.” What does Mike mean by saying that? What went wrong or changed in Carrie’s and Mike’s relationship? Did Carrie or Mike change, or did their circumstances change, or both?

16. Envision an inverted version of the book written from Mike’s point of view in which Carrie had the accident. How might their lives have played out differently? What does this exercise reveal about their relationship and Carrie’s character?

Other Resources
Lit Lovers’ Discussion Questions
Reading group guide from publisher
Video of Ann Packer on writing
An interview with Ann Packer

If you liked The Dive From Clausen’s Pier, try…

Cover of SwimmingCover of Broken for YouCover of My Sister's Keeper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swimming by Joanna Hershon
Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on November 5, 2014 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books