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Book Discussion Questions: Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clarke Newell

Cover of Empty MansionsTitle: Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
Author: Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, JR.
Page Count: 456 pages
Genre:  Nonfiction, Biographies
Tone: Suspenseful, Extravagant

Summary:
When Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bill Dedman noticed a property listing for a grand estate that had been unoccupied for nearly sixty years, he stumbled into one of the most surprising American stories of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Empty Mansions is a rich tale of wealth and loss, complete with copper barons, Gilded Age opulence, and backdoor politics. At its heart is a reclusive 104-year-old heiress named Huguette Clark. Dedman has collaborated with Huguette’s cousin, Paul Clark Newell, Jr., one of the few relatives to have had frequent conversations with her, to tell a fairy tale in reverse: the bright, talented daughter who is born into an almost royal family of amazing wealth and privilege, yet who secrets herself away from the outside world. Empty Mansions reveals a complete picture of the enigmatic Huguette Clark, heiress to one of the greatest fortunes in American history, a woman who had not been photographed in public since the 1920s.

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

1. Is it difficult to understand why Huguette chose not to live in any of her beautiful homes for the last 20 years of her life?

2. Huguette preferred solitude for so much of her life, and then apparently enjoyed the hustle & bustle of the hospital environment. Does this make sense to you? Does it help explain her decision to spend so many years in the hospital? What other factors might have contributed to her choice?

3. Is there a “right” way to spend or give money? Do you believe this depends on if you’ve earned the money yourself or if you’ve received it through an inheritance?

4. Why did Huguette prefer giving to individuals versus institutions?

5. Why do we care how wealthy people spend their money?

6. Consider Andrew Carnegie’s theory (pg. 113) of the three stages of life – education, making money, and giving all the money away. What are your thoughts on this when applied to W.A. Clark and Huguette?

7. How important was control to Huguette (with her environment and in her relationships for example)?

8. Her wealth aside, was there anything unusual about Huguette?

9. What traits of Huguette are to be admired? What traits of hers were not so admirable? What were some of her gifts? How about her limitations?

10. What makes her a challenging biographical subject? Does her limited circle of contacts make her more or less interesting to read about? What makes her a good biographical subject?

11. Do you believe Huguette suffered from mental illness? What is the authors’ stance on this?

12. What lingering mysteries about Huguette remain? Does this book answer questions or raise additional questions?

13. Huguette is reported to have said “we are all a little peculiar” — do you agree? What does the term “eccentric” mean to you? Do you believe the term has an association with wealth or not necessarily?

14. The authors point out at the end (pg. 354) that Huguette was not necessarily as isolated as we might think – she had regular visitors, had nurse Hadassah, was pen pal to many, etc. What are your thoughts on this?

15. Here we have a book written about someone who intensely guarded her private life and went to great lengths to avoid the spotlight (for example, avoiding selling items out of fear of attention it might draw). Are there any ethical issues to consider with this book?

16. Consider the title — Do you find empty houses troubling or wasteful? If so, does the size or value of the house affect your level of concern? (Fancy vs. plain, huge vs. modest, unique vs. ordinary)

17. Do you believe the title was a good choice? Does it reflect the content of the book? Would you describe Huguette’s life as mysterious? Is it fair to single out Huguette’s “spending of a great American fortune” when she wasn’t his only heir and her share of W.A.’s estate was just one-fifth?

18. What was your response to the detail of gifts and donations – fascinated? Disgusted? Puzzled? Wonder? Why do you think the authors included such detail? (examples: page 247, 261, 264-5)

19. Why did the authors devote a large portion of the book to W. A. Clark?

20. In what ways did Huguette differ from her father? What character traits did she have that resembled his?

21. Do you like how the book was structured? It is not always chronological; did you like this or not?

22. How did the “Conversations with Huguette” sections affect your reading experience?

23. What did the authors hope to achieve by writing this book? Do you think they succeeded? What do they want us to know about Huguette?

24. Are the authors objective and balanced in their portrayal of Huguette? Do you think other authors might have presented a more sensational account of her life?

Other Resources

Images from Huguette’s life
Lit Lovers’ Discussion Questions
Video Interview with Bill Dedman
NPR article on auction of Huguette’s items

If you liked Empty Mansions, try…

Cover of The Secret Rooms Cover of A Curious Man Cover of The Phantom of Fifth Avenue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey
A Curious Man by Neal Thompson
The Phantom of Fifth Avenue by Meryl Gordon

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on April 22, 2015 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books, Nonfiction

Book Discussion Questions: The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore

Cover of The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-EatTitle: The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat
Author: Edward Kelsey Moore
Page Count: 369 pages
Genre:  Women’s Lives and Relationships
Tone: Humorous, Moving, Relational

Summary from publisher:

Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat diner in Plainview, Indiana, is home away from home for this inseparable trio.  Dubbed the “Supremes” by high school pals in the tumultuous 1960s, they’ve weathered life’s storms for over four decades and counseled one another through marriage, children, happiness and the blues. Now, however, they’re about to face their most challenging year yet.

Proud, talented Clarice is struggling to keep up appearances as she deals with her husband’s humiliating infidelities; beautiful Barbara Jean is rocked by the tragic reverberations of a youthful love affair; and fearless Odette is about to embark on
the most terrifying battle of her life.  Join these strong, funny women as they gather each Sunday at the same table at Earl’s diner for delicious food, juicy gossip, occasional tears and uproarious laughter.

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

1. What did you think when you realized Odette was speaking with her dead mother?

2. If you were regularly visited by the ghosts would you tell anyone? If so, whom would you tell?

3. What did you think of Mrs. Roosevelt? Why do you think Moore chose Mrs. Roosevelt? Did this add to the story in your mind? Did it bother you to see her as kind of a goof or were you amused?

4. Author Edward Kelsey Moore said, “The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat is rooted on fond memories I have of a childhood spent eavesdropping on the women of my family as they talked at family gatherings. Even when I was too young to fully understand the often very adult subject matter of their conversations, I was struck by how quickly the topics veered from heartbreakingly tragic to wildly hilarious….. My intention in writing The Supremes was to celebrate the joy of true friendship and to invite readers to remember the funny, strong and smart women in their lives.”

Did he accomplish this?

5. Does he do a good job conveying the feelings of women accurately? Were there certain points in particular that you thought he captured any of the women’ thought lives very well?

6. The book went back and forth between Odette narrating and scenes described in the third person.   Did that work for you? Why do you think Moore chose Odette to narrate? How would the book have been different if narrated by Clarice or Barbara Jean?

7. How do you think the structure added to the story? (moving back and forth from character to character and through the decades) How did it detract?

8. What character and/or story were you drawn to the most?

9. In the reviews many people commented that they had trouble remembering who was who. Did you have trouble distinguishing between the characters?

10. Much of the book takes place at Earl’s diner with Earl being a guiding source in the background. His character is never fully explored though and we don’t really get to know Earl. Why do you think Moore did that?

11. All three friends had unusual circumstances around their births. What were they and how were they important to their identity? Why was this important to the story?

12. Moore is an African American and the three women are African-American as well. How important is race to this story?

13. How does growing up black in a small town in the 70’s impact their lives? (how they walk home, who they hang out with, small town: grownups who know them, knowing people’s habits)

14. Is it easy to envision some of the relational aspects of the book working in a story with three white women?

15. How does Moore illustrate the mother daughter tension throughout the story? All of the women expressed a fear of becoming their mother. Who do you think ended up being most like her mother?

16. Clarice stayed with Richmond in part because of her mother’s expectations of how a lady should behave. Barbara Jean marries Lester and we read that it was hearing her mother’s voice that led to her break up with Chick. Granted, she’s a teen when this happens, but at what point in a woman’s life does her mother stop being to blame for what she does or says?

18. Did Barbara Jean make a wise decision to not stay with Chick? Do you think it was the right one for her? Was it fair of her to marry Lester while she was in love with someone else?

19. We don’t get access to the inner thoughts of James, Lester and Richmond. In what ways did Moore show us what kind of men each of them are and what they value?

20. Moore shows us inside their three different marriages. Was there love in each of these marriages? How would you describe their relationships?

21. In high school Clarice seemed to have the prize boyfriend, yet years later it is when she sees James try to style Odette’s hair that Clarice gains the determination to leave Richmond. Why do you think this moment was a game changer for her?

22. How did people respond to Clarice’s decision to move out? How did you respond?

23. Why does Barbara Jean find that good memories weigh as much as the bad and need to be drunk away?

24. All three friends seem to be in different places in their spiritual life. What is going on with them? How is religion handled in the story?

25. What did you think of Odette’s initial decision to keep her diagnosis to herself?

26. Leaning Tree is a small town. In what ways does this book show the good and bad of living in a small town?

27. Who were your favorite secondary characters?

28. The diner itself served as a character. What impact do you think it had on the overall story, the characters and the community?

29. What did you think about the ending? Did it fit well with the rest of the story?
Other Resources

Covers of the International Editions
Reading group guide
Video of Edward Kelsey Moore on The Supremes
Q&A with Edward Kelsey Moore
Interview with Edward Kelsey Moore

If you liked The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, try…

Cover of Far From the TreeCover of Who Asked You? Cover of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Far From the Tree by Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant
Who Asked You? by Terry McMillan
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

 

 

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on April 8, 2015 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books, Humor

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