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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

Fiction: The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

Sculptor book coverTo be discovered and promoted by a wealthy patron is what most young artists can only imagine, but David Smith was the promising exception. Too bad his ego brought it all crashing down after only six months. While at his lowest, he is offered the chance to make a different dream come true:  he will have the power to create anything he wants but will only have 200 days to enjoy the gift before he dies. When he falls for a mysterious girl and dares to desire a different future, the true cost of his bargain seems much too dear. The Sculptor is one of the year’s most anticipated graphic novels, and author Scott McCloud’s expert techniques frame a story of ambition, love, and self-discovery.

By Cathleen, Readers' Advisor on March 9, 2015 Categories: Books, Fantasy & Sci-Fi

New: Historical Fiction and Romance

Every other Friday the Library will bring you short lists of buzz-worthy books in a rotating series of popular genres.

For these and other fresh reads, stop by the second floor Fiction/AV/Teen desk. While there, talk to a Readers’ Advisor about new and old titles tailored to your taste.

New: Historical Fiction Books

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Driving the King by Ravi Howard
The Marriage Game by Alison Weir
A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott
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The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth
Mrs. Grant and Madame Julie by Jennifer Chiaverini
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

New: Romance Books

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The Unexpected Consequences of Love by Jill Mansell
A Bad Character by Deepti Kapoor
Sweet Surprise by Candis Terry

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Earls Just Want to Have Fun by Shana Galen
The Years by Nicholas Delbanco
You’re So Fine by Kieran Kramer

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on March 6, 2015 Categories: Books, Historical Fiction, New Arrivals, Romance

Fiction: The Onion Girl by Charles De Lint

Cover of The Onion Girl“Look hard enough, and everything has a story. Everybody is important.”

De Lint breathtakingly tells the painful story of a girl walking the line between life and death. Jilly Coppercorn is a young artist living in a big city. Known for her selflessness and eclectic nature, it isn’t until Jilly is hit by a car that her friends begin to unravel Jilly’s layers and find a girl broken by a horrific past. Returning to the urban fantasy world, Newford, he has labored on for so many years, Charles DeLint continues to bring magic and meaning to the ordinary in The Onion Girl.

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on March 5, 2015 Categories: Books, Fantasy & Sci-Fi

Fiction: Unwanted by Kristina Ohlsson

Unwanted book coverHenry, a conductor for Swedish National Railways, was enjoying a fairly uneventful journey until a signaling problem stopped the train for a spell. He thought it odd when he saw a woman step onto the platform without the little girl he’d seen with her earlier, but it wasn’t until the train was again on its way that everything went wrong. When alerted that the frantic mother had been left behind, Henry was relieved to discover the girl sleeping unaware. A ruckus forced him to step away for only a few moments, but when he returned, the only sign she’d been there were her shoes arranged neatly by the seat. Unwanted by Kristina Ohlsson is a tense thriller that will captivate fans of Scandinavian crime fiction, especially those who are waiting for next books from Jo Nesbø, Anne Holt, or Camilla Läckberg.

By Cathleen, Readers' Advisor on March 2, 2015 Categories: Books, Mysteries/Thrillers/Suspense

2015 Folio Prize Shortlist

As the first English Language book award to recognize novels written internationally, The Folio Prize is dedicated to celebrating the best of literature. Announced at the beginning of February, the shortlist was narrowed down to eight selections from a longlist of eighty titles. Chair of Judges William Fiennes explained in developing the shortlist, “We were looking for boldness, freshness… books in which the form or structure of the story was perfectly matched to the ideas. You feel reading these eight books that you’re witnessing fiction discovering new possibilities for itself.”

The young prize is only in its sophomore year, and will be announcing the 2015 winner March 23. You can view the full shortlist on The Folio Prize website.

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Family Life by Akhil Sharma
Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Cover of OutlineCover of How to Be Both Cover of 10:04

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outline by Rachel Cusk
How to be Both by Ali Smith
10:04 by Ben Lerner

                    2014 Winner:
Tenth of December by George Saunders

 

Cover of Tenth of December

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on February 27, 2015 Categories: Awards, Books, Lists, 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…

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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

Nonfiction: Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies

Past Imperfect book coverAcademy Award Best Picture runners-up Selma, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, and American Sniper have something else in common. Though each claims to be based on actual events, all have come under fire for taking too many liberties with the facts. These are hardly the first dramatizations to cause a stir. In Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies, enthusiastic experts consider how specific films have skewed our understanding of historical events. From Gandhi to Malcolm X, Gone with the Wind to JFK, and even Jurassic Park to Dr. Strangelove, films have the power to change what we think we know to be true. Don’t know much about history? Watch a movie! Just bear in mind that events may have unfolded a bit differently than as portrayed.

By Cathleen, Readers' Advisor on February 23, 2015 Categories: Books, Movies and TV, Nonfiction

New: Fiction and Nonfiction Books

Every Friday the Library will bring you short lists of buzz-worthy books in a rotating series of popular genres.

For these and other fresh reads, stop by the second floor Fiction/AV/Teen desk. While there, talk to a Readers’ Advisor about new and old titles tailored to your taste.

 

New: Fiction Books

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Mobile Library by David Whitehouse
The Sculptor by Scott McCloud
Miracle at the Higher Grounds Cafe by Max Lucado

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The First Bad Man by Miranda July
Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper
Uncle Janice by Matt Burgess

New: Nonfiction Books

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It’s What I Do by Lynsey Addario
How to Read the Solar System by Chris North and Paul Abel
Alphabetical by Michael Rosen

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Unrequited by Lisa A. Phillips
Listellany by John Rentoul
The Reaper by Nicholas Irving with Gary Brozek

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on February 20, 2015 Categories: Books, New Arrivals, Nonfiction

Fiction: The Panic Zone by Rick Mofina

Cover of The Panic ZoneReporter Jack Gannon is on the hunt for truth in the gripping international thriller The Panic Zone. Through the fiery wreckage of a devastating car accident in Wyoming, Emma Lane swears her one-year-old son is not dead and she saw someone take him. A bomb goes off in a Rio de Janeiro café, killing ten people including two reporters. On a cruise ship headed toward Florida a passenger dies, bleeding from every pore of his body. Three seemingly unrelated incidents are more connected than anyone could imagine, and only Jack seems to be putting the pieces together. As the stubborn journalist refuses to let go of these twisted stories, Rick Mofina keeps his readers at the edge of their seat.

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on February 19, 2015 Categories: Books, Mysteries/Thrillers/Suspense