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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

Staff Pick: From the Land of the Moon by Milena Agus

Picture of JennyThis poetic gem translated from Italian is weighted with sorrow. Written in flashbacks spanning three generations, a girl shares the story of her Sardinian grandmother who has been in search for perfect love and declared mad as a result. Milena Agus’ From the Land of the Moon is a study of unreliable narrators, misunderstanding, and the reaches of the heart.

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on April 21, 2015 Categories: Books, Literary, Picks by Jenny, Staff Picks

Fiction: Hiding the Past by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Hiding the Past book coverGenealogists are, by definition, detectives. They start with one or more clues, apply patience and a great deal of detail work, and follow the threads wherever they lead, hoping for a satisfying conclusion. Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s Hiding the Past plays those similarities to great effect by creating an original genealogical mystery novel. A British man with no family history calls on expert Morton Farrier to trace his roots but is dead by apparent suicide the day after they meet. As Farrier doggedly investigates, others are determined to keep past events from seeing the light of the present, including a possible WWII conspiracy. However, even mounting danger won’t keep a dedicated researcher from his answers, and his adventures are worth scaling this particular family tree.

By Cathleen, Readers' Advisor on April 20, 2015 Categories: Books, Mysteries/Thrillers/Suspense

New Arrivals: 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

Cover of Our Endless Numbered Days Cover of The Turner House Cover of Happiness for Beginners

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
The Turner House by Angela Flourney
Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

Cover of Emma Cover of Where All Light Tends to Go Cover of The Listener

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith
Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy
The Listener by Rachel Basch

New: Nonfiction Books

Cover of Capital DamesCover of Very Good Lives Cover of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Capital Dames by Cokie Roberts
Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae

Cover of All Who Do Not Return Cover of Experimental Homebrewing Cover of So You've Been Publicly Shamed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Who Do Not Return by Shulem Deen
Experimental Homebrewing by Drew Beechum and Denny Conn
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on April 17, 2015 Categories: Books, Literary, New Arrivals

Fiction: Life With Mr. Dangerous by Paul Hornschemeier

Cover of Life With Mr. DangerousPaul Hornschemeier vibrantly paints the picture of a 26-year-old who feels stuck. Dragged down by the repetition of working in retail and terrible relationships, Amy Beir turns to phone conversations with a friend who moved to San Francisco and the cartoon Mr. Dangerous to keep her sanity. Hornschemeier uses colorful simplistic drawings  to slice out the anxieties of daily life, from being gifted pink unicorn sweatshirts by her mother to the pressure of leaving voice mails. Laced with humor and touches of the surreal Life With Mr. Dangerous captures the struggle of growing up when you’re supposed to be a grown up already.

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on April 16, 2015 Categories: Books

Fiction: The Immigrant Experience

Picture of Immigrant Experience Display
This week on our displays we are featuring books involving the Immigrant Experience. Displays are located on the second floor by the elevators and toward the start of Adult Fiction. Interested in being matched with a book suited to your taste? Stop by the Fiction/AV/Desk on the second floor to speak with a Readers’ Advisor or email us at readers@mppl.org. Check out some of the books below!

Cover of A Free Life Cover of Hedwig and Berti Cover of Giants in the Earth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Free Life by Ha Jin
Hedwig and Berti by Frieda Arkin
Giants in the Earth by O.C. Rölvaag

Cover of Threads of HopeCover of The Saint of Lost Things Cover of Let it Rain Coffee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Threads of Hope by Andrea Boeshaar
The Saint of Lost Things by Christopher Castellani
Let It Rain Coffee by Angie Cruz

Cover of The Arrival Cover of The Book of Unknown Americans Cover of Desirable Daughters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Arrival by Shaun Tan
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez
Desirable Daughters by Bharati Mukherjee

Cover of Panic in a Suitcase Cover of Americanah Cover of The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on April 10, 2015 Categories: Books, Historical Fiction, Lists, Literary

Fiction: The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith

Cover of The Sunday Philosophy ClubAfter witnessing a young man fall to his death at a symphony and with a tendency toward nosiness, Isabel accidentally ends up in the middle of a mystery in the first of Alexander McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie series. Between editing philosophy articles, advising her niece on her love life, and attending art shows Isabel happens upon information leading her to believe the fall may not have been an accident. Although Isabel is a relaxed detective, focusing often on the engaging characters in her life and questions of morality, she is still determined to find the truth no matter what it takes. The Sunday Philosophy Club is just the beginning of a series sprinkled with humor and life’s bigger questions.

 

 

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on April 9, 2015 Categories: Books, Mysteries/Thrillers/Suspense

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

Staff Pick: Carnet de Voyage by Craig Thompson

Cathleen staff picks photoPaging through Carnet de Voyage is like a virtual backpack trip through Europe and Morocco. Craig Thompson’s sketchbook travel diary depicts in simple yet telling detail the moments, individuals, and local color that made indelible impressions on him during a combination book tour and search for exotic new inspiration.

By Cathleen, Readers' Advisor on April 7, 2015 Categories: Books, Nonfiction, Picks by Cathleen, Staff Picks

New Arrivals: Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense

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: Mystery Books

Cover of Whiskers of the Lion Cover of Lethal Beauty Cover of Tattered Legacy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whiskers of the Lion by P.L. Gaus
Lethal Beauty by Lis Wiehl
Tattered Legacy by Shannon Baker

Cover of AsylumCover of Stiff Penalty Cover of Blue Avenue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Asylum by Jeannette De Beauvoir
Stiff Penalty by Annelise Ryan
Blue Avenue by Michael Wiley

New: Thrillers and Suspense

Cover of The Patriot Threat Cover of The Pocket Wife Cover of Lacy Eye

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Patriot Threat by Steve Berry
The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford
Lacy Eye by Jessica Treadway

Cover of The Devil's Detective Cover of As Good as Dead Cover of Werewolf Cop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Devil’s Detective by Simon Kurt Unsworth
As Good As Dead by Elizabeth Evans
Werewolf Cop by Andrew Klavan

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on April 3, 2015 Categories: Books, Mysteries/Thrillers/Suspense, New Arrivals