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Book Discussion Questions: Homer and Langley by E.L. Doctorow

Homer and Langley book cover

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

 

Title: Homer and Langley
Author: E.L. Doctorow
Page Count: 208
Genre: Historical fiction, Biographical novels
Tone: Lyrical, dark, complex

 

1. In an interview on NPR, E.L. Doctorow said that the first line of this book was pivotal for him; he could not have done this book without this 1st sentence. It implies the texture of the entire text. Does anyone remember the 1st line? What is its importance to the reader?

2. Given this opening, how do you think Homer emotionally and physically handled his blindness? Do you think it was a “normal” reaction?

3. Homer went blind in his last 14 years of life from a stroke, not in his earlier years. Does this change your opinion of him?

4. Do you remember the description of their house? Do you think of the house as a character as well as the setting?

5. Do you think the house’s condition reflects the brothers’ own physical and mental conditions?

6. How would you describe Homer at the beginning of the story? What about Langley? What were their parents like?

7. What events happen in Homer and Langley’s lives that change everything?

8. What was Homer’s reaction to his parents’ death?

9. What effect did the WWI have on Langley? Did it change him? How would the brothers’ lives have been different if there had been no war?

10. What was Langley’s “Theory of Replacements”? Does the theory have any merit?

11. Langley is obsessive in his quest to create one universal newspaper of “seminal events”. What categories were used by Langley so that the newspaper would be “eternally current”? Why was this project so important to him?

12. There was an eclectic assortment of people who came into Homer and Langley’s lives. Do you feel that the brothers collected people the way that Langley collected objects? Did these people have anything in common?

13. Besides Homer and Langley, who are the most memorable character for you and why?

14. At one point, the Collyer brothers host tea dances in their home and charge their neighbors for the opportunity to drink and dance. Are the tea dances connected to Homer and Langley later becoming reclusive? Were they ever raided? If so, what happened after they were raided?

15. When WWII begins, the Hoshiyama’s, American born people of Japanese descent, are persecuted. What happens to them? Why? Is this based on history? What was your reaction to their persecution?

16. After the Hoshiyama’s were sent to an internment camp Langley said, “…We are not free if at someone else’s sufferance…” What did he mean by that?

17. After Harold Robileaux is killed in Africa, Grandmamma goes to New Orleans to be with his wife and baby. “Grandmamma had been the last connection to our past. I had understood her as some referent moral authority to whom we paid no heed, but by whose judgments we measured our waywardness.” Do you think things would still have gotten so bad is she had not left the brothers?

18. What did you think of the gas masks Langley bought? Why did he buy them?

19. Do you think the Collyer brothers tried to be completely self-reliant? What were their tactics? Were they successful?

20. Do you think the brothers were any crazier than the people around them?

21. Why do you think the press became so interested in their predicament?

22. What is the importance of Jacqueline? Did she remind you of anybody of that era? Do you think Jacqueline actually existed?

23. Do you think it was a sacrifice for either brother to stay in the house?

24. As is often the case in historical fiction, the author took liberties with known facts about the Collyer brothers. Why do you think E.L. Doctorow made these changes and how does it affect the dynamics between the two brothers? Do you think these changes made the characters more sympathetic?

25. How heavily did the hoarding take up your attention as a reader? Do you think hoarding is an unsettling disorder to observe? Why or why not?

 

Other Resources

E.L. Doctorow’s website
Lit Lovers book discussion questions
Cornell University book guide
Weber State University book discussion
WNYC radio interview
Inside the Collyer home
Collyer brothers Wikipedia

 

If you liked Homer and Langley, try…

Spooner by Pete Dexter
Keepsake by Kristina Riggle
Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Gail Steketee

Spooner cover     Keepsake coverStuff book cover

By Readers' Advisor on February 12, 2014 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books, Historical Fiction

Audiobook: Dangerous Women, edited by George R.R. Martin

Dangerous Women Playaway coverDanger can be alluring, frightening, and exciting all at once, and you won’t find a better illustration than in Dangerous Women, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. Whether your taste runs to female desperadoes, Scottish highlanders, warrior queens, femmes fatales, or modern magicians, you will be wowed by a carnival of choices offered by the best fan favorite writers of today. Diana Gabaldon, Jim Butcher, Lev Grossman, Sherilynn Kenyon, Carrie Vaughn, and Brandon Sanderson are among the standout contributors, and fans of Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series won’t want to miss the creator’s featured novella “The Princess and the Queen”. Intensify your thrills by listening to Dangerous Women in Playaway format, an easy-to-use portable player that holds an entire audiobook. Skip to the stories and narrators that tempt you most, but don’t be surprised if you devour them all.

Curious about Playaway and what the format has to offer?  Join us for Playaway Day on Saturday, February 1, 1-4 p.m., for giveaways and more information.

By Cathleen, Readers' Advisor on January 27, 2014 Categories: Audiobooks, Books, Fantasy & Sci-Fi, Historical Fiction, Mysteries/Thrillers/Suspense

New: Historical Fiction and Romance

Every Friday the Library will bring you two 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.

Get your reading glasses on, because here we go!

New: Historical Fiction Books

Paris Architect book cover

Signature of All Things book cover

Marching to Zion book cove

Morning Glory book cover

Drowning Guard book cover

Belle cora book cover

In the Night of Time book cover

Windsor Faction book cover

New: Romance Books

Law Man book cover

Pirate Bride book cover

Love After War book cover

Foreplay book cover

Big Sky Secrets book cover

Love Burns Bright book cover

Born Wild book cover

Lasat Man on Earth book cover

By Readers' Advisor on January 17, 2014 Categories: Books, Historical Fiction, New Arrivals, Romance

Fiction: Lion and Leopard by Nathaniel Popkin

Lion and Leopard book coverJohn Lewis Krimmel is not much remembered by history, but he was the first American painter of genre scenes – daily life and urban events with small-to-large crowds. If he had a nemesis, it was Charles Wilson Peale, a traditional portraitist. Krimmel set forth artistic rebellion in the Philadelphia art scene dominated by Peale. Lion and Leopard by Nathaniel Popkin delves into the young American art scene through multiple points of view, ranging from three best friends (a rogue, a consumptive, and a ladies’ man) to Peale’s pet monkey. If you like elegant, leisurely historical fiction, and art history, Lion and Leopard is a must-read debut.

By Readers' Advisor on December 26, 2013 Categories: Books, Historical Fiction

Book Discussion Questions: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Book Thief book cover

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

 

Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Page Count: 552
Genre: WWII fiction, coming-of-age stories
Tone: Haunting, lyrical, leisurely-paced

 

1. Why do you think Markus Zusak chose to use Death as the narrator?

2. Did you see Death as a certain gender?

3. Did you have any preconceptions about Death? Did the character match or differ from these notions?

4. Would you consider this book as a Young Adult or an Adult title?

5. Do you think teens and adults have differing reactions to The Book Thief? What elements might appeal to teens? Are those elements different than what would appeal to an adult?

6. Has reading a book considered by some to be a Young Adult title made you more inclined to read other YA titles?

7. How did you feel about the bold interruptions in the story? (Ex: lists, characterizations, Death occasionally setting the scene)

8. What are some examples of foreshadowing in The Book Thief? It seems like Death is constantly letting the plot out of the bag. Did this bother you? Did you like it? (Ex: Knowing Rudy was going to die hundreds of pages before it happened)

9. The Book Thief is divided into 9 sections each titled with a book Liesel received. The section title pages list the chapters within each section. Some of these reveal parts of the plot. Did you notice? How did you feel about it?

10. The Gravedigger’s Handbook, Shoulder Shrug, The Whistler, Dream Carrier, Word Shaker - these are some of the fictitious titles Liesel received. Do you think there is significance to the titles?

11. The text is broken in several places by Max’s picture books to Liesel. What do you think these stories added to The Book Thief? Could you have done without them?

12. What did you notice about the language Zusak used?

13. What do you think the symbolism of the cover is? (Re: dominoes about to be pushed over)

14. What characters seemed most developed? Were there any throw away characters you could do without?

15.  There was an emphasis on words and literature. What was the difference between how Hitler used his words and how Liesel used hers?

16. Were there any scenes in the book that overwhelmed you? What scenes stood out?

17. Hitler’s burning of books was a form of censorship. Is the censorship of books ever acceptable?

18. How do you feel about the relationship between Max and Liesel?

19. This book continuously alternates between great sorrows and small joys. As an example, Max is forced to hide in Liesel’s basement, but Liesel builds him a snowman inside. What are other examples of the ups and downs of The Book Thief? Do you think Zusak had a purpose in this alternating?

20. How does The Book Thief add (or subtract) from the wide variety of literature already written about WWII? Do you think it stands out?

 

Other Resources

Markus Zusak’s website
Greenwich Library book discussion questions
One Book, One Chicago resources
Random House readers’ guide
Part I, Part II, and Part III of Markus Zusak at the Sutherland Library
New York Times review of The Book Thief
The Guardian interviews Markus Zusak

 

If you liked The Book Thief, try…

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
Maus by Art Spiegelman
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

History of Love book cover     Maus book coverBriar Rose book cover

By Readers' Advisor on December 25, 2013 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books, Historical Fiction

Lists: Alternate Histories on Audiobook

Hitler's War book coverAlternate history is a genre that explores “what if” questions. What if Hitler was killed early in his life? What if JFK was never assassinated? What if the Black Death had killed 99% of Europe and not 33%? These are the sort of questions authors ask and then let the domino effect splatter from their pens.

Click here to listen to the best alternate history audiobooks the Library has to offer.

By Readers' Advisor on December 6, 2013 Categories: Audiobooks, Fantasy & Sci-Fi, Historical Fiction, Lists

Staff Pick: Mistress by Amanda Quick

Denise staff picks photoIphiginia Bright is a witty, impertinent woman ready to break free of her role as a staid schoolmistress, but is she equipped to handle her newest role…as the Earl of Masters’ mistress? Amanda Quick’s historical romance Mistress will have you laughing and turning pages to see what happens next.

By Readers' Advisor on November 5, 2013 Categories: Books, Historical Fiction, Picks by Denise, Romance, Staff Picks

Book Discussion Questions: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Shadow of the Wind book cover

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

 

Title: The Shadow of the Wind
Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Page Count: 486
Genre: Historical fiction
Tone: Literary, intricate, mysterious

 

1. What did you think of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books?  Would you like to explore such a place?

2. Before you began the book, did you have any expectations?  How did this meet, exceed, or disappoint them?

3. It is said that each of us reads a different book, because we all bring our own experiences and preconceptions and thoughts to our reading. What book did you read? There’s so much to absorb in this book; what stands out to you?

a. The love story (-ies)?
b. The mystery of Julian Carax?
c. The Javert-like Inspector Fumero?
d. Other?

4. “Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.” (p. 215) Do you agree? In what ways was this your experience while reading The Shadow of the Wind?

5. Why do you think the novel (and the fictional novel by Julian Carax) is called The Shadow of the Wind?

6. The character of Fermin plays many roles in the course of the story. What are they? How does he impact the plot?

7. In what ways are Daniel and Fermin good for each other?

8. What roles do Daniel’s parents play in the story?

9. What are some of the significant turning points in the book?

10. How did Daniel’s first encounter with Lain Coubert affect him? What did you make of this shadowy character? At what point did you realize his true identity?

11. What is the significance of Victor Hugo’s Mont Blanc pen?

12. How would you characterize Zafon’s use of language?

13. How are women portrayed in the book?

14. How does Daniel’s life begin to parallel Carax’s? How did you feel about this?

a. Though they follow very similar trajectories, one ends in tragedy and the other in happiness. What are the differences that allow Daniel to avoid tragedy?
b. What is the relationship between Carax and Daniel?

15. Did Julian deserve for Miguel and Nuria to lay down their lives for him?

16. How does the setting – Spain under Franco – affect the story? Could the story have taken place somewhere other than Barcelona?

17. How are the sins of the fathers and mothers visited upon different characters?

18. Who would you say is the pivot around which the events of the story revolve: Carax or Fumero?

19. How would you describe the tone of The Shadow of the Wind?

20. How do suspense and humor work together in the novel? Does the existence of one reduce the impact of the other, or is the book enhanced by the use of both?

21. What is the view of evil within the book as a whole? What does it see as evil? What does it see as the solution to evil?

22. Which values and perspectives are encouraged by this book? Which does it discourage?

23. Did the story keep your interest throughout? Did your feelings about it change as you read it?

24. What did you think of the ending, in which Daniel introduces his son Julian to the Cemetery?

25. What are some criticisms of the book? Why might someone not like it?

 

Other Resources

Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s website
Reading Group Guide discussion questions
Buttery Books’ book club party ideas
Telegraph interview with Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Carlos Ruiz Zafón on bookstores closing
Wikipedia entry on the Spanish Civil War

 

If you liked The Shadow of the Wind, try…

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell book cover     Gargoyle book coverClub Dumas book cover

 

By Readers' Advisor on October 30, 2013 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books, Historical Fiction

LISTS: Circus and Carnival Books and Movies

Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb book coverYou’ve done Water for Elephants, next you read The Night Circus, but now you’re at a loss. Don’t be! The midway is waiting for you, full of love, thrills, funnel cake, and exotica. The Library will help you run away to the circus.

Click here for circus and carnival fiction.
More in the mood for nonfiction? Click here.
Feel like sitting back and watching a carnie flick? Click here.

By Readers' Advisor on October 18, 2013 Categories: Books, Historical Fiction, Lists, Movies and TV

Historical Fiction on the Jersey Shore

Palisades Park book coverEddie and Adele sell French fries at Palisades Park not far from the Cyclone roller coaster. The Stopka’s food stall becomes a family business when their children, Toni and Jack, come along. It’s easy to dream big when you’re surrounded by the beauty and continuous fun of Palisades…but eventually reality causes cracks in the Stopka’s wonderland. Palisades Park by Alan Brennert – author of Moloka’I – follows the Stopka family as the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, fire, race riots, and the rest of the 20th century unfold around them. If you like richly-detailed historical fiction, nostalgic Americana, or deep family stories, try Palisades Park.

By Readers' Advisor on October 3, 2013 Categories: Books, Historical Fiction