Told through a series of letters, Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members takes readers into the world of Jason Fitger, a wry English professor at Payne University, sending out letters of recommendation on behalf of his students and colleagues. Fitger’s recommendations mix bluntness with heart, ranging anywhere from: “His approach to problem solving is characterized by sullenness punctuated by occasional brief bouts of good judgment” to “He can read and write; he’s not unsightly; and he doesn’t appear to be addicted to illegal substances prior to 3:00 p.m.” Often passive-aggressive yet always eloquent, Fitger constantly overshares. His letters end up diving into past disagreements, the disintegration of Payne University’s English program, and his rocky writing career, all resulting in a hilarious window into one cynical academic’s mind.
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Actor Colin Firth reads the dreamy, reflective prose of Graham Greene in the 2013 Audiobook of the Year, The End of the Affair. A modern classic in its own right, the story examines the complexities of jagged emotions against the backdrop of a turbulent time. What happens when a seemingly passionate relationship is brought to an abrupt end? We experience it all through Maurice’s first-person narration, and his testimonial proves to be a one-man theatre showcase for Firth’s expert performance. As his character grapples with desire, jealousy, religion, and death, listeners realize that this is a story about so much more than two separated lovers.
Title: The Tiger’s Wife
Author: Téa Obreht
Page Count: 338 pages
Genre: Literary fiction
Tone: Mystical, Haunting, Lyrical
Summary from publisher:
In a Balkan country mending from war, Natalia, a young doctor, is compelled to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. Searching for clues, she turns to his worn copy of The Jungle Book and the stories he told her of his encounters over the years with “the deathless man.” But most extraordinary of all is the story her grandfather never told her–the legend of the tiger’s wife.
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.
1. Did it bother you that there were no actual geographical or time period references?
2. How did the time-shifting aspects of the book affect your experience of the story?
3. Natalia and Zora were together on a mission trip when she finds out that her grandfather had died. Why doesn’t she tell Zora?
4. Zora is in a predicament. There is a malpractice case brought up against a man who is well connected in the medical community. Her dilemma is whether to “stick it to the man she despised for years and risking a career and reputation she was just beginning to build.” She tells Natalia that she wants to ask her grandfathers’ opinion. What advice do you think he would have given her? What would you do?
5. “Swear to me on your life that you didn’t know.” Why didn’t Natalia admit to her grandmother that she knew her grandfather was sick?
6. As Natalia and her grandfather are watching the elephant walk down the street in the middle of the night, Natalia said, “None of my friends will ever believe this.” Her grandfather replied, “The story of the war that belongs to everyone, but something like this, this is yours and belongs only to us.” What do you think he means by this?
7. There are so many references to The Jungle Book and Shere Khan in this novel. Do you see any parallels between Shere Khan of The Jungle Book and the tiger?
8. Why was Barba Ivan’s dog Bis painted by everyone?
9. Leandro understood that part of the tiger was Shere Khan but he has always felt some compassion for Shere Khan. Why do you think that is?
10. How did you feel reading the story from the tiger’s perspective?
11. There are many other animals in this story (parrot, dog, owl, bear). Does their presence have a deeper meaning?
12. Was Dure a good father?
13. Luko, Jovo and the blacksmith go out to kill the tiger after it was seen in the smokehouse. Why did Luko and Jovo tell everyone that the tiger killed the blacksmith and not admit that the gun backfired?
14. Natalia lived most of her life under either the threat of oncoming war or war itself. Would this state have an effect on the decisions one makes for them? How does the lack of a war then affect her?
15. Why do you think “Riki Tiki Tavi” is the deathless man’s favorite story in The Jungle Book?
16. The author said she intended to write the deathless man as more of a menacing character; instead, she felt, he ended up being almost comforting. Had she written that character in a different way, how do you think it would change the tone of the story?
17. Who is the deathless man? Does he exist?
18. Do you think Dr. Leandro, Natalia’s grandfather, is an honorable man? Why or why not?
19. Dr. Leandro placed a wager with the deathless man. Who do you think won? Should Dr. Leandro have paid his debt? If you think he lost the wager does his refusal to honor it change your opinion of him?
20. The second time Dr. Leandro saw the deathless man, there was a miracle by a waterfall. Dr. Leandro was by the waterfall to take care of the sick people that made their pilgrimage there. Gavran Gaile, a.k.a. the deathless man, was by the waterfall as well, and he was letting people know that their time was coming. “But that is what I do; that is my work to give Peace,” the deathless man had said. Do you think that knowing their time is coming gave the sick people peace?
21. Téa Obreht seems to present a character in a certain light, and then she offers background information. Did you find that the background information made you change your initial opinion of any of the characters? If so, which ones and why?
22. Luka takes the tiger’s wife to the smokehouse, ties her up, and leaves her there in hopes that the tiger will devour her. Two weeks later she shows up in town “with a fresh bright face and a smile that suggested something new about her.” What happened to Luka?
23. Why did the villagers hate the tiger’s wife? Why did mother Vera help the tiger’s wife?
24. What was your opinion of the apothecary?
25. Why did Natalia volunteer to take the “heart” to the crossroads and wait for the Mora?
26. What do you think happened to Dr. Leandro’s copy of The Jungle Book?
27. Was there any story or part of the book that particularly struck you?
If you liked The Tiger’s Wife, try…
Eleven- year-old Rachel is the sole survivor of a horrific tragedy claiming the lives of her mother, brother, and sister. With a father too grief-stricken to take care of her, Rachel is sent to live with her grandmother in Portland, Oregon. For the first time Rachel, who is biracial, deals with racism from all different members of her community. Woven in with Rachel’s coming-of-age tale is the story of the emotional events leading to the family’s tragedy and the rippling effect of decisions big and small. Peppered with heartbreaking insights and vivid imagery, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow is an absorbing story about survival, the mistakes humans make, family, and the role race has in identity.
SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.
Title: The House on the Strand
Author: Daphne du Maurier
Page Count: 298
Genre: Literary fantasy, Gothic fiction, Time travel
Tone: Mysterious, Atmospheric, Suspenseful
1. Were you caught up in the book right away? Did you find it hard to follow?
2. How did you feel about the narrative moving back and forth between time periods? Several critics have commented on the immense skill with which du Maurier keeps tension on both levels. Would you agree?
3. Which time period /storyline did you find more interesting?
4. What was your opinion of Richard, the narrator?
5. Being the straight-laced man that he was, why did Richard try Magnus’ drug in the first place?
6. How would you characterize the relationship between Magnus and Richard?
7. What differences were there in the ways Magnus and Richard approached the experiments?
8. Why do you think Roger was used as the link/guide/alter ego?
9. Why did John Willis corroborate Richard’s testimony at the inquest?
10. How important to the story is Vita? Why so?
• Did you like her? Feel sorry for her? Were you increasingly annoyed by/with her as Dick was?
• How would you characterize Richard and Vita’s relationship? Why is this so?
• Why didn’t Richard tell Vita about the drug, especially after she became suspicious of him having an affair and acting so erratically?
• In Latin, “Vita” translates as “life”. Do you think this was an intentional choice for du Maurier? What might this understanding add?
11. Did you trust Dr. Powell? Was he right to release Richard when he did?
12. What was the allure for Richard to keep going back to the past?
13. Would you agree that this is a “story of addiction”? If so, was he addicted to the drug itself or to the stories he witnessed?
14. Was Richard actually time-traveling or merely hallucinating?
• Were you satisfied with Dr. Powell’s theories at the end of the book?
• If it were the drug, why did Magnus and Richard travel back to same period?
15. Would you say the tone of the story is approving? marveling? objective?
16. What did you think of the end of the book? Was it satisfying to you?
• What really happened to Richard?
• Du Maurier once wrote, “What about the hero of The House on the Strand? What did it mean when he dropped the telephone at the end of the book? I don’t really know, but I rather think he was going to be paralysed for life. Don’t you?” Does her statement surprise you?
17. This book was written in 1969. Is the subject still topical? Would you recommend this book to others?
18. How do du Maurier’s descriptions deepen and reinforce the themes in the novel?
19. Growing up, du Maurier disliked the expectations and limitations of being a girl. How well does she write the male perspective? What other attitudes toward society are revealed in her story and characters?
20. Du Maurier’s only disappointment with The House on the Strand was that a film version was not made. It was her favorite of all her books, and she had written it almost as a film script. Do you think it a story that could be successfully adapted as a movie or miniseries?
Daphne du Maurier author site
author interview from Kilmarth, a central location in The House on the Strand
BBC article: “Walking in du Maurier’s Footsteps”
“The Cornwall of Daphne du Maurier”, originally published in British Heritage magazine
If you liked The House on the Strand, try…
Listen up! This year’s winners of the Audie Awards have been announced, celebrating the best audiobooks to bring giggles, sighs, knowledge, and excitement. Treat yourself to one of the top titles pictured below, and make the most of the fun by adding it to your Summer Reading Program log.
Audiobook of the Year: Still Foolin’ ‘Em, written and read by Billy Crystal
** also winner for Humor and for Narration by the Author
Biography/Memoir: The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony, read by Simon Vance
Literary Fiction: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, read by David Pittu
** also winner for Solo Narration (Male)
Science Fiction: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold, read by Grover Gardner
Romance: The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks, read by Ron McLarty and January LaVoy
Thriller/Suspense: The Hit by David Baldacci, read by Ron McLarty with Orlagh Cassidy
SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.
Title: The Age of Innocence
Author: Edith Wharton
Page Count: 362
Genre: Classic literature, Love stories, Social commentary
Tone: Bittersweet, Moving, Nostalgic, Satirical
1. What do you make of Newland Archer? Is a hero, a victim, or something in between?
2. Were his motivations selfless or selfish?
3. Did Newland truly love either May or Ellen?
4. Why do you think Wharton made Newland the lead character in her novel? How might the story be different if told from the Countess Olenska’s point of view? Or from May’s?
5. For which character did you feel the strongest, either positively or negatively? Did your opinions evolve as the story progressed?
6. Would Newland have been happier with Ellen?
7. How might the story have been different if Newland and Ellen had embarked on a full affair, rather than a fairly conservative flirtation?
8. Would you have liked to know more about Newland and May’s courtship? What might those details have revealed about the characters, about their marriage?
9. What does Newland see in May at the beginning of the novel? What does he see in Ellen? What does each woman represent for him? What does each woman see in Newland?
10. Some critics have described May as one of the great villains of American literature. Does that characterization surprise you? Is it a fair assessment? In what ways might she be considered villainous?
11. Can you attach any symbolic significance to May’s skill with a bow and arrow? What does this side of her reveal about her character, about her relationship with Newland?
12. How does the novel portray marriage? How does it portray passion and sexuality? Are the ideas surrounding each applied differently to the male and female characters?
13. Is this a classic tale of star-crossed lovers, of love unrequited—or is it something else, something more? Is it a story of an affair or of a marriage?
14. Some critics have called this novel a story of identity. Would you agree? What do you think it has to say about identity? How might this be a story about belonging?
15. How much of our identity comes from the life we are born into versus the life we create for ourselves? How do you see this question working in the lives and identities of the characters in this novel?
16. What other characters made an impression on you? How significantly did the peripheral characters influence the lives of Newland, May, and Ellen?
17. Think about the title of this novel. Is it meant to be taken literally—was it truly an innocent time? Or is the title ironic? Who among these characters could be described as innocent?
18. Wharton often expressed her dislike of modernity, her unhappiness with the hustle and bustle and lack of courtesy in modern life. Is her novel a piece of nostalgia for the “good old days”? In what ways might it be considered satire?
19. Upon its publication, The Age of Innocence became an immediate sensation. Why do you think that is?
20. Wharton won the Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Innocence, but only after some controversy where the prize was taken from its original recipient—Sinclair Lewis for Main Street (a biting social satire of small-town America). The Board of Trustees said Wharton’s novel “presented the wholesome atmosphere of American life and the highest standard of American manners and manhood.” Was their assessment correct?
21. It’s a novel about the very wealthy. Could a similar story be told about the very poor? What elements would be different? Which would be the same?
22. It is certainly a novel of its time and place. Would you also consider it a timeless story? Do its themes resonate today?
23. The novel ends with Newland deciding not to meet with Ellen later in life. Why do you think he made this decision? Did you want him to see her? What would you have done if you were him?
Reader’s Guide from the Big Read
The life and legacy of Edith Wharton
Painting believed to have inspired the title of Wharton’s novel
Edith Wharton/Sinclair Lewis Pulitzer Prize controversy
Roger Ebert’s review of Martin Scorsese’s 1993 film adaptation
In Jenny Offill’s slim, yet rich, second novel, a narrator known only as “the wife” details love’s dizzying beginnings, the leap of faith into marriage and parenthood, and the disorienting effects of a crumbling relationship—all in stream-of-consciousness bites both deeply personal and relatable. She teaches creative writing, her husband creates soundtracks for commercials, and their daughter rages, seemingly at war with the world. The wife’s mental health is precarious; though desperately in love with her small family, she feels unmoored. An infestation of bed bugs comes like a nightmare of a climax. And then there’s crushing betrayal. For fans of brutally honest domestic drama and protagonists oozing self-awareness, Dept. of Speculation will prove a compelling, quick, heartrending read.
Every Friday the Library will bring you short lists of buzz-worthy books in a rotating series of popular genres. This week we invite you to check out a winner!
Are you drawn to the adventure and panorama of the West? Try one or more of the Spur Awards honorees:
Best Western Contemporary Novel – Light of the World by James Lee Burke
Best Western Traditional Novel – Crossing Purgatory by Gary Schanbacher
Best First Novel – Spider Woman’s Daughter by Anne Hillerman
Have a taste for distinguished American writing? Read a newly minted Pulitzer Prize winner:
Fiction – The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
General Nonfiction – Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin
Biography or Autobiography – Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall
Which titles have the respect of their peers? The Los Angeles Times Book Awards are chosen by working writers to celebrate how reading is an essential way of connecting with and understanding the world in which we live:
Fiction – A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Mystery/Thriller – The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction – We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
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.
Billy Collins is the master of casual, accessible poetry. He can make Cheerios poetic. No joke! His poetry is especially charming when he is reading his work out loud. Aimless Love is a collection of Collins’ new and selected poems. It is an astoundingly reflective and joyful audiobook read by the poet himself. Collins, a former two-term U.S. Poet Laureate, is the king of plain speech in contemporary poetry. He pens poems on subjects as diverse as living in the digital age, ancient history, and eating alone. This playful yet serious work is an excellent introduction for those who don’t normally read or listen to poetry.