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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

Staff Pick: Elizabeth and Hazel by David Margolick

Picture of LarryDavid Margolick describes the lives of two girls in the famous photograph from Little Rock Central High School’s desegregation in 1957: a stoic African-American girl walking on the first day of school followed by a white girl, her face distorted as she screams racial epithets. Elizabeth and Hazel is a thought provoking and memorable exploration of how this experience affected their lives in attempts to reconcile the painful, traumatic experience within themselves and with each other.

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on March 24, 2015 Categories: Books, Nonfiction, Picks by Larry, Staff Picks

Nonfiction: Young House Love by Sherry and John Petersik

Cover of Young House LoveWith spring on the way, it’s time to get started on the household DIY projects that have been set to the side. Sherry and John Petersick share more than 200 ways to decorate and update a variety of living spaces. Mixing photographs with drawings and humor with helpful tips, the couple presents ideas ranging from using a Sharpie to spruce up a shelf to more complicated projects like creating sink backsplashes. Sherry and John spread the wealth of where they receive inspiration from by listing their favorite websites and magazines plus featuring guest bloggers throughout. With such a range of ideas, Young House Love will be sure to inspire a variety of crafters, from the inexperienced to the more seasoned.

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on March 12, 2015 Categories: Books, Nonfiction

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

Cover of Mobile Library Cover of The Sculptor Cover of Miracle at the Higher Grounds Café

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Cover of First Bad Man Cover of Etta and Otto and Russell Cover of Uncle Janice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Cover of It’s What  I Do Cover of How to Read the Solar System Cover of Alphabetical

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Cover of UnrequitedCover of ListellanyCover of The Reaper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Staff Pick: 41: A Portrait of My Father by George W. Bush

Picture of DonnaYou don’t have to be a Democrat or a Republican to enjoy 41: A Portrait of My Father by George W. Bush. This glimpse into a son’s love and admiration for his father shows a remarkable man who served in WWII, founded an oil company, and was a Congressman, United Nations Representative, Vice President, CIA Director and the 41st President of the USA.

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on February 17, 2015 Categories: Books, Nonfiction, Picks by Donna, Staff Picks

Nonfiction: Get Wrapped Up in Crafts

Picture of Get Wrapped up in Crafts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Adult Winter Reading Program is in full swing! For every book you read or listen to in February stop by the Fiction/AV/Teen Services Desk on the second floor to fill out a drawing slip and  you could win a prize!

If you’re looking for inspiration on what to read next, while you’re at the Fiction/AV/Teen Desk you can speak with a Readers’ Advisor, email us at readers@mppl.org, or take a look at some of the displays featured throughout the library such as the one highlighted here.

 

Cover of Tiny Whittling Cover of 101 Tees Cover of 30 Min Knits

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tiny Whittling by Steve Tomashek
101 Tees by Cathie Filian
30 Min-Knits by Carol Meldrum

Cover of PhotocraftCover of 100 Crafts Under 10Cover of Wheel Throwing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photocraft by Caroline Hertel, Laurie Frankel, & Laura Lovett
100 Crafts under $10 by Susan Banker
Wheel Throwing by Emily Reason

Cover of Glass Engraving Cover of Paper Pups Cover of Dozens of Ways to Repurpose Scarves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glass Engraving by Sonia Lucano
Paper Pups by Hiroshi Hayakawa
Dozens of Ways to Repurpose Scarves by Nathalie Mornu

Cover of Fresh Quilting Cover of Complete Photo Guide to Cake Decorating Cover of 75 Chinese Celtic and Ornamental Knots

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh Quilting by Malk Dubrawsky
The Complete Photo Guide to Cake Decorating by Autumn Carpenter
75 Chinese, Celtic, and Ornamental Knots by Laura Williams

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on February 13, 2015 Categories: Books, Nonfiction

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

Staff Pick: The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

Picture of Barbara F.History comes to life in this darkly haunting narrative of murder, rebellion, and aristocracy. Candace Fleming shares the story of the Romanov family and the lives of the Russian peasant class with the help of diary entries, letters, and photos. The Family Romanov is an intense look at the disparity between wealth and poverty and how this clash ended in violence and political change.

 

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on January 27, 2015 Categories: Books, Nonfiction, Picks by Barbara F., Staff Picks

Nonfiction: A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor

History of the World in 100 Objects book coverHere’s a challenge for all you list-makers and students of society: choose only one hundred items to represent the entirety of human history. Tough task, right? Members of the British Museum and of the BBC took up this mission and gave themselves a few rules: draw from all time periods, cover the entire world equally, and include the humble everyday as well as great works of art. Director Neil MacGregor compiled the results in A History of the World in 100 Objects. Sure, you’ll find the Rosetta Stone and Bolivian pieces-of-eight, but also making the cut is a modern UAE credit card and a 2001 throne made of weapons from Mozambique. It’s a fascinating way to chart civilization, and you’ll find yourself unearthing more than you expected.

By Cathleen, Readers' Advisor on January 26, 2015 Categories: Books, Nonfiction