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Book Discussion Questions: Still Life With Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

Still Life With Bread Crumbs Book CoverTitle: Still Life With Bread Crumbs
Author: Anna Quindlen
Page Count: 252 pages
Genre: Fiction
Tone: Moving, Romantic, Reflective

Summary:
Moving to a small country cabin, a once world-famous photographer bonds with a local man and begins to see the world around her in new, deeper dimensions while evaluating second chances at love, career, and self-understanding.

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

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. How did you like Rebecca Winter as a character?  Do you feel satisfied with how much you know about her?  Are there any aspects of Rebecca’s situation that you especially relate to?

2. How does the third-person narration affect your impression of Rebecca?  How different would the book have been had it been written from a first-person point of view?

3. What are Rebecca’s initial impressions of living in the country?

4. How did Rebecca’s marriage to Peter affect her?  Despite it not having been an ideal match, what does she miss about being married?

5. How is Jim intelligent in ways that Peter isn’t?  What are some other character traits that make Jim likable?  What do Rebecca and Jim like about each another?

6. How did you respond to the character of Rebecca’s mother?  Beatrice (Bebe) is described as being “as definite, as unyielding, as dark as the ungainly statue of Artemis” (p. 53).  As a columnist/author of nonfiction, Quindlen has written candidly about the importance of motherhood as well as its joys and challenges – why do you think she created a chilly, unsupportive mother figure for Rebecca?

7. How does her father, Oscar, compare as a parent?  How would you characterize Rebecca’s relationship with him?  Why does she keep her move to the country from him?

8. How did you respond to the portrayal of Bebe’s dementia?

9. What do the secondary characters contribute to the book?  Do you have any favorites?

10. In an interview published in The Washington Post (1-28-14), Quindlen said that Rebecca’s story was partially inspired by “how we live in New York City, about failing to see beneath the surface.”  One of the themes in Still Life With Bread Crumbs is things (objects / people / experiences) not being what they are initially perceived to be.  What are some examples of this?

11. A theme in much of Quindlen’s nonfiction pieces is the effect of losing her mother at a young age (19), and in particular how the loss influenced her appreciation for life and “the gift of getting older.”  Like Quindlen, Jim lost his mother at a young age.  What does this loss mean for his character and his worldview?

12. The book explores how Rebecca’s photography career took off after her Bread Crumbs photo, and yet “she mainly found her good work to be accidental, and immediate” (p. 78).  Why did her photography become so important artistically for feminism?

13. Jim is upset with Rebecca for taking pictures of the crosses despite not knowing why they were there.  Do you believe a photographer has a responsibility to understand what they are capturing with their photographs?  Why / why not?

14. Rebecca thinks her father believes “photography was a second-rate artistic pursuit.”  Some people do dismiss photography as an inferior art form, or as not art at all.  What are your thoughts on this?  What other types of creative expression are not held in high esteem?

15. Have you ever felt locked into an image of yourself, whether it was created by you or outside forces?  (p. 173: “People froze you in place, Rebecca sometimes thought… More important, you froze yourself, often into a person in whom you truly had no interest.  So you had a choice: you could continue a masquerade, or you could give up on it.”)

16. There is a particular life stage captured in this book, accepting that you are getting older but realizing there are still many possibilities ahead.  Do you believe this book appeals more to readers past a certain age, or is there a broader potential audience?

17. Do you find the idea of reinventing yourself exciting or terrifying?  How does the idea of control play into this?

18. At the end of the book, what does Rebecca like about her life and situation that she didn’t appreciate before?

19. Were there any lessons you learned from this book?

20. In By the Book: Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from the NY Times Book Review (ed. By Pamela Paul), Anna Quindlen writes “I have many poetry collections – that’s my version of self-help” (p. 163).  Can Still Life With Bread Crumbs be seen as a form of self-help to its readers?  Why or why not?

21. Quindlen is a self-described feminist writer and has covered women’s issues in her journalism (exploring topics of women’s rights, political climate for women, balancing career and family, and modern life for women).  How does Still Life With Bread Crumbs contribute to the literature of contemporary women’s lives?  How is Rebecca’s story unique to the experience of women?

22. In an interview with Bookgirl TV pocast, Quindlen remarks “a simple, ordinary existence is just about the best thing out there.”  How does this novel reflect that belief?

23. With Still Life With Bread Crumbs, one of Quindlen’s goals was to write a love story.  How much does the romance element factor into this novel?  She also wanted to write a book with a happy ending.  Do you believe the conclusion of Still Life succeeds?

24. There are some interesting stylistic choices in the book.  Several scenes loop backward in time to a prior scene that the character recalls.  How did you respond to these multiple time shifts in certain scenes?  Does the circular patterning make you think of anything theme-wise?

25. In a direct reference to time, the phrase “but that was later” is a frequent comment at end of scenes.  What did you think of this pattern/repeated phrase?

26. Related to this, some chapters go far back in time (Thanksgiving 1956, for example) or way forward (one of the White Cross Series reviews).  What did you think of this?  What do you think the author was trying to achieve and do you think she succeeded?

27. Quindlen has stated that the theme of running out of money has been rarely explored in novels.  What do you think of the author’s choice to include specific dollar figures in Rebecca’s ruminations, when she does mathematical calculations in her head?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!

OTHER RESOURCES:

Lit Lovers’ Discussion Questions
Video Interview with Anna Quindlen on BookGirlTV
New York Times book review, “Second Shot” by Joanna Rakoff
Washington Post interview with Carole Burns
Transcript of NPR interview (2-2-14)

REadalikes:
Back When We Were Grownups book cover Open House book cover Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake book cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler
Open House by Elizabeth Berg
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen

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Staff Pick: In the Country by Mia Alvar

Picture of NancySummer is a wonderful time to pick up a collection of short stories.  I recommend Mia Alvar’s knockout debut, In the Country, which has been described by readers as dazzling, phenomenal, and stunning.  With a variety of characters as well as settings, these richly detailed stories capture the Filipino immigrant experience in an unforgettable way.

LGBTQ Romance: Love Wins

male couple holding handsThere are many stories to tell in LGBTQ literature, not just coming-of-age or coming out.  Especially when real-life events weigh on the heart, losing yourself in the promise of two people finding each other and hoping for that happily ever after can offer sweet satisfaction.

Celebrate life with these recommended titles, eligible for Summer Reading Challenge options (R) Read a romance or (K) Read a book by or about someone who identifies as LGBTQ.

 

Dont Let Me Go book coverDon’t Let Me Go
by J.H. Trumble

Nate and Adam are high school sweethearts separated by post-graduation dreams. Can young love survive a long-distance relationship, or might others hold the key to their hearts?

New Beginnings book coverNew Beginnings
by KC Richardson

Scarred by previous relationships, Jordan and Kirsten each discover solace in their new friendship and are tempted by the promise of something more.

Whistling in the Dark book coverWhistling in the Dark
by Tamara Allen

Two young men damaged in body and soul on the battlefields of The Great War cross paths in 1919 New York City. Despite a world of differences, their attraction cannot be denied.

Undertow book coverUndertow
by Amy Schutzer

In alternating chapters, Macy and Dotty recount their chance meeting but must cope with past ghosts before moving forward in their relationship.

Night We Met book coverThe Night We Met
by Rob Byrnes

When Andrew, who is stuck in a dead-end publishing job, falls in love with Frank DeBenedetto, the son of a Mafia boss, his life is unexpectedly fraught with danger, drag queens, and an overly sensitive FBI agent.

Love Burns Bright book cover

Love Burns Bright: A Lifetime of Lesbian Romance

Curated by award-winning editor Radclyffe, these stories of lesbian couples celebrating their lives and relationships are heartfelt, and best of all, sweetly sexy.

 

 

Join the Summer Reading Challenge.
Print your events list and scorecard here.
Not sure how to get started?  We have advice!

For reading suggestions, email us at readers@mppl.org or tweet at us @MPPLIB

Regardless of what you read and how you choose to read it, share your picks using #MPPLsummer16

Books Mount Prospect Library Users are Excited About

After Readers’ Advisors shared new releases to look out for during a recent book talk program, attendees got the chance to rave about books they read recently that they really enjoyed with the group. Below are titles attendees shared, but the conversation doesn’t end here… we are always interested in hearing about the books you like!

Herland book coverThe Herland Trilogy
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The Circle
by Dave Eggers
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society cover imageThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Marry Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

 

The Mangle Street Murders
by M.R.C. Kasasian
Underground Airlines cover imageUnderground Airlines
by Ben Winters
The Thirteenth Tale
by Diane Setterfield

 

Just Mercy
by Bryan Stevenson
The Boston Girl
by Anita Diamant
Nos4a2 cover imageNOS4A2
by Joe Hill

 

 

 Use #MPPLsummer16 to share what you’ve been reading recently that you loved, or to see what other Mount Prospect Library users are reading!

Join the Summer Reading Challenge.
Print your events list and scorecard here.
Not sure how to get started? We have advice!

For reading suggestions, email us at readers@mppl.org or tweet at us @MPPLIB

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Staff Pick: Girl at War by Sara Novic

Picture of BarbSara Novic’s Girl at War is a deeply moving story that deals with coming to terms with the past. Readers move between Ana’s childhood in war torn Croatia to her present life as a college student in New York City. This is a gripping journey that will keep you engrossed introducing issues of war, death and survival.

Read a Book of International Fiction

Shake your days up by taking an international trip this summer without leaving your armchair! While the books below vary in plot and tone, they each will take you on an adventure into someone else’s slice of life with the added bonus of no travel fees.

Try one of these titles for worldwide reading adventures and your choice can help you meet one of the Adult Summer Reading Challenge goals!

Australia
The Slap book coverThe Slap
by Christos Tsiolkas

Bosnia
The Making of Zombie Wars book coverThe Making of Zombie Wars
by Aleksandar Hemon

Mexico
Signs Preceding the End of the World book coverSigns Preceding the End of the World
by Yuri Herrera

AfghanistanEarth and Ashes book coverEarth and Ashes
by Atiq Rahimi

Turkey
The Forty Rules of Love book coverThe Forty Rules of Love
by Elif Shafak

China
Dream of Ding Village book coverDream of Ding Village
by Yan Lianke

Cuba
The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love book coverThe Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love
by Oscar Hijuelos

Netherlands
The Dinner book coverThe Dinner
by Herman Koch

CroatiaGirl at War book coverGirl at War
by Sara Novic

 
 

Join the Summer Reading Challenge.
Print your events list and scorecard here.
Not sure how to get started?  We have advice!

For reading suggestions, email us at readers@mppl.org or tweet at us @MPPLIB

Regardless of what you read and how you choose to read it, share your picks using #MPPLsummer16

Book Discussion Questions: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy book coverTitle:  Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
Author:  Bryan Stevenson
Page Count: 349 pages
Genre: NonfictionMemoir, Call-to-Action
Tone:  Inspiring, Explanatory, Sympathetic

Summary:
The founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama recounts his experiences as a lawyer working to assist those desperately in need, reflecting on his pursuit of the ideal of compassion in American justice.

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

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Is there anything about which you think or feel differently as a result of reading Just Mercy?

2. Who would you say is the center of this book: Bryan Stevenson or Walter McMillian?

3. Which details of Walter’s case were most difficult for you to accept? Was it difficult to believe that this could really happen?

4. What was your reaction to the fact that Walter’s case took place in Monroeville? How could the very residents who romanticized Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird stand for (or, worse, contribute to) Walter’s trials?

5. In which aspects was Walter’s case the ideal choice to use as the focus of the book? Would a case with a less flagrant miscarriage of justice have been a better way to test the author’s convictions?

6. Are the cases used as examples more about race or about poverty? In your opinion, is that a worthwhile question to ask?

7. Stevenson laments that “the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty, in too many places, is justice.” How do you feel when you read those words?

8. Do you agree that “wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes” in our justice system?

9. Critics of social justice initiatives complain that too many excuses are being made for those who have done wrong. What relevance might this opening line from The Great Gatsby have in the debate over this issue: “whenever you feel like criticizing anyone… just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had”?

10. How do cases such as Herbert Richardson’s, the man who set a bomb that killed a young girl, test these convictions?

11. Do you believe as Stevenson does, that we are more than the worst thing we have ever done? What effect, if any, should that belief have on the justice system?

12. One of Stevenson’s persistent talking points is that the question is not whether the condemned deserves to die but whether we deserve to kill. How does he explain this? Do you find this compelling?

13. Do you agree that the character of a nation is determined by how it treats the broken, the poor, the oppressed? Is this realistic?

14. In your opinion, is Stevenson against individuals accepting responsibility and/or consequences for their actions? Is there a middle ground?

15. Which other cases were memorable for you? Were you angry? Saddened? Did any moments bring satisfaction?

16. This book is often characterized as a memoir. Does that surprise you? In what ways does it fit that category?

17. What is your opinion of Stevenson as a “character”? Do you feel you know him? Do you understand him?

18. Did you notice the alternating structure of the book in which chapters about Walter’s case were followed by chapters on cases which illustrated different issues? What might the thinking behind that have been? Was it effective?

19. What does it mean to be a “stonecatcher”? What are the implications, both positive and negative?

20. Were you satisfied with the amount of time devoted to how the court system deals with mental illness, women, and children? Are you inspired to learn more?

21. Consider the title. What did you take it to mean before you read and/or what does it mean to you now?

22. The title appears specifically in two passages (p. 294 and p. 314). What is the context? Why “just” mercy in each instance?

23. When asked what effect he hoped Just Mercy would have on readers, Stevenson replied

I hope it makes people more thoughtful about our criminal justice system and the need to prioritize fairness over finality, justice over fear and anger. Many of the problems I describe exist because too many of us have been indifferent or disinterested in the poor and most vulnerable among us who are victimized by our system…

   Looking at your own response, did Stevenson achieve his goal? What do we do with ourselves after reading a work such as this?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!

OTHER RESOURCES:

Official Just Mercy  website, including detailed Discussion Guide and opportunities to Get Involved
Walter McMillian feature on 60 Minutes
Bryan Stevenson TED talk: We Need to Talk About an Injustice
The New York Times review of Just Mercy
NPR interview with author Bryan Stevenson
Equal Justice Initiative website
Discussion guide from University of Wisconsin-Madison Go Big Read program
When Stevenson received the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, Publishers Weekly asked: Is This the Greatest Book Award Acceptance Speech Ever?

READALIKES:

Between the World and Me book coverBetween the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Staff Pick- Communion: A True Story

Communion A True Story book coverLarry from Fiction/AV/Teen Services suggests Communion: A True Story by Whitley Strieber

Whitley Strieber, better known for his fiction with paranormal, science fiction, and horror themes, wrote a nonfiction book about what he experienced when he was abducted by aliens from outer space.  In Communion: A True Story, the author tells of his haunting and unsettling feelings of lost time and flashback recollections of encounters with strange beings.  Seeking help through medical treatment and hypnosis, he decides that he was recalling what he came to believe were real interactions with extraterrestrials that chose him to be an object of their research.  This book reads like fiction with its well-crafted storytelling, descriptive scenes, and suspenseful tones.  So, is the story really true or just another tale from an imaginative fiction writer?  Read the book and decide for yourself.
 

Interested in Communion? Try these other stories concerning aliens!

Chariots of the Gods- Unsolved Mysteries of the Past book coverChariots of the Gods?: Unsolved Mysteries of the Past by Erich von Daniken

When this nonfiction book was published, it stimulated public interest in the possibility that we are not alone in the universe.  The author presents his theory that Earth was visited by extraterrestrials that helped ancient civilizations build their magnificent structures and establish their culture.

 

 

Invasion of the Body Snatchers book coverInvasion of the Body Snatchers by Jack Finney

Mill Valley was a peaceful place before some of the townspeople began to act in ways other than themselves.  As the town’s doctor sees that these distinct but subtle changes in personality are spreading, he realizes that something sinister is happening that will forever change life in the valley.

 

 

War of the Worlds book coverWar of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

One of the groundbreaking authors of science fiction presents a story of Mars’ invasion of Earth.  Fine storytelling with action and suspense presents a tale of clashing forces and the fight for survival.

 

 

Close Encounters of the Third Kind dvd coverClose Encounters of the Third Kind, DVD

With the peaceful arrival of spaceships from another planet, Roy Neary becomes obsessed with the newcomers from outer space and searches for meaning in this event.

 

 

 

Cocoon dvd coverCocoon, DVD

A group of senior citizens living a mundane life find rejuvenation when visitors with other-worldly powers from a distant galaxy befriends them.

Graduation Addresses from Great Authors

We at the Library think of June as the start to Summer Reading, but it also signals a different kind of commencement: graduation season! You may not recall the words of wisdom offered at your own ceremony, but some speeches become so popular that they are later published as small books.

Try one of these titles for wit and inspiration, and, since most are less than 150 pages each, your choice can help you meet one of the Adult Summer Reading Challenge goals!

Make Good Art Speech book coverThe Make Good Art Speech
Neil Gaiman
80 pages

World Is Waiting for You book coverThe World Is Waiting for You: Graduation Speeches to Live By from Activists, Writers, and Visionaries
Toni Morrison, Barbara Kingsolver, Ursula Le Guin,
Anna Quindlen, and more!
208 pages

 

Join the Summer Reading Challenge.
Print your events list and scorecard here.
Not sure how to get started?  We have advice!

For reading suggestions, email us at readers@mppl.org or tweet at us @MPPLIB

Regardless of what you read and how you choose to read it, share your picks using #MPPLsummer16

 

Help! How Should I Design My Reading Challenge?

Calling all Adults 18+, this summer you get to design your own reading challenge! Pick from categories provided by the Library, and choose any book that will fulfill that category. Categories include, “Read a book that was made into a movie,” “Read a mystery novel,” “Read a book you’ve been meaning to read for years,” and more.

For every round you complete, enter to win one of the many prizes offered (up to three times). To complete a round you need to read or listen to three books.

Now comes the hard part… choosing what to read! Here are a few Readers’ Advisor tested methods to narrow down what to read this summer.

1. Start with what books you’re interested in.

sUMMER rEADING 2Brainstorm all of the books you want to read this summer and write down every category it would fit in. Then, highlight which category you will count it toward (you can not count a book for more than one category!). Finally, circle the 9 books you want to make a priority to read.

Don’t get rid of the other books on your list yet! You’ll want to keep those as back-ups if you are having time getting into one of your chosen books.

2. Start with what categories you’re interested in.

sUMMER rEADING 1

After choosing the categories you want to read from, make a list of all the books you would be interested in reading. Highlight your first, second, and third picks from each category, or wait until you’re ready to read from the category!

3. Read ALL the books.

Picture of Read All the Things Meme

Just keep reading and reading and reading! You’re bound to read a books from at least nine different categories if you read everything, right?

Regardless of what you read and how you choose to read it, share your picks using #MPPLsummer16! For reading suggestions, email us at readers@mppl.org or tweet at us @MPPLIB.

Sign up for Summer Reading today!