Title: Small Blessings
Author: Martha Woodroof
Page Count: 310 pages
Genre: Fiction, Domestic Fiction
Tone: Heartwarming, Quirky, Thoughtful
In an inspiring tale of a small-town college professor, a remarkable new woman at the bookshop, and the ten-year-old son he never knew he had, this comedy of manners reminds us that sometimes, when it feels like life has veered irrevocably off track, the track shifts in ways we never can have imagined.
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. Woodroof said she chose to set Small Blessings in a college to create a bell jar atmosphere where people couldn’t avoid each other. How does a small college in a small town help create that type of atmosphere?
2. How important were college students to this story?
3. How would you describe Tom’s life at the start of Small Blessings?
4. What things happen to dramatically change his life?
5. In light of all the coincidences that made Tom’s life better, do you consider this book to be realistic fiction? Why or why not?
6. What words would you use to describe the tone or mood of the story?
7. Who was your favorite character? Which character was the best well described? Are they the same person?
8. How did Marjory Puttnam have a hand in getting Tom and Rose together? Do you think she was purposefully matchmaking?
9. Do you think Marjory killed herself?
10. Did Tom and Agnes do the right thing for themselves and Rose to stay with her all those years?
11. What if she had never died? Would it still have been the best choice to make?
12. In what ways are Tom and Agnes a good team?
13. A lot of the book depends on the premise that Rose was a magnetic pull for other people. Was it clear to you what made her so special to them?
14. Tom’s thoughts after Marjory’s death contain the quote from which the book title comes: “Talking to your mother-in-law might seem like small potatoes to people who luxuriated in more richly felt lives, but it had often been enough for him to build a bearable day on. Small blessings, as his mother had so often said…..” What are some of the little things that can make a day better?
15. How are small blessings different than big blessings?
16. If you had to go through life with just small or big blessings, which would you sacrifice?
17. Did Woodroof succeed in writing a book about small blessings?
18. A few days after Marjorie’s death, Rose invites Agnes to lunch. During her lunch with Agnes, Rose realizes three things about herself: That she hasn’t had the courage to explore her own heart, that she was lonely, and that she had kept people away with self-imposed separateness.
-Does it take courage to explore your own heart? How so?
-What does it mean to have self-imposed separateness?
-Why do you think Rose lived that way?
-Is it possible to admit to loneliness and not see life or one’s own self negatively?
19. Does Rose change from her realizations?
20. Russell has hidden the pain of his unhappy childhood and awkward childhood from everyone, including his AA sponsor. Why do you think he kept this to himself?
21. Is there a line between being open about one’s pain and “airing dirty laundry”? If so, what is the difference to you?
23. How would you describe Iris and Russell’s relationship? Did you find their personalities very different or very similar?
24. Do you think Russell is capable of changing and will he do it?
25. Tom, Agnes, Russell, Rose and Iris all seem to experience some degree of loneliness. What examples did you see in the story?
26. In light of these examples, what does Woodroof seem to be saying about loneliness? Is it fixed or changeable? Is it caused by fault or does it just happen?
27. Rose’s mom, Mavis, tells her, “The worst thing you can do in life is turn away from it.” What does this mean? Do you agree?
28. Woodroof is open about being a recovering alcoholic herself. At the story’s end, Iris is beginning a difficult journey to recovery, Russell has relapsed, and we know that Serafina has died. Is this novel hopeful or discouraging about the chances for recovery from addiction? What made it so to you?
29. There are several relationships in the book: Tom and Agnes, Tom and Rose, Rose and Henry, Henry with Tom and the friendship between Tom and Russell. Which one was your favorite? Why?
Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!
- Lit Lovers’ Reading Guide
- Martha Woodroof’s website
- 10 Questions for Martha Woodroof (via booksonthetable.com)
- Kirkus review of Small Blessings
- Interview with Martha Woodroof (video)
- Deep South Magazine: “‘Small Blessings’ with Martha Woodroof”
- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
- Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
- The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin