Month: February 2014

Check It Out Blog

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

Homer and Langley book coverSPOILER 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


Questions composed by MPPL Staff

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

Staff Pick: Crapalachia by Scott McClanahan

Patty staff picks photoScott goes to live with his hilariously awkward and selfish Grandma Ruby and helps take care of his Uncle Nathan who has cerebral palsy. Crapalachia is a dark, lyrical portrait of a warts-and-all coming of age in modern day West Virginia. Loved. This. Book.

Movies and TV: Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station poster On January 1, 2009, 22-year-old Oscar Grant was shot in the back while being held down on the ground in the custody of transit officers. Several witnesses captured video footage on their cell phones, and soon the incendiary images were widely viewed across the nation. In the award-winning drama Fruitvale Station, we are given a new picture — that of a complex young man trying to make better choices than he had in the past so that he could provide both a present and a future for his young daughter. Lead actor Michael B. Jordan reaches deep to reveal the humanity of a name consigned to tragic headlines, and knowing the facts of that day in no way lessens the impact of watching them play out.

New: Fiction and Nonfiction

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: Fiction Books

Redhead Plays her Hand book cover

Under the Wide and Starry Sky book cover

Crane Wife book cover

1. Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

2. The Redhead Plays her Hand by Alice Chayton

3. Amor and Psycho: Stories by Carolyn Cooke

4. Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

5. The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson

6. House of Bathory by Linda Lafferty

7. The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

8. Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill

9. The Well-tempered Heart by Jan-Philipp Sendker

10. The Empty Chair: Two Novellas by Bruce Wagner

New: Nonfiction Books

Duty: A Secretary at War book cover

Wild Tales book cover

American Mirror book cover

1. Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding by Lynn Darling

2. Henry Darger, Throwaway Boy: The Tragic Life of an Outsider Artist by Jim Elledge

3. Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert M. Gates

4. What Makes Olga Run?: The Mystery of a 90-something Track Star and What she can Teach us About Living Longer, Happier Lives by Bruce Grierson

5. I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, The Staple Singers and the March up Freedom’s Highway by Greg Kot

6. My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

7. Wild Tales: A Rock and Roll Life by Graham Nash

8. The Last Cowboy: A Life of Tom Landry by Mark Ribowsky

9. Company Man: 39 Years of Controversy and Crisis in the C.I.A. by John Anthony Rizzo

10. American Mirror: The Life and Art of Normal Rockwell by Deborah Solomon

Movies and TV: Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop the MovieIt’s 2071 and the entire Solar System is fair game through the use of hyperspace gates. Cruising through the black is the Bebop, a starship full of bounty hunters. Spike is a lithe, mod suit-wearing, martial arts expert with a dark past. Jet is a mech-armed, former cop as ready to cook noodles as clock ya one. Faye Valentine, well, she can steal or find anything, but somehow always ends up tied up. Finally, oddball Ed can hack any network, especially with the help of Ein, the ship’s data dog. If you like Firefly, James Bond, martial arts movies, or innovative soundtracks, try Cowboy Bebop, a 26-episode series that is an excellent entry-level step into anime.

(When you’re done with the series, watch Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, too!)

Staff Pick: One Goal II: The Inside Story of the 2013 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks by Bob Verdi

One Goal 2 book coverDiane of Fiction/AV/Teen Services recommends One Goal II: The Inside Story of the 2013 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks by Bob Verdi:

From the streak to the Stanley Cup, One Goal II and the 53 minute long DVD 17 Seconds (which comes with the book) portray the inside story of the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks. The hardcover book and DVD provide an all-access pass inside the locker room party in Boston, the airplane ride home with the Cup following Game 6, and interviews with the players. Through full color photos, fans ride along on the players’ buses during the championship parade and follow the Blackhawks as they spend their Cup days with family and friends, sharing the greatest trophy in sports with their communities.

Additionally, the book contains an innovative, mini video screen. It plays the Blackhawks’ two goals in 17 seconds to win the Cup and a five-minute feature with interviews about those two goals and the ensuing celebration.