Check It Out Category: Book Discussion Questions

Book Discussion Questions: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Death Comes for the Archbishop book coverTitle:  Death Comes for the Archbishop
Author:  Willa Cather
Page Count: 297 pages
Genre: Historical FictionClassic, Inspirational Fiction
Tone:  Contemplative, Unassuming, Strong Sense of Place

Summary:
In 1851 French Bishop Latour is dispatched to New Mexico to reawaken its slumbering Catholicism. Moving along the endless prairies, he spreads his faith the only way he knows—gently, although he must contend with the unforgiving landscape, derelict and sometimes openly rebellious priests, and his own loneliness.

 

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 would you describe the mood of this book? Did you like it?

2. How does the Prologue set the scene for the story? What attitudes and themes does it foreshadow?

3. Describe the friendship between Jean Latour and Joseph Valliant. How essential is their relationship to the book as a whole?

4. Magdalena’s story is one of the more memorable in their early travels, and she then recurs throughout the book. What impact does her character have on the priests? On the reader?

5. Is this a Catholic book? What does it have to say about the greater theme of faith?

6. Are there aspects of religion (or those who profess to be religious) that are portrayed in a negative light?

7. Was the mission of the priests one of service, conversion, or something else? Did they make a difference?

8. What does Latour have in common with the ideal of the Western hero? What is different?

9. Some readers have trouble with Latour due to his lack of passion and sometimes even coldness. Is this how he struck you?

10. When deciding whom to appoint, it is said

The new vicar must be a young man, of strong constitution, full of zeal, and above all, intelligent. He will have to deal with savagery and ignorance, with dissolute priests and political intrigue. He must be a man to whom order is necessary – as dear as life.

      What do you think of these qualities? Were the Cardinals right? Are there others that proved to be necessary in the position?

11. How would you characterize the ways in which the priests interacted with their communities? With individuals? Was there anything that you think they should have done differently?

12. Did you respond to the vivid descriptions of settings, of landscape, of nature? Were there any that stood out especially?

13. In what ways are art and architecture a theme in the book?

14. What was the prevailing attitude toward Americans? Was this justified?

15. What did you think of Cather’s decision to use several historical names and figures in her story? Does this add credibility? Distract?

16. What instances of humor did you find in the book?

17. How satisfied are you with the title? Why do you think it was chosen?

18. Would you say this is an easy book to read? How difficult is it to describe or summarize?

19. Cather considered this book to be her best and most important. Do you agree? Even if you haven’t read other works, do you see significance?

20. Cather once wrote, “When people ask me if it has been a hard or easy road, I always answer with the quotation, ‘The end is nothing, the road is all.'” What do you think of that statement in general? Is this sentiment effectively illustrated by Death Comes for the Archbishop?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

Death Comes for the Archbishop as one of All-TIME 100 Novels
Willa Cather biography
The Protestant Who Wrote the Greatest Book About American Catholicism
Cather draws attention to New Mexico history
Footsteps: Entering the World of Willa Cather’s Archbishop (via The New York Times)
Discussion questions from the Classics Reading Group of Algonquin Area Public Library

READALIKES:

Crossing Purgatory book coverCrossing Purgatory
by Gary Schanbacher

Lila
by Marilynne Robinson

Book Discussion Questions: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies book coverTitle: Big Little Lies
Author:  Liane Moriarty
Page Count: 460 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Tone: Darkly humorous, relatable, chatty

Summary:
Follows three mothers, each at a crossroads, and their potential involvement in a riot at a school trivia night that leaves one parent dead in what appears to be a tragic accident, but which evidence shows might have been premeditated.

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 would you describe this book to someone?

2. Did you relate to one of the characters the most?

3. Who did you think was going to die? Who did you think was the murderer?

4. Why do you think the author chose to include snippets of the reporter’s interviews throughout the book? What purpose do you think she hoped it would serve? Do you think it was effective?

5. What are some of the themes in the book?

6. What do you think Moriarty was trying to say about bullying? Were the acts of the children bullying any different than the stuff going on with the adults? Was one more or less harmful?

7. Do you think Madeline is oversensitive or is she justified in the fights she gets in?

8. Why did you think Celeste wanted to leave Perry at the beginning?

9. There is violence in Jane’s life and violence in Celeste’s life. Is there (or was there) violence in Madeline’s life?

10. Women and their looks are discussed a lot in the book. Do you think this obsession with looks is specific to women, particularly women of a certain age?   Why or why not? Do you think there was an overall message being said?

11. “It was like wealth was an embarrassing medical condition. It was the same with Celeste’s beauty. Strangers gave Celeste the same furtive looks they gave to people with missing limbs…” (pg 32). Does this happen in real life?

12. Why do you think everyone was so quick to suspect Ziggy?

13. What did you think when Jane started suspecting her own son? Why did you think she did? Why don’t you think the other parents didn’t suspect their kids?

14. Did you think Ziggy was the bully? Did you think he was being bullied? Did you suspect it was really Max? Was it believable how he took the fall?

15. Did you ever suspect Saxon Banks was Perry? When did you begin to suspect?

16. Did you suspect Tom was not, in fact, gay? Were you glad for Jane?

17. Jane starts the book being nauseous at the thought of having any other relationships. Why was she able to start something with Tom?

18. Was Madeline joking with her phrase, “never forgive, never forget?” Does she change throughout the book?

19. How did you like Bonnie? Did Madeline’s reaction to her make you like her more or less?

20. Celeste and Madeline are so different. Why do you think they ended up becoming and staying such good friends?

21. Did it surprise you that Celeste would try to fight back?

22. Is the fact that Perry travels so much really the reason why they never ended up working on fixing their marriage?

23. Did trivia night meet your expectations?

24. What did you think of the teacher? Did that change throughout the book?

25. Bonnie says, “We see. We… see!” (p. 421) Were you surprised to learn about Bonnie’s history?  Were you surprised to discover that all along Max had been seeing what Perry was doing to Celeste?

26. Moriarty tackled so many subjects– among them bullying, spousal abuse, problems with their marriages, dealing with traumas from the past, beauty. Did it work? Why add so many? Was it too much?

27. “All conflict can be traced back to someone’s feelings getting hurt, don’t you think?” do you think that’s true?

28. What genre would you call this book?

29. Is this a realistic look at motherhood?

30. Do you think you have to have had kids going to school to get the full effect of the book?

31. Are the issues in Big Little Lies exclusive to upper middle class families?

OTHER RESOURCES:

Reading Group Guide
Penguin Book Club discussion questions
Audio Interview with Moriarty at the Sydney Writers’ Festival
HBO series update
Big Little Lies book club hosting ideas

READALIKES:

The Slap book coverCover of Hyacinth Girls  little-children

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
Hyacinth Girls by Lauren Frankel
Little Children by Tom Perrotta

Book Discussion Questions: Kim by Rudyard Kipling

Kim book coverTitle:  Kim
Author:  Rudyard Kipling
Page Count: 230 pages
Genre: Classic, Adventure, Espionage
Tone:  Dramatic, Atmospheric

Summary:
Kim, the poor orphaned son of an Irish soldier stationed in India, searches for his identity and learns to move between the two cultures, becoming the disciple of a Tibetan monk while training as a spy for the British secret service.

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. Describe this boy Kim that we meet — not what happened to him, but what is he like? How would you describe his character, his personality, his passions? What gives you that impression?

2. Does Kim change throughout the novel? Would you say he grows up, or does he remain a boy?

3. This is sometimes generalized as a boys’ adventure story. What appeal would it have for readers who enjoy those tales?

4. At its most basic structure, Kim might be described as a quest story. How is this true? Whose quest(s) are explored? Are there multiple journeys being explored?

5. Kim is widely considered a masterpiece of children’s literature. Who might the audience be now? Would you give it to a student? Recommend it to a certain type of reader for leisure?

6. Another way to characterize the novel may be as a tale of friendship. Describe the relationship that grows between Kim and the lama.

7. The fact that they are on the road provides opportunity to weave in and out of other places, people, and scenarios. Is this done effectively? Which scenes made the strongest impact?

8. How would you describe Kipling’s India as described in the novel — geographically, demographically, politically, ideologically?

9. You may have noticed that significant passages are devoted to describing the many peoples and cultures that make up India. Did these have the ring of authenticity? Were they stereotypical or biased? Did you obtain a sense of all facets: rich, poor, cities, temples, etc.?

10. In Kipling’s time, why do you think English readers were fascinated by portrayals of “exotic” British colonies like India? Can you think of any modern counterparts for our day?

11. This is overwhelmingly a male novel. Who are the female characters that you can recall? What perspectives does the way women are characterized expose? Would you rather have women be absent than to be portrayed in this way?

12. Kipling received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907 (Kim was published in 1901). His commendation read, “in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author”. Which of these qualities are evident in Kim?

13. What may make this a challenging work for modern readers? Has writing changed? Have readers changed?

14. Kipling portrays the imperialist presence in India as unquestionably positive, even presenting an ideal India that is not divided by imperialism but rather is unified by it. Where do we see this? Do you think this accurate?

15. Is it fair to be offended by cultural attitudes that were accepted as fact at that time? Should that color our experience as we read today?

16. A thematic motif is the search for Enlightenment. How were the lama’s ideals presented? Do you recall any specific encounters, challenges, or advancements of his faith?

17. What role did Kismet play in Kim’s life?

18. How is war and/or military operations characterized? Should we be at all uncomfortable with the references to, as one example, the Great Game?

19. Two literary terms applied to stories with a focus on a certain character are
             Picaresque: telling a story about the adventures of a usually playful and dishonest character
             Bildungsroman: novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character
Does either apply here? Do both?

20. Would you call the ending a happy one? A satisfying one? What might you have hoped differently?

21. In spite of the challenges you might have had in reading Kim, did anything surprise you pleasantly? What were some of the high points?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

Kim featured in The Guardian‘s list of 100 best British and American novels
Kim as comfort reading?
American Thinker: On the Greatness of Kipling’s Kim
Rudyard Kipling biography
The Kipling Society webpage
The New York Times: Lahore as Kipling Knew It
BBC News: the controversy of Kipling’s Indian Legacy

READALIKES:

Sea of Poppies book coverSea of Poppies
by Amitav Ghosh

Road to Samarcand book coverThe Road to Samarcand
by Patrick O’Brian

Baudolino book coverBaudolino
by Umberto Eco

Book Discussion Questions: The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

The Good Girl cover imageTitle: The Good Girl
Author:  Mary Kubica
Page Count: 382 pages
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Tone:  Compelling, Contemplative

Summary:
Inner-city art teacher Mia Dennett is taken hostage by her one-night stand, Colin Thatcher, who, instead of delivering her to his employers, hides her in a cabin in rural Minnesota to keep her safe from harm.

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. Without going into detail of the why’s, did this book turn out to be what you were expecting?

2. The story is basically told through 3 people’s viewpoints. Did this type of storytelling work for you?

3. We are introduced and get to know Mia through other characters perceptions ( Eve and Colin).  Did you feel like you got to know the character?

4. Let’s talk about Colin/ Owen. What did you think about him?

5. On the night of her abduction Mia leaves the bar with a stranger. How did this action affect your perceptions of her character?

6. What did you think about Eve not telling Detective Hoffman about Mia’s checkered past as he was beginning his investigation?

7. We all have our theories when reading these types of books, Initially, who did you think had Mia kidnapped and why?

8. What are your thoughts on the side characters (Jason/Grace/Delmar)?

9. Mia said to Colin that she (Mia) and her father are different people and that Grace was the one just like her father.  What would you say about that statement?

10. Colin decides to hide Mia in a secluded cabin. There were many times he could have just left her and didn’t.  Why did you think he decided to stay and as you were reading this, were you questioning his motivations?

11. Let’s talk about the lady with the flat tire. What did you think would happen?

12. Was there ever a point in the book where you hoped Colin and Mia wouldn’t be found?

13. What did you think of Colin’s relationship with his mother?

14. During the ongoing investigation Eve basically throws herself at Detective Hoffman. What was your reaction to that passage?

OTHER RESOURCES:

From the publisher: The Good Girl book discussion kit
Reading group guide
Chicago Tribune article on Kubica’s book deal
Book trailer (video)
Interview with Mary Kubica (video)
Q&A with Mary Kubica

READALIKES:

eyes-on-you book coverEyes on You
by Kate White

cartwheel book coverCartwheel
by Jennifer DuBois

Gone Girl book coverGone Girl
by Gillian Flynn

Book Discussion Questions: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Thirteenth Tale book coverTitle:  The Thirteenth Tale
Author:  Diane Setterfield
Page Count: 406 pages
Genre: Gothic Fiction; Psychological Suspense
Tone:  Atmospheric, Dramatic

Summary:
When her health begins failing, the mysterious author Vida Winter decides to let Margaret Lea, a biographer, write the truth about her life, but Margaret needs to verify the facts since Vida has a history of telling outlandish tales.

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. In many ways, this is a book for book lovers, and there are multiple passages that speak to readers. For instance, early in the book (p. 32) Margaret contrasts her reading as a child to her reading as an adult.

a. Do you recall why Margaret says she prefers old novels? (see p. 29)

b. Her father advocates for contemporary writing, ones “where the message is that there is no end to human suffering, only endurance…endings that are muted, but which echo longer in the memory.” Do you side with Margaret or with her father? Is it that simple?

c. Given those characterizations, does The Thirteenth Tale resonate more as an old novel or as contemporary writing?

2. Let’s dig in by putting ourselves in Margaret’s place. We’re living our quiet bookshop lives, and we receive a letter without real context or satisfactory explanation. Why would we (as Margaret) even consider accepting the invitation?

3. In one interview about her career change from academia to author, Setterfield notes her realization that “whilst books are extraordinary, writers themselves are no more or less special than anyone else.” How might we say this is reflected in the novel?

4. Would you call The Thirteenth Tale a ghost story? If so, who are the ghosts? Who is haunted?

5. What do biography and storytelling have in common? How are they different? Would you rather have the truth or a good story?

6. Were you surprised at Miss Winter’s true identity? What points Margaret (and the reader) to this conclusion?

7. Who was saved from the fire? How can we be certain?

8. Margaret realizes that “plunging deep into Miss Winter’s story was a way of turning my back on my own” (p. 282). Was this true? Did it work?

9. Angelfield (the house) becomes an external symbol of the family and its changing condition. Can you think of examples of when this seems to be true? Which other rooms or homes reflect their inhabitants?

10. Miss Winter tells Margaret that “it doesn’t do to get attached to secondary characters. It’s not their story. They come, they go, and when they go they’re gone for good. That’s all there is to it.” (p. 191-2). Does that prove to be true in her story? In the book?

11. How essential is what we learn from Hester’s diary?

12. What did you think of the “game” of the conveyor belt and Margaret’s later admission (to us) that she did love books more than people?

13. In what ways does The Thirteenth Tale fit the characteristics of a Gothic novel?

14. Several classic Gothic novels are named, some multiple times. Did this enhance the experience for you? Did it seem too “on point” or distract by the comparison, or did you find it original?

15. What other recurring symbols seem to be present in The Thirteenth Tale?

16. Did you like the structure: Beginnings, Middles, Endings, Beginnings? How is this choice significant?

17. In which character names did you find significance?

18. What patterns seem to be repeated throughout the story?

19. Aurelius wonders if it’s better to have no story than one that keeps changing, and Margaret’s mother thinks a weightless story is better than one too heavy. What do you think is better for these characters? In general?

20. How effective is the choice of title? What does it contribute to tone and to theme?

21. The idea of siblings, especially twins, is central to the story in many ways. How do the different relationships affect the characters and themes? Did this enhance your experience of the story?

22. Did you find the ending satisfying? Explain your answer.

23. The question of precisely when The Thirteenth Tale takes place has sparked much speculation. As you read, did you have a time period in mind? Would you have preferred this be specifically stated? What is gained in leaving the time undefined?

24. Is there anyone today who might be Vida Winter’s contemporary counterpart: someone who has written multiple bestsellers, whose books are among the most borrowed from libraries, yet who is reclusive, “as famous for her secrets as for her stories”?

25. The Thirteenth Tale was the inaugural selection of “Barnes & Noble Recommends” in which each season one book was chosen as riveting and of extraordinary quality worthy of stimulating discussion, one that they were sure you would recommend to others. Their introduction opened with a single word: unputdownable. Would that word characterize your experience with the book? Would you recommend it to others?

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 website of author Diane Setterfield
The Guardian interview with Setterfield
audio: Setterfield talks about her inspiration and process
BookPage feature on the release of The Thirteenth Tale
The Independent review of The Thirteenth Tale
Lit Lovers book discussion guide
The Wall Street Journal explains “The Eerie Allure of the Gothic
video clip from the 2013 BBC movie adaptation

READALIKES:

Distant Hours book coverThe Distant Hours
by Kate Morton

Rebecca book coverRebecca
by Daphne Du Maurier

Seduction of Water book coverThe Seduction of Water
by Carol Goodman

Book Discussion Questions: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidyin Up book coverTitle: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
Author:  Marie Kondo
Page Count:  pages
Genre: Nonfiction, Organizing, House and Home
Tone:  Matter of fact, Casual

Summary:
This best-selling guide to decluttering your home from Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes readers step-by-step through her revolutionary KonMari Method for simplifying, organizing, and storing.

 

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. Give me only one word to describe what you thought of this book.

2. Marie Kondo is like a popstar in Japan and she can’t even take the subway any more. Why do you think this book was such a hit in Japan? Why has it been such a hit in America?

3. Before reading this book what did “tidying” mean to you? How is her meaning of tidying different?

4. Did Kondo seem like an unusual kid to you? Why?

5. What are some of Kondo’s key principles found in the book?

6. How does her Shinto belief system play into her tidying? Do you need to agree with someone’s religious beliefs to find value in what they say or do?

7. Which of her ideas did you find most helpful?

8. For those who read the entire book, have you begun tidying? Why was this motivating for you? What were your results?

9. For those who didn’t finish the book, did you do any tidying? Why or why not?

Alison Stewart, author of Junk: Digging Through America’s Love Affair with Stuff says, “Accumulation has been going on for a couple of decades, but we’re just hitting the tipping point, because of demographics. You have the Depression-era people who were taught to save everything – it was a matter of survival. Then in the 1950’s they were taught to buy everything. That’s a dangerous combination. In the 1980s and ‘90s there was all this money, and also the free flow of cheap stuff. But Millennials might swing the pendulum back the other way.” (Publishers Weekly, March 21, 2016)

10. Do you have examples in your own life/house of this?

11. How is organizing and storing a downfall for Americans?  Check out these statistics.

–“There are more storage facilities in America than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined.” (Huffington Post, 4/21/2015)

–There is 7.3 sq. ft. of self-storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation; thus, it is physically possible that every American could stand – all at the same time – in a self-storage facility. (www.selfstorage.org)

  • –I was fascinated that a very American response to all this junk is to make business out of it, whether it’s self-storage, which is a $24 billion dollar business, or junk-removal companies, or personal organizing, or the Container Store. There’s this thought that organizers support the Container Store and the Container Store supports the organizers. But some professional organizers, on the down-low, say “I’m not sure it’s a great thing” Making it pretty doesn’t make the problem go away. (Publishers Weekly, March 21, 2016, Q&A with Alison Stewart)

12. Why do we as Americans have so much stuff?

13. How did the Great Depression affect that generation and subsequent generations in relation to holding on to things?

14. You may be asking the question, why would you throw away something that’s perfectly good? What would Kondo say?

15. What is so hard about paring down?

16. How do you deal with items from your grandparents/great grandparents? Will your kids want these antiques you’ve saved? There is an interesting article by Marni Jameson a nationally syndicated home design columnist, author and speaker. It’s called “Memo to Parents: Kids Don’t Want Your Stuff.” (http://newsok.com/article/5491694) Now that’s not always true, but she gives advice and considerations when deciding what to pass on or let go.

17. How many of you have downsized moving into a smaller place? What was the hardest thing about doing that? Was there anything freeing about it? How is your life now different from before?

18. Some of you have dealt with the grief and aftermath of losing your parents. How did you deal with going through and disposing of all their stuff? Was there a lot of it? How long did it take to finish?  

19. What will your children’s experience of dealing with your stuff be? Do you have more or less than your parents did? Will you leave it for them to deal with or will you choose to take intentional action to deal with it yourself? Where will you begin? When will you begin?

20. What lessons did you learn or have affirmed in this book? What steps have you taken or will you take after reading and discussing this book?

OTHER RESOURCES:

Blog article: “8 Decluttering Lessons Learned from Marie Kondo”
Q&A on Reddit
People to People discussion questions
Google talk (video)
The Atlantic article, “The Economics of Tidying Up”

READALIKES:

The Things That Matter book coverSoulSpace book coverJoy of Less book cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Things That Matter by Nate Berkus
SoulSpace by Xorin Balbes
The Joy of Less by Francine Joy

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Book Discussion Questions: Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier

Falling Angels book coverTitle:  Falling Angels
Author:  Tracy Chevalier
Page Count: 324 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Social Commentary
Tone:  Evocative, Dramatic, Strong Sense of Place

Summary:
In a novel of manners and social divisions set against the backdrop of turn-of-the-century England, two girls from different classes become friends, and their families’ lives become intertwined in the process.

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. With which character did you empathize most? Do you think this was the author’s intent?

2. Did you find the characters believable? If so, what made them ring true?

3. How entrenched is the novel in London during the Edwardian era? Why was this time/place chosen?

4. What details of time period brought the story to life? Did you respond favorably to the degree of description?

5. Could this story have worked in a different time setting? A different place? Does it have something to say to contemporary audiences?

6. Gertrude describes Kitty this way: “a vein of discontent runs through her that disturbs everything around her…She thinks too much and prays too little.” Is this a fair representation? What was your reaction?

7. Is Kitty a bad mother? What about Gertrude’s indulgence?

8. What does Simon add to the story? Some criticism complains that his continued friendship with the girls and their families is the least believable. What do you think?

9. Is someone to blame for what happened? Who bears most responsibility, who shares it, or is it simply circumstance?

10. Which other characters made significant impressions either on the events of the story or on your experience of it? Explain.

11. The New York Times Book Review wrote, “This is Tracy Chevalier’s singular gift: through the particular perspectives of a few finely drawn characters, she is able to evoke entire landscapes…there are no stock characters here, none who are perfectly comfortable in the niche society has assigned them.” Would you agree that there are no stock characters? Was no one in the story comfortable in his/her role?

12. How might you describe the gender dynamics of the story? Were the men uniform in how they viewed and treated women? Were they challenged in these perceptions?

13. Was the title aptly chosen? In which passages are falling angels referenced or illustrated? Other angel imagery?

14. Chevalier has said, “I used to make all sorts of pronouncements [like] ‘Men and women [are] absolutely equal.’ Now…I understand how things aren’t equal.” What in this book supports this view? Do you agree?

15. What did you think of Caroline Black? Of how the suffrage movement was depicted?

16. The cemetery is a recurring symbol, a “site of beginnings as well as endings”. What are examples from the story that support its importance? What message is the author trying to convey?

17. Which events would you consider most significant to the characters? Did these seem important as you read them?

18. What is gained by having multiple narrators? Were there narrators you enjoyed more than others? Would you personally have preferred the story told by one person?

19. Chevalier has earned a reputation as a novelist who expertly articulates the way women negotiate the demands of society. Is this true in Falling Angels?

20. Did you enjoy the author’s style?

21. People characterized the book as “a thoughtful exploration of the ways people misread each other by being trapped in their own perspectives.” Would you agree? Would you have described it with a different theme?

22. How did you feel at the end of the book?

23. What do you think happened to the characters after the book ended?

24. Was this book what you expected?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

BookPage feature on release of Falling Angels
IndieBound interview with author Tracy Chevalier
The New York Times review of Falling Angels
Background, review, and questions from Reading Group Guides
The Independent‘s “General History of Women’s Suffrage in Britain
BBC Radio4: Tracy Chevalier and Audrey Niffenegger tour Highgate Cemetery

READALIKES:

Park Lane book coverPark Lane
by Frances Osbourne

Wayward Winds book coverWayward Winds
by Michael Phillips

Foxs Walk book coverThe Fox’s Walk
by Annabel Davis-Goff

Book Discussion Questions: Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

Call the Midwife book coverTitle: Call the Midwife (also called The Midwife)
Author:  Jennifer Worth
Page Count: 340 pages
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Tone: Reflective, Warm

Summary:
Reflects on the experiences of Jennifer Worth as a midwife in London’s postwar East End, including the nuns from whom she learned her craft and the interesting and challenging births she aided during her career.

 

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. Do you believe this book is adequately described as a career/work memoir or is it more than that?

2. What else did you learn about beyond midwifery in post-WW II England?  (What did you learn that you weren’t expecting to?)  Was the book what you expected?

3. Beyond childbirth and midwifery, what are the dominant themes in the book?

4. One of the challenges of writing a memoir is deciding what to include and what to leave out.  Do you imagine Jennifer Worth had any difficulty making these decisions when writing her memoir?  (Note: She continued and wrote two additional books; The Midwife is considered first in a trilogy.)

5. According to an article on Slate (11-1-2012), the character of Chummy was created by Worth (Worth’s daughters insist she was real) – she was not based on an actual person she knew in that time.  How do you feel about the existence of fictional elements in a non-fiction book?  Does it affect your enjoyment of the book?

6. Worth’s ability to connect with people is somewhat restrained – she mentions several times holding back and resisting getting too drawn into someone’s personal situation.  What do you think of her preference to keep a distance?  Do you think this was a professional stance, or more of a reflection of her personality?

7. How do you think this distance/reserve affected her ability to write a book such as this?  Is it a strength or a weakness?

8. Can you recall which anecdotes or deliveries affected her despite her efforts to not be emotional?

9. Which mother/baby moments or deliveries did you find most memorable?  Did they all contribute equally to the book? Were there any stories that should have been left out?

10. What about the men in the book?  Who stands out in your mind?  Are there any generalizations that could be made about how men are portrayed?

11. Which nuns at Nonnatus House did you find most interesting?

12. What was her purpose in writing her memoirs?  Who do you think Worth’s intended audience was?

13. If you are a parent or not, would this affect your enjoyment or appreciation of the book?  What about if you like history or not?

14. Have you seen the BBC series based on this book (and other two books)?  How does it compare to the book?

15. Would you say there are differences between the book and the TV show?  If so, how are they different?  Does one enrich the other?

16. What do you think about the level of detail in some of the deliveries?  Was it necessary?  Does it give you a richer understanding of this line of work?

17. Thinking about the subject matter and the time period / setting, would you say this was an easy or difficult book to read?

18. The book’s subtitle is “a memoir of birth, joy, and hard times.” Was there a balance between challenging stories and more joyous circumstances?  Would you say the book had an overall tone / mood to it, or is it hard to say?

19. How has life changed for women since the time period captured in this book?  Have prenatal care and obstetrics changed?

20. What things do you think have stayed the same?  Despite the specific setting and time period, is there a timeless appeal to this book?

21. Are you interested in reading her two additional books?  Is one enough?  If you haven’t watched the series yet, do you think you will?

22. How would you describe her writing style?  Do you feel aware of the fact that she wasn’t a professional writer?

23. Is there anything that we can learn from her work as a midwife?  If so, what is it and why is it important?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

Reading group guide from the publisher
Discussion questions and responses from blog, Project Motherhood
PBS music playlist for Call the Midwife
Video interview with Jennifer Worth on her life
Radio Times article: Jennifer Worth’s daughter on their mother

READALIKES:

All Creatures Big and Small book cover Balm in Gilead book cover My Name is Mary Sutter book cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
Balm in Gilead by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot
My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

Book Discussion Questions: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove book coverTitle:  A Man Called Ove
Author:  Fredrik Backman
Page Count: 337 pages
Genre: Fiction, Humorous
Tone:  Quirky, Character-focused

Summary:
A curmudgeon hides a terrible personal loss beneath a cranky and short-tempered exterior while clashing with new neighbors, a boisterous family whose chattiness and habits lead to unexpected friendship.

 

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. The title of the book is A Man Called Ove. How do you define masculinity or what makes a “man”?

2. If the author had used a woman as the lead character aka “A Woman Called Ovina”, would that have worked for you?  Why or why not?

3. Do you recall the opening chapter (A man Called Ove buys a computer that is not a computer)?  How did these few pages set your expectations for the novel?

4. Ove has several rants throughout the novel.  Be honest, did you ever channel your inner Ove and find yourself agreeing with any of them? If so what resonated with you? Some examples of his rants: people driving in places clearly marked no cars allowed, the lanky one having such a hard time backing up his trailer, people paying everything on credit, and service charges for credit card purchases.

5. How do you feel about Backman’s use of alternating the present and past to tell the story? Do you think this is more or less effective than if he had told the story from a strictly chronological view?

6. An unfortunate character in Ove’s past was Tom.  Tom stole and Ove took the fall.  What did you think of Ove when he refused to name Tom as the thief??

7. Thanks to Tom, Ove was ultimately shifted to the night shift which is how he met Sonja.  “All roads lead to something you were always pre-destined to do” (pg. 79).  What do you think of this statement?

8. Ove is a completely honest man, yet when he first met Sonja he lied about himself.  Why?

9. What drew Ove and Sonja to each other?

10. Sonja described loving someone, like moving into a house “At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed every morning that all this belongs to you… over the years, the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there and you start to love that house not so much because of all its perfection but rather for its imperfections”.  What are your thoughts?

11. We learn that Sonja and Ove lose their unborn child.  What kind of father do you believe Ove would have been?

12. What did you think of Ove’s visits with his wife?

13. If you were to have an “Ove” in your life, do you think he would be the type of person you could be married to or have as a friend?

14. Once Ove is forcibly retired, he plans to “retire” himself?  Why do you think Ove wants to kill himself?  Do his suicide attempts reconcile to the type of man he is?

15. What did you think about his various attempts?

16. What did you think about Ove’s relationship with Cat?

17. The driving force of the story is Ove’s relationship with Parvenah. What do you think drew Parvenah to Ove and vice-versa?

18. One of my favorite passages was discussing Ove and Sonja.  He was a man of black and white and she was color, all the color he had.  Yet when Nasanin drew him she drew everyone else in black and white and Ove in a rainbow of color.  Parvenah said she always drew Ove that way.  What do you think Backman was trying to say?

19. Backman discusses the rift in Ove and Rune’s friendship on pg. 245 “Maybe their sorrow over children that never came should have brought the two men closer.  But sorrow is unreliable in that way. When people don’t share it there’s a good chance that it will drive them apart instead”. Do you agree with this? Why or why not?

20. What do you think about the ending of the book?

21. What do you think of Ove’s persona at the beginning of the book versus his persona at the end of the book?

22. Fredrik Backman calls this book a fable.  If that is true, what would the moral of this book be for you?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

Reading guide from Lit Lovers’
A book club’s experience discussing Ove
Interview with Fredrick Backman
BBC Radio 4 talks to Backman (audio)
Backman on his writing

READALIKES:

Storied-Life-of-A.J.-Fikry book coverThere must be some mistake book cover The Widower's Tale book cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
There Must Be Some Mistake by Frederick Barthelme
The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass

Save

Book Discussion Questions: Remembering Babylon by David Malouf

Remembering Babylon book coverTitle:  Remembering Babylon
Author:  David Malouf
Page Count: 200 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary, Aboriginal Fiction
Tone:  Lyrical, Thought-Provoking, Strong Sense of Place

Summary:
In the mid-1840s, a thirteen year old boy is cast ashore in the far north of Australia and taken in by aborigines. Sixteen years later, when settlers reach the area, he moves back into the world of Europeans.

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.  What would you say this book is about?

2.  In what way does the introduction of an outsider/newcomer expose the true character of the community? of the individuals?

3.  What were the two initial reactions of the village? Were these responses understandable? What qualities do the two groups have in common?

4.  Describe what you know of Gemmy. How old did you imagine him to be? Who is he at heart? Is he intelligent? Did you sympathize with him? Did anything change your opinion of him?

5.  Was Gemmy an innocent? Why did he come in the first place? Do your answers affect your experience of the story in any way?

6.  From the opening scene, it seems as if Gemmy is the central character, but he later simply disappears. Does this mean he isn’t the focus of the story?

7.  How does the setting contribute to the story? Is this simply a historical account of Australia, or is there a universal element to the book? What is the implied relation between Gemmy’s fate and the progress of Australian history?

8.  In many ways, Janet is closest to Gemmy – the one who understands him, the one he most accepts. Janet is also the focus of several pivotal scenes. Why? What is the author attempting to say, for instance, in

a. her “growing-up” moment
b. the swarm of bees
c. the final scenes as a nun (with Lachlan)

9.  What story is being told with the other characters:

a. Jock McIvor?
b. Mr. Frazer?
c. George Abbot?
d. Mrs. Hutchence?

10.  How did Lachlan Beattie’s character contribute to the story? How did he change? Why do you think he was made a Minister of the government? Did his experiences with Gemmy contribute at all to this path?

11.  Gemmy is repeatedly called a “black-white man” or even “a parody of a white man”. How does the question of race and identity impact the situation? the story as a whole?

12.  What was it that the people feared?

13.  Though Malouf employs multiple points of view, he leaves the aboriginal characters as enigmas. Why might he have chosen to do this? If the aboriginies had never visited, would Gemmy’s treatment have eventually been the same anyway?

14.  How does Gemmy’s treatment by the aborigines both parallel and differ from his treatment by Englishmen?

15.  In your opinion, what became of Gemmy?

16.  Which scenes stand out as particularly impactful?

17.  What did you think of Janet’s statement near the end, “He was just Gemmy, whom we loved….”?

18.  Were you satisfied with the ending?

19.  Did Gemmy change the town or its people? How?

20.  What importance does the title add?

21.  What role does language (or the absence of it) play? Compare with Gemmy’s sense that the words in which Abbot transcribes his story contain “the whole of what he was”.

22.  What did you think of Malouf’s style? He is first a poet; was that evident? Was his non-linear narrative effective or distracting? What does he accomplish by telling his story from shifting points of view and by withholding critical revelations?

23.  Did you have difficulty with the use of dialect? Did this add to or detract from the plot / theme / book as a whole?

24.  Is there a message about colonization? What of the allusions to “dispersals”? What of the longing for connection in a vast, empty land?

25.  Is there a political commentary in Remembering Babylon? a moral one?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

Author Colm Tóibín interviews David Malouf
The New York Times review of Remembering Babylon
Spotlight as winner of Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize
Video interview from Sydney Writers’ Festival
Discussion questions from Reading Group Guides
Australia’s Top 100 Favourite Homegrown Reads

READALIKES:

That Deadman Dance book coverThat Deadman Dance
by Kim Scott

Rabbit-Proof Fence book coverRabbit-Proof Fence
by Doris Pilkington

Living book coverThe Living
by Annie Dillard