Check It Out Category: Book Discussion Questions

Book Discussion Questions: The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

The Nest book coverTitle:  The Nest
Author:  Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
Page Count: 353 pages
Genre:  Contemporary Lit, Dysfunctional Family Fiction
Tone:  Sardonic, Moving

Summary:
Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point after an ensuing accident endangers the Plumbs’ joint trust fund, which they are months away from finally receiving. Brought together as never before, Leo, Melody, Jack, and Beatrice must grapple with old resentments, present-day truths, and the significant emotional and financial toll of the accident, as well as finally acknowledge the choices they have made in their own lives.

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: 2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Is this book funny? Is it romantic (in world-view)? One review compared it to Nancy Meyers movies – (e.g., Something’s Gotta Give, It’s Complicated); would you agree?

2. Multiple reviews compared the opening chapter in some way to a movie-ready hook with action, sex, and drama. Was this an effective way to set the story in motion? Did you find it irresistible or off-putting?

3. In an interview with BookPage, Sweeney says she’s always described the book as being about family and that it surprised her to hear it described by other people as a book about money. Does it surprise you that she didn’t predict others’ perception?

4. In that same conversation, Sweeney points out the book has given people the opportunity to talk about something that is important in everyone’s life but rarely discussed in public. In your opinion, is this true?

5. Did you happen to learn the idea that sparked this book?

… she got the idea for the book while walking through Manhattan one day, on her way to meet her own family for brunch. “I was noticing all of these people sitting in the window with their drinks, on every street corner,” she says. “And I just had an image in my head of family members who are about to get together, but they’re having a separate drink …and the image really stuck with me. And I just started thinking about who the people would be and why they needed courage to see one another, and why they couldn’t drink in front of one of another, and what was difficult about this meeting they were about to have. And once I started started answering those questions, that’s how the story started to take shape. (NPR: All Things Considered)

   What did the moments in the story prior to the lunch meeting reveal about each character?

6. Did you like spending time with the characters? Does that matter? Were there those you were more excited to read about or with whom you could better identify?

7. Were the siblings wrong to make plans for the anticipated money? Do you blame them?

From The Washington Post: An organization called Wealth-X (world’s leading ultra-high net worth intelligence firm) issued report about what it calls “looming wave of wealth transfers”.  Baby Boomers are expected to bequeath some $16 trillion to their children over the next three decades…For rich, this holds little suspense, but for upper-mid-class Americans balancing mortgage payments, tuition bills, and retirement plans on a brittle tower of monthly paychecks, this bounty looms with the promise of salvation.

      Does this frame change your answer at all?

8. Is Leo believable as a character? Do you have any sympathy for him?

9. Are the Plumb characters well-rounded?

10. What about the siblings’ partners? Are the non-Plumb characters too idyllic?

11. Many readers express an affinity for Stephanie. Why do you think that is? Were you rooting for her and Leo to be together? Would you have wanted to read even more about her?

12. What about the subplots with Miranda, Vinnie, and Tommy? Were you invested in these stories as much as those of the Plumbs?

13. The New York Times Book Review piece on The Nest opens with this line: “’The Nest’ is a novel in the Squabbling Sibling genre.” Do you think of this as a genre?

14. Another behind-the-scenes tidbit:

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s agent sent her novel to publishers the Monday after Thanksgiving. As readers who had likely spent long weekends with their own dysfunctional families, he told her, they would be especially receptive to her book’s dysfunctional Plumb clan. The plan worked, and the 55-year-old’s debut landed a seven-figure advance. (The Atlantic)

      Do you admire the calculated timing, or does it seem coincidental?  In your opinion would the book have been just as well received without the proximity to the holidays?

15. The Nest is about a group of privileged group of people – upper-middle-class white siblings – yet would you say that it is successful in touching on issues more universal? How so?

16. It’s also been described as a “New York novel”, a category that though lauded in literary circles is criticized for being too navel-gazing (esp. with authors and agents included!). Would you place it in this category? What makes it so? What transcends those boundaries?

17. The Nest is about inheritance, and upon hearing that word we immediately think of money, objects, or property. What about the intangibles we inherit from family? Consider the siblings and what is illustrated about how we inherit a place in a family and all that entails. What do you think?

18. Walker is fascinated that a group of adults could use the term ‘the Nest’ in all “earnestness and never even casually contemplate the twisted metaphor of the thing, and how it related to their dysfunctional behavior as individuals and a group.”(260) What did he mean?

19. Walker also observes that the issue with Leo and the money sparked a different dynamic between the siblings, that they were “making casual forays into one another’s lives”…and held out hope that they might ”…move on, try to forge relationships with one another that weren’t about the inheritance.”(261) Did you notice this, too?  Do you think this would have happened without the situation with Leo?

20. Late in the book, Melody asks, “when did Leo start hating us?…How was it so easy for him to leave?…Was it really just about money? Was it about us?”(291)  We’ve seen things from Leo’s perspective; can we answer those questions?

21. How did the scenes with Louisa and Nora add to the overall story? What, if anything, do the sisters – both individually and together (esp. as twins!) illuminate regarding family and individual dynamics?  Did you see these forays into the ‘next’ generation as distraction or complements?

22. Melody has an epiphany about herself (with Walt’s help) at the Chinese restaurant outing (300). Do you remember what she realized?  Do you think her life will be different going forward?

23. How did you feel about the final scenes of looking for Leo? About the scene from Leo’s perspective?  Should Paul or Bea or Leo have acted differently?  Did you understand their actions?

24. Were you hoping that Leo would redeem himself? Does the author’s choice seem believable?

25. Did the epilogue resolve everything a little too neatly, or did you find it satisfying?

26. NYT Critic “Janet Maslin argued that the primary flaw of the novel was that it was unable to break out of the tropes of dysfunctional family literature.” Would you agree? Whether or not you agree, did this affect your experience of the book?

27. One book podcast recommended this title for a woman who doesn’t read but who loves reality TV such as the Real Housewives franchise. In your opinion, is this a good fit?

28. To whom might you recommend this book?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

website of author Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
LitLovers discussion guide of The Nest
MPPL-created character map (contains mild spoilers)
from NPR: “Humor and Heart Fill The Nest
In The Nest, a Family Pot to Split Sets Sibling Relations to a Slow Boil” via The New York Times
The Nest: A Tale of Family, Fortune, and Dysfunction” via The Atlantic

READALIKES:

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Book Discussion Questions: The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

Title:The Girls of Atomic City
Author: Denise Kiernan
Page Count: 309 pages
Genre: World War II Nonfiction, History
Tone: Informative, Atmospheric

Summary:
The story of several women who worked in various positions at the Clinton Engineering Works in Oak Ridge, Tennessee during World War II to secretly make fuel for the atomic bomb.

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: 2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Chapter one opens with women riding on a “train to nowhere”. What were some of the things made these women open to doing this? How hard was it on people to leave? Was it harder for some than others? What about those who had families?

2. How did secrecy affect the community at Oak Ridge?

3. How did privacy affect the community at Oak Ridge? How did the residents feel about the fact that anyone could be watching them or listening to them at any time? Was this different than the broader United States at that time?

4. How did the earlier residents of this area feel about their land being taken from them to use for this project (“the taking.”) How did this follow some of the other “land taking” they’d experienced, like the Great Smoky National Park and the Norris Dam? Did patriotism and the war effort affect this? If so, in what ways?

5. How were African Americans treated differently than the white Americans in Oak Ridge? How do you feel about this? (Hutment: 16’x16’ plywood box with a door and a shutter, heated by a potbellied stove, housing 4 women, for $6.50/person/month with no spouses. Whites had dorms for 2 people at $10/person/month. Also trailers, houses, etc where couples and families could live.) What other ways were African Americans discriminated against? Did they sacrifice more?

6. This was an untold story of WWII that the author has brought to light. The part women have played in history has often been overlooked. Why are these important to tell even years later? Have you read other books or seen movies that have told their stories? (Hidden Figures) Why do you think the book is called “The Girls of Atomic City” not women?

7. Before reading this book had you heard of some of the notable female scientists who worked with atomic physics? Have their contributions been given the same weight that males in that discipline have?

8. Lise Meitner played a large part in discovering atomic fission, but when she realized the application of this discovery she decided not to join the Manhattan Project? How do you feel about that?

9. Read these quotes from Albert Einstein and discuss how you feel about them?

He wrote to physicist Niels Bohr in December 1944, “when the war is over, then there will be in all countries a pursuit of secret war preparations with technological means which will lead inevitably to preventative wars and to destruction even more terrible than the present destruction of life.”
Einstein withheld public comment on the atomic bombing of Japan until a year afterward. A short article on the front page of the New York Times contained his view: “Prof. Albert Einstein… said that he was sure that President Roosevelt would have forbidden the atomic bombing of Hiroshima had he been alive and that it was probably carried out to end the Pacific war before Russia could participate.” (“Einstein Deplores Use of Atom Bomb”, New York Times, 8/19/46, pg. 1). Einstein later wrote, “I have always condemned the use of the atomic bomb against Japan.”
In November 1954, five months before his death, Einstein summarized his feelings about his role in the creation of the atomic bomb: “I made one great mistake in my life… when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification – the danger that the Germans would make them.” (http://www.doug-long.com/einstein.htm)

10. Do you think it was acceptable to hire people to work on this project without them knowing what it was that they were helping to make? Who do you think risked exposure to radiation? Any people stand out? (Those who carried the canisters to Los Alamos. Ebb Cade’s experimentation.) How did the statement, everything’s going in, nothings coming out play into this?

11. Talk about the “ordinary” people who worked on the bomb. Who stood out to you and why? What were their jobs? Who did you empathize with? Who were the “extraordinary” people involved in the project? What were their jobs? Did you feel you got to know them?

12. Talk about the physical characteristics of Oak Ridge? Why was it selected for Site X? How did the environmental conditions affect the residents of the town?

13. How did people try to bring a sense of normalcy to the structured and secretive life at Oak Ridge? Why do you think some were successful in adapting to Oak Ridge while others were not?

14. Was Kiernan successful in transporting you to the world of World War II? Why or why not? What things gave you that sense of time or the era? How did you feel about the way in which the book moved from the stories of the “ordinary people” to the stories about the scientists, generals and politicians involved in the highest level of the project?

15. How much did you know about The Manhattan Project before reading this book? Did you learn anything interesting about it you didn’t know before. (One example for me is just this past summer I saw the headquarters of the Bohemian Club in San Francisco, and I knew it was a private, all-male club, but I didn’t know it was involved with the Manhattan Project.)

16. How did WWI and WWII differ from previous wars and subsequent wars the US has been involved in? Are wars unifying or divisive for a country?

17. What did most Americans at that time feel about the war and the use of the atomic bombs? Has our thinking about this changed with time? Why or why not? What have been the ramifications of the atomic bomb and atomic energy, both positive and negative? Let’s talk about how the bombs were used. How were the targets chosen? What were the outcomes? How did the US try to lessen casualties? Hiroshima – August 6, 140,000 killed. Three days later Nagasaki – 40,000 killed. Five days later Japan surrendered.

18. There was a real sense that Americans trusted their government and military leaders and would follow them in this period of time. How is our world different today? Is something this huge, involving so many people, over so long a period of time, with such secrecy possible today? Is that a negative or a positive?

19. How many of you liked this book? How many disliked it? Reasons for or against? Would you have liked this better as a movie?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

The Girls of Atomic City website
PBS feature “Women on a Top- Secret Mission in ‘Atomic City'”
Simon and Schuster Discussion Questions
The Manhattan Project: An Interactive History from the U.S. Department of Energy

READALIKES:

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Book Discussion Questions: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich Asians book coverTitle:  Crazy Rich Asians
Author:  Kevin Kwan
Page Count: 527 pages
Genre:  Satire, Mainstream Fiction
Tone:  Humorous, High Drama, Witty

Summary:
Envisioning a summer vacation in the humble Singapore home of a boy she hopes to marry, Chinese American Rachel Chu is unexpectedly introduced to a rich and scheming clan that strongly opposes their son’s relationship with an American girl.

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: 2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. What are your thoughts on the title? Did you read it as “Crazy-Rich Asians” or as “Crazy, Rich Asians”?

2. There is an article entitled “A Whole New Wave of Stereotypes”, which discusses the way this book turns some old Asian stereotypes upside down. How do you react to the idea of this book stereotyping?

3. In the Prologue, Reginald Ormsby – GM of a posh London hotel – wouldn’t let Eleanor, Felicity, Alexandra and their families stay at the hotel. What did you think of this opening? This happened in the 80’s; were you surprised by racial implications?

4. What did you think of the characters in this book? Who was your favorite? Who drove you crazy?

5. Were you able to relate to any of the characters? The families? Why or why not?

6. Were you aware of the wealth in Asia before reading this book?

7. As Part Two begins there is a quote from Marco Polo “I did not tell half of what I saw, for no one would have believed me”. Kevin Kwan said in an interview that his editor had him “remove certain parts of Crazy Rich Asians because they were too unbelievable, even though they were grounded in reality”. What did you think of the descriptions of mega wealth in this book?

8. Given the opportunity would you want to live the super rich life style? Do you think it could be stressful?

9. What do you think of the “old money” versus the “new money” divide in this book?

10. Nicholas didn’t feel his money would change his relationship when Rachel found out. What are your thoughts?

11. What do you think of the role women play in this book?

12. Sophie told Rachel, “No matter how advanced we’ve become, there’s still tremendous pressure for girls to get married. Here, it doesn’t matter how successful a woman is professionally. She isn’t considered complete until she is married and has children”. What do you think of this statement and do you think it would ring true in the United States?

13. Do you think any couple in this book has a “good” marriage? Are the relationships different than the average marriage?

14. Rachel goes with Araminta’s friends to her super exclusive bachelorette party, but she does not seem to be accepted by the group. Why do you think that is?

15. What relationship do you think these women have with each other?

16. Was there anything from the bachelorette party that you were fascinated with?

17. What did you think about Colin’s bachelor party?

18. Both Nick and Astrid offered to leave their family for their respective partners. What do you think about this? Can family ever be left behind completely?

19. What did you think about the disclosure of Rachel’s father?

20. How would you characterize Astrid’s friendship with Charlie Wu?

21. Do you think Nick and Rachel get married? Should they?

22. In chapter 16, Dr. Gu, said that Rachel is “a fortunate girl, then, if she marries into this clan”. What do you think about that statement?

23. What did you think about Singapore? Were you curious to learn more?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

website of author Kevin Kwan
Entertainment Weekly interview with Kevin Kwan
LitLovers discussion guide
Kevin Kwan: Americans Will Embrace ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Movie” via The Washington Post
Singapore’s Multimillionaires: New Wealth Report Busts the Myths” via Forbes
Crazy Rich Asians Presents A Whole New Wave of Asian Stereotypes” via The Guardian

READALIKES:

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Book Discussion Questions: The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

The Boston Girl book cvoerTitle: The Boston Girl
Author: Anita Diamant
Page Count: 322 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Tone: Dramatic, Reflective

Summary:
Recounting the story of her life to her granddaughter, octogenarian Addie describes how she was raised in early-twentieth-century America by Jewish immigrant parents in a teeming multicultural neighborhood.

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: 2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1) When Aaron courts Addie, he says he’s going to turn her into a real Boston girl by taking her to the symphony, Red Sox game, and Harvard Yard. Where would you take someone to turn them into a real Chicago girl?

2) One definition of historical fiction says that the goal of historical fiction is to bring history to life in novel form. Did Diamant succeed?

3)Did you learn something from The Boston Girl?

4) What impression do you think would you get of the United States if you were from another country and reading this book?

5) Where the characters beliefs and mannerisms appropriate for the time?

6) Diamant titled the book The Boston Girl. With what you know about Boston, do you think her life would have played out the same way in another city? How important is location to the story line?

7) How would you describe it the tone and style of The Boston Girl? Did that work for you as a reader?

8) Addie’s granddaughter asks her what made her the woman she is today. Addie’s answer is a monologue. Would The Boston Girl have been as effective told in a different way?

Diamant says that she was concerned that Addie’s story leading to a happy marriage might be too small and mundane to keep readers turning the pages. From Diamant: “But once I made Addie the narrator, I realized- or remembered- that we don’t experience history in the abstract; we live inside of it. Addie experiences the momentous events of the early 20th century at eye level. A girl bobs her hair. A veteran of the Great War collapses on the beach. A friend dies because she ignores the warnings about the flu epimic and goes dancing. In Addie’s life, the geopolitical is personal, the immigrant success sage is hantued by loss and despair: war and disease are tests of reliance, even for those on the sidelines. Even for those who survive.”

9) What national or global events happened during Addie’s lifetime?

10) Which ones does she mention? Do you feel she was deeply affected by them?

11) If you were retelling your life story, what weight would you give large scale events?

12) Some critics unfavorably compared this to The Red Tent, which has a more serious mood and is told in the third person. Do you think literary fiction is as effective when the tone is cheerful? Why or why not?

13) Describe Addie’s mom. Are Addie and her sisters equally affected by her?

14) Celia was the most loved by Mameh and had her whole family’s love. She married Levine, a kind man. Why do you think Celia found life so very difficult?

15) Her other sister, Betty, is described by Addie as the most like her mom. What made Addie say that? Do you agree? Did your feelings for Betty change as the story progressed?

16) How would you describe Addie? What do you think made her able to stand up to her mom?

17) This is how Addie describes her father: “I didn’t know my father very well. It wasn’t like today, where fathers change diapers and read books to their children. When I was growing up, men worked all day, and when they came home we were supposed to be quiet and leave them alone.” It seems as if Addie absolves her father of responsibility to his family because of the times. Do you agree? Was he at all to blame for the home dynamic?

18) How does Addie’s world begin to expand beyond her home?

19) Who were some of the people who gave her a chance? Do you have a favorite, or one character that you think made the biggest difference in her life?

20) She had a lot of good fortune with the people she met- people willing to give her friendship, learning opportunities, vacation destinations, and jobs. Was this a realistic portrayal of life for a young female, Jewish daughter of immigrants? Is it within the realm of possibility?

21) Some people Addie mentions were definitely not friends, but she included them in her answer to Ava about how she became the woman she is today. One of them was her first romantic interest, Harold, “the wolf.” Why do you think she told her granddaughter about him? Why do you think she continued to see Harold?

22)Addie says, “I’m still embarrassed and mad at myself. But after seventy years, I also feel sorry for the girl I used to be. She was awfully hard on herself.” What does she mean?

23) It’s actually Harold who calls her, “My favorite Boston girl.” (p 82) If you were going to call yourself _______boy/girl, how would you fill in the blank?

24) Addie’s next boyfriend is Ernie. She doesn’t seem too emotional about him, and decided to let him go, so why do you think he is included in her story about what shaped her? What did she learn from him?

25) Addie says that many young women were focused on getting married. What do you believe she was focused on?

26) The chapter where Addie meets her future husband, Aaron Metsky, is entitled “Never apologize for being smart.” What connections do you make between the title and Addie and Aaron’s relationship?

27) Addie spends more time talking about her jobs along the way: cleaning for the summer, working for her brother in law, the newspaper office than she does about her current job. How were these experiences important enough to relay to her granddaughter?

28) Addie tries on pants for the first time (p.108) when she and Filomena visit Leslie and Morelli. Addie says, “It makes me want to try riding a bicycle and ice skating and all kinds of things.” Leslie asks what other kinds of things and Addie answers, “I’d go to college.” Do you believe that clothes so powerfully affect what a person feels capable of doing?

29) Would you say Addie had a blessed life, or a difficult one?

30) Based on Ava’s question at the beginning of the book, “What made you the woman you are today?”, how would you speculate Ava saw her grandmother?

31) Addie answers through a book’s worth of stories. If you were to sum it up, what made Addie the woman she is today?

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 publisher
Washington Post book review
Q&A with Anita Diamant
Anita Diamant interview with Jewish Book Council
Biography of Anita Diamant

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Book Discussion Questions: Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Tell the Wolves I'm Home book coverTitle: Tell the Wolves I’m Home
Author: Carol Rifka Brunt
Page Count: 360 pages
Genre: Coming-of-age
Tone: Moving, Atmospheric

Summary:
Her world upended by the death of a beloved artist uncle who was the only person who understood her, fourteen-year-old June is mailed a teapot by her uncle’s grieving friend, with whom June forges a poignant relationship.

 

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: 2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1) June is sensitive, self-aware, and imaginative. How do these qualities affect her skills as a narrator? How does first-person narration in this book help you feel connected to June?

2) How do you feel about books told from the perspective of a child or teen? Does this perspective work well in Tell the Wolves I’m Home? (Is a story limited or enhanced when told from child’s p.o.v.?)

3) How do the characters’ actions reflect the attitudes toward HIV/AIDS in the mid-1980s? Has this element of fear and stigma changed with increased public knowledge?

4) This book won an ALA Alex Award in 2013, which is an award for adult books with special appeal to teens, and was given Adult Book for Teen/YA distinction from at least two major book reviews (Booklist and School Library Journal). What is it about this book that would be of interest to teens?

5) Why is Finn so special to June? How does he understand her in ways that others don’t?

6) What do you think of June’s feelings for Finn? Do you think it is unusual for a teenager to develop a strong attachment to a relative?

7) What are June’s initial motives for meeting with Toby? How does she move beyond her initial feelings of hate and distrust? As their friendship develops, how would you describe their connection?

8) As June gets to know Toby, she discovers things she hadn’t known about Finn before and questions how well she actually knew him. What do you think — Should she doubt her closeness to Finn? How much information do you believe is necessary to fully know a person?

9) Do you find it believable that Finn would hide his partner Toby from the family? Why did he do this? If this book was set in 2017, do you think this would have been different?

10) Do you think Toby was a good friend for June? Did their relationship end up being what Finn had hoped would occur after his passing?

11) How did you respond to the portrayal of June’s relationship with Greta? Do you believe one was more to blame than the other for their drifting apart? Beyond their sibling rivalry, what are their similarities and differences? What is the outlook for their relationship at the end of the book?

12) Think about the title of the book, and painting; what does the wolf symbolize for June? For Finn? And other characters?

13) What is it about the medieval era that appeals to June? What other types of escapism does she pursue? Think about the other characters – are they also in their own little world one way or another?

14) In an interview with BookTalk podcast (10/7/15), Brunt said she’s not a fan of villains being in a story. Do you believe there are any villains in Tell the Wolves I’m Home?

15) How did the 1980s references contribute to the book’s setting? (news stories, popular culture, consumer goods)

16) June writes of her self-doubt many times. She is afraid of appearing stupid and is highly aware of the limitations of her knowledge. She struggles with identifying what it is that people see in her (what she means to others). How has June changed by the end of the book? Is she a stronger person? Is she more sure of her place in the world?

17) In her interview with BookPage, Brunt said “the gift of the novel lies in the emotional connection it can provide” (vs. nonfiction). “A novel has the ability to put the reader right inside a character, to let the reader understand the way another person thinks and feels. So, that’s my mission as a novelist—to use the novel to emotionally connect with readers.” Did she succeed? Did you connect with June and perhaps with other characters too? Who did you connect with the most and why?

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

Other Resources:

Reader’s Guide for Tell the Wolves I’m Home
Author website, includes an inspiration gallery
Bookpage interview with Carol Rifka Brunt
NY Daily News interview with Carol Rifka Brunt
Carol Rifka Brunt discusses her work (video)

Readalikes:

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Book Discussion Questions: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

Cover of Ordinary GraceTitle: Ordinary Grace
Author:  William Kent Krueger
Page Count: 307 pages
Genre:  Mystery, Psychological fiction
Tone:  Melancholy, Nostalgic, Strong sense of place

Summary:
Looking back at a tragic event that occurred during his 13th year, a man explores how a complicated web of secrets, adultery and betrayal shattered his Methodist family and their small 1961 Minnesota community.

 

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:  2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. In Robert Kennedy’s eulogy to John F. Kennedy he used the phrase “Awful grace of God.” This phrase was used several times in this novel. What do you think is the meaning?

2. Do you believe as Aeschylus said, “He who learns must suffer”?

3. Why do you think Jake’s stutter permanently disappeared after he gave grace?

4. What does ordinary grace mean to you?

5. Who do you consider the main character in this book?

6. Without the war, what path do you think Nathan would have ended up taking career wise?

7. What do you think drew Jake and Lise together?

8. Do you think Emil was still in love with Ruth and vice-versa?

9. When the body of the itinerant was found Frank downplayed Jake’s presence and that upset Jake. However, when Emil Brandt tried to kill himself Frank tried to turn Jake into the hero and that really upset Jake. Why?

10. Why do you think the author never actually told us what happened in the war that changed Nathan so much?

11. Ruth did not seem to care for Gus very much in the beginning of the story, yet her attitude toward him seemed to change by the end. Why do you think that was?

12. Jake said he is afraid that his mom won’t come back. I mean she might come home, but she won’t come back (pg 260).  What did he mean by that?

13. When Frankie was accusing Emil Brandt of killing Ariel, Jake asked if it really matters who killed her. What did you think about that?

14. What did you think of Warren Redstone?  Why did he keep all those trinkets in his can?

15. Why do you think he was in jail?

16. Why didn’t Frank tell anyone about Warren’s connection to the dead man?

17. Jake said “There are somethings you can’t run from. You can’t run from who you are.  You can leave everything behind except who you are” (pg 265).  Is that true?

18. What did you think about how it ended? What happened to all of the characters?

19. On the first page, as Frank is talking about the events that were to happen, he says “You might think that I remember that summer as tragic and I do, but not completely.” After having finished the novel, what do you think of that statement?

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 provided by Simon and Schuster
Lit Lovers’ discussion questions
New York Journal of Books review
Q&A with William Kent Krueger
Interview with William Kent Krueger (video)

READALIKES:

Montana 1948 bok coverMontana 1948
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the homecoming of Samuel Lake book coverThe Homecoming of Samuel Lake
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Book Discussion Questions: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Our Souls at Night book coverTitle:  Our Souls at Night
Author:  Kent Haruf
Page Count: 179 pages
Genre:  Literary Fiction, Love Stories
Tone:  Reflective, Bittersweet, Moving

Summary:
In Holt, Colorado, widower Louis Waters is initially thrown when the widowed Addie Moore suggests that they spend time together, in bed, to stave off loneliness, but soon they are exchanging confidences and memories.

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:  2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Imagine yourself a resident of Holt. If you discovered (or suspected) the evening visits, would you have an opinion? What if you were a member of the family?

2. The first sentences read, “And then there was the day when Addie Moore made a call on Louis Waters. It was an evening in May just before full dark.” In your opinion, how effective is this as a first line? What does it convey?

  1. 3. Is it significant that the proposal was at Addie’s instigation rather than Louis’s? How so? What would have been different in the story otherwise?

4. Does this proposal seem outrageous to you? Understandable? Was it brave?

5. Ruth says of Louis, “But he’s no saint. He’s caused his share of pain.” Did that surprise you at the time? Is it better for the story than Louis isn’t a saint?

6. The arrangement is a chance for these two individuals to revisit with each other what has happened in their pasts. What is the appeal of this? Which of those memories made the biggest impact on their relationship? On you as a reader?

7. How interesting is it for a reader to just listen in on characters’ conversations? Is it a talent of the author to make this interesting? Did you want something more to happen?

8. Do the characters think of this relationship as casual? At what point do you think the relationship became more for Addie? For Louis?

9. Was it inevitable that their relationship became sexual? Did you want it to? Were you surprised how deep into the story we were before it did?

10. We see strong instances of their children reproaching the parents about this arrangement. What did you think of that?

11. Gene could arguably be a villain in this story. What did you think of him? Was he at all justified in his concerns or actions?

12. How did the introduction of Jamie change their relationship? Of Bonny?

13. Contrast their interactions with Jamie to what we know of their relationships with their own children.

14. In one passage, Louis confesses:

I think I regret hurting Tamara more than I do hurting my wife. I failed my spirit or something. I missed some kind of call to be something more than a mediocre high school English teacher in a little dirt-blown town.

What does this tell us about Louis? Does it affect your view of him?

15. In what places of the story did you find humor?

16. Gene gives an ultimatum. Did Addie make the right choice? Is there a ‘right’ choice?

17. Later, Addie calls (again, her initiative) and wants to connect again. At first Louis balks, asking, “isn’t this the sneaking around we didn’t want to do?” What would you have done?

18. Did you want more from the ending? Why did Haruf make this choice?

19. A New York Times review asserts that Haruf’s “great subject was the struggle of decency against small-mindedness, and his rare gift was to make sheer decency a moving subject.” Do you see evidence of this struggle in Our Souls at Night? Again, putting yourself in the place of an observer/family, would you take any issue with the word ‘decency’?

20. This book was written as Haruf knew his time was limited. What did he want most to say? Should this be in our minds as we read? If you knew, did this affect your reading of the story?

21. When undertaking the project, Haruf told his wife Cathy, “I’m going to write a book about us.” What elements do you suspect were autobiographical?

22. Did you find the lack of quotation marks distracting? Why might the author make this choice?

23. Haruf’s style is almost always described as “spare” and his characters “plainspoken”. Are these qualities appealing to you?

24. Do you think his style and chosen setting may have held him back from wider recognition?

25. One writer commented that Our Souls at Night “engages sentiment without becoming sentimental”. What do you think about that statement?

26. Is this a sad or heavy book? How would you describe the feeling to someone else?

27. An upcoming film adaptation stars Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. How does that fit the characters in your mind? Are you interested in viewing the film?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

Kent Haruf’s Last Novel is a Beautiful Gift” via The Oregonian
Final interview with Kent Haruf courtesy of Denver Center of Performing Arts
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel review and analysis of Our Souls at Night
LitLovers discussion guide
Our Souls at Night competes in the Tournament of Books
Cathy Haruf on Her Husband’s Final Novel” via Knopf Doubleday

READALIKES:

To Be Sung Underwater book coverTo Be Sung Underwater
by Tom McNeal

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by Marilynne Robinson

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Book Discussion Questions: I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

I Let you go book coverTitle: I Let You Go
Author: Clare Mackintosh
Page Count: 388 pages
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Tone: Atmospheric, Haunting, Gritty

Summary:
Devastated by a hit-and-run accident that has ended the life of her young son, Jenna moves to the remote Welsh coast to search for healing while two dedicated policemen try to get to the bottom of the case.

 

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:  2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. This is Clare Mackintosh’s debut novel. In what ways did this book include autobiographical elements? How did it make her story more believable?

2. If you had to describe what kind of book this was, what would it be?

3. What other books that you have read that might seem similar to I Let You Go?

4. What did you think of the pacing of the book? Did it remain consistent throughout?

5. Let’s talk about style. How does the way this story is told differ from most novels? How does this style make the story work?

6. What ten words would you use to describe the characters Ian, Jenna, and Patrick?

7. How would you characterize Ray, Mags, and Kate and their relationships? Why are work relationships prone to romance or infidelity?

8. Which characters do you have a visual image of in your mind?

9. How did the author bring the settings alive? Describe some of the settings from what you remember.

10. This novel was released first in Britain and the author lives in North Wales. If you didn’t know that how did the story give you a hint? Did you find some of the language and police titles and procedures confusing? Was it off putting?

11. Do you think the author understood domestic violence well? How did that come across in her writing? How did this book give you a peek into how an abused woman might think and feel?

12. How do you see Ian grooming Jenna and the control and abuse starting? Give examples.

13. Who tried to warn Jenna about Ian before their marriage? Why didn’t Jenna listen? Why didn’t Eve or Jenna’s mother ever tell Jenna the truth about her father?

14. How does the abuser view his abusive actions? Where is the responsibility placed?

15. How does the victim view their being abused? Where is the responsibility placed?

16. What was the huge twist in the middle of the story? How did the author fool you?

17. The author had Jenna writing names and messages in the sand and photographing them. What were the practical reasons of why Jenna did this? What were some of the messages? How could her writing names and messages be seen as symbolic?

18. How did Ian feel about the baby and Jenna’s pregnancy at the beginning? What changed as time went on? What did Ian do? Who takes the blame? When does Jenna begin to put the blame on Ian?

19. Who was driving the car that killed Jacob? Why did it happen? Who felt responsible and why?

20. What were some of the many choices Jenna made throughout the story? What are the consequences of those choices?

21. Near the end Patrick is talking to Jenna after she is released and the trial is over. Why did Jenna confess to killing Jacob and almost go to prison?

22. Did you like the ending?  Why did the author make is ambiguous?

23. Are there any other loose ends in this novel or things that weren’t believable?

OTHER RESOURCES:

Book club kit from the publisher
Book of the Month discussion forum
Article: “The True Events That Inspired ‘I Let You Go'”
Kirkus Review for I Let You Go
BBC Breakfast video interview
Informal interview on Google Hangout

READALIKES:

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by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

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by John Hart

Book Discussion Questions: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Elegance of the Hedgehog book coverTitle:  The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Author:  Muriel Barbery
Page Count: 325 pages
Genre:  Literary, Fiction in Translation
Tone:  Introspective, Quirky, Bittersweet

Summary:
Renée, the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building, is easily overlooked due to her appearance and her demeanor. Resident twelve-year-old Paloma is determined to avoid the pampered and vacuous future laid out for her and decides to end her life on her next birthday. Both will have their lives transformed by the arrival of a new tenant.

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:  2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

  1. 1. We usually make a point of not beginning discussions with this question, but in light of Paloma’s writing

With her it’s as if a text was written so that we can identify the characters, the narrator, the setting, the plot, the time of the story, and so on.  I don’t think it has ever occurred to her that a text is written above all to be read and to arouse emotions in the reader.  Can you imagine, she has never even asked us the question: “Did you like this text/this book?”  And yet that is the only question that could give meaning to the narrative points of view or the construction of the story…  (153)

Did you like this book?  Why or why not?  And do you agree with Paloma that this question is central to discussing or thinking about a book?

2. The story is presented through the interplay of two narrators. Would it have been as effective (or more, or less) if we had only one POV?  Why not Kakuro Ozu as well?  Would you have liked to experience his voice more directly?

3. What do Paloma and Renée have in common? Each has a secret life and a desire to stay hidden.  How so and why?

4. What did you think of Renée’s double life?

5. In the passage from which the title is taken, Paloma writes

Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog; on the outside, she’s covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary—and terribly elegant.  (143)

Would you agree with her description?  Would Ozu?

6. Were there any of Paloma’s “Profound Thoughts” or “Journal of the Movement of the World” entries to which you found yourself especially responding?

7. What do Paloma and Renée teach each other? Does Ozu teach and/or learn as well from them?

8. In what ways is Paloma still a child? Would you say she is neglected?

9. What of Paloma’s family? What roles do they play in the story?  (mother, sister, father)

10. How is social class reflected in this book?

11. What is the “goldfish bowl” and how is it important to the story?

12. How is identity also a theme throughout The Elegance of the Hedgehog? Think about how Renée might define herself as well as Paloma’s observations about the people around her.

13. Is Ozu a fully-realized character, or is he primarily a catalyst for the two women?

14. How did Renée’s backstory (her husband, her sister) contribute to her understanding of herself? To our understanding of her?

15. Is this a romantic story?

16. How did you react to the shocking event at the end? Why do you think the author chose this development and had it unfold in this way?

17. Would you have preferred a happier ending?

18. Did any of Renée’s parting words resonate with you? What of Paloma’s epiphany and, similarly, her last paragraph?

19. Did the book inspire you to explore literature, art, film, music, manga, language, or philosophy?

20. Would you describe either the book or the characters as pretentious?

21. Did the book surprise you at all? In what ways?

22. This book has been translated into over 30 languages. What do you think accounts for its popularity?  Did the fact it is a translation affect your reading of the book?

23. Where is humor brought into the story? Is it well-chosen?  Ill-chosen?  Distracting?  Needed?

24. Have you seen the film The Hedgehog? How successful is it as an adaptation?  Did you have any reaction to the casting or directorial choices?

25. How might you describe or recommend The Elegance of the Hedgehog to others? What other works might you recommend to one who liked it?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

interview with author Muriel Barbery
The Elegance of Muriel: An Author Profile of Muriel Barbery” via Publishers Weekly
New York Times book review of The Elegance of the Hedgehog
LitLovers discussion guide
France’s Iconic ‘Concierge’ — a Dying Breed?
video: Critic and educator Robert Adams lectures on The Elegance of the Hedgehog
movie trailer for the adaptation The Hedgehog

READALIKES:

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by Salley Vickers

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Book Discussion Questions: Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Circling the Sun book coverTitle: Circling the Sun
Author: Paula McLain
Page Count: 496 pages
Genre:  Historical Fiction, Biographical Fiction
Tone:  Atmospheric, Commanding

Summary:
Brings to life a fearless and captivating woman from recent history: Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, author of the classic memoir Out of Africa.

 

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:  2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Historical fiction based on real people has become a popular genre.  Why do you think this is?  How do you feel about novels based on real people?

2. Biographies have been written about Beryl Markham, and Markham herself wrote a memoir, West with the Night.  In your opinion, would having access to these works make it more or less challenging to create a fictionalized account of her life?

3. Were you familiar with Beryl Markham before you read Circling the Sun?  Did reading this book contribute to your understanding of her?

4. Are you curious about the parts of Markham’s life that McLain chose to not include?

5. How do you think the author meant to portray Beryl Markham?  Do you believe Beryl is portrayed in a positive light?

6. Do you believe first person narration helped you connect with Beryl as a character?

7. Does Beryl have a lot of agency in her own life?   How does she handle circumstances not within her control?  Did you disagree with any of her choices?

8. How did Beryl conduct her life within or against gender norms of the time?

9. Karen tells Beryl she admires her independence, to which Beryl replies, “I have fought for independence here, and freedom, too. More and more I find they’re not the same thing” (pg. 161).  How are the themes of independence and freedom explored in Circling the Sun?

10. Does the colonial setting complicate your opinion of the book?

11. Some readers have critiqued the novel’s emphasis on romantic pursuits at the expense of additional exploration of Markham’s accomplishments in horse training and aviation.  What are your thoughts on this?

12. Marveling over the new foal Pegasus, Beryl thinks, “Somehow this miraculous animal belonged to me: a bit of grace I hadn’t even known I was desperate for” (pg. 61). In her youth and early adulthood, how does Beryl connect with animals, and horses in particular?

13. In her memoir West with the Night, Beryl Markham wrote, “Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla, an escapist’s Utopia.  It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations.  … It is all these things but one thing – it is never dull” (pg. 8).  How did the setting of Circling the Sun contribute to your understanding of Africa in the early 20th century?  How important was Kenya to Markham?

14. Toward the end of West with the Night, Markham wrote, “A life has to move or it stagnates.  Even this life, I think. … Every tomorrow ought not to resemble every yesterday” (pg. 238).  Do you think Circling the Sun captures Markham’s zeal for variety?

OTHER RESOURCES:

Discussions questions written by publisher
Lit Lovers’ reading guide
McLain on the story
behind Circling the Sun
Photo gallery provided by publisher
New York Times article on Beryl Markham
NPR book review on Circling the Sun
Video of Paula McLain discussing her work
Longitude Blog’s interview with Paula McLain

READALIKES:

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