Check It Out Category: Book Discussion Questions

Book Discussion Questions: Born a Crime

Tborn a crime book coveritle: Born a Crime
Author: Trevor Noah
Page Count: 288 pages
Genre: Memoir, Humor Writing
Tone: Reflective, Engaging, Candid, Witty

Summary: The story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.The stories collected here are by turns hilarious, dramatic, and deeply affecting. Whether subsisting on caterpillars for dinner during hard times, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, or just trying to survive the life-and-death pitfalls of dating in high school, Trevor illuminates his curious world with an incisive wit and unflinching honesty.

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: 2019 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Were you familiar with Trevor Noah before reading this book? Have you seen The Daily Show?
2. Trevor’s experience growing up seemed similar to the experience of people growing up in our country more like 60 years ago than 30 years ago. Does his youth resonate with you in the ways that racism affected him and in the childhood that he had growing up not very long ago?
3. How does language play a role in Trevor’s life and what he observes in human culture?
4. What role does being mixed play in Trevor’s life? How do Americans see him?
5. How did Trevor’s Mom raise him? What were the impacts of her not putting limitations on him and raising him unlike any example she had of how to raise a child? How would you describe Noah? Patricia?
6. What did you think about Trevor’s Mom’s discipline?
7. Where did Trevor fit in? Who accepted him? Why did Trevor always feel like an outsider? How did he cope with that?
8. Do you think Noah had a good childhood? How do you think his childhood is unique from others who grew up in South Africa? What types of danger did Noah face in his childhood?
9. What did you think about Trevor’s relationship with his biological father, Robert? What was Trevor’s father like? How did you view him as a person?
10. How was apartheid similar to American Jim Crow and how was it different?
11. What did you think about the way Trevor’s Mom tried to raised him to treat women, and how does that reconcile with her marrying Abel? Why did she marry Abel when she said she wouldn’t consider marrying Trevor’s father?
12. A lot of what happens in this story is told with humor, even though many things were very dark. Would you consider Trevor an optimist and how did his attitude and views of his own life influence the person he became?
13. Even though he’s only 34, did him sharing his story of his life affect your views on things such as regret and taking chances and the choices that you make?
14. How does this book compare to other memoirs/autobiographies you have read? What do you think of Noah’s writing style? Do you like his voice?
15. What did you think of how he structured the book?
16. Who do you think Noah had in mind as the audience for his memoir?
17. How can this book contribute to understanding current state of race relations in United States?
18. Are there any quotes from book you’d like to share? Any passage or line that was particularly memorable? Favorite chapter?
19. How did you respond to Trevor’s use of humor in telling stories from his youth? How did humor shape his experience growing up?
20. What kind of impact did this book have on you?
21. Did you like the book? What surprised you? Would you recommend it to friends?
22. Do any of his stories / comments challenge your beliefs? Do you think any of his opinions are provocative?
23. Do you think you’ll want to see the upcoming film adaptation? What passages from the book will make good scenes?
24. Noah is reportedly working on a second book, picking up where Born a Crime ends and about his journey as a comedian in South Africa. Will you be interested in reading 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:

The New York Times Books of the Times
The Guardian review of Born a Crime
Trevor Noah’s official website
NPR interview with Trevor Noah

READALIKES:

Revolution for Dummies book coverRevolution for Dummies
by Bassem Youssef

American on Purpose book coverAmerican on Purpose
by Craig Ferguson

Book Discussion Questions: The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

the Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper book coverTitle: The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper
Author: Phaedra Patrick
Page Count: 331 pages
Genre: Mainstream Fiction
Tone: Bouncing-back, Relatable, Heartwarming, Engaging

Summary: Sixty-nine-year-old Arthur Pepper lives a simple life. He gets out of bed at precisely 7:30 a.m., just as he did when his wife, Miriam, was alive. He dresses in the same gray slacks and mustard sweater-vest, waters his fern, Frederica, and heads out to his garden. But on the one-year anniversary of Miriam’s death, something changes. Sorting through Miriam’s possessions, Arthur finds an exquisite gold charm bracelet he’s never seen before. What follows is a surprising and unforgettable odyssey that takes Arthur from London to Paris and as far as India in an epic quest to find out the truth about his wife’s secret life before they met– a journey that leads him to find hope, healing, and self-discovery in the most unexpected places.

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: 2019 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

  1. 1. How is Arthur set in his ways? How does his journey change his attitude toward daily routine and the comforts of home?

2. Arthur feels comfortable in his house and finds security in his daily routine. Are there any problems with this? If someone wants to stay home a lot, is that in and of itself a bad thing? How does one find the right balance of being home and going out, and can this change over time? What are the downsides of being a “homebody” as people age?

3. Is it more difficult to break out of routines (and comfort zones) as we age? Is it more difficult to open our minds to new possibilities?

4. How much does daily routine factor into the experience of marriage? How is Arthur’s routine disrupted after he loses Miriam? How can routine be helpful in coping with the loss of a spouse? How can it become a hindrance?

5. How does this book capture the experience of being a widow?

5. Speaking of their neighbor Bernadette, Miriam had remarked once to Arthur that “bereaved people act in one of two ways…” (pg. 32). Based on your observations and life experience, what do you think? Do you believe Miriam would have accurately predicted how Arthur handled bereavement?

7. How many secrets did Miriam keep from Arthur? Which revelations are most surprising?

8. How do Arthur’s discoveries affect his view of their marriage? How does Arthur’s view of Miriam change by the end of the book?

9. How does Arthur view the bracelet as he learns more about his wife? How does he balance his curiosity with the frustration of not knowing Miriam as well as he had thought? Several times he said he wished he never found the bracelet. Do you think by the end of the story he still wished that?

10. There are popular wedding shower games based on discovering how well the engaged couple knows one another – how would Arthur have fared in such a party game? If a fiancé doesn’t perform well on such quizzes, should it be a cause for concern? (How important is it for a couple to know details about their lives before they met?)

11. What are the different ways in which a relationship can change over time? Is it bad if the relationship doesn’t change? How are Miriam and Arthur similar to other lifelong couples that you know?

12. Ponder some of Arthur’s concerns about his marriage after he learns more about Miriam’s past – do you think Miriam was bored with Arthur and/or with married life? Did Miriam feel trapped? Had she settled? Did he keep her from doing things she enjoyed?

13. Did Miriam’s secrets prevent them from having a successful marriage? Were Arthur and Miriam happily married? (Was their marriage a good one?) Were they a good match for each other? Was Arthur a good husband to Miriam?

14. Does the novel provide enough info about their marriage for you as reader to form an opinion of it?  Are you curious about Miriam’s perspective on her marriage with Arthur?

15. If he could start over again, what would Arthur do differently in his marriage with Miriam?

16. “They should have visited new places together” (pg. 112 ) —  Do you think it is common to have some elements of regrets when looking back on a long, seemingly successful marriage? Even if they had traveled more, if Arthur and Miriam were always together is that another form of being “sheltered”?

17. How important is it for couples to get out of the house and do (fun) things together? How important is it for people to get out and do things (on their own or with friends) without their partner? Should couples encourage each other to pursue their own interests and strengthen connections with others?

18. Whether you are married or not, why is it important to seek out novelty, such as exploring new places and meeting new people?

19. Do you strive to seek variety and new experiences in your life? How do you balance the comfort of the old with the fun of the new? Has reading this book inspired you to shake up your routine, seek new experiences, meet new people, and/or travel?

20. Through his adventures seeking info about his wife’s charms, how is Arthur pushed out of his comfort zone? Do these experiences contribute to any personal change? How is Arthur better able to connect with other people by the end of the book?

21. Do you believe Miriam left the bracelet in a place where she knew Arthur would likely discover it?

22. When Arthur looks at the photos hung for his birthday celebration, what is the significance of his noticing Miriam wearing the bracelet in a photo when the children were young? How long ago do you think she stopped wearing it? (How long do you think it had been in the boot?)

23. If her illness hadn’t been so sudden, do you believe Miriam would have ever told Arthur about her past?

24. What’s next for Arthur after he returns from Goa? What kind of daily routine do you think he’ll develop, and how will it differ from before he discovered the bracelet? How do you see him interacting with village residents/neighbors/ acquaintances/friends? How about with Lucy and Dan? Do you see him becoming good friends with Bernadette?

25. Why can it be difficult for adult children and their aging parents to connect and relate to one another? Do you believe Lucy and Dan are emotionally distant? What about Arthur?

26. There are two chapters focused on Lucy. Would you have liked to read more from her point of view? Do you believe there should have been a chapter or two focused on Dan for balance?

27. How would you describe the interactions between Arthur and Nathan? How do they view each other?

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 Nolan Show audio interview with Phaedra Patrick
Publisher’s Weekly book review
Phaedra Patrick’s official author website
LitLovers discussion guide
“Why I Write” article by Phaedra Patrick

READALIKES:

A Man Called Ove book coverA Man Called Ove
by Fredrik Backman

Meet Me at the Museum book coverMeet Me at the Museum
by Anne Youngson

Book Discussion Questions: Behold the Dreamers

behold the dreamers book coverTitle: Behold the Dreamers
Author: Imbolo Mbue
Page Count: 382 pages
Genre: Mainstream Fiction
Tone: Fast-Paced, Compelling, Immigrant Experience

Summary: In 2007, Manhattan-based Cameroonian immigrant Jende Jonga gets a job chauffeuring for Lehman Brothers executive Clark Edwards, easing the financial strain on his family. At first, all goes well, but problems in the Edwards’ marriage lead to problems for the Jongas, and when Lehman falls, both families are caught up in the terrible aftermath. The Jongas — at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, fearing deportation — have much more to lose than the wealthy Edwards family, but together provide a perspective on the accessibility (or lack thereof) of the American Dream, as well as a poignant look at globalization and immigrant life.

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: 2018 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Jende is trying to get a green card and stay in the U.S. We learn that that he is seeking asylum, using an invented excuse (his girlfriend’s father wants to kill him). What did you think about this?

2. Why do you think Jende wanted to come to the United States?

3. Jende’s cousin Jende was helping Jende to come here. What do you think differentiated their experiences in the U.S.?

4. What was your initial impression of Jende’s lawyer, Bubaker?

5. While Jende is driving Clark, they are having a conversation wherein Jende extols the virtues of Limbe. Clark then asked him why he wants to stay in America:

Jende: “Because my country is no good…..I stay in my country I would have nothing. My son will grow up and be poor like me, just like I was poor like my father. But in America, Sir? I can become something.”

What do you think of Jende’s comments? Does his view change by the end of the story?

6. We are introduced to Lehman Brothers and right away, start seeing the cracks. Clark seemed to know what was happening with Lehman Brothers. Do you see any culpability on his part? What do you think he should have or could have done?

7. Did you feel empathy for Clark?

8. Jende and Neni get married at city hall. Jende told Clark that it wasn’t the marriage certificate that made him feel married; it was the bride price he paid. Your thoughts.

9. Let’s explore Jende and Neni’s relationship. What did you think about their marriage?

10. Can you compare Clark and Jende? What do you see as the differences between how their diverse cultures treat women.

11. What were your thoughts initially about Cindy? Were you surprised by how her character developed?

12. Jende’s brother called for him to send money because he couldn’t afford tuition for his kids. Cindy gives him $500. He sends $300 and pockets the rest. What should he have done with the money?

13. Let’s look at the children; we’ll start with Vince Edwards. He turned down a prestigious internship, wants to drop out of law school and move to India to “find his truth.” What did you think about that? Did Vince like the United States?

14. What did you think of Mighty? Do you think the Jongas genuinely liked him?

15. Let’s look at Neni’s character. What did you think of her as a mother? How do you think her parenting style compares with a typical American born mother? Jende as a father? The Clarks as parents?

16. When working for Cindy Edward at the vacation house, Neni finds Cindy passed out in her room and doesn’t know what to do. Jende tells her to pretend she sees nothing. What did you think about this?

17. Anna the housekeeper wants Neni to talk to Clark about Cindy’s drinking. Not knowing what is going to happen to Cindy, if you were in Neni’s position, what would you have done?

18. What did you think about Neni’s desire to join a church?

19. Jende was very upset that Neni told the church about their immigration status.

“For the first time in a long love affair she was afraid he would beat her…and if he had, she would have known that it was not her Jende who was beating her, but a grotesque being created by the sufferings of an American Immigrant life.”

What did you think about Jenda’s reaction? What about how Neni response to Jende’s anger?

20. Cindy approaches Jende and wants him to spy on Clark. What should Jende have done? What did you think of Winston’s’ suggestion that Jende blackmail Cindy, with her drug use, in order to get her to stop pushing him to spy on Clark?

21. Ripped from actual headlines, comes a scandal. An “escort” is interviewed by the paper and mentions Clark by title and said that her services were being paid for by bailout money. What were your thoughts?

22. After Lehman collapses, who was affected most by it? Victimless?

23. Clark fires Jende. How did you feel about that?

24. Neni went to Mrs. Edward to try to get Jende’s job back, let’s talk about that? Could you sympathize with Neni’s blackmail attempt because of her situation?

25. Do you think this was something Neni would have done when she was living in Limbe? Did America change her? What did you think of Jende’s reaction to the money Neni got from Mrs. Edwards?

26. Why do you think Neni was so desperate to stay in America? Was her experience so different from Jende’s?

27. What did you think of her idea of divorcing Jende and marrying her friend’s cousin? What were your thoughts at her idea to let her professor adopt Liomi?

28. Let’s talk about Neni’s conversation with Dean Flipkins. She wanted his help with a scholarship and he denied her. What did you think about that?

29. Let’s talk about Cindy’s death. Do you believe that Neni was complicit? Were you surprised at how guilty she felt?

30. Vince called Neni to step in as Mighty’s nanny. What did you think of Neni’s decision not to help?

31. Jende makes the decision to go back home. What did you think about that? Why did he make this decision? Do you think Neni had a choice about leaving the country?

32. At the end of the novel, there were several characters that seemed to change their opinions of living in the U.S.:
a. Winston said, “one day …there will be no more Mexicans crossing the border to come to America”
b. Fatou said, “after 26 years, she was ready to stop braiding hair for a living and go back home”, her children wanted nothing to do with West Africa and she wondered if they thought they were better than her.
c. Natasha said, “remember when we welcomed our visitors at Ellis Island with lunch boxes and free medical checkups. They (the Jongas) are returning home because we as a country have forgotten how to welcome strangers.”

What were your thoughts?

33. Jende went to see Clark at the end to thank him for all he did and told him he was a good man. Thoughts. Why do you think Jende never went to Clark for help?

24. Do you think the Jonga’s will be happy back in Limbe? Why/Why Not? Did America change Jende?

35. Is New York a good place for immigrants? Did this book give you any insight into immigration in the United States?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

NPR’s Book Review
The New York Time’s Book Review
Imbolo Mbue’s official author website
LitLovers discussion guide
Lithub interview with Imbolo Mbue

READALIKES:

Cover of AmericanahAmericanah
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

little bee book coverLittle Bee
by Chris Cleave

Homegoing book coverHomegoing
by Yaa Gyasi

Book Discussion Questions: The Woman in Cabin 10

The Woman in Cabin 10 book coverTitle: The Woman in Cabin Ten
Author: Ruth Ware
Page Count: 340 pages
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Tone: Menacing, Uncertain, Tense

Summary: An intruder in the middle of the night leaves Lo Blacklock feeling vulnerable. Trying to shake off her fears, she hopes her big break of covering the maiden voyage of the luxury cruise ship, the Aurora, will help. The first night of the voyage changes everything. What did she really see in the water and who was the woman in the cabin next door? The claustrophobic feeling of being on a ship and the twists and turns of who, and what, makes it difficult to know what to believe.

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: 2018 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. The book starts with a prologue, “In my dream, the girl was drifting, far, far below the crashing waves and the cries of the gulls in the cold, sunless depth of the North Sea. Her laughing eyes were white and bloated with salt water; her pale skin was wrinkled; her clothes ripped by jagged rocks and disintegrating into rags.” How did this set the tone of the book for you?

    1. 2. The story dives right in. Chapter 1, as we are introduced to the books’ protagonist, Lo Blacklock; we are immediately thrust into a home invasion. It was a short chapter but a lot happens. How did this opening feel to you?

3. Did you have any initial opinions of Lo?

4. We go from Lo’s apartment being broken into, to the scene in Jude’s flat where Lo accidentally knocks out Jude’s tooth. Let’s talk about this and their relationship?

5. What were your initial impressions of Jude?

6. Lo goes on the cruise. Do you think she should have gone? What did you think of the ship?

7. Lo wakes up at 3am. “Something had woken me up. Something that left me jumpy and strung out as a meth addict. Why did I keep thinking of a scream?” She picked up her book and then heard something else, “something that barely registered above the sound of the engine and the slap of the waves, a sound so soft that the scrap of a paper against paper almost drowned it out. It was the noise of the veranda door in the next cabin sliding gently open.” She believed that she heard the splash made by a body hitting water. What did you think?

8. What did you think about Lo’s interaction with the ships security Johann Nilsson?

9. We start to see emails/texts from Jude wondering if anyone has heard from Lo. How did this affect the story for you?

10. The morning after “the murder,” Lo checks out the entire staff of the ship looking for the woman she saw in Cabin 10. She told the staff that she heard a scream and then felt the mention of the scream had been a mistake; she felt “the staff had closed ranks.” What do you think of that? Did you think the staff was hiding something?

11. No staff seemed to be missing, no passengers were missing, and Lo’s career could be on the line.  Why do you think she pursued her line of inquiry? Would you?

12. As the story continues, it is clear that Nillsen seemed to doubt Lo’s suspicions of foul play.  Thoughts?

13. Lo approached Lord Richard Bullmer about her belief of a possible murder. Did you think this was a good idea? Let’s talk about their interaction.

14. Ben Howard, Lo’s ex-boyfriend, becomes an important character in the book. What did you think about him?

15. In the middle of the book, the prologue comes into play. Lo goes to the spa and gets a mud wrap, as she goes into the shower, she sees written across the steam mirror the words “stop digging” and on the very next page, we read that Lo’s body was found by a Danish Fisherman. Where did the story go for you at this point?

16. Lo asked Karla (her cabin attendant) if she knew anything. Karla said she felt sorry for Lo and that Nillson thinks she is paranoid. Karla proceeds to tell Lo that the staff all needed their jobs and that she (Karla) has a son. “Just because perhaps someone let a friend use an empty cabin, that doesn’t mean she was killed, you know” and Lo shouldn’t “make trouble if nothing happened.” What did you think about this conversation?

17. Ernst Solberg was an investor who was supposed to be in Cabin 10, we find out that he was not on the cruise because his home was burglarized & his passport was stolen. Was this related to Lo’s break in?

18. There is an online “Whodunit” thread discussing Lo’s disappearance. What did you think about that?

19. Lo sees the girl from Cabin 10 outside her door and goes after her. Lo is then “kidnapped.” By this time, did you have your list of suspects? Who did you think was the Woman in Cabin 10?

20. Lo starts pumping her kidnapper for information. The kidnapper said, “You’re digging your grave, do you get that?” What did you think of Lo at this point?

21. What was your opinion of Carrie?

22. By the end of the book, what did you think of Lo?

23. Lo is home with Judah. They are in bed and she starts crying. Lo says “I can’t stop thinking of her, I can’t accept it, it’s all wrong.” Let’s talk about this.

24. Why do you think Lo had such a hard time accepting what happened to Lord Bullmer?

25. Why do you think Lo had a change of heart at the end of the novel and decided to move to New York?

  1. 26. What did you think of the last page of the novel, a deposit of 40,000 Swiss Franc went into Lo’s account with the reference “Tigger’s Bounce?”
  1. 27. Were there unanswered questions in the plot? If so, what wasn’t covered or finalized in the ending?
  1. 28. How effective were the email messages and articles in moving the story forward?

29. What did you think of Ruth Ware’s writing style? Were there any passages that struck you?

  1. 30. How would you describe the book?
  1. 31. What do you think of the following statement?: “We mostly don’t believe women, especially angry women.” (A 2015 study from Arizona State University that focused on jury reactions showed how angry men gain influence while angry women lose it.)

32. Would this have been a different read if it had been a male protagonist?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

YouTube Book Trailer
Book of the Month
Ruth Ware’s official author website
LitLovers discussion guide
Culturefly interview with Ruth Ware “Interview with Ruth Ware”

READALIKES:

I See You book coverI See You
by Clare Mackintosh

The Couple Next Door book coverThe Couple Next Door
by Shari Lapena

Every Last Lie book coverEvery Last Lie
by Mary Kubica

Book Discussion Questions: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

mr. penumbra's 24-hour bookstore book coverTitle: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Author: Robin Sloan
Page Count: 288 pages
Genre: Tech Fiction, Adult Fiction for Teens
Tone: Likeable, Quirky, Offbeat

Summary: The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco web-design drone and landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, and never seem to actually buy anything. Soon he ropes his friends into helping him figure out just what’s going on.

 

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: 2018 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Why did Ajax Penumbra hire Clay?

2. What is the purpose of recording everything about the customer’s physical features? (p. 19, “…were there button on his coat made of mother-of-pearl? Or were they horn? Some kind of metal? Copper?”)

3. What do you think of Clay? Was he an accessible protagonist? How was he uniquely able to help Mr. Penumbra on his quest?

4. How does the novel deal with old and new technology? What do you think about that?

5. As the “information superhighway” began to really take off, many predicted that there would no longer be any use for libraries. What do you think about that? What has happened? Can the old ways coexist with the new? What does the book say about the idea that you can find everything on Google?

6. What did you think was happening in the bookstore? Did you think there was something nefarious happening?

7. What role does Corvina play in the story? What does he represent? How do you feel about him? Is he right to act as he does?

8. Kat introduces the concept of Singularity – “the hypothesis that the invention of artificial superintelligence will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilization” – on p. 58 (Wikipedia). She says you have to be an optimist. Is our feeling toward the future regarding technology’s role dependent upon how optimistic or pessimistic we are?

9. Mr. Penumbra tells Clay he didn’t know young people still read books. (p. 65) He looks at Clay’s Kindle, noticing things that are good about, such as being able to make the font bigger. He also notices the font is a very old one, Gerritszoon. Is/was the Kindle a positive example of a new way to interface with the old?

10. Why is the book set in San Francisco? What role did that city play in the story? Why did New York make an appearance?

11. There was a lot of concern during the time of Guttenberg and Manutius, as people worried printing houses would take work away from monks, and would replace skilled labor with unskilled labor, and take away the prestige of books as they became more accessible to common people. Was that concerned founded? What is the similarity between that and what is happening today as far as books and technology?

12. What role did The Dragonslayer Chronicles play in this book? Would you publish the third book or leave it hidden forever?

13. Describe Clay’s friend Neel and their relationship?

14. Which character did you most relate to? Why? Which character did you least relate to?

15. What do you think about the answer to “our greatest question”/how to live forever?

16. Why does the Festina Lente company embrace technology but the Unbroken Spine does not?

17. Society’s reaction to the advent of the printing press was somewhat similar to society’s reaction to the Kindle. Why? Were the opponents of printing houses correct to feel as they did? What about those who felt the Kindle and ebooks would destroy reading and book culture?

“ChurchHatesTucker points us to a wonderful historical analysis of a 15th century luddite, abbot Johannes Trithemius, who was no fan of the printing press, because of what it was going to do to those poor monks. It wasn’t just that it would put them out of work, but that it would impact their souls. He worried that the printing press would make monks lazy.

It was okay that the act of copying was hard. It built character, in Trithemius’s opinion, the same way as chopping wood (though to this “interior exercise,” i.e. exercise of the spirit, he assigned far more importance). For monks, labor was part and parcel of devotion, and if you weren’t good at writing, you could do binding, or painting, or for heaven’s sake practice. And it goes even further: the labor of manuscript writing was something for monks to do — for there was no greater danger for the devout soul than idleness.

For among all the manual exercises, none is so seemly to monks as devotion to the writing of sacred texts.

He also pulls out the typical “but this new fangled thing just isn’t as nice as the old stuff”: He does spend some time talking about practical reasons that printed books weren’t anything to get bothered about: their paper wasn’t as permanent as the parchment the monks used (he even advocates the hand-copying of “useful” printed works for their preservation); there weren’t very many books in print, and they were hard to find; they were constrained by the limitations of type, and were therefore ugly.” (Predictions by Mike Masnick, www.techdirt.com February 25. 2011)

18. There were many opposing reviews of this book. How many of you found the book to be charming? Overly-convenient? Clever? Implausible? Fun? Did you think ever-present synchronistic elements add to or detracted from the plot?

19. Would you recommend Mr. Penumbra to a friend? What other books would you recommend to a fan of 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:

New York Times review, “Bookworms and Apples”
Slate review “Scanners”
Robin Sloan’s official author website
LitLovers discussion guide
NPR interview with Robin Sloan “‘Mr. Penumbra’ Bridges the Digital Divide”

READALIKES:

The Invisible Library book coverThe Invisible Library
by Genevieve Cogman

S book coverS.
by Doug Durst and J.J. Abrams