Check It Out Category: Book Discussion Questions

Book Discussion Questions: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

turn of the screw book coverSPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: The Turn of the Screw
Author: Henry James
Page Count: 134
Genre: Literary horror
Tone: Ambiguous, leisurely, literary

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2014 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. The job: to tend to two orphans in a country mansion full of rarely-seen servants with absolutely no oversight from the children’s remaining family. Do you think this job was unusual for the Victorian era? Why did the governess take the job? Would you have taken the job?

2. Is the Governess the first person to her position or were there others before her?

3. How would you describe the Governess as a person? Do you think she cared for the children?

4. What did you think of the children’s uncle? Do you think he cared for the children? Why do you think he never wanted to be contacted about their conduct or progress?

5. There are several unnamed characters in this book – the Governess and the Uncle. Why do you think Henry James never named them? Did you notice the characters were unnamed? What power does a name have?

6. Who is Mrs. Grose? Do the children trust her? Does the Governess trust her? Does Mrs. Grose trust the Governess?

7. The Governess has an ideal start with Flora and then Miles comes home from boarding school for the summer. A letter appears shortly after from Miles’ school saying he was expelled. Why was he expelled? Did the Governess talk to Miles about his expulsion? Why or why not? Would you have talked to Miles about it?

8. Did the Governess write Miles’ uncle about his expulsion? Why or why not?

9. What are other examples of people being vague or unnecessarily mysterious in The Turn of the Screw?

10. Who is Mr. Quint? Who is Miss Jessel? How were they connected to one another? How did the Governess first come across knowledge of Quint and Jessel?

11. Do you think the ghosts of Quint and Jessel were real?

12. Do you think the children saw the ghosts of Quint and Jeseel?

13. Was the Governess a heroic woman trying to protect the children from evil influence…or do you think she was hallucinating and losing her mind?

14. Why do you think the governess was so slow to write the children’s uncle? Did she ever actually write him? If she did, what happened to the letter?

15. Did the children write their uncle? What happened to their letters? Is there a reasonable explanation for why the Governess did not post them?

16. Did you find the children, Miles and Flora, to be lovely or sinister?

17. Did the children ever turn on the Governess? If so, how and why?

18. Miles asks the Governess when he is going back to school. It is here that we start to see his personality. What is Miles like? How does the Governess respond to his inquiries?

19. Corruption is a word often used by the Governess. What do you think this word means to her and to this story?

20. The Governess and Mrs. Grose find Flora playing outside. The Governess swears she sees the ghost of Miss Jessel across a stream from them. Can Flora see the ghost? What happens to Flora and the Governess’ relationship after this sighting?

21. Where does Mrs. Grose take Flora?

22. What happens between Miles and the Governess while Mrs. Grose and Flora are gone?

23. Do you think Miles’ death was an accident? Do you think it could have been averted?

24. What are words you would use to describe The Turn of the Screw? What genre is it?

25. What makes a good suspense novel? What makes a good horror novel? Did The Turn of the Screw make a good horror or suspense novel?

26. What is the meaning of the title?

27. Have you seen (and would you recommend) any of the movies based on The Turn of the Screw?

Other Resources

Random House book discussion questions
Goodreads reviews
The New Yorker review
SparkNotes for the book
Wikipedia page for the book

If you liked The Turn of the Screw, try…

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
The White People and Other Weird Stories by Arthur Machen

the Woman in Black movie     the haunting of hill house book coverthe white people and other weird stories book cover

Book Discussion Questions: Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott

Sin in the Second City book coverSPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America’s Soul
Author: Karen Abbott
Page Count: 356
Genre: Nonfiction
Tone: Engaging, dramatic, well-researched

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2014 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Do you see the Everleigh sisters as criminals?

2. The sisters elevated their craft. Down another path in history this elevation could have led to legalization and taxation of prostitution in Chicago. How different do you think Chicago would be were that to have happened?

3. Do you think sex work was empowering or exploitive to the butterflies? Explain. Do you think sex work was empowering for other brothel house workers?

4. Do you think more women were “white slaves” or prostitutes during this era?

5. Would you have considered becoming an Everleigh butterfly?

6. Why do you think the sisters outshined their competition so fiercely?

7. Do you think there was a stronger sister?

8. Why do you think the sisters didn’t ever (re)marry?

9. Was there a madam in this book you admired?

10. What about a madam you hated?

11. Are there any heroes in this story?

12. What about villains?

13. What do you think of the reformers’ techniques? Were they effective?

14. What do you think of Ernest Bell, the preacher? Did you find him more often in the wrong or in the right?

15. What did you think of Clifford Roe, the lawyer obsessed with white slavery?

16. Some folks believed that brothels and prostitution kept “respectable” women safe from rape and the “baser” fantasies of their husbands. What is your reaction to this?

17. Were you surprised by the caliber of patrons at the Everleigh Club? (Ex: Edgar Lee Masters, Theodore Dreiser, the Prince of Prussia, etc.)

18. How did the Everleighs handle racial issues at their club?

19. Do you think people’s sexuality has changed all that much since the Everleighs’ time?

20. Do you think the Everleigh sisters would be successful today? How do you think their business might be different?

21. Does this book mirror present day society at all?

22. Would you have wanted to live in Chicago during this era?

23. Sin in the Second City is a work of nonfiction. Do you think you would’ve enjoyed it more as a novel? Why or why not?

24. Has your perspective of sex workers changed? Elaborate.

25. What is one story you can take away from Sin in the Second City and use for cocktail party chatter?

Other Resources

Karen Abbott’s website
Book discussion questions at Reading Group Guides
Claire Zulkey interviews Karen Abbott
Freakonomics interviews Karen Abbott
New York Times review of Sin in the Second City

If you liked Sin in the Second City, try…

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
The Girls of Murder City by Douglas Perry
The Last Madam by Chris Wiltz

Devil in the White City book cover     the Last Madam book cover

Book Discussion Questions: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Page Count: 552
Genre: WWII fiction, coming-of-age stories
Tone: Haunting, lyrical, leisurely-paced

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2013 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Why do you think Markus Zusak chose to use Death as the narrator?

2. Did you see Death as a certain gender?

3. Did you have any preconceptions about Death? Did the character match or differ from these notions?

4. Would you consider this book as a Young Adult or an Adult title?

5. Do you think teens and adults have differing reactions to The Book Thief? What elements might appeal to teens? Are those elements different than what would appeal to an adult?

6. Has reading a book considered by some to be a Young Adult title made you more inclined to read other YA titles?

7. How did you feel about the bold interruptions in the story? (Ex: lists, characterizations, Death occasionally setting the scene)

8. What are some examples of foreshadowing in The Book Thief? It seems like Death is constantly letting the plot out of the bag. Did this bother you? Did you like it? (Ex: Knowing Rudy was going to die hundreds of pages before it happened)

9. The Book Thief is divided into 9 sections each titled with a book Liesel received. The section title pages list the chapters within each section. Some of these reveal parts of the plot. Did you notice? How did you feel about it?

10. The Gravedigger’s Handbook, Shoulder Shrug, The Whistler, Dream Carrier, Word Shaker – these are some of the fictitious titles Liesel received. Do you think there is significance to the titles?

11. The text is broken in several places by Max’s picture books to Liesel. What do you think these stories added to The Book Thief? Could you have done without them?

12. What did you notice about the language Zusak used?

13. What do you think the symbolism of the cover is? (Re: dominoes about to be pushed over)

14. What characters seemed most developed? Were there any throw away characters you could do without?

15.  There was an emphasis on words and literature. What was the difference between how Hitler used his words and how Liesel used hers?

16. Were there any scenes in the book that overwhelmed you? What scenes stood out?

17. Hitler’s burning of books was a form of censorship. Is the censorship of books ever acceptable?

18. How do you feel about the relationship between Max and Liesel?

19. This book continuously alternates between great sorrows and small joys. As an example, Max is forced to hide in Liesel’s basement, but Liesel builds him a snowman inside. What are other examples of the ups and downs of The Book Thief? Do you think Zusak had a purpose in this alternating?

20. How does The Book Thief add (or subtract) from the wide variety of literature already written about WWII? Do you think it stands out?

Other Resources

Markus Zusak’s website
Chicago Public Library book discussion questions
One Book, One Chicago resources
Reading Group Guides readers’ guide
Part I, Part II, and Part III of Markus Zusak at the Sutherland Library
New York Times review of The Book Thief
The Guardian interviews Markus Zusak

If you liked The Book Thief, try…

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
Maus by Art Spiegelman
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

the History of Love book cover     the complete Maus book coverBriar Rose book cover

Book Discussion Questions: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge book coverSPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: Olive Kitteridge
Author: Elizabeth Strout
Page Count: 286
Genre: Novel-in-stories
Tone: Leisurely, haunting, character-driven

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2013 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Olive Kitteridge is built from stories that jump through time to different characters’ points of view. What do you think of the “novel in stories” structure? Was it easy or hard to fall into the rhythm of this book? Would you have enjoyed this collection of stories more if it were a traditionally structured novel?

2. What is the difference between a novel in stories and a book of short stories?

3. How often did Olive Kitteridge appear in this book? Do you think she should have made fewer or more appearances?

4. Were there any stories you absolutely loved? What about stories that you disliked? Was there a story that you thought didn’t fit in the collection?

5. Olive Kitteridge won a Pulitzer Prize. Does the fact that Olive Kitteridge won a Pulitzer Prize make you feel the need to like it? Would your experience with this book make you want to read more literary prize winners?

6. Do you think “Pharmacy” was a good opening story for the book? Why do you think Strout picked it as the opener? Would you have started the collection with a different story?

7. In “A Different Road” Henry and Olive get held up by drug addicts in a hospital. Did you think this story fit in with the others? Was it too “overboard”?

8. What keeps Olive and Henry together over the years? Is there anything that almost tears them apart?

9. What specific moments make you like Olive? What specific moments make you dislike her?

10. Why did Olive steal and destroy some of Dr. Sue’s clothes during “A Little Burst”? Did you see any similarities between Olive and Sue? Did Olive’s behavior to Dr. Sue change your opinion of Olive? Why do you think Olive hates Dr. Sue so much?

11. Olive hears Dr. Sue and friends talking down about her at the wedding, why doesn’t she respond from her secret hiding place?

12. Why do you think Olive never committed suicide? First when her father died, next when Jim O’Casey died, finally when Henry died.

13. Why do you think Olive responds so fully to Nina in “Starving”?

14. In “Starving”, how did Harmon and Daisy go from casual sex to falling in love? Why do you think Harmon won’t immediately leave his wife? Do you think he’ll ever get divorced?

15. Why does Olive go to visit Louise Larker in “Tulips”?

16. In the story “Ship in a Bottle” Anita threatens to disown her daughter, Julie, if she lives with her boyfriend rather than marrying him. Is there ever a reason to disown a child? What about if you were in Louise Larkin’s position in the story “Tulips”?

17. In “Piano Player” Simon comes back to see Angie. Why does he bring up an awful memory about Angie’s mother coming to visit him?

18. In the story “Security” Olive goes to visit her son in New York City. Do you think Olive liked Christopher’s new wife, Ann? Would you have liked Ann?

19. Also in “Security,” what event caused Olive to want to leave Christopher’s home early? Did Olive choose to leave or did Christopher kick her out?

20. How does Olive view her relationship with Christopher? How does Christopher view his relationship with his mother? How do you think they came to be so disconnected?

21. Does your opinion of Christopher change, knowing that he only visited his father once in the nursing home, never called to check up on him and never offered to help his mother with the situation? What reasons do you think Christopher had for staying away from his parents?

22. Why did Strout include the story “Criminal”? Did you like the story – why or why not? How did it connect to Olive?

23. What is Olive’s relationship with Jack Kennison? Will their relationship last?

24. What does it say about Olive that not one time in her marriage did she ever say “sorry”?

25. Do you think Olive has changed by the end of the book? If so, how?

Other Resources

Elizabeth Strout’s website
Denver Post book club resources
Failbetter interview with Elizabeth Strout
On Point interview with Elizabeth Strout
Colgate’s Living Writers: Elizabeth Strout appearance

If you liked Olive Kitteridge, try…

Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman
Monkeys by Susan Minot

Winesburg, Ohio book cover     Blackbird House book cover

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Discussion Questions: The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

The Things They Carried book coverSPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: The Things They Carried
Author: Tim O’Brien
Page Count: 246
Genre: Autobiographical war fiction, Short stories
Tone: Gritty, character-driven, thought-provoking

Questions Composed by MPPL Staff

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2013 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Was The Things They Carried a work of fiction or nonfiction? Did the author do anything to muddy the waters between the two categories?

2. Why do you think Tim O’Brien titled the book as he did? What physical objects did the soldiers carry and what did these objects mean to their survival and mental health?

3. The Things They Carried is full of different points of view – re: the use of first person (“I”), the use of second person (“You”), and the use of third person (“He, She, They”). Why do you think O’Brien slipped back and forth between different points of view? How did it affect your reading experience?

4. What was O’Brien’s job before he went to war? How did this job prepare him for war? Why does O’Brien go to war? Is it about bravery?

5. Do the soldiers ever fight each other? Why do they fight? How is that fighting different than what goes on with the enemy?

6. In “How to Tell a True War Story,” O’Brien says,

“A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue.”

What is your reaction to that quote? Can you think of other movies, poems, novels, or short stories that hold this same sentiment?

7. Do soldiers today deal with the same issues that soldiers in Vietnam dealt with in The Things They Carried?

8. Was your understanding of war expanded by reading this book? How? What were some startling or surprising elements you learned about?

9. How did it make you feel to read this book? How did your brain react? How did your body react? What about your heart?

10. What were some examples of black humor in The Things They Carried? Why do you think the soldiers had such dark humor? What did it accomplish?

11. What are words you would use to describe this book? Think about the tone and about the pacing.

12. How many stories deal with Kiowa’s death? What is the purpose of each story? Why do you think the author chose to separate Kiowa’s death into so many different parts? In the end, who do you think is responsible for Kiowa’s death?

13. O’Brien uses repetition as a storytelling device. How does this writing technique affect the narrative?

14. O’Brien says, “Stories can save us.” What does that mean? Do you think it is a true statement? Can you think of a story that saved you at one time or another?

15. Recall a passage or an image that has stuck with you from this book. Retell it in as much detail as possible for us. Why did this moment stick with you?

16. Many book clubs have read a plethora of fiction and nonfiction books on WWII. How might reading about WWII be easier for participants than reading about Vietnam or more current conflicts?

17. In our current culture, there are a flood of fiction and nonfiction books written about WWII or with WWII as the backdrop. There are not nearly as many popular novels and nonfiction tales set against Vietnam. What do you think that is?

18. Yet, there are many, many Vietnam movies out there. Why do you think movies about the Vietnam War may be more popular than novels or nonfiction bout it?

19. Do you think voluntarily enlisting in a war versus being drafted into a war will change the type and tone of stories told about that war? How does that possibility ring true for Vietnam War stories that have been told?

20. Many high school students are assigned to read The Things They Carried. Why do you think this book ends up on required reading lists? Do you think it is an appropriate read for that age group?

21. What were the hardest parts of The Things they Carried for you to get through?

22. The Things They Carried is only 246 pages. Was it a fast read? Did it feel longer than it was?

23. Would you read more by the author Tim O’Brien?

24. Who would you recommend this book to and why?

Other Resources

California State University Northridge’s study guides and resources
National Endowment for the Arts’ guides to The Things They Carried
Reading Group Guides’ book discussion questions
LitLovers book discussion questions
Tim O’Brien on C-SPAN
Tim O’Brien on NPR
Tim O’Brien’s archive

If you liked The Things They Carried, try…

Fire and Forget edited by Matt Gallagher
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Fire and Forget book cover    Matterhorn book cover