Check It Out Category: Book Discussion Questions

Book Discussion Questions: Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland

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

Title: Clara and Mr. Tiffany
Author: Susan Vreeland
Page Count: 405
Genre: Historical Fiction
Tone: Literary, lush

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. Do you think Vreeland accurately portrayed the Gilded Age?

2. What do you think it would have been like to have lived during the Gilded Age as a woman? What about as a man?

3. How does New York City come across in Clara and Mr. Tiffany? Does it become another character in the novel? Why or why not?

4. How many men did Clara love? Who were they? What caused her to be attracted to each one? Were there any problems that sprouted from her love life?

5. What were Clara’s personal goals? Were they similar goals to other ladies of her era? Did she achieve them?

6. What activities brought Clara enjoyment and made her feel free and full of life? What things did she detest?

7. Was Clara a likeable character? Did you want to see her succeed? If you could change something about her circumstances, what would it be?

8. What other characters struck you? Was there anyone you didn’t like?

9. What are some of the social contrasts that appear in Clara and Mr. Tiffany? How do these contrasts shape Clara’s character?

10. In what ways was Clara a progressive woman? How did her politics affect her life?

11. What kind of experience did Clara have at her first Tiffany Ball? (Chapter 9) Who did she go with? What did she learn?

12. How do Clara and Alice describe Tiffany? (Chapter 27) What are Clara’s true feelings for Mr. Tiffany?

13. Was Mr. Tiffany a progressive man? Why or why not? Did he have any conservative leanings?

14. How would you describe Louis Tiffany? Was he a good artist? Was he a good man?

15. Do you think that Clara should have continued working at Tiffany Studios? Why or why not?

16. What place was Edwin moved by? Why? What were iconic places and objects of the Gilded Age?

17. Susan Vreeland is described as a lush and lyrical writer. Can you think of any examples of when she made you feel immersed in a scene or wading in the poetry of her prose?

18. Has anyone read any other books by Vreeland? Was this book similar or different to her other novels? Would you read more by her?

19. Do you think things have changed for women in the arts?

20. Who would you recommend this book to? Why?

Other Resources

Susan Vreeland’s website
Vreeland’s book discussion questions
NPR interviews Susan Vreeland
Susan Vreeland on Beauty and the Book
Susan Vreeland at Warwick’s Books

Stop by the Reference Desk for nonfiction books and online resources on Louis Comfort Tiffany and company.

If you liked Clara and Mr. Tiffany, try…

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
Stealing Athena by Karen Essex
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

Remarkable Creatures book cover     Stealing Athena book coverLoving Frank book cover

Book Discussion Questions: Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

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

Title: Cleopatra: A Life
Author: Stacy Schiff
Page Count: 368
Genre: Biography
Tone: Academic, Deeply-researched, complex

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. Does Cleopatra interest you as a character in history? Why do you think she has interested artists and writers over the millennia?

2. Chapter 1 opens with the quote, “Man’s most valuable trait is a judicious sense of what not to believe.” Why do you think Stacy Schiff opened with this?

3. What is wrong with the statement that “a woman’s authority spelled a man’s deception”? (p. 4)

4. Schiff says that when it comes to Cleopatra’s history, “Affairs of the state have fallen away, leaving us with affairs of the heart.” (p. 7) What does that mean?

5. Did your perspective of Rome change at all? How did Cleopatra see Rome? Contrast that with how we might view Rome.

6. Was Cleopatra Egyptian? If not, where did her family originate from?

7. How does pop culture view Cleopatra? How has Schiff expanded that view?

8. Do you have a favorite pop culture version of Cleopatra?

9. Is Cleopatra a good leader?

10. Do you think that Cleopatra loved either Caesar or Mark Antony or did she only use them for political gain? Does it matter?

11. Who did Cleopatra have children by? Did these children matter politically? How? (p. 193)

12. What is the difference between being described as manipulative vs. being described as strategic? How was Cleopatra described? Why? Do you agree?

13. Can you think of women in today’s world that compare to Cleopatra? How are these modern women depicted by the media?

14. What could today’s female leaders learn from Cleopatra? Are those lessons different than what a male leader might take from Cleopatra’s story?

15. Women held a lot of power in ancient Egypt. What was your reaction to this?

16. Did Romans view women the same way Egyptians did?

17. What fun or odd historical anecdotes did you gain from reading Cleopatra?

18. What are reasons why people should read of the ancient world?

19. The Egyptians of Cleopatra’s era were obsessed with Homer. What is gained from memorizing poets? What is gained from the reading of classics?

20. Cleopatra was 21 when she raised an army. Her brother was 15 when he led it. (p. 11) Did the accomplishments of people by young ages surprise you?

21. In Cleopatra’s time, teachers were revered and housed by the state. (p. 39) Do you think this is a custom that should be renewed?

22. When Cleopatra first comes into power, she curries favor with religious groups. (p. 57) Why would she do this? Do you see any parallels in this concept in modern day political life?

23. What were some of the differences between Caesar and Mark Antony? (p. 185)

24. What was Antony and Octavian’s relationship?

25. What were Octavian and Antony battling over?

26. Antony married Octavia. How was she similar or different to Cleopatra? (p. 191)

27. Cleopatra is a wealthy woman. Where did her wealth come from? Did she use her wealth wisely?

28. Do you think that political leaders today are wealthy? Does this lead to any problems with connecting to their constituents?

29. Were you surprised by any of the technology mentioned having existed in ancient history? (Ex: automatic doors, hydraulic lifts, coin-operated machines, etc. – p. 75)

30. Schiff states, “Octavian continued to threaten Cleopatra publicly while privatly he maintained that if she killed Antony she would have her pardon.” (p. 288) Did you think that Cleopatra would kill Antony? Why or why not?

31. Why did Antony kill himself? (p. 293)

32. How did Cleopatra die? (p. 305 – 306)

33. Have you read any other books by Stacy Schiff? How does this one compare to previous reads? Would you go on to read more by this author?

34. What do you think the marketing of this book portrayed it as? (Cover, blurbs, reviews, etc.) Do you think the marketing matched the book?

35. Would you recommend this book to others? Why or why not?

Other Resources

Stacy Schiff’s website
Hatchette reading group guide
Stacy Schiff on C-SPAN
Stacy Schiff on The Daily Show
WBEZ interview with Stacy Schiff
The New York Times interview with Stacy Schiff
Cleopatra Wikipedia entry
Cleopatra as a subject of paintings

If you liked Cleopatra, try…

Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser
Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie
The October Horse by Colleen McCullough

marie antoinette book cover     Catherine the Great book coverthe October Horse book cover



Book Discussion Questions: Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik

Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons book coverSPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons
Author: Lorna Landvik
Page Count: 404
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Tone: Moving, humorous

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 Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons a good name for the Freesia Court book club group?  Why did they use this name?

2.  What kept the group together over the years? Was it the books? Kids? Friendship?

3.  What role did the book titles and discussions play in the novel?

4.  Did you like the format of the book – how the author gave every character the opportunity to voice their thoughts?

4.  The author touched on many subjects:  physical abuse, homosexuality, adoption, war veterans, infidelity, religion, psychic capabilities, etc. What was the most important lesson the ladies learned together over the 30 years of their book club? Do you think the author tried to touch on too many topics?

5.  Did the author do a good job of developing the characters? Did you have a favorite character? A least favorite character? Why?

6.  What character was the strongest in the group? The weakest?

7.  Was there a character you could empathize with the most? Why?

8.  Did the physical appearances of the book club members define them?

9.  What was Faith’s role in the novel? Why did the author focus on Faith’s letter writing throughout the book?

10. How did confronting Beau’s sexuality help her have the strength to confront the reality of her own past?

11.  Kari faced a critical decision when Mary Jo forbids her from telling Anders that the baby is his grandchild. Do you think it was the right decision? Would you have done the same?

12. How did you feel about Kari’s impromptu decision to tell Julia the truth about her biological mother in front of Mary Jo, without Mary Jo’s prior knowledge? Were you surprised at Julia’s reaction when she found out the truth about her biological mother? Could you blame her?

13.  A fight between Slip and Audrey’s children harmed their own friendship. Were you surprised at this? What role does motherhood play in the novel? How does Landvik’s portrayal of differing parenting techniques and the children they produce function as social commentary?

14. Who has the ability to sense upcoming events? How does this shape her family and friendships?

15. What man was let into the book club? Why? How do you think he changed the group dynamic?

16. Merit eventually finds Paradise, literally and figuratively. Was this a good addition to the story?

17. Marjorie had a ton of nicknames:  Slip, Warrior Bear, the Big Kahuna. Why is she so easy to label? What nickname fit her the best?

18. Why do you think the author chose Slip as the first character to become terminally ill? Was it appropriate to end the novel with Faith being by Slip’s side?

19. Did you get any ideas for your own book club by reading about the Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons?

20. What are some of your fondest memories of your own book club?

Other Resources

Lorna Landvik’s website
Lit Lovers book discussion questions
Reviews of Angry Housewives on Goodreads
30 Minutes With the Author interviews Lorna Landvik

If you like Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, try…

Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg
The Meryl Streep Movie Club by Mia March
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

Can't Wait to Get to Heaven book cover     Divine Secrest of the Ya Ya Sisterhood book cover

Book Discussion Questions: The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper's Wife book coverSPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story
Author: Diane Ackerman
Page Count: 368
Genre: WWII Nonfiction
Tone: Inspiring, Dramatic

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. Would this make a good movie?

2. Was the book what you expected?

3. Were the characters fully realized? Do you feel as though you knew them well?

4. The book is specifically entitled The Zookeeper’s Wife, keeping the focus firmly on Antonina. Was this an effective authorial strategy?

5. Give characteristics to describe Antonina.

6. How did you feel about Jan? Did your opinion change during the course of the story?

7. How old did you picture Rys? Did he mature in the course of the story?

8. Who were some of the more memorable characters? (Human or animal!)

9. Did Han and Antonina anthropomorphize animals and nature? Would you have in their situation?

10. Do you find it unusual that Antonina does not know, nor does she want to know, about her husband’s work? Why or why not?

11. Did you want to know more about Jan’s role in the resistance or more in general about what was being done? Why do you think this wasn’t emphasized in the story?

12. What does Ackerman celebrate in the culture? What does she criticize?

13. Do you trust the author’s account? Is there anything that gives concern?

14. What do you think drew Ackerman to tell this story?

15. Ackerman is a novelist, naturalist, and poet. How do you think her telling this story would differ from a WWII historian’s telling?

16. Jonathan Safran Foer said, “I can’t imagine a better story or storyteller. The Zookeeper’s Wife will touch every nerve you have.” Would you agree? Is the author a great storyteller?

17. Would The Zookeeper’s Wife have worked as a historical novel instead?

18. Did anything surprise you about the portrayal of the Nazis? Did you find any of their ideaology contradictory?

19. Are there any environmental issues from The Zookeeper’s Wife that are still around today?

20. What are the themes of The Zookeeper’s Wife? What personal, societal, political, and scientific thoughts did this book give you?

21. Ackerman states in an interview, “It improved my idea of what a hero is. We tend to think of heroes only in terms of violent combat…but human beings also perform radical acts of compassion…Antonina’s story needs to be told, because it’s a tale of the heroic compassion that so-called ‘ordinary people’ rise to, in every era, and it’s time that they became role models, too.” Did your idea of a hero expand?

22. How does The Zookeeper’s Wife compare to other WWII narratives? To other tales of heroism?

Other Resources

Diane Ackerman’s website
Lit Lovers’ book discussion questions
Diane Ackerman on C-SPAN
Diane Ackerman at the Los Angeles Public Library
Powell’s interview with Diane Ackerman
NYT review of The Zookeeper’s Wife
Animal welfare in Nazi Germany

If you liked The Zookeeper’s Wife, try…

Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman

Schindler's List book cover   The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society book cover   the Pianist book cover




Book Discussion Questions: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

11/22/63 book coverSPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: 11/22/63
Author: Stephen King
Page Count: 849
Genre: Alternate History
Tone: Nostalgic, Compelling, Gritty

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. What was the purpose of the Norman Mailer epigraph? Do you think it stated Stephen King’s personal politics?

2. Al Templeton, the owner of Al’s Diner, told Jake of a door that led back in time to 1958. He then showed Jake the door and told him to see for himself. Jake went through the door. Would you have? Why or why not?

3. It isn’t enough to step back in time, Al wants to change a watershed moment – he wants to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Do you think this was a good idea or a bad idea?

4. What is the butterfly effect? Taking in consideration the positive and negative possibilities of the butterfly effect in regard to the JFK assassination, would you have gone back in the portal to change history?

5. Did Al corner Jake into going back in time? Did Jake have time to think about if he should act on the time portal?

6. If you had gone back in time from 1958 – 1963…what events would you have wanted to witness?

7. When Al and Jake both walk through the portal, the Yellow Card Man greets them. Who is he? Why is the Yellow Card Man there? What does the color of his card represent?

8. When people step through the portal are they going to the past they know or to something else?

9. Why does the Yellow Card Man/Green Card Man say it is bad to go through portals?

10. Early on, Jake said of Derry, “there was something wrong with that town, and I think I knew it from the first.” (p. 121) Jake says it was a town that kept secrets (p. 149) Can an entire town be “wrong”? How does a town keep secrets?

11. Stephen King has a tendency to subtly (or not) connect his novels and stories. Did anyone notice any settings or characters that were references from other works by Stephen King?

12. Were you surprised by how long it took for Jake/George to truly start tracking Lee Harvey Oswald? Why did it take him so long? How did Jake kill time in the past?

13. When did 11/22/63 start to grab you? Did it ever lose you?

14. Were there any moments that shocked you?

15. Why did Jake want to save the Dunning family from slaughter? Was it personal? How did it relate to him then saving the President?

16. Was Harry Dunning’s sister grateful that Jake saved her family from slaughter (the first time)? (p. 240)

17. Jakes usually paints the past as better – better prices, nicer people, even the root beer tasted fuller. Are there ever any instances Jake points out to show how the past is not better than the present? (Ex: race issues, women’s equality, pollution, medical technology)

18. Jake/George falls in love with Sadie. Was this a good idea? Would you have allowed yourself to do this?

19. How does Jake’s mission to stop JFK’s assassination interfere with his relationship? (pg. 408)

20. How do Jake and Sadie get back together? (p. 523)

21. Jake/George invites Sadie to the future (p.620). How did Sadie answer? How would you have answered if you were her? If you were Jake, would you have offered?

22. What is Sadie’s reaction to learning that Jake was attempting to save President Kennedy from assassination?

23. Do you think people today would still react as strongly to a United States president being assassinated as they did when Kennedy was shot? Why or why not?

24. What was your first impression of Lee Harvey Oswald? Did your view of him ever change?

25. As Jake spies on Oswald, he is witness to Oswald beating his wife. Does he ever step in to help her? Why or why not? What would you have done?

26. Jake states that the past is obdurate. Give some examples of the past not wanting to change.

27. Was there a reason for the past not wanting to change?

28. Jake is constantly seeing parallels of people and settings on his quest. What are some examples of parallels or connections he sees? (Ex: The bookies were alike, the pharmacists were alike, Sadie was a Dunning, etc.)

29. Why did Jake hold back from Sadie that he was regaining his memory? Was this a good idea?

30. Did Jake end up saving the president? Did he do it alone or with help?

31. What happened to Sadie?

32. What happened to Oswald?

33. Would you describe Jake as a hero? How would you describe him?

34. Did saving Kennedy make Jake’s original world a better place?

35. Who alerted Jake to the history of the future that he created? (Harry Dunning)

36. Why were there so many earthquakes?

37. Does Jake end up ever getting to see Sadie again?

38. Did you read Stephen King’s afterword? What did you think of the opinions you found there? Are you going to read any of the books he mentioned on the Kennedy conspiracy?

39. Have you read other books by Stephen King? Is this the kind of book you expected out of the author? Will you read more by him?

40. Are there any events that you would be tempted to go back in time to change?

Other Resources

11/22/63 website
Lit Lovers book discussion questions
Tom Perotta interviews Stephen King
Errol Morris interviews Stephen King
Lee Harvey Oswald’s boarding house
Texas Book Depository
JFK Library facts on assassination

If you liked 11/22/63, try…

Underworld by Don DeLillo
Fatherland by Robert Harris
The Third Bullet by Stephen Hunter

Underworld book cover     Fatherland book coverthe Third Bullet book cover