Check It Out Category: Book Discussion Questions

Book Discussion Questions: The Submission by Amy Waldman

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

Title: The Submission
Author: Amy Waldman
Page Count: 299
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Tone: Issue-driven, dramatic, politically provocative

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.  Before you opened The Submission, what were your thoughts/feelings about reading what might be reductively termed a “9/11 book”?  Had you read others? Did your feelings change as you read and/or in retrospect?

2.  Was this a hard book to read? Did you enjoy it? Did it make you uncomfortable?

3.  When we present this book, we sometimes struggle with the fact that a quick summary doesn’t fully represent what the book is. How might you describe The Submission to others?

4.  One could argue that not much happens in this book – that it is a protracted debate. Is this accurate? Would you have wanted more to happen?

5.  Could you see this happening? Any development that strains credibility? Do you know of events that have unfolded similarly? (e.g., Maya Lin and Vietnam memorial, Flight 93 memorial, uproar over a mosque being built two blocks from Ground Zero)

6.  If you had served on the jury, how would you have voted?

7.  Much of the power of this book comes from the multiple perspective narration. Were there specific characters’ stories in which you especially found yourself invested? Why do you think that is? Any in which you weren’t as interested? Did it change throughout the story?

8.  How would the book have been different if told from one perspective?

9.  Who would you say are the most central characters in this book – i.e. whose story is this?

10.  Mo hardly even thinks of himself as Muslim. Would it change the story if he were devout?

11.  To what extent do we consider the artist when we perceive or evaluate art? Does it/should it matter? Consider authors or actors or filmmakers.

12.  One of the big issues is that Mo refuses to offer reassurances. Should he have? Do you understand why he wouldn’t?

13.  In what ways are Mo and Asma perceived as “lesser Americans”? Do they perceive themselves this way? What is your personal reaction to this idea?

14.  How did you feel with the newspaper phrasing of Claire “sleeping with the enemy” and all that it implied?

15.  In what ways are the plot and characters affected by the juxtaposition of Ramadan?

16.  Do you think Asma regretted speaking out?

17.  Should Mo have been willing to change design?

18.  What struck you most about the public hearing? In what ways do the speakers and events of this single scene represent the themes of the book? Would you say the views are balanced?

19.  Think about the secondary characters, such as Yuki and Debbie. What do they contribute to the story?

20.  Are there villains in this story? Is everyone presented fairly?

21.  How is journalism as an institution portrayed? (Remember, Waldman herself is a journalist.) Do you agree that “people want to be told what to think” and/or that “people want to be told what they already think is right”?

22.  To which “submission” does the title refer?

23.  In terms of theme, Waldman is quoted in one interview as saying:

“The novel has a lot of different themes, but one is in the wake of 9/11, who do we trust?  How do we decide who to trust?  American Muslims, how do we think about them?  How do we understand Islam when there is so much fear and confusion around it?  And I think the ambivalence even many liberals have felt since 9/11 is how to feel about these things…[including wanting to be open but still very much afraid]”

Are these ideas explored effectively? Are there answers?

24.  What did you think about the ending? Did it surprise you? Could/should it have ended differently?

25.  This is Waldman’s first novel. Is that apparent?

26.  What is the problem with thinking of family members from 9/11 (or any tragedy) as a single group? Is there room to consider diversity of class, politics, age, faith and represent all fairly?

Other Resources:

Lit Lovers book discussion questions
Seattle Public Library’s Reading Group Toolbox for The Submission
PBS interview with Amy Waldman
CBS Author Talk with Amy Waldman
Idaho Public TV interview with Amy Waldman
The New York Observer on The Submission
New York Times review of The Submission
Washington Post review of The Submission

If you liked The Submission, try…

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Netherland by Joseph O’Neill

     Let the Great World Spin book cover

Book Discussion Questions: Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

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

Title: Under the Banner of Heaven
Author: Jon Krakauer
Page Count: 372
Genre: True Crime
Tone: Disturbing, 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.    What assumptions about Mormonism did you bring to this book? Did any of your views change?

2.    Have you read Jon Krakauer before? Are you interested in reading more now?

3.    Do you think that he used a balanced hand while writing?

4.    Krakauer calls Mormonism a distinctly “American” religion. What did he mean by that?

5.    “Control of the LDS Church resides in the hands of fifteen men.” (p. 4) Do you think that it matters if women are allowed to hold positions of authority in the LDS Church?

6.    The main difference between LDS and FLDS is that Fundamentalist Mormons (FLDS) believe in the religious duty of plural marriage. Do you think polygamy should be a religious freedom? Should polygamy be legal or illegal?

7.    Prosecutor David Leavitt believes that FLDS polygamy is pedophilia. (p. 23) Do you agree with his assessment?

8.    What is your reaction to the FLDS use of public funds to support their large families?

“Despite the fact that Uncle Rulon and his followers regard the government of Arizona, Utah and the United States as Satanic forces out to destroy the UEP, their polygamous community receives more than $6 million a year in public funds.” (p.12)

9.    What is your personal reaction to hearing Uncle Rulon say, “I want to tell you that the greatest freedom you can enjoy is in obedience. Perfect obedience produces perfect faith.” (p. 12)

10.    Pedophilia is commonly mentioned in Under the Banner of Heaven. What do you think the punishment for this crime should be?

11.    Should a 13-year old be allowed to get married, even if they want to?

12.    What was your reaction to Bountiful’s community motto:  “Keep Sweet, No Matter What”?

13.    What was your reaction to learning that Joseph Smith “…devoted much time and energy to attempting to divine the location of buried treasure by means of black magic and crystal gazing, activities he learned from his father.” (p. 56)

14.    In 1830, when Joseph Smith formally established the Mormon Church, it had 50 members. The next year, membership exceeded 1,000 people. Why do you think it grew so fast? (p. 29)

15.    What were your reactions to The Peacemaker, the elaborate biblical rationale for polygamy that turned Dan Lafferty to plural marriage?

16.    Krakauer quotes R. Laurence Moore saying, “Persecution arguably was the only possible force that would have allowed the infant church to prosper.” (p. 95) What did Moore mean by that?

17.    Do you think the Mormon Church would have survived if it hadn’t given up plural marriage in 1890?

18.    What was your reaction to Section 132 (the doctrine of plural marriage) mentioning Joseph Smith’s first wife, Emma, by name? Why do you think her name was included in this doctrine? What was Emma’s reaction to Section 132?

19.    How and why was Joseph Smith killed?

20.    What is “blood atonement”? (p. 204)

21.    How did the U.S. government respond to Brigham Young saying, “…any President of the United States who lifts his finger against this people shall die an untimely death, and go to Hell!” (p. 206)

22.    What was your reaction to Ron receiving a revelation to kill Brenda, her child, and two other people?

23.    If the revelation didn’t come from God, where did it come from?

24.    Allen (Brenda’s husband) was told of the revelation. Allen asked Ron why his baby daughter had to die and Ron said, “Because she would grow up to be a b—-, just like her mother!” (p. 169) After hearing this, Allen said he couldn’t accept the revelation, but never told Brenda of it. No one ever told Brenda, not Allen, not her mother-in-law, not Onias. Why? Would this be a different story if someone had told Brenda the revelation?

25.    Why do you think that Ron tried to kill Dan in jail in 1995? (p. 310)

26.    Dan currently thinks that he is Elijah, the prophet that will usher in the second coming of Christ. (p. 313) What does this say about Dan and his current state of mental health?

27.    Dan Lafferty killed someone because he believed his brother received a direct revelation from God. Osama bin Laden killed 2000 people in a terror attack because he believed God directly told him to do so. Does Dan see any commonality between himself and Osama bin Laden? (p. 317) Do you see any commonality?

28.    Did you like how Under the Banner of Heaven was written – with its back and forth between Mormon Church history, the history of Fundamentalism, and Ron and Dan’s story?

29.    What are your thoughts on the footnotes?

30.    What emotional toll did this book take on you?

Other Resources:

Book Browse book discussion questions
NPR interviews Jon Krakauer
Daily Beast review of Under the Banner of Heaven
NYT review of Under the Banner of Heaven
LDS Church’s response to Under the Banner of Heaven
Jon Krakauer’s response to the LDS outcry
Photo gallery of the Lafferty brothers
Present state of the Ronald Lafferty case

Update: Under the Banner of Heaven was written in 2003. Since then, Warren Jeffs, Uncle Rulon’s successor as the president of the FLDS Church, was sentenced to life in prison for two felony accounts of child sexual assault.

If you liked Under the Banner of Heaven, try…

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran

In Cold Blood book cover     Devil in the White City book coverthe Wives of Henry Oades book cover

Book Discussion Questions: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

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

Title: Let the Great World Spin
Author: Colum McCann
Page Count: 349
Genre: Fiction
Tone: Intricate, Moving, Lyrical

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 event(s) are at the center of the story?

2.    Which character(s) did you find yourself hoping would appear again? About which character(s) did you want to know more? Did you have a favorite?

3.    Were there any episodes or characters that you didn’t feel were well-integrated?

4.    Though Corrigan is one of the core characters, he doesn’t speak. His story is narrated by his brother. Why do you think this is? How did you respond to him as a character? Who else is portrayed through others rather than through his/her own voice?

5.    Do any of the characters fall into stereotype? Claire? Tillie?

6.    Why does Tillie contemplate suicide?

7.    Are any of the characters more tragic than others?

8.    How did you react to Adelita’s story? Did you enjoy hearing about her first from Ciaran and then later hearing her voice? Did your opinion of her change?

9.    One question that haunts Adelita is whether Corrigan, if he had lived, would have chosen to be with her or if he would have decided to be faithful to his religious vows. She even worries “…if that is what he was doing all along – trying to wound his faith in order to test it.”  What do you think? Did Corrigan love Adelita? What would he have chosen to do?

10.    Describe what happened between Gloria and Claire – both initially and then later in the story. Was this believable?

11.    Did you agree with Gloria’s decision to lie and take the Jazzlyn’s daughters?

12.    Gloria teaches the girls that there is “…no such thing as shame, that life was about a refusal to be shamed.” In which of the characters is this evident?

13.    How is Lara different from the other characters? In what ways is she important to the story?

14.    A common criticism is that the multiple stories make the book feel disjointed. Do you agree? Did your experience change as the story progressed?

15.    Did you have any difficulty keeping track of the characters? Did it matter? Did this affect your enjoyment of the book?

16.    McCann wanted to talk about “the more anonymous corners of the city.” Why? In his Author’s Note, he claims, “Literature can remind us that not all life is already written down: there are still so many stories to be told.” Do you agree?

17.    What did you think of Solomon (Claire’s husband, the judge)? What is his role in the story?

18.    Discuss the epilogue with Jaslyn. Was this an effective way to end the book?

19.    The New York Times Book Review called Let the Great World Spin “…a heartbreaking book, but not a depressing one.” How did the author keep this from being too heavy a story? What were some moments of lightness?

20.    There are many “balancing acts” throughout the story. Describe some examples. Was this an effective motif?

21.    What did you think of the women’s support group? Why do you think the author chose to have the ladies linked through tragedies of the Vietnam War?

22.    Did you like that the tightrope walker himself was given chapters? If this is a story primarily about the crowd, should the perspectives have been limited only to them? What do the sections on the walker himself add to the story as a whole?

23.    Originally, the author planned to “mess with history” and have the tightrope walker fall. Would you have liked to read that version?

24.    McCann also wrote a number of other stories that were ultimately not included, including a hot-dog vendor, a Muslim shopkeeper, and an elevator man. Would these have enriched the novel? Do you agree with his choices?

25.    In one interview, Colum McCann states that the novel “tries to uncover joy and hope and a small glimmer of grace” and goes on to “argue that sort of sentiment [is] necessary these days.” What do you think he meant by this? Do you agree? Was he successful in portraying this?

26.    McCann also observes, “You also want it to be a rollicking good story. You want it to break hearts. You want people to finish the story and then immediately want to begin it again.” How did this compare to your experience with the book?

27.    How is the setting of 1970s Manhattan brought alive?

28.    Much has been made of how Let the Great World Spin is the first great 9/11 novel, and McCann admits it was intended as a 9/11 allegory. How so? Did this interest you more or less in reading the book?

29.    Jaslyn keeps a photo of the tightrope walker because she is struck by the idea of such beauty occurring on the same day her mother died. It also joins two other events:

“A man high in the air while a plane disappears, it seems, into the edge of the building.  One small scrap of history meeting a larger one. As if the walking man were somehow anticipating what would come later. The intrusion of time and history. The collision point of stories.”

How is this theme of these connections an important element in Let the Great World Spin?

30.    Just as the tightrope walk in 1974 stops time and draws people together, so does the fall of the Towers in 2001. What does this say about “we people on the pavement” (a line from Edwin Arlington Robinson’s “Richard Cory”), both as individuals and as a community?

31.    Would you consider Let the Great World Spin to be a political novel? A social novel? How would you describe the book to others?

32.    What did you think of the writing – both the story structure and the prose itself? Did either make an impression?

33.    Did you notice the chapter headings at all? “This is the House that Horse Built,” for example, is Tillie’s story, and it can refer either to the nursery rhyme or to an Aretha Franklin song popular at that time. “Tag” is the section with the photographer hoping to become famous by documenting graffiti artists’ work. Do these provide insight into the stories?

34.    The chapters are also grouped into “books.” What did the stories in each book have in common?

35.    The title comes from a Tennyson poem (“Locksley Hall”). How does this illuminate the novel’s themes? What does this book have to say to its readers?

36.    In his interview for the National Book Award, McCann observes, “I suppose the novel itself is a contemplation of what it means for life to be unfinished. Things spin. We are made by what we have been, and at the same time we become what we desire. This past and present is braided together with a beauty and an uncertainty.” Did you see traces of this as you read? Does it have relevance for our lives?

37.    Would this make a good movie?

Other Resources:

Colum McCann’s website
Oprah book discussion questions
Book discussion talking points from Hiking Out blog
Esquire book review
NPR book review
Colum McCann interview with Oprah
Colum McCann interview with Believer Magazine
Idaho Public TV interviews Colum McCann
1974 news footage of Philippe Petit
Man on Wire documentary

If you liked Let the Great World Spin, try…

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Amazing Adventuers of Kavalier and Clay book cover     a Visit from the Goon Squad book coverOlive Kitteridge book cover


Book Discussion Questions: The Hard Bounce

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

Title: The Hard Bounce
Author: Todd Robinson
Page Count: 301
Genre: Mystery
Tone: Gritty, Darkly Humorous, Violent

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 did you think of “the Boy” as a character? Who was “the Boy” a part of? When did he appear in the story?

2.    Did this feel different than other mysteries you’ve read? Why or why not?

3.    What books does The Hard Bounce remind you of? Are there any writers that Todd Robinson reminds you of?

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

5.    What words would you use to describe this book when talking about it to friends?

6.    Would you consider this book too graphic? If yes, why? If not, are there any books you consider too graphic?

7.    Boo is the main character. Did you like him? Why or why not?

8.    What did it say about Boo that he owned only 1 plate and 1 set of cutlery?

9.    What can you tell about Boo as a person that he still has a beeper and doesn’t own a cell phone until Kelly Reese buys him one?

10.    How do Boo and Junior know each other?

11.    Do you think the author is making a statement about juvenile detention facilities?

12.    What is 4DC? Who owns it? Who wants to hire 4DC? Why?

13.    Boo and Junior have a common man’s approach to detective work – given the same task, how would you have accomplished solving this crime? Would you have done anything differently?

14.    Why did Cassie run away from home? Who did she run to?

15.    Did you believe that Cassie was capable of all the things she did at 14-years old? Did she want to be saved?

16.    A main plot point of The Hard Bounce involves a snuff film. How did this make you feel? How do you think the author wanted you to feel?

17.    Boo wants to immediately kill Snake/Derek. Who talks him out of it and why?

18.    Do you believe Snake/Derek when he later tells Boo that he truly loved Cassie and wanted to run away with her?

19.    Why didn’t Boo go to see his sister Emily? Would you have gone to see her?

20.    Why don’t Boo and Junior trust cops?

21.    Do you think multiple points of view about law enforcement (both positive and negative) are given? Do you think it is the author’s responsibility to give multiple points of view on this issue?

22.    Who is Underdog? What went wrong with Underdog’s career? Does he fix it by the end of the book?

23.    Did all of the musical references add to the setting or distract you?

24.    What did you think of the dynamic between Kelly and Boo? Did you think they would fall into a relationship? Why do you think they like each other? Do you think it will last?

25.    When does the break in the case about Cassie come?

26.    Who was Sid and what did you think of her occupation?

27.    How was the mafia involved in the case?

28.    What ultimately happens to Cassie? Who kills her? Why?

29.    Boo goes into a depression by the end of The Hard Bounce. Why? Does he shake out of it?

30.    Does The Hard Bounce have a happy ending? Did it end where and how you wanted it to?

Other Resources:

Lit Reactor interview with Todd Robinson
Todd Robinson reading from The Hard Bounce
Crimespree Magazine review of The Hard Bounce
Mystery Scene Magazine review of The Hard Bounce

If you liked The Hard Bounce, try…

Crimes in Southern Indiana by Frank Bill
The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson
The Deep Blue Good-by by John D. MacDonald

Crimes in Southern Indiana book cover     Killer Inside Me book coverthe Deep Blue Good-by book cover

Book Discussion Questions: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

We Need to Talk About Kevin book coverSPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.

Title: We Need to Talk About Kevin
Author: Lionel Shriver
Page Count: 400
Genre: Epistolary Fiction
Tone: Disturbing, Compelling, Sobering

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.    Can a child be born bad?

2.    What do you think the epigraph meant? Does it tell us anything about how the author feels about her subject?

3.    What did you think of the epistolary style? Do you enjoy novels in letters?

4.    If you were in Eva’s place, would you have stayed living within the community?

5.    Would you have visited Kevin in jail if he was your child? Do you think that it did Kevin any good to be visited by his mother every Saturday?

6.    Eva didn’t have painkillers when she gave birth to Kevin. She says there is a “…little competition between women about childbirth.” (p.73) Is there a right and a wrong way to give birth? Does having a c-section or using anesthetics “downgrade” the motherhood experience?

7.    Eva made sure that Kevin got her last name. What does this say about her? (p. 59)

8.    Do you think a baby is capable of liking one parent more than the other? Was this the case with Kevin?

9.    Did Eva’s sabbatical from AWAP help her relationship with Kevin? What about with Franklin?

10.    While waiting to see Kevin in jail, Eva meets another prisoner’s mother. That mother says

“It’s always the mother’s fault, ain’t it?…that boy turn out bad cause his mama a drunk, or she a junkie. She let him run wild, she don’t teach him right from wrong. She never home when he back from school. Nobody ever say his daddy a drunk, or his daddy not home after school. And nobody ever say they some kids just damned mean. Don’t you believe that old guff. Don’t you let them saddle you with all that killing.” (p. 166)

Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?

11.    Why do you think that Eva didn’t want to move to the suburbs? Franklin seemed to believe that a child could not be raised positively in a large city. Do you think he was right?

12.    Do you think Kevin purposefully ruined his mother’s wall of maps? Why? Do you think Eva deserved it? (p. 155)

13.    Why do you think Eva’s relationship got better with her own mother after the school shooting?

14.    If you were Kevin’s mother, would you have participated in the documentary made about him?

15.    Eva has this exchange with Kevin during a jail visit:

“All right…I need to know. Do you blame me? It’s all right to say so, if that’s what you think. Is that what you tell your psych consults, or they tell you? It all traces back to your mother.”
He snapped, “Why should you get all the credit?” (p. 172)

What does this conversation expose? What does it say about Kevin?

16.    Kevin then goes on to talk disparagingly about his father in a baby talk voice. He plainly didn’t like Franklin. (p. 173) Why do you think he faked being close to his father for so long?

17.    Kevin tells his mother that he was proud of her when she used violence against him to use the bathroom (p. 174 & 194). Do you think he meant this? How do you think this made Eva feel?

18.    Why do you think Eva did better with her second pregnancy?

19.    Celia seemed perfect from birth. Do you think this was Eva putting on rose colored glasses? Do you think that Eva is reliable when talking about her children?

20.    Why do you think that Lionel Shriver included a passage about Kevin being helpless and sick? (p. 235) What did this show about both Kevin and his mother?

21.    Do you think that there’s ever a time when it is better for both a child and a parent to separate from one another at an early age?

22.    If you were the parent of one of Kevin’s victims, would you have allowed Eva to come to your child’s funeral?

23.    Is there any way for Eva to make amends for what her son did? Should Eva have to make amends?

24.    Do you think that Kevin burned his little sister’s eye out with Liquid Plumr? What was Eva’s reaction to this situation? How about Franklin’s? (p. 292)

25.    Do you think Kevin’s drama teacher molested him? (p. 336)

26.    Why do you think Kevin wanted to be on Prozac? (p. 349) Was it part of a plan for his future defense?

27.    Were you surprised when Kevin had his mother’s picture in his jail cell? (p. 353)

28.    Why did Kevin kill the children that he did?

29.    Why do you think he killed the one teacher that cared about him?

30.    Why do you think he killed his father and sister?

31.    Eva finds Franklin and Celia dead in the backyard. Did you see that coming?

32.    How did you feel when you found out that Franklin and Eva weren’t separated via divorce, but through death?

33.    Eva asks Kevin why he didn’t kill her and he says, “When you’re putting on a show, you don’t shoot the audience.” (p. 394) What did he mean by that?

34.    Has Kevin grown as a person by the end of the novel?

35.    Kevin received 7 years for the murder of 11 people. Do you think this was a fair sentence?

36.    Do you think that the parents of school shooting victims should be able to sue the parents of the shooter for parental negligence?

37.    If you were Eva, would you allow Kevin to live with you after he got out of jail?

38.    What do you think Lionel Shriver’s purpose was in writing We Need to Talk About Kevin?

39.    Did you finish the book?

40.    Did you like the book?

Other Resources:

Reading Group Guide book discussion questions
BBC HardTalk interview with Lionel Shriver
ITV Local interview with Lionel Shriver
Big Think interview with Lionel Shriver
Lionel Shriver on not having children
The Guardian with Lionel Shriver
Lionel Shriver with The Independent: We need to talk about massacres
Genetic Basis for Crime” article in The New York Times

If you liked We Need to Talk About Kevin, try…

Room by Emma Donoghue
The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing
The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe

Room book cover     Fifth Child book coverButcher Boy book cover