Check It Out Category: Book Discussion Questions

Book Discussion Questions: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Death Comes for the Archbishop book coverTitle:  Death Comes for the Archbishop
Author:  Willa Cather
Page Count: 297 pages
Genre: Historical FictionClassic, Inspirational Fiction
Tone:  Contemplative, Unassuming, Strong Sense of Place

Summary:
In 1851 French Bishop Latour is dispatched to New Mexico to reawaken its slumbering Catholicism. Moving along the endless prairies, he spreads his faith the only way he knows—gently, although he must contend with the unforgiving landscape, derelict and sometimes openly rebellious priests, and his own loneliness.

 

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:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. How would you describe the mood of this book? Did you like it?

2. How does the Prologue set the scene for the story? What attitudes and themes does it foreshadow?

3. Describe the friendship between Jean Latour and Joseph Valliant. How essential is their relationship to the book as a whole?

4. Magdalena’s story is one of the more memorable in their early travels, and she then recurs throughout the book. What impact does her character have on the priests? On the reader?

5. Is this a Catholic book? What does it have to say about the greater theme of faith?

6. Are there aspects of religion (or those who profess to be religious) that are portrayed in a negative light?

7. Was the mission of the priests one of service, conversion, or something else? Did they make a difference?

8. What does Latour have in common with the ideal of the Western hero? What is different?

9. Some readers have trouble with Latour due to his lack of passion and sometimes even coldness. Is this how he struck you?

10. When deciding whom to appoint, it is said

The new vicar must be a young man, of strong constitution, full of zeal, and above all, intelligent. He will have to deal with savagery and ignorance, with dissolute priests and political intrigue. He must be a man to whom order is necessary – as dear as life.

What do you think of these qualities? Were the Cardinals right? Are there others that proved to be necessary in the position?

11. How would you characterize the ways in which the priests interacted with their communities? With individuals? Was there anything that you think they should have done differently?

12. Did you respond to the vivid descriptions of settings, of landscape, of nature? Were there any that stood out especially?

13. In what ways are art and architecture a theme in the book?

14. What was the prevailing attitude toward Americans? Was this justified?

15. What did you think of Cather’s decision to use several historical names and figures in her story? Does this add credibility? Distract?

16. What instances of humor did you find in the book?

17. How satisfied are you with the title? Why do you think it was chosen?

18. Would you say this is an easy book to read? How difficult is it to describe or summarize?

19. Cather considered this book to be her best and most important. Do you agree? Even if you haven’t read other works, do you see significance?

20. Cather once wrote, “When people ask me if it has been a hard or easy road, I always answer with the quotation, ‘The end is nothing, the road is all.'” What do you think of that statement in general? Is this sentiment effectively illustrated by Death Comes for the Archbishop?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

Death Comes for the Archbishop as one of All-TIME 100 Novels
Willa Cather biography
The Protestant Who Wrote the Greatest Book About American Catholicism
Cather draws attention to New Mexico history
Footsteps: Entering the World of Willa Cather’s Archbishop (via The New York Times)
Discussion questions from the Classics Reading Group of Algonquin Area Public Library

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Book Discussion Questions: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies book coverTitle: Big Little Lies
Author:  Liane Moriarty
Page Count: 460 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Tone: Darkly humorous, relatable, chatty

Summary:
Follows three mothers, each at a crossroads, and their potential involvement in a riot at a school trivia night that leaves one parent dead in what appears to be a tragic accident, but which evidence shows might have been premeditated.

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:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. How would you describe this book to someone?

2. Did you relate to one of the characters the most?

3. Who did you think was going to die? Who did you think was the murderer?

4. Why do you think the author chose to include snippets of the reporter’s interviews throughout the book? What purpose do you think she hoped it would serve? Do you think it was effective?

5. What are some of the themes in the book?

6. What do you think Moriarty was trying to say about bullying? Were the acts of the children bullying any different than the stuff going on with the adults? Was one more or less harmful?

7. Do you think Madeline is oversensitive or is she justified in the fights she gets in?

8. Why did you think Celeste wanted to leave Perry at the beginning?

9. There is violence in Jane’s life and violence in Celeste’s life. Is there (or was there) violence in Madeline’s life?

10. Women and their looks are discussed a lot in the book. Do you think this obsession with looks is specific to women, particularly women of a certain age?   Why or why not? Do you think there was an overall message being said?

11. “It was like wealth was an embarrassing medical condition. It was the same with Celeste’s beauty. Strangers gave Celeste the same furtive looks they gave to people with missing limbs…” (pg 32). Does this happen in real life?

12. Why do you think everyone was so quick to suspect Ziggy?

13. What did you think when Jane started suspecting her own son? Why did you think she did? Why don’t you think the other parents didn’t suspect their kids?

14. Did you think Ziggy was the bully? Did you think he was being bullied? Did you suspect it was really Max? Was it believable how he took the fall?

15. Did you ever suspect Saxon Banks was Perry? When did you begin to suspect?

16. Did you suspect Tom was not, in fact, gay? Were you glad for Jane?

17. Jane starts the book being nauseous at the thought of having any other relationships. Why was she able to start something with Tom?

18. Was Madeline joking with her phrase, “never forgive, never forget?” Does she change throughout the book?

19. How did you like Bonnie? Did Madeline’s reaction to her make you like her more or less?

20. Celeste and Madeline are so different. Why do you think they ended up becoming and staying such good friends?

21. Did it surprise you that Celeste would try to fight back?

22. Is the fact that Perry travels so much really the reason why they never ended up working on fixing their marriage?

23. Did trivia night meet your expectations?

24. What did you think of the teacher? Did that change throughout the book?

25. Bonnie says, “We see. We… see!” (p. 421) Were you surprised to learn about Bonnie’s history?  Were you surprised to discover that all along Max had been seeing what Perry was doing to Celeste?

26. Moriarty tackled so many subjects– among them bullying, spousal abuse, problems with their marriages, dealing with traumas from the past, beauty. Did it work? Why add so many? Was it too much?

27. “All conflict can be traced back to someone’s feelings getting hurt, don’t you think?” do you think that’s true?

28. What genre would you call this book?

29. Is this a realistic look at motherhood?

30. Do you think you have to have had kids going to school to get the full effect of the book?

31. Are the issues in Big Little Lies exclusive to upper middle class families?

OTHER RESOURCES:

Reading Group Guide
Penguin Book Club discussion questions
HBO series update

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Book Discussion Questions: Kim by Rudyard Kipling

Kim book coverTitle:  Kim
Author:  Rudyard Kipling
Page Count: 230 pages
Genre: Classic, Adventure, Espionage
Tone:  Dramatic, Atmospheric

Summary:
Kim, the poor orphaned son of an Irish soldier stationed in India, searches for his identity and learns to move between the two cultures, becoming the disciple of a Tibetan monk while training as a spy for the British secret service.

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:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Describe this boy Kim that we meet — not what happened to him, but what is he like? How would you describe his character, his personality, his passions? What gives you that impression?

2. Does Kim change throughout the novel? Would you say he grows up, or does he remain a boy?

3. This is sometimes generalized as a boys’ adventure story. What appeal would it have for readers who enjoy those tales?

4. At its most basic structure, Kim might be described as a quest story. How is this true? Whose quest(s) are explored? Are there multiple journeys being explored?

5. Kim is widely considered a masterpiece of children’s literature. Who might the audience be now? Would you give it to a student? Recommend it to a certain type of reader for leisure?

6. Another way to characterize the novel may be as a tale of friendship. Describe the relationship that grows between Kim and the lama.

7. The fact that they are on the road provides opportunity to weave in and out of other places, people, and scenarios. Is this done effectively? Which scenes made the strongest impact?

8. How would you describe Kipling’s India as described in the novel — geographically, demographically, politically, ideologically?

9. You may have noticed that significant passages are devoted to describing the many peoples and cultures that make up India. Did these have the ring of authenticity? Were they stereotypical or biased? Did you obtain a sense of all facets: rich, poor, cities, temples, etc.?

10. In Kipling’s time, why do you think English readers were fascinated by portrayals of “exotic” British colonies like India? Can you think of any modern counterparts for our day?

11. This is overwhelmingly a male novel. Who are the female characters that you can recall? What perspectives does the way women are characterized expose? Would you rather have women be absent than to be portrayed in this way?

12. Kipling received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907 (Kim was published in 1901). His commendation read, “in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author”. Which of these qualities are evident in Kim?

13. What may make this a challenging work for modern readers? Has writing changed? Have readers changed?

14. Kipling portrays the imperialist presence in India as unquestionably positive, even presenting an ideal India that is not divided by imperialism but rather is unified by it. Where do we see this? Do you think this accurate?

15. Is it fair to be offended by cultural attitudes that were accepted as fact at that time? Should that color our experience as we read today?

16. A thematic motif is the search for Enlightenment. How were the lama’s ideals presented? Do you recall any specific encounters, challenges, or advancements of his faith?

17. What role did Kismet play in Kim’s life?

18. How is war and/or military operations characterized? Should we be at all uncomfortable with the references to, as one example, the Great Game?

19. Two literary terms applied to stories with a focus on a certain character are
             Picaresque: telling a story about the adventures of a usually playful and dishonest character
             Bildungsroman: novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character
Does either apply here? Do both?

20. Would you call the ending a happy one? A satisfying one? What might you have hoped differently?

21. In spite of the challenges you might have had in reading Kim, did anything surprise you pleasantly? What were some of the high points?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

Kim featured in The Guardian‘s list of 100 best British and American novels
Kim as comfort reading?
American Thinker: On the Greatness of Kipling’s Kim
Rudyard Kipling biography
The New York Times: Lahore as Kipling Knew It
BBC News: the controversy of Kipling’s Indian Legacy

READALIKES:

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Book Discussion Questions: The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

the good girl book coverTitle: The Good Girl
Author:  Mary Kubica
Page Count: 382 pages
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Tone:  Compelling, Contemplative

Summary:
Inner-city art teacher Mia Dennett is taken hostage by her one-night stand, Colin Thatcher, who, instead of delivering her to his employers, hides her in a cabin in rural Minnesota to keep her safe from harm.

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:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Without going into detail of the why’s, did this book turn out to be what you were expecting?

2. The story is basically told through 3 people’s viewpoints. Did this type of storytelling work for you?

3. We are introduced and get to know Mia through other characters perceptions ( Eve and Colin).  Did you feel like you got to know the character?

4. Let’s talk about Colin/ Owen. What did you think about him?

5. On the night of her abduction Mia leaves the bar with a stranger. How did this action affect your perceptions of her character?

6. What did you think about Eve not telling Detective Hoffman about Mia’s checkered past as he was beginning his investigation?

7. We all have our theories when reading these types of books, Initially, who did you think had Mia kidnapped and why?

8. What are your thoughts on the side characters (Jason/Grace/Delmar)?

9. Mia said to Colin that she (Mia) and her father are different people and that Grace was the one just like her father.  What would you say about that statement?

10. Colin decides to hide Mia in a secluded cabin. There were many times he could have just left her and didn’t.  Why did you think he decided to stay and as you were reading this, were you questioning his motivations?

11. Let’s talk about the lady with the flat tire. What did you think would happen?

12. Was there ever a point in the book where you hoped Colin and Mia wouldn’t be found?

13. What did you think of Colin’s relationship with his mother?

14. During the ongoing investigation Eve basically throws herself at Detective Hoffman. What was your reaction to that passage?

OTHER RESOURCES:

From the publisher: The Good Girl book discussion kit
Reading group guide
Chicago Tribune article on Kubica’s book deal
Book trailer (video)
Interview with Mary Kubica (video)
Q&A with Mary Kubica

READALIKES:

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Book Discussion Questions: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale book coverTitle:  The Thirteenth Tale
Author:  Diane Setterfield
Page Count: 406 pages
Genre: Gothic Fiction; Psychological Suspense
Tone:  Atmospheric, Dramatic

Summary:
When her health begins failing, the mysterious author Vida Winter decides to let Margaret Lea, a biographer, write the truth about her life, but Margaret needs to verify the facts since Vida has a history of telling outlandish tales.

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:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. In many ways, this is a book for book lovers, and there are multiple passages that speak to readers. For instance, early in the book (p. 32) Margaret contrasts her reading as a child to her reading as an adult.

a. Do you recall why Margaret says she prefers old novels? (see p. 29)

b. Her father advocates for contemporary writing, ones “where the message is that there is no end to human suffering, only endurance…endings that are muted, but which echo longer in the memory.” Do you side with Margaret or with her father? Is it that simple?

c. Given those characterizations, does The Thirteenth Tale resonate more as an old novel or as contemporary writing?

2. Let’s dig in by putting ourselves in Margaret’s place. We’re living our quiet bookshop lives, and we receive a letter without real context or satisfactory explanation. Why would we (as Margaret) even consider accepting the invitation?

3. In one interview about her career change from academia to author, Setterfield notes her realization that “whilst books are extraordinary, writers themselves are no more or less special than anyone else.” How might we say this is reflected in the novel?

4. Would you call The Thirteenth Tale a ghost story? If so, who are the ghosts? Who is haunted?

5. What do biography and storytelling have in common? How are they different? Would you rather have the truth or a good story?

6. Were you surprised at Miss Winter’s true identity? What points Margaret (and the reader) to this conclusion?

7. Who was saved from the fire? How can we be certain?

8. Margaret realizes that “plunging deep into Miss Winter’s story was a way of turning my back on my own” (p. 282). Was this true? Did it work?

9. Angelfield (the house) becomes an external symbol of the family and its changing condition. Can you think of examples of when this seems to be true? Which other rooms or homes reflect their inhabitants?

10. Miss Winter tells Margaret that “it doesn’t do to get attached to secondary characters. It’s not their story. They come, they go, and when they go they’re gone for good. That’s all there is to it.” (p. 191-2). Does that prove to be true in her story? In the book?

11. How essential is what we learn from Hester’s diary?

12. What did you think of the “game” of the conveyor belt and Margaret’s later admission (to us) that she did love books more than people?

13. In what ways does The Thirteenth Tale fit the characteristics of a Gothic novel?

14. Several classic Gothic novels are named, some multiple times. Did this enhance the experience for you? Did it seem too “on point” or distract by the comparison, or did you find it original?

15. What other recurring symbols seem to be present in The Thirteenth Tale?

16. Did you like the structure: Beginnings, Middles, Endings, Beginnings? How is this choice significant?

17. In which character names did you find significance?

18. What patterns seem to be repeated throughout the story?

19. Aurelius wonders if it’s better to have no story than one that keeps changing, and Margaret’s mother thinks a weightless story is better than one too heavy. What do you think is better for these characters? In general?

20. How effective is the choice of title? What does it contribute to tone and to theme?

21. The idea of siblings, especially twins, is central to the story in many ways. How do the different relationships affect the characters and themes? Did this enhance your experience of the story?

22. Did you find the ending satisfying? Explain your answer.

23. The question of precisely when The Thirteenth Tale takes place has sparked much speculation. As you read, did you have a time period in mind? Would you have preferred this be specifically stated? What is gained in leaving the time undefined?

24. Is there anyone today who might be Vida Winter’s contemporary counterpart: someone who has written multiple bestsellers, whose books are among the most borrowed from libraries, yet who is reclusive, “as famous for her secrets as for her stories”?

25. The Thirteenth Tale was the inaugural selection of “Barnes & Noble Recommends” in which each season one book was chosen as riveting and of extraordinary quality worthy of stimulating discussion, one that they were sure you would recommend to others. Their introduction opened with a single word: unputdownable. Would that word characterize your experience with the book? Would you recommend it to others?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

official website of author Diane Setterfield
The Guardian interview with Setterfield
audio: Setterfield talks about her inspiration and process
BookPage feature on the release of The Thirteenth Tale
The Independent review of The Thirteenth Tale
Lit Lovers book discussion guide
The Wall Street Journal explains “The Eerie Allure of the Gothic
video clip from the 2013 BBC movie adaptation

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