Check It Out Category: Fiction

Book Discussion Questions: A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton

A Map of the World book coverTitle: A Map of the World
Author:  Jane Hamilton
Page Count: 389 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Tone: Dark, melancholy, reflective

Summary:
A loner by nature, Alice is torn between a yearning for solitude coupled with a deep need to be at the center of a perfect family. On this particular day, Emma has started the morning with a violent tantrum, her little sister Claire is eating pennies, and it is Alice’s turn to watch her neighbor’s two small girls as well as her own. She absentmindedly steals a minute alone that quickly becomes ten: time enough for a devastating accident to occur. Her neighbor’s daughter Lizzy drowns in the farm’s pond, and Alice – whose own volatility and unmasked directness keep her on the outskirts of acceptance – becomes the perfect scapegoat.

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

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

1. Alice and Therese seem to be two very different woman; what do you think connected them?

2. Alice describes her mothering and her life one way, yelling at kids and trying to control herself, and Howard describes her in a very different way, as a navigator. Who did you think the real Alice was?

3. What did you think of Therese’s feelings toward Alice after Lizzie dies?

4. What did you think of Alice’s reaction at the funeral?

5. Alice wondered why Howard did not come after her when she ran out of the funeral. Should he have?

6. What did you think about Therese’s ability to forgive?

7. What do you think Alice wants? (Forgiveness? Could she accept it?)

8. Albert talked to Therese about the “quality of mercy” (pg. 223: mercy blesses the giver and receiver). What did you think about this? What do you think Mercy is?

9. Is it possible for the “average person” if there is such a thing to forgive, when the death of a child is involved?

10. Is all of the blame for accident one-sided? Therese did tell Lizzie she was going swimming and that she was a good swimmer…

11. Why do you think Therese received so much comfort from her visit to the former priest, Albert Satinga?

12. Albert asked Therese to tell him about Lizzie’s life. Why did it help her to tell him Lizzie’s life story?

13. What did you think about Robbie MacKessy? Was there anything in the book that led you to believe he wasn’t a normal six-year-old?

14. Why do you think the charges were brought against Alice?

15. In the beginning of the book Alice described Robbie as a disturbed boy that enraged her every time she saw him. Why did Alice dislike him so much?

16. At the end of the book during the trial, Robbie’s preschool teacher described him as a belligerent troubled child and that her staff had repeatedly suggested that the Mackessys have him evaluated. Alice thought to herself, “Oh, but Robbie wasn’t that bad. Truly he wasn’t so awful. They were drawing him as a budding psychopath based on his performance at preschool.” Why the change of heart?

17. Do you think Alice would have been accused of molestation if Lizzie hadn’t drowned?

18. What did you think of Alice’s confession to the police?

19. Therese was very upset over Alice’s incarceration and felt she was being railroaded. Did that surprise you? Why do you think she was so upset?

20. From Howard’s point of view in the story, he was mystified by Alice’s behavior: her calmness when she was taken into custody and how animated she was during his visits. What is your take on this? Howard was afraid Alice would withdraw more into herself when she was arrested, but once she was put in jail, she was communicating like her old self (pg 148). Why?

21. What do you think about Alice’s time in prison? What did you think of the other prisoners?

22. Why do you think Alice did so well in jail?

23. Do you think Howard believes in Alice’s innocence?

24. Do you think that once you are accused of abuse, there is anything you can do to save yourself?

25. Initially Alice insisted that Rafferty be her defense attorney and really seemed to “love” him, yet Howard seemed to detest him. What do you think was going on with that?

26. What did you think of Howard and Therese’s relationship?

27. Therese told Howard she loved him and he is “everything that’s good” (pg 259). This is in direct contrast to some of Alice’s statements, saying Howard had been betraying her, and “leeching from me what was my strength” (pg 286). Alice also said Howard was so methodical and even-tempered that in his shadow anyone would have been erratic and moody (pg 286). Who is the real Howard?

28. What did you think of the nebulous character, Dan?

29. Why did Howard sell the farm? Why was Alice so adamant that he not sell it?

30. Do you agree with Howard that they had to leave Prairie Water because they would be guilty even if proven innocent?

31. Should Howard have told Alice about the state interviewing the girls to see if they were abused? What do you think Alice would have said had she known Therese encouraged him not to?

32. Do you think the setting mattered for the storyline? Why do you think Hamilton used this setting in particular?

33. What did you think of the ending. Did everything work out?

OTHER RESOURCES:

Breakfast Club book discussion questions
Reading Group Guide
BookBrowse interview with Jane Hamilton
Video of Jane Hamilton talking about her work

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

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Cathleen’s Pick: Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag

Cathleen of Fiction/AV/Teen Services recommends The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag:

The Dress Shop of Dreams book coverOn a winding cobblestone street in Cambridge, there sits an unassuming boutique called A Stitch in Time.  It is destined for one special kind of shopper:  the woman looking for a lost piece of herself.  Whether the customer seeks confidence, courage, beauty, or magnificence, proprietor Etta has a gift for introducing the unique and extraordinary garment to spark the transformation.  The one person resistant to this possibility is her granddaughter Cora, a young scientist whose past tragedy has narrowed her gaze only to the potential found in her work.

Menna van Praag’s The Dress Shop of Dreams is an embrace of expectant promise.  The gentle spell of interlacing characters, secret attractions, and magic found in simple pleasures will inspire faith in what is truly meant to be.

For more books that blend fantasy indulgences with the promise of personal revelations:

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A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff tells the exquisite story of Phoebe Swift, who fulfills a long-cherished dream to open a vintage clothing shop that treasures the history behind each unique garment.

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Books appearing just when you need them is only one of the magical realities of Sarah Addison Allen’s The Sugar Queen, a bewitching and lightly humorous exploration of the courage it takes to change one’s life.

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In Chocolat by Joanne Harris, the truth that others may see us more clearly than we see ourselves is flavored with the rewards of taking bold steps forward and lush descriptions of tantalizing delights.

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Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani celebrates a young seamstress’s passion for beautiful things and her willingness to break with convention to follow her dreams in glitzy 1950s New York.

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In the hopeful Sweetshop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan, Londoner Rosie Hopkins’ impulsive decision to re-open her elderly relative’s old-fashioned village candy store stirs surprising possibilities in both life and love.

We’ve Got You Covered: Rain Boot Fiction

Have April showers whetted your appetite for books with rain boots on the cover?
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Book Discussion Questions: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

Story of Edgar Sawtelle book coverTitle:  The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
Author:  David Wroblewski
Page Count: 566 pages
Genre: Literary, Coming-of-Age, Domestic Saga
Tone:  Atmospheric, Lyrical, Haunting

Summary:
Born mute, speaking only in sign, Edgar leads an idyllic life with his parents on their dog breeding farm in remote Wisconsin. When Edgar is forced to flee after the sudden death of his father, he must fight for his survival and that of the three yearling dogs who follow him.

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

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

1. Would you consider this a sad book? Did you enjoy the experience of reading this book?

2. When asked why he chose an unhappy ending, the author responded by referencing Franz Kafka:

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? … we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.

What do you think about this perspective? Does it resonate with you – either with this book or with others?

3. The selection of this title as an Oprah’s Book Club pick certainly raised its profile. In your opinion, would this book have found an audience otherwise?

4. What was the purpose of the prologue?

5. Why was Schultz (the original landowner) given both backstory and recurring mentions?

6. How did you react to the character of Ida Paine?

7. Edgar’s youth is presented in a quick succession of snapshot details. Why spend little time here?

8. How would you characterize Edgar’s relationship with each of his parents?

9. How early do you think Claude had been plotting?

10. A frequent complaint is the length of the story. Did that bother you? Why would the author make that choice? What might be lost in cutting the story down? In your opinion, are there too many ideas for one book?

11. One seeming digression from the main plot is Edgar’s discovery of (and the detailed presenting of) the letters form Fortunate Fields. What did these letters reveal? Do you think this was an effective way to introduce this background and these ideas?

12. Did you note the epigraph by Charles Darwin? How might this, as well as the exploration of evolution and natural selection, inform the greater story?

13 “So a dog’s value came from the training and the breeding” – almost a nature vs. nurture compromise. How might this be reflected in the brothers Claude and Gar?

14. On specific occasions, the author emphasizes the word story. For example, as Edgar is reflecting on the detailed records, “Because the files, with their photographs, measurements…told them the STORY of the dog – what a dog MEANT, as his father put it.” How does this reflect back on the title of the book?

15. There’s no getting around the Hamlet references. Were there ones that you especially liked or found inventive or powerful? Any that were stretches? Any that you weren’t sure about?

16. Aside from the allusions, the story of Hamlet is never directly mentioned. In contrast, another book is frequently mentioned and even excerpted. What relevance does The Jungle Book have to this story?

17. Were you OK with the slight fantasy element of Gar’s appearances/interactions with Edgar?

18. What was the purpose of the story of Hachiko?

19. What is gained by Trudy’s voice being introduced half-way through? Did this make her more sympathetic? Would you have preferred this earlier? Not at all?

20. How would you describe the importance of Almondine? Did you like having her “voice”?

21. What is the role of Forte – both the first and the second? Do you think the first Forte was Gar’s dog or Claude’s?

22. What is accomplished in making Edgar mute? Why not deaf, too?

23. Why are words and names especially important to Edgar?

24. What did you think of Edgar’s time with Henry Lamb? In what ways is it significant?

25. Is this a book for dog lovers? How would you compare it to other books which feature dogs, especially those which give voice to the dog’s perspective?

26. Author Stephen King wrote, “I flat-out loved The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. In the end, this isn’t a novel about dogs or heartland America, it’s a novel about the human heart and the mysteries that live there, understood but impossible to articulate…. I don’t re-read many books because life is too short. I will be re-reading this one.” What do you think? Will you be re-reading this book?

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

OTHER RESOURCES:

Author David Wroblewski on the book that made him a reader
The New York Times interview with author
profile of Wroblewski in Bloom, a site featuring first books from authors over 40
video of Wroblewski presenting at The Chautauqua Institution
NPR podcast The Book Tour spotlights The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
LitLovers discussion guide
Oprah’s reader’s guide, including book club webcasts

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The Dead Fathers Club  by Matt Haig