Check It Out Category: Literary

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

READALIKES:

Crossing Purgatory book coverCrossing Purgatory
by Gary Schanbacher

Lila
by Marilynne Robinson

Audiobook: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mue

Behold The Dreamers book coverLife is brimming with potential for Cameroonian immigrant Jende Jonga and his family. Set in New York in 2007, Jende has just gotten a new job chauffeuring for the rich, white Edwards family and his wife Neni is on her way to becoming a pharmacist. Their journeys are about to get harder however, as they face the realities of living in a new country on the brink of recession and the Edwards family’s own hardships start to bleed into their lives.

Prentice Onayemi is the versatile narrator of this 2016 debut, changing tones and cadences to take on the different characters’ accents and genders to fully bring the characters alive. A story simultaneously of hope and heartbreak,  Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue is all about the turbulence of trying to achieve your dreams no matter where you reside in life.

The Hogarth Shakespeare Project

Hogarth Series book covers

Considering that 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, it is nothing short of remarkable that his plays not only are still read and appreciated but also have resonance for us today. The Hogarth Shakespeare Project, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, has invited award-winning and bestselling novelists to put their own spin on several of these enduring tales. Upcoming releases include works by Jo Nesbø, Tracy Chevalier, Edward St. Aubyn, and Gillian Flynn, but you can read these inventive takes on the Bard right now:

Gap of Time book coverThe Gap of Time: The Winter’s Tale Retold  by Jeanette Winterson

A baby girl is abandoned, banished from London to the storm-ravaged American city of New Bohemia. Her father has been driven mad by jealousy, her mother to exile by grief. Seventeen years later, Perdita doesn’t know a lot about who she is or where she’s come from – but she’s about to find out.

Her story is one of childhood friendship, money, status, technology, and the elliptical nature of time. Written with energy and wit, this is a tale of the consuming power of jealousy on the one hand, and redemption and the enduring love of a lost child on the other.

 

Hag-Seed book coverHag-Seed: The Tempest Retold  by Margaret Atwood

Felix, whose productions have amazed and confounded, is at the top of his game as artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. His planned staging of The Tempest not only will boost his reputation, it will heal emotional wounds. Or that was the plan.

Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by memories of his beloved lost daughter, Miranda. After twelve years, revenge finally arrives in the shape of a theatre course at a nearby prison. Here Felix and his inmate actors will put on his Tempest and snare the traitors who destroyed him. It’s magic! But will it remake Felix as his enemies fall?

Shylock Is My Name book coverShylock Is My Name: The Merchant of Venice Retold  by Howard Jacobson

The most provocative character in Shakespeare, Shylock finds his present-day counterpart in art dealer and conflicted father Simon Strulovitch. Already grieving his beloved wife, he cannot reconcile himself to his daughter Beatrice’s betrayal of her family and heritage in choosing to be with a footballer notorious for giving a Nazi salute on the field. Culminating in a shocking twist on Shylock’s demand for the infamous pound of flesh, Jacobson’s insightful retelling examines contemporary, acutely relevant questions of Jewish identity while maintaining a poignant sympathy for its characters.

Vinegar Girl book coverVinegar Girl: The Taming of the Shrew Retold  by Anne Tyler

Kate is a socially awkward young woman, adored by the preschool children she teaches but misunderstood by her peers. Her father is a scientific genius, but not so great on emotions. About to lose his (equally genius, equally socially inept) research assistant, Pyotr Cherbakov, because of visa problems, and desperate to save the project that is his life’s work, he comes up with a plan: Kate will marry Pyotr who will then be able to stay in the country and finish the project. The plan sounds perfect, except for one small hitch: Kate.

 

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 Kipling Society webpage
The New York Times: Lahore as Kipling Knew It
BBC News: the controversy of Kipling’s Indian Legacy

READALIKES:

Sea of Poppies book coverSea of Poppies
by Amitav Ghosh

Road to Samarcand book coverThe Road to Samarcand
by Patrick O’Brian

Baudolino book coverBaudolino
by Umberto Eco

List: Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence 2017 Longlist

September brought the 2017 longlist for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction & Nonfiction. The Andrew Carnegie Medals are especially notable because winners are chosen by library professionals, similar to the Newbery award for children’s literature. This results in the ultimate to-read list for the year in adult fiction and non-fiction! Take a look at some of the books that stood out below:

perfume-river book coverPerfume River
by Robert Olen Butler
the-sport-of-kings book coverThe Sport of Kings
by C.E. Morgan
christodora book coverChristodora
by Zadie Smith

 

the-firebrand-and-the-first-lady book coverThe Firebrand and the First Lady
by Patricia Bell-Scott
behold-the-dreamers book coverBehold the Dreamers
by Imbolo Mbue
the-angel-of-history book coverThe Angel of History
by Rabih Alameddine

 

city-of-thorns book coverCity of Thorns
by Ben Rawlence
mister monkey book coverMister Monkey
by Francine Prose
mad-enchantment book coverMad Enchantment
by Ross King

 

Make sure to take a look at the full list of books chosen. The six finalists (three for fiction and three for nonfiction) will be announced October 26, 2016!

Save

Staff Pick: Blasphemy by Sherman Alexie

Picture of LarryBlasphemy includes some of Sherman Alexie’s classic short stories along with newer tales. The stories challenge the reader’s comfort zones with plots exploring race and ethnicity, culture, stereotypes, alcoholism, diabetes, and personal identity. The settings are in the Pacific Northwest with Native American protagonists. The expertly crafted stories are personal, revealing the characters for who they are and what influenced their lives, making them seem real and reflecting life as it truly is for many.

Staff Pick: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Marisa from Collection Management suggests The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

the master and margarita book cover

Take everything you thought you knew about 20th century Russian literature, throw it out the window, and read The Master and Margarita. It’s a riotous magical-realist tale about the devil and his minions, who go down to Moscow in the 1930s to cause mischief. What ensues is a wild and witty novel involving witches, poets, star-crossed lovers, talking cats, and several buildings catching fire. It’s the kind of book that is not only impossible to put down, but will leave you pacing around your house with the book still in your hand. If all that isn’t enough, it’s also Daniel Radcliffe’s favorite novel. In other words, The Master and Margarita has everything worth loving in a book. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

If you are interested in Master and Margarita, try…

Rapture of the Nerds book cover

Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross is a wild sci-fi novel. In a world where the downloaded minds of humans enjoy playing pranks on those of us who still retain our physical form, Huw is called up for “tech jury duty”: judging whether the inventions sent to Earth from our posthuman neighbors are safe enough to use. He has no idea of the crazy things that will happen or of the hero he will become.

Into the Beautiful North book cover

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea is the tale of the small Mexican town of Tres Camarones. All of the men have long since deserted the town to find work in the United States, and a group of bandits have taken advantage of their absence. Inspired by classic Western movies, a teenage girl named Nayeli and her friends decide to venture across the border, find the men of Tres Camarones, and free their town.

Memories of the Future book cover

Memories of the Future by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky is a collection of short stories set in 1920s Moscow. In a uniquely surreal style, Krzhizhanovsky tells the story of a man who makes his room grow with disastrous consequences, a traveler who gets on a train to the land of dreams, and many other equally weird occurrences.

Against the Day book cover

Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon is a magical-realist epic that spans many years during the turn of the 20th century, with its variety of characters passing sideways to real events to make a story all their own. It’s a novel that seems like a collection of unreal, disjointed events, but in a way is more real than reality itself.

List: Most Frequently Challenged Authors of Color

We celebrate our own freedom to read during Banned Books Week, but it is also right to champion those who bravely compose those very stories. Non-white authors receive more than half of book challenges each year — even though they are allowed much less of the publishing market! The reasons vary, and we can become distracted by the complaints, but what shouldn’t be lost are the vibrant creations of writers who deepen our understanding of the world.

The Bluest Eye book coverThe Bluest Eye
by Toni Morrison
Eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove, an African-American girl, prays for her eyes to turn blue, so that she will be beautiful, people will notice her, and her world will be different.
Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian book coverThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie
Budding cartoonist Junior leaves his troubled school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white farm town school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.
Color Purple book coverThe Color Purple
by Alice Walker
Two African American sisters, one a missionary in Africa and the other a child-wife living in the South, support each other through their correspondence, beginning in the 1920s.

 

Kite Runner book coverThe Kite Runner
by Khaled Hosseini
Traces the unlikely friendship of a wealthy Afghan youth and a servant’s son in a tale that spans the final days of Afghanistan’s monarchy through the atrocities of the present day.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings book coverI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou
A black woman recalls the anguish of her childhood in Arkansas and her adolescence in northern slums in the 1930s and 1940s.
Bless Me Ultima book coverBless Me, Ultima
by Rudolfo Anaya
A coming-of-age story set in post-World War II New Mexico, in which an old woman with healing powers comes to live with a boy’s family the summer before he turns seven.

 

Graphic Novel: Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

Daytripper book cover“It’s a story about death.”
“Death?”
“It’s really about life…but death has a big part in it.”

Brás de Oliva Domingos makes his living writing obituaries. From the facts of death and the moments of life, he recreates stories. Sifting through the existences of others makes a man contemplate his own. What moments had greatest impact? Were they beginnings? Endings? Which choices led to one or the other? Rarely are those answers simple, and Daytripper is an ethereal, meditative exploration of possibilities.

Authors Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá gracefully lead readers back and forth within Brás’ life, illustrating key experiences and variations on his death. Though moments are heart-wrenching, the sum total is strangely uplifting, and what remains even after multiple scenarios is a sense of wonder at the meaning one life may hold.