Saturday, December 3, 2011

Book Club Forum #22: The Paris Wife

Book Selection Status: READ
Month: December 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction
Book of the Month: The Paris Wife
Author: Paula McLain
Question source:

Discussion Questions:

    1. In many ways, Hadley's girlhood in St. Louis was a difficult and repressive experience. How do her early years prepare her to meet and fall in love with Ernest? What does life with Ernest offer her that she hasn't encountered before? What are the risks?

    2. Hadley and Ernest don't get a lot of encouragement from their friends and family when they decided to marry. What seems to draw the two together? What are some of the strengths of their initial attraction and partnership? The challenges?

    3. The Ernest Hemingway we meet in THE PARIS WIFE—through Hadley's eyes—is in many ways different from the ways we imagine him when faced with the largeness of his later persona. What do you see as his character strengths? Can you see what Hadley saw in him?

    4. The Hemingways spontaneously opt for Paris over Rome when the get key advice from Sherwood Anderson. What was life like for them when they first arrived? How did Hadley's initial feelings about Paris differ from Ernest's and why?

    5. Throughout THE PARIS WIFE, Hadley refers to herself as "Victorian" as opposed to "modern." What are some of the ways she doesn't feel like she fits into life in bohemian Paris? How does this impact her relationship with Ernest? Her self-esteem? What are some of the ways Hadley's "old-fashioned" quality can be seen as a strength and not a weakness?

    6. Hadley and Ernest's marriage survived for many years in Jazz-Age Paris, an environment that had very little patience for monogamy and other traditional values. What in their relationship seems to sustain them? How does their marriage differ from those around them? Pound's and Shakespeare's? Scott and Zelda's?

    7. Most of THE PARIS WIFE is written in Hadley's voice, but a few select passages come to us from Ernest's point of view. What impact does getting Ernest's perspective have on our understanding of their marriage? How does it affect your ability to understand him and his motivations in general?

    8. What was the role of literary spouses in 1920's Paris? How is Hadley challenged and restricted by her gender? Would those restrictions have changed if she had been an artist and not merely a "wife"?

    9. At one point, Ezra Pound warns Hadley that it would be a dire mistake to let parenthood change Ernest. Is there a nugget of truth behind his concern? What are some of the ways Ernest is changed by Bumby's birth? What about Hadley? What does motherhood bring to her life, for better or worse?

    10. One of the most wrenching scenes in the book is when Hadley loses a valise containing all of Ernest's work to date. What kind of turning point does this mark for the Hemingway's marriage? Do you think Ernest ever forgives her?

    11. When the couple moves to Toronto to have Bumby, Ernest tries his best to stick it out with a regular "nine-to-five" reporter's job, and yet he ultimately finds this impossible. Why is life in Toronto so difficult for Ernest?

    12. Why does Hadley agree to go back to Paris earlier than they planned, even though she doesn't know how they'll make it financially? How does she benefit from supporting his decision to make a go at writing only fiction?

    13. Hadley and Ernest had similar upbringings in many ways. What are the parallels, and how do these affect the choices Hadley makes as a wife and mother?

    14. In THE PARIS WIFE, when Ernest receives his contract for In Our Time, Hadley says, "He would never again be unknown. We would never again be this happy." How did fame affect Ernest and his relationship with Hadley?

    15.  The Sun Also Rises is drawn from the Hemingways' real-life experiences with bullfighting in Spain. Ernest and his friends are clearly present in the book, but Hadley is not. Why? In what ways do you think Hadley is instrumental to the book regardless, and to Ernest's career in general?

    16. How does the time and place—Paris in the 20's—affect Ernest and Hadley's marriage? What impact does the war, for instance, have on the choices and behavior of the expatriate artists surrounding the Hemingways? Do you see Ernest changing in response to the world around him? How, and how does Hadley feel about those changes?

     17. What was the nature of the relationship between Hadley and Pauline Pfeiffer? Were they legitimately friends? How do you see Pauline taking advantage of her intimate position in the Hemingway's life? Do you think

    18. Hadley is naïve for not suspecting Pauline of having designs on Ernest earlier? Why or why not?

    19. It seems as if Ernest tries to make his marriage work even after Pauline arrives on the scene. What would Hadley it have cost Hadley to stick it out with Ernest no matter what? Is there a way she could have fought harder for her marriage?

    20. In many ways, Hadley is a very different person at the end of the novel than the girl who encounters Ernest by chance at a party. How do you understand her trajectory and transformation? Are there any ways she essentially doesn't change?

    21. When Hemingway's biographer Carlos Baker interviewed Hadley Richardson near the end of her life, he expected her to be bitter, and yet she persisted in describing Ernest as a "prince." How can she have continued to love and admire him after the way he hurt her?

    22. Ernest Hemingway spent the last months of his life tenderly reliving his first marriage in the pages his memoir, A Moveable Feast. In fact, it was the last thing he wrote before his death. Do you think he realized what he'd truly lost with Hadley?

    Tuesday, November 1, 2011

    Book Club Forum #21: Lady Undertaker

    Book Selection Status: READ
    Month: November 2011
    Genre: Fiction
    Book of the Month: Lady Undertaker
    Author: Lyn Johnson and Lisa Branch-Tucker
    Question source:

    Discussion Questions:

    1. What was unique about the setting of the book and how did it enhance or take away from the story?

    2. What specific themes did the author emphasize throughout the novel? What do you think he or she is trying to get across to the reader?

    3. Do the characters seem real and believable? Can you relate to their predicaments? To what extent do they remind you of yourself or someone you know?

    4. How do characters change or evolve throughout the course of the story? What events trigger such changes?

    5. In what ways do the events in the books reveal evidence of the author's world view?

    6. Did certain parts of the book make you uncomfortable? If so, why did you feel that way?

    Monday, October 3, 2011

    Book Club Forum #20: The Heart Specialist

    Book Selection Status:  READ
    Month: October 2011
    Genre:  Fiction Literature
    Book of the Month: The Heart Specialist
    Author: Claire Holden Rothman
    Question source:

    Discussion Questions:

    1. One of the central images of the novel is a misshapen, three‐chambered human heart in a laboratory bottle. Human hearts normally have four chambers – two atria and two ventricles – but the Howlett Heart, as it is called in the book, has only one ventricle, which confuses Agnes
    White when she discovers it in the McGill museum of pathology. At first she thinks it is reptilian or perhaps amphibian, but eventually she realizes it's human, albeit gravely defective. She publishes an article about it in a scholarly journal, a first step in what will become her celebrated
    career in heart medicine. The deformed heart is also the first of a series of clues leading to her missing father, and it figures in her discovery of love at the novel’s end. What does the Howlett Heart evoke for you? What are its functions in the novel?

    2. The Heart Specialist tells the story of a young woman trying to enter medicine at a time when
    this was nearly impossible. Other characters in the novel are marginalized as well. Agnes’s lab
    assistant Jakob Hertzlich is marginalized because of his religion. Her colleague Dugald Rivers is
    marginalized due to sexual orientation. These characters are all hurt by a society with overly
    rigid definitions of social roles. Which characters in the novel are marginal? Which are
    mainstream? What impact does this have on their fates?

    3. Vision is a motif in this novel. Agnes White is myopic. George Skerry is constantly removing her
    spectacles and rubbing the lenses clean. Honoré Bourret is half‐blind when Agnes finally meets
    him at the novel`s end, and shortly after that meeting, Agnes declares, ``I just opened my eyes
    for the first time in fifty years. It certainly took me long enough. I had built my life on a dream.``
    Discuss vision and its symbolic importance in this book.

    4. In section VI of the novel, entitled War, Agnes White laments that she has been forced, due to
    her sex, to stay in Montreal, while her male colleagues head off to France to serve in the First
    World War. She is deeply jealous of them. After reading letters from Dugald Rivers, however,
    her view shifts. ``From that day until I died,`` she declares, ``I would offer up prayers of thanks
    for the good fortune of having been born a woman.`` Agnes White has conflicting feelings about
    womanhood. Would you characterize her as a feminist?

    5. Agnes White pursues a career in medicine in large part as an attempt to enter the world of her
    missing father. The father quest is an archetypal story form, found in ancient myth and legend.
    In the Greek myths, for instance, Theseus goes in search of his missing father, Aegeus, and in the
    process proves himself a hero. Likewise, young Telemachus searches for his missing father
    Odysseus, and proves his own courage and worth. Discuss the ways in which The Heart Specialist
    is a father quest, with a twist.

    6. Love is hard to achieve in this novel filled with hearts. Is there a successful love relationship

    7. The Heart Specialist was inspired by one of Canada`s first female physicians, Doctor Maude
    Abbott. Does this fact change your approach to the novel? How?

    8. The act of story‐telling is important in The Heart Specialist. Twice, Agnes White recounts the
    story of her life: the first time to William Howlett in Baltimore, and the second to George Skerry
    by the river in Saint Andrew`s East, right at the novel`s end. Why are these two scenes
    important in the novel?

    9. Compare the two sisters, Laure and Agnes. One picked a more traditional female life, the other
    charted new waters. What were their fates? Now add George Skerry into the mix. What kinds of
    options for happiness and fulfillment did women have in the society depicted in this novel?

    10. This novel opens with death, and death seems to follow Agnes White wherever she goes. In
    part, this is because of her profession. But could the death be metaphoric as well as literal?
    Must Agnes White die in this novel, to be figuratively reborn?

    Friday, September 2, 2011

    Book Club Forum #19: Promise Bridge

    Book Selection Status:  READ
    Month: September 2011
    Genre: Historical Fiction Literature
    Book of the Month: Promise Bridge
    Author: Eileen Clymer Schwab
    Question source:

    Discussion Questions:

    1. What did the promise bridge mean to you and how did it expand as the novel progressed?

    2. Livie's move to freedom can be seen in a physical journey. Do you think Hannah and Colt discover a kind of freedom? How so?

    3. Why did Hannah feel more alive in Mud Run than she did in the main house?

    4. Several circumstances occur during the story that change Colt in Hannah's eyes. What instances are memorable and how did they change her perception of him as a man?

    5. Elements of friendship, suspense and romance carry the story, with a few surprises along the way. How did the mix of these elements affect the pace of the story, and which plot twist did you least expect?

    Wednesday, August 3, 2011

    Book Club Forum #18: State of Wonder

    Book Selection Status: READ
    Month: August 2011
    Genre: Fiction
    Book of the Month: State of Wonder
    Author: Ann Patchett

    Discussion Questions:

    1. How would you describe Marina Singh? How has the past shaped her character? Discuss the anxieties that are manifested in her dreams.

    2. “Marina was from Minnesota. No one ever believed that. At the point when she could have taken a job anywhere she came back because she loved it here. This landscape was the one she understood, all prairie and sky.” What does this description say about the character?

    3. Talk about Marina’s relationship with her boss, Mr. Fox. Would you call what they share love? Do they have a future? Why does he want Marina to go to the Amazon? What propels her to agree?

    4. What drew Marina to her old mentor, Annik Swenson? Compare and contrast the two women. How does Annick see Marina? Barbara Bovender, one of Annik’s caretakers/gatekeepers tells Marina, “She’s such a force of nature. . . . a woman completely fearless, someone who sees the world without limitations.” Is this a fair assessment of Annik? How would you describe her? How has the elderly doctor’s past shaped the person she is and the choices she has made?

    5. Describe the arc of Marina and Annik’s relationship from the novel’s beginning to its end. Do you like these women? Did your opinion of them change as the story unfolded? Why didn’t Marina ever tell anyone the full story of her early experience with Annick?

    6. Consider Annik’s research in the Amazon. Should women of any age be able to have children? What are the benefits and the downsides? Why does this ability seem to work in the Lakashi culture? What impact does this research ultimately have on Marina? Whether you are a man or woman, would you want to have a child in your fifties or sixties? How far should modern science go to “improve” on nature?

    7. In talking about her experiences with the indigenous people, Annik explains, “the question is whether or not you choose to disturb the world around you; or if you choose to go on as if you had never arrived. “ How does Marina respond to this? Did Annik practice what she preached? How do these women’s early choices impact later events and decisions? How does Annik’s statement extend beyond the Amazon to the wider world? Would you rather make a “disturbance” in life, or go along quietly?

    8. Talk about the Lakashi people and the researchers. How do they get along? Though the scientists try not to interfere with the natives’ way of life, how does their being there impact the Lakashi? What influence do the Lakashi have on the scientists?

    9. Would you be able to live in the jungle as the researchers and natives do? Is there an appeal to going back to nature; from being removed from the western constraints of time and our modern technological society?

    10. What role does nature and the natural world—the jungle, the Amazon River—play in Marina’s story? How does the environment influence the characters—Marina, Annik, Milton, Anders, Easter, and the others? Annik warns Marina, “It’s difficult to trust yourself in the jungle. Some people gain their bearings over time but for others that adjustment never comes.” Did Marina ultimately “gain her bearings”?

    11. Marina travels into hell, into her own Conradian “heart of darkness.” What keeps her in the jungle longer than she’d ever thought she’d stay? How does this journey transform her and her view of herself and the world? Will she ever return—and does she need to?

    12. What is your opinion of the choices Marina made regarding Easter? What role did the boy play in the story? Do you think Marina will ever have the child—one like Easter—that she wants?

    13. What do you think happens to Marina after she returns home?

    14. State of Wonder is rich in symbolism. Identify a few—for example, Eden Prairie (Marina’s Minnesota home), Easter (the young deaf native boy), Milton (the Brazilian guide)—and talk about how Ann Patchett uses them to deepen the story.

    15. State of Wonder raises questions of morality and principle, civilization, culture, love, and science. Choose a few events from the book to explore some of these themes.

    16. What is the significance of the novel’s title, State of Wonder?

    Thursday, July 7, 2011

    Book Club Forum #17: Save Me

    Book Selection Status: READ

    Month: July 2011
    Genre: Fiction - Thriller
    Book of the Month: Save Me
    Author: Lisa Scottoline
    Question source:

    Discussion Questions:

    1. SAVE ME explores the mother and child relationship, at its heart. What do you think defines a mother? How is a mother and child relationship different than any other relationship? Look at other forms of culture, like art, for example. How many depictions are there of mother and child? And how many of father and child? Are we discriminating against fathers, or diminishing them, by all this talk of the mother-child bond? And by doing so, do we create a self-fulfilling prophecy?

    2. In SAVE ME, Melly is the victim of bullying because of a birthmark on her face. Do you think bullying is different today than years ago? Do you think that the bullying is getting worse, or are we just hearing more about it because of the Internet? What do you think parents and schools should do to help curb bullying? What kind of punishment do you think is appropriate for the child who is doing the bullying? What about those who watch and say nothing? Are they, or aren't they, equally as culpable? Do you think that school programs and curricula that build up self-esteem and a sense of community will really make a difference?

    3. Rose experienced her own bullying at the hands of the angry parents, which gave her new perspective on what Melly was going through. Do you have any experience with bullying between adults? In what ways are adults better equipped to deal with bullying than children? What impact can bullying have on adults, and what can an adult do if they are faced with a bully? What impact does being a bully, or being a bully as an adult, have on their children?

    4. Rose steps in to defend Melly against her bully. Do you think it was a good idea? Why or why not? How do you think a parent's involvement hurts or helps the situation? At what point do you think a parent needs to involve themselves in the situation? What steps would you take to help your child if they were being bullied, and how far would you be willing to go?

    5. What impact do you think a physical blemish has on a child, and how do you think it effects their identity, their relationship with their family, and their relationship with the outside world? Take it a step further -- like how about physical differences, like a child in a wheelchair? Or learning challenges, that aren't so visible? Or how about discriminations based on race, religion or sexual orientation? Melly's father reacted very badly to Melly's birthmark. What did his reaction make you feel about him?

    6. Many of Lisa's books center on single mothers or blended families. Do you think the love of one great parent is enough to sustain a child through life? Does it take a husband, too? Or a village?

    7. As Rose found out, volunteering comes with risks. The book makes clear that this is a problem in the law of many states, maybe even where you live. What do you think of the laws in terms of protecting those who volunteer their time? What changes, if any, would you make to the laws to protect volunteers? Should we expand the Good Samaritan statues to include volunteers and to encourage even more people to volunteer?

    8. How did you feel about Rose keeping her secret past from Leo? Did you understand her reasoning? Did you agree or disagree with it? What impact do you think Rose's past will have on her marriage as she moves forward? Do you think she will ever really be able to escape what happened? Will he forgive her not telling him? How do secrets impact intimacy in our lives?

    9. Rose was called a "helicopter" parent, a term often used in today's society with a negative connotation. What separates helicopter parenting from good parenting? What kind of parent do you think Rose was? What mistakes do you think she made? Do you think she was a good mother? Do you think she favors Melly, or the baby? Or treats them equally?

    10. How did you feel about Amanda in the beginning of the book? How, if at all, did your opinion of her change by the end of the book? What do you think causes children to be bullies? Under what circumstances would you ever feel bad for the bully? In punishing a bully, do you think their personal circumstances should be taken into account?

    11. What did you think of Rose's lawyers' strategy? Did you agree or disagree with it? Why or why not? Do you think they were just passing the blame, or do you think the school had a responsibility in what happened? Do you think that litigation is another form of bullying? Do you know anybody who is sue-happy?

    Wednesday, June 15, 2011

    Book Club Forum #16: Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship

    Book Selection Status: READ

    Month: June 2011
    Genre: Non fiction Chic-Lit Memoir
    Book of the Month: Cheap Cabernet: A Friendship
    Author: Cathie Beck
    Question source:

    Discussion Questions:

    1. Why does Cathie feel the need to start a women’s group? What crossroads has she arrived at in her life? How does her children moving away from home change the way she feels about her place in society?

    2. Cathie and Denise become fast friends, but their relationship is far from smooth, even at the beginning. In what ways do their personalities clash? In what ways do they complement one another? Why do you think their complex relationship ends up being so special?

    3. Why does Cathie retell the story of applying for food stamps when her children are young? What does that story tell the reader about Cathie’s life as a young mother? What do we learn about her background, and how does it inform the woman we meet in the memoir?

    4. Discuss issues of ownership as they are portrayed in the memoir (Cathie’s need to own a house, and Denise’s need to own garage sale bargains). What does owning material objects mean to each of the women? How do their different backgrounds inform this need?

    5. Denise and John have unique and unconventional marriage. How does Cathie feel about their relationship? Do you think she envies them, or pities them? What about the marriage works for Denise, and in what ways does the arrangement fail her? Do you think John and Denise are in love? Why or why not?

    6. Cathie had very complicated, mixed feelings about Denise’s illness. In what ways does Cathie let Denise’s MS affect their friendship? Would you say that Cathie takes care of Denise when she is ill? In what ways does Denise’s MS frustrate and disappoint Cathie?

    7. Discuss Cathie and Denise’s trip to Jamaica and Cuba. In what ways is the trip a turning point for both women? What do they each discover about themselves on the trip and what do they discover about one another?

    8. Why does Cathie include the story of her visit to New York to see where Denise grew up? What does visiting Denise’s home, and meeting the women she grew up with tell us about Denise and her upbringing? Why does meeting these women have such a profound effect on Cathie?

    9. Toward the end of the memoir, Cathie writes about her own mother, and the struggles she faced raising Cathie and her siblings. Is Cathie anything like her mother? In what ways does Cathie escape her families’ legacy? In what ways does she continue where her mother left off? How does her family and her childhood haunt her into her adult life?

    10. In the end, Cathie and Denise have a falling out and Cathie does not attend her friend’s memorial service. Do you think Denise orchestrated their rift to protect Cathie, as Cathie assumes? Do you think Cathie can really find closure?

    11. Cheap Cabernet follows in a tradition of many great memoirs, novels, and movies about women’s friendships. How does this book fit in to that tradition? How is Cathie and Denise’s friendship unique from others you have read about or seen?

    Monday, May 2, 2011

    Book Club Forum #15: The Passage

    Book Selection Status: READ
    Month: May 2011
    Genre: Science Fiction
    Book of the Month: The Passage
    Author: Justin Cronin
    Question source:
    Discussion Questions:

    1. What do you feel were the main themes Cronin was wrestling with in this novel?
    The Passage by Justin Cronin
    2. What was your favorite quote/intro to which section of the novel and how do you feel it best set up what was to come?

    3. Did you think the national response to the crisis was realistic (ex. California seceding from the U.S.)?

    4. Do you think Cronin’s writing techniques and style changes were successful in bringing this world to life? Why or why not?

    5. Did you have a hard time transitioning from the first third of the book to the last two-thirds? Why or why not?

    6. Was there any point in the story where you felt you couldn’t read anymore?

    7. Did you have any issues with the pacing of the novel? Why or why not?

    8. Which character do you think loved Amy the most? Which do you think Amy loved the most?

    9. Was the ending satisfying or did it leave you thirsty for more?

    10. Rate The Passage 1 to 5.


    Friday, April 1, 2011

    Book Club Forum #14: Push

    Book Selection Status: CURRENTLY READING
    Month: April 2011
    Genre: Nonfiction: Nonfiction
    Book of the Month: Push
    Author: Sapphire
    Question source:
    Discussion Questions:

    1. What does this story tell us about the inadequacy of ordinary schools to deal with students' problems and with their resulting learning handicaps? "I got A in English and never say nuffin', do nuffin'"[p. 49], Precious says. Precious's principal in effect tells her teacher to give up on her, saying, "Focus on the ones who can learn"[p. 37]. Is this an understandable or forgivable attitude? How would you describe Mr. Wicher and his teaching methods? Is he merely a coward or is he trying his best?

    2. "The tesses paint a picture of me wif no brain," says Precious. "The tesses paint a picture of me an' my muver—my whole family, we more than dumb, we invisible"[p. 30]. In what way are Precious and her family members invisible to the larger world? If you have read Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, can you compare the way the two authors use the metaphor of invisibility for their characters?

    3. During the course of the story, Precious is obliged to confront her own prejudices and modify or reject them. Her experience with the Hispanic EMS man makes her look at Hispanics for the first time as human beings like herself; her friendship with Ms. Rain and Jermaine makes her reexamine her knee-jerk homophobia. Early in the novel she says, "I hate crack addicts. They give the race a bad name"[p. 14], but later she questions that uncompromising position. In an interview, Sapphire said of Precious that "she doesn't know that hating gay people or hating Jews or hating foreigners is detrimental to her" (Interview, June 1996). Why is it detrimental to her? Why is it imperative that she lose her prejudices before she, herself, can be helped?

    4. How would you describe Precious's self-image at the beginning of the book, and how would you describe it at the end? How have her friends and supporters succeeded in helping to alter her view of herself?

    5. What is Precious's attitude toward Louis Farrakhan and his movement at the beginning of the story? How does this attitude change during the course of her education? Why have Farrakhan and his opinions become such a vital part of her worldview? What do you deduce the author's attitude toward him to be?

    6. A famous—or perhaps infamous—Labor Department study, the Moynihan Report, blamed the absence of fathers and the dominance of women (rather than economic and racial inequality) for the problems confronting the African American family. Many black scholars and activists have argued against the report's conclusions. Which side of the argument do you believe Push to support?

    7. Push presents what one reviewer called "one of the most disturbing portraits of motherhood ever published" (City Paper, November 1996). How would you explain or interpret Precious's mother's behavior?

    8. "Miz Rain say we is a nation of raped children, that the black man in America today is the product of rape" [pp. 68–69]. What does Ms. Rain mean by this metaphor, and does it strike you as an accurate one?

    9. Precious tells Ms. Rain that the welfare helps her mother, to which Ms. Rain responds, "When you get home from the hospital look and see how much welfare has helped your mother" [p. 73]. What does this novel indicate about abuses and inadequacies in the system? How might an ideal system be constructed?

    10. Precious's file reflects the government "workfare" point of view, that Precious should already be earning her own living, possibly as a home attendant. Precious objects violently to this idea. Can you understand the social worker's point of view? Have Precious's and Jermaine's arguments [pp. 121–123] changed any opinions you previously held on this subject?

    11. "Miz Rain say value. Values determine how we live much as money do. I say Miz Rain stupid there. All I can think she don't know to have NOTHIN'"[p. 64]. Which opinion do you agree with, or is there something to be said for both? What answer, if any, does the novel offer?

    12. "One of the myths we've been taught," Sapphire has said, "is that oppression creates moral superiority. I'm here to tell you that the more oppressed a person is, the more oppressive they will be" (Bomb, Fall 1996). How does the novel illustrate the concept of the cycle of abuse? How does Precious break that cycle, and what aspects of her own character enable her to do so?

    13. Push has been called a Dickensian novel, to which Sapphire has responded, "Part of what's so wrong in this story is that we're not in a Dickensian era. Those things shouldn't be happening in a post-industrial society" (Bomb, Fall 1996). She sees the novel as "an indictment of American culture, which is both black and white" (ibid). What aspects of our culture have enabled the inequities described in the novel to develop? Would you say that contemporary American cities consist, as Dickens's London was said to, of two entirely different cultures, the rich one and the poor?

    14. Why do you think Sapphire has chosen to end the story where she does? Does the book end on a sad or hopeful note? What sort of future do you envision for Precious?

    15. What is the significance of the novel's title, Push? At what points in her life is Precious enjoined to "push"? What is meant by this word, and how does Precious respond to the injunctions?

    Tuesday, March 1, 2011

    Book Club Forum #13: Bury Me In My Jersey

    Book Selection Status:  READ
    Month: March 2011
    Genre: Nonfiction: A Memoir
    Book of the Month: Bury Me In My Jersey: A Memoir of My Father, Football, and Philly
    Author: Tom McAllister
    Question source: Original
    Discussion Questions:

    1. What are your overall thoughts and feelings about this story?

    2. What was your perception of football before you read this book?

    3. Has reading this book changed your perception of football?

    4. Can you think of other forms of entertainment that tend to become a passionate means of tradition for families?

    5. Who was your favorite character?

    6. What (list maximum of 4) question(s) would you like to ask the author?

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011

    Book Club Forum #12: The Lotus Eaters

    Book Selection Status: READ
    Month: February 2011
    Genre:  Fiction:
    Book of the Month: The Lotus Eaters
    Author: Tatjana Soli
    Question source:

    Discussion Questions:

    1.) Soli pulled the novel’s title, The Lotus Eaters, from an episode in Homer’s The Odyssey and uses Homer’s description of the land of the lotus-eaters as the novel’s opening epigraph. What connection do you see between Homer’s lotus-eaters and the main characters of this novel? What, if anything, in this novel acts like the lotus described by Homer, so powerful and seductive it causes one to abandon all thoughts of home? Does each character have a different "lotus" that draws them in? How does the title illuminate the main themes of the novel?

    2.) The novel begins with the fall of Saigon, and then moves back in time twelve years to the beginning of the war. How do you think this structure contributed to your experience of the novel? Did this glimpse of Helen in 1975 influence how you related to her character at earlier points in her life? Did knowing the outcome affect your judgment of her actions and the actions of those around her?

    3.) Helen makes a pivotal decision at the end of Chapter 1—to send Linh on the plane and stay behind to “see it end.” Why does she make this decision? How did you feel about it? Did your feelings about it change over the course of the novel?

    4.) What does Helen think of Vietnam and the Vietnamese people when she first arrives in Saigon? How do her feelings evolve throughout the novel? How does this evolution affect how she comes to view the war and her role in it?

    5.) In Chapter 3, Darrow says, “The cool thing for us is that when this one’s done, there’s always another one… The war doesn’t ever have to end for us.” Why does he say this to Helen? What does it show about how Darrow views the war and about Darrow himself? When Helen repeats these words back to him in Chapter 11, how has their meaning changed?

    6.) In Chapter 19, Helen believes that “violence had poisoned them all....” In what ways are Darrow, Helen, and Linh poisoned? What, if anything, keeps each of them from being destroyed by it?

    7.) Throughout the novel, Helen finds herself in love, and loved by, two very different men. How would you characterize each of her relationships? Did you prefer Helen in one relationship over the other? What are each relationship’s strengths and weaknesses? Which man do you ultimately believe is Helen’s great love?

    8.) Mark Twain said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” Bravery and courage are frequently mentioned in the novel. In what ways do the various characters display these traits? In what ways do they fail?

    9.) What do you think the future holds for Helen at the end of the novel? For Linh?

    Saturday, January 1, 2011

    Book Club Forum #11: Mercury In Retrograde

    Book Selection Status: READ
    Month: January 2011
    Genre: Chic-Lit Fiction:
    Book of the Month: Mercury In Retrograde
    Author: Paula Froelich
    Question source:

    Discussion Questions:

    1. On the surface, Penelope, Lipstick and Dana are three very different women. Why do you think they become friends?
    2. Lyrics to several popular 1980s songs appear throughout Mercury in Retrograde. Why do you think author Paula Froelich decided to include them? How did they enhance your read?

    3. What role does fashion play in the novel? What do each woman’s clothes say about her character?

    4. Why do you think Paula Froelich included horoscopes at the start of each chapter? What do they add to the novel?

    5. If she had not been fired from The New York Telegraph, would Penelope have ever quit her job?

    6. Why is initially so important to Lipstick? If she “always feels dirty after reading the website” (pg. 15) why does she still visit the site?

    7. Instead of staying at her parents’ home and joining the family business, why does Lipstick decide to strike out on her own?

    8. Following her divorce, why is Dana so hesitant to socialize with other people? Is she afraid to get hurt, embarrassed about being single once again, or something else?

    9. “And every day [Lipstick would] think, I’ll call them tomorrow. But she never got around to it” (pg. 186). Is she simply too busy, or is there another reason Lipstick never returns her mother’s telephone calls?

    10. Following the disastrous events at the Met Gala, Lipstick thinks, “What is Bitsy going to do? What will be on What am I going to tell my mother?” (pg. 240). After previously declaring she no longer cared about what her fellow socialites think, why do these thoughts run through Lipstick’s mind?

    11. Why doesn’t Dana finish decorating her new apartment? And why are the few items she does buy all in white?

    12. Each woman has a complicated relationship with her parents. To what extent do they care about their parents’ approval, and do these relationships change throughout the novel?

    13. Ultimately, is Penelope happy with her job at NY Access? Have Penelope, Lipstick and Dana found success both in their professional and personal lives?

    14. There are several characters in Mercury in Retrograde who bear strong resemblances to real-life people. As a group, see if you can name them all.

    15. Penelope, Lipstick and Dana all endure wacky, disastrous moments while on the job. Now that they’re behind you, why not share your own favorite embarrassing work story?

    16. The Met Gala is an important event both in the novel and in New York society. Do some research on the soirée and post a picture of your favorite red carpet looks (maximum of 3).