Memoirs can be written for a variety of different purposes. What do you think motivated Conway to share her life story? How did you respond to her “voice”? Was there something especially surprising about her story? What was it … Continue reading
2014’s first book club discussion is just around the corner. Here are a some discussion questions I found at litlover.com on our book:
1. Did you like the younger Alice best? Or did you relate more to the older Alice?
2. What would your younger self of ten years ago think of the person you are today?
3. What would surprise your younger self most about the life you’re currently leading? What would disappoint you?
4. What would you think of your children? Are they how you imagined they would be? Are you the parent you envisioned? Why or why not?
5. Alice is shocked by many transformations—her gym-toned body, her clothes, her house. Are you more or less polished than you were a decade ago? And do you think there’s any deeper significance to such change?
6. Do you think it was realistic that Alice ended up back with Nick? Were you happy with that ending? Do you think they would have ended up together if she hadn’t lost her memory?
7. How did you feel about the sections written from the perspectives of Elisabeth and Frannie? Did they add to your enjoyment of the book, or would you have preferred to have it written entirely from Alice’s point of view?
8. Do you think it was unavoidable that Elisabeth and Alice had grown apart, because of the tension caused by Elisabeth’s infertility versus Alice’s growing family? Or do you think their rift had more to do with the kind of people both of them had become?
9. It’s not only Alice who changed over the last decade. Elisabeth changed, too. Do you think she would have been so accepting of the new Alice at the end if she herself didn’t get pregnant?
10. Out of all the characters in the book, who do you think had changed the most over the past decade and why?
11. If you were to write a letter to your future self to be opened in ten years, what would you say?
See you all Thursday……unless we get snowed out. Then we’ll most likely push book club back to next Thursday. I’ll keep you posted.
Well, Janet finally convinced us to add one of your books to our book club reading list. No, not one of your novels, but your memoirs from living in Paris, A Moveable Feast. I didn’t realize that the book was finished and published after you died. And I thought it was pretty interesting that it was put together from manuscripts that were found long after your time in Paris living, working, drinking, gambling and hanging out with some of the greatest names in literature at that time. Not many people can say they were welcome to randomly stop by Gertrude Stein’s apartment or that they rode around the European countryside in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s car.
As I read about your time in Paris in the early 1920s, I thought about how your time as an ambulance driver in World War I and the injuries you suffered there might have affected your writing, and, well, your life in general. I imagine your experience had a profound impact on you and it seemed to show up in some of the melancholy and wistfulness of your tone. I wonder if I was the only one who observed sadness in your writing or if my other book club friends noticed it too. I guess I will just have to ask them when we meet today. And not to psychoanalyze you (since I have no training whatsoever), but I also theorize that your time in World War I (and reporting on The Spanish Civil War and World War II) shaped and affected you to such a degree that it probably played some role in the depression and alcoholism you suffered throughout your life, your failed marriages and your eventual suicide in 1961.
But I’ll spare you my judgment or any lectures (since I doubt you would care much anyway), and instead I’ll offer compassion for all of the hard times you experienced during your life. I’ll also thank you for leaving such a literary legacy. I can see why many people enjoy your direct, straightforward style that I am sure your journalistic endeavors helped you to hone.
Out of all of your writings, I’m glad our book club chose A Moveable Feast for our first experience with your work, especially since part of your literary legacy includes inflicting quite a bit of pain and suffering on high school students, like my husband, who have been assigned The Old Man and the Sea for their high school English classes. Somehow, I think me telling you that would make you smirk a little bit. I had similar feelings about your friend F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, but we can talk about that another time.
Thank you for your contribution to literature that we get to read and discuss this month!
P.S. I hope you are enjoying your current job in human resources. I am sure helping a young startup company is quite rewarding. 🙂
We hope you can join us to discuss A Moveable Feast this evening, Thursday, November 8 at 7 pm at Catherine’s house (let us know if you need directions).
Here are a few questions to think about for our discussion:
- What sort of letter would you write to Ernest Hemingway? A friendly letter, a thank you note, an invitation to dinner, a notice to sue for pain and suffering?
- What do you make of Hemingway’s remark in his Preface,”If the reader prefers, this may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.”? What is he saying? Is he suggesting little of none of his memoir is true? (Don’t worry if you’re not sure: no one is—the line is a bit of a puzzle.)
- Given his later renown and personal excesses (alcoholism, braggadocio and bluster, womanizing, meanness), what do you make of this young Hemingway? How would you describe him? Is he a likable? Admirable?
- What was the relationship between Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, as described in A Moveable Feast? Where do you see the fault lines of their marriage? What part did horse racing play? Some have surmised that Hadley was the one woman (wife) he truly loved. What happened?
- Talk about Hemingway’s depictions of the famous literary characters in his Paris circle of friends. Whom do you find most interesting? What does he say, for instance, about F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald? Some readers have found his observations (even his treatment) cruel; others see Hemingway as honest if acerbic. What do you think?
- Which episodes do you find particularly funny—perhaps the luncheon incident with Ford Madox Ford? Or Ezra Pound? Or the trip to Lyons with Fitzgerald?
- Writing from a distance of some 30 years, Hemingway paints a beauty, even glamour, in being poor and hungry…in Paris…at that moment. Why does this seem to have been such a happy time for him? What lends this work its twilight nostalgia?
- Have you read any of Hemingway’s novels or short stories (which some scholars consider his finest writing)? If so, does reading A Moveable Feast affect how you read his fiction? If you have not other Hemingway works, does this book inspire you to do so?
Update: Dear Mr. Hemingway,
It has come to my attention that I may have caused considerable offense by addressing you as “Ernest” in my letter above, as several of my fellow book club members (who are more attentive readers than I) reminded me that you detest your given first name. Please accept my most sincere apology for this egregious oversight, and I hope this mistake will not cause you detest me any more than you already would have been predisposed to detest me.
That was all. Nothing had changed. Mrs. Heemstra continued with her recipe for stretching the tea ration with rose leaves. And yet everything was changed. For in that instant, reality broke through the numbness that had grown in me since the invasion. At any minute, there might be a rap on this door. These children, this mother and father, might be ordered to the back of a truck.
Dr. Heemstra came back to the living room and the conversation rambled on. But under the words, a prayer was forming in my heart.
Lord Jesus, I offer myself for Your people. In any way. Any place. Any time.
– The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom
This passage from The Hiding Place marks a major turning point in Corrie ten Boom’s life–when nothing on the surface seems to have changed, but everything has. Shortly after she utters this prayer, Corrie becomes involved with the Dutch Resistance to the German occupation of Holland during World War II. The Hiding Place tells us a bit about Corrie’s early life but mainly focuses on her experiences during World War II. These events would go on to profoundly shape the rest of her life, in which she was known for being a prolific writer, speaker and evangelist and a model of what it looks like to practice true forgiveness.
I read The Hiding Place for the first time years ago, and one thing that I remember being struck by that first time, as well as now, is the significant role that her Christian faith played in her life and the lives of all of her family members. As you read the novel (or if you’ve finished all ready), consider all of the ways that faith in Christ influences people’s actions, decisions and responses to adversity. I think you will be impressed, too!
To get you ready for our discussion of The Hiding Place, here are some discussion questions, courtesy of the LitLovers website.
- Corrie’s father tells her that he pities the Nazi’s: “They have touched the apple of God’s eye.” What does he mean by that statement. Consider the strength of character it takes to feel pity for a people and a system that means to do harm to fellow beings.
- What are the various hiding places, real and symbolic, to which the title of this book refers? How, for instance, do fleas help lead to a “hiding place” for Corrie and Betsie while they are imprisoned?
- In addition to the extraordinary kindess and courage of the ten Boom family, what are some of the smaller acts of kindness shown by others in this memoir? Are people inspired to greater compassion, or less, in dire situations? What motivates acts of kindness—in other words, what makes people kind? What makes some people kinder than others?
- Talk about the kind of woman Corrire ten Boom and her sister Betsie were. What sustained them during their ordeal in the concentration camps? To what do you attribute Corrie’s courage and survival in the face of so much death and hardship?
- Stories like Corrie’s always beg comparison to ourselves and our own lives. We wonder how each of us would behave under similar horrific circumstances? How would you? What inner strengths and courage and compassion would you draw on? Would you have risked your life and the lives of your family (especially, if you have children) to help the Jews or any others subjected to brutal persecution? We know what we are called upon to do, but would many of us find the courage needed to do what is right?
- Comment on what Betsie said to Corrie: “I pray every day that we be allowed to do this! To show [the Nazis] that love is greater!” What do you find extraordinary in that statement?
- Talk about the incident after the war in which Corrie comes across one of the former SS men at Ravensbruck. How did she respond to him at first…and how did she change? What does this say about the principle of forgiveness—its difficulty and its healing power?
- What do you find most surprising…or inspiring in this account of the Nazi era? Did this book change you in any way? Did you come away having learned something…about history…about faith…or about yourself?
I hope you’re enjoying The Hiding Place, and we’re looking forward to seeing everyone for our discussion on Thursday, August 9 at Sheila’s house. The address is in the E-vite. If you didn’t receive it or if you need directions, please comment on this post, on our Facebook page, or get in touch with one of us personally, and we’ll be sure to help you get there.
I hope everyone is ready for this Thursday as we discuss “Nature” by Ralph Waldo Emerson and “Walking” by Henry David Thoreau. I’ve put together a few questions to ponder as you “saunter” through these essays so you’re ready to discuss.
Here are a few questions about “Nature” that I found here:
- In Emerson’s view, how do adults and children view nature differently?
- How do changing seasons affect nature lovers?
- What does Emerson mean when he states, “Nature always wears the colors of the spirit”? Do you agree with him; why or why not?
- What, do you think, is the difference between the meaning Emerson finds in nature and the meaning a scientist finds?
Here are a few questions about “Walking” that I fond here:
- What does Thoreau mean by the “art of Walking” and “sauntering”?
- Thoreau writes: “But possibly the day will come when it will be partitioned off into so-called pleasure grounds, in which a few will take a narrow and exclusive pleasure only,—when fences shall be multiplied, and man traps and other engines invented to confine men to the public road; and walking over the surface of God’s earth, shall be construed to mean trespassing on some gentleman’s grounds. To enjoy a thing exclusively is commonly to exclude yourself from the true enjoyment of it. Let us improve our opportunities then before the evil days come.”
Are we living in the “evil days” that Thoreau predicted would come? Why or why not?
- Thoreau writes: “Yes; though you may think me perverse, if it were proposed to me to dwell in the neighborhood of the most beautiful garden that ever human art contrived, or else of a dismal swamp, I should certainly decide for the swamp. How vain then have been all your labors, citizens, for me!”
What choice would you make and why?
- How would you describe Henry David Thoreau based upon this essay?
And here are a few that I thought of myself:
- Do you enjoy going out for walks? Where is your favorite place to walk and why? Do you prefer walking in an urban environment or out in nature?
- The authors of these essays become very philosophical when contemplating nature. Have you ever been out in nature and found your mind wandering in a similar way? What did you think about? For example, when I am out weeding my flower beds, I find myself contemplating sin and holiness. What say you all?
- Were these essays anything like you expected?
- Overall, what do you think of these Transcendentalists and their writings? Do you enjoy their style? Would you read other works by them or read these again?
As I mentioned above, our next meeting is this Thursday, July 12. We’ll be meeting at 7 pm at the Paradise Bakery and Café at Castleton Mall (please note the location change).
Happy reading (and happy sauntering) to you all!
I have to admit, that I wasn’t sure what to think when I started reading The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. I certainly wasn’t very familiar with the ins and outs of Chinese culture, let alone the culture of Pre-Revolutionary rural China, but it didn’t take long for me to get drawn in by the story of Wang Lung, O-Lan and their family. Their trials and successes as they go through times of prosperity and famine also teach timeless lessons that we can apply to our lives today.
As you ponder that last statement here are some questions to get you ready for our discussion on Thursday. Most of these are taken or adapted from the discussion questions in the back of Sarah J.’s book (with a couple of my own thrown in).
- Describe Wang Lung’s expectations of his impending marriage at the beginning of the book. How does his marriage turn out in reality? How do Wang Lung’s expectations of marriage compare to the expectations of marriage in Western cultures?
- Why does Wang Lung feel compelled to purchase the rice field from the House of Hwang? Why does he at first regret it?
- Wang Lung considers the birth of his daughter to be a bad omen. How does he come to regard this girl, who grows up to be a “fool”?
- As the family works and begs in the city, what do they think of the foreigners they encounter? What purpose does the author serve in including these descriptions?
- When Wang Lung becomes swept up in the mob and enters the rich man’s house, is the gold he receives there a curse or a blessing? Do you feel any pity for the rich man?
- After O-Lan steals the jewels, do they function as a bad omen or good luck? Why does she want to keep the two pearls? Why is Wang Lung so astonished by this?
- As O-Lan dies, she bemoans her lack of beauty and says she is too ugly to be loved. Wang Lung feels guilty, but still cannot love her as he did Lotus. Neither woman can control destiny. Lotus was an orphan who had been sold into prostitution because she was beautiful, and O-Lan had been sold as a kitchen slave because she was plain. For whom do you feel sympathy? Why?
- Describe Wang Lung’s relationship with the House of Hwang throughout the novel. In the end, does he end up better off than they did?
- How does Wang Lung’s religious faith change throughout the novel? Do you see any parallels with the way people experience the Christian faith?
- Pearl S. Buck wrote a first-person novel from the point of view of a Chinese man, which was controversial because she was of a different culture. How might this book have been different if it had been written by a Chinese person?
See you Thursday! Until then, happy reading!
Sharing a little food for thought here before our Emma discussion this Thursday. The last question is enlightening, as I heard from many that you had trouble getting into the book this month.
- About Emma, Jane Austen famously said, “I’m going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” Do you like Emma? Why or why not?
- Austen makes an unusual choice by selecting as her main character the most privileged woman in the book, the woman with “little to distress or vex her.” The Jane Fairfax story line (which W.J. Harvey has called the “shadow novel-within-the-novel”) has more traditional elements of tension and drama than Emma’s story. How did you feel about this novels want of incident and romance? Would you have rather read about Jane?
- Early in the book, Emma tells Harriet she doesn’t plan to marry. But the other women all embody, in one way or another, the serious economic consequences of staying single. The book is filled with women at risk. Discuss with reference to: Miss Bates, Jane Fairfax, Mrs. Elton, Harriet Smith, Miss Taylor.
- Class issues run through every plot line in Emma. How would you describe Mr. Knightley’s views on class and privilege? Harriet Smith is “the natural daughter of nobody knows whom.” Which fact—her illegitimacy or her undetermined class standing—is more important in effecting her marital prospects? How do you feel about Emma’s hopes to see Harriet married above her expectations? How does Emma’s relationship to Harriet change over the course of the book?
- Two characters, Mrs. Elton and Frank Churchill, come into Highbury from the outside and threaten the little community with change. Mr. Knightley likes neither of them. How do you feel about them?
- One effect of the hidden (Jane Fairfax/Frank Churchill) story is to undermine the omniscience of the narrator. Some critics have suggested that the narrator controls the reader less in Emma than in most Austen books. Because of this, Reginald Ferrar has suggested the book improves on rereading. “Only when the story has been thoroughly assimilated can the infinite delights and subtleties of its workmanship begin to be appreciated.” He suggests that rereading Pride and Prejudice allows you to repeat the pleasure you had at the first reading, while rereading Emma always provides new pleasures. (He also says that “until you know the story, you are apt to find the movement dense and slow and obscure, difficult to follow, and not very obviously worth the following.”) Do you agree with any of this? Do you like a book in which the writer’s intentions are not always clear and there is space for the reader to take charge or do you like to know what the writer wants you to be feeling and noticing? How do you feel about the idea of a book that has to be reread in order to be enjoyed? Is Emma such a book?
Questions from Penguin Group
Photo from BBC 2009 Emma production
I’m so excited to see you all on Thursday at Paradise Bakery to discuss Garrison Keillor’s Happy To Be Here! Here are some questions to get your minds processing his short stories:
- Many of the stories Keillor tells start from a premise or situation that is out of the ordinary or a bit ridiculous (the arts administrator, a radio station that starts in a restaurant to promote its sandwiches). What are some examples of this throughout the book?
- What sort of role did the setting play in the stories? Do you think it was important and why?
- The stories in the book are divided up in sections with loose threads connecting the stories in each section together. What are some examples of the ways the stories are connected?
- In a number of the stories, Keillor makes references to groups of people and the general public. What sort of interactions do various characters in the stories have with the public? Do you think this says anything about Keillor’s own views of people?
See you soon!
(Oh, and next month is Austen again! We’re reading Emma! So go ahead and get your copy and start reading.)
- This month is Bring A Friend Month. Did you invite someone? Also, remember to RSVP, I’m going early to block off our seats at Paradise.
- On Thursday one lucky person will win next month’s book, Happy To Be Here by Garrison Keillor.
- For a chance to win a $10 giftcard to Amazon to buy more books leave a comment and share your reading goal for 2012.
1. Who was your favorite character? Why?
2. What do you think motivated Hilly? On the one hand she is terribly cruel to Aibileen and her own help, as well as to Skeeter once she realizes that she can’t control her. Yet she’s a wonderful mother. Do you think that one can be a good mother but, at the same time, a deeply flawed person?
3. Like Hilly, Skeeter’s mother is a prime example of someone deeply flawed yet somewhat sympathetic. She seems to care for Skeeter–and she also seems to have very real feelings for Constantine. Yet the ultimatum she gives to Constantine is untenable; and most of her interaction with Skeeter is critical. Do you think Skeeter’s mother is a sympathetic or unsympathetic character? Why?
4. How much of a person’s character would you say is shaped by the times in which they live?
5. Did it bother you that Skeeter is willing to overlook so many of Stuart’s faults so that she can get married, and that it’s not until he literally gets up and walks away that the engagement falls apart?
6. Do you believe that Minny was justified in her distrust of white people?
7. Do you think that had Aibileen stayed working for Miss Elizabeth, that Mae Mobley would have grown up to be racist like her mother? Do you think racism is inherent, or taught?
8. From the perspective of a twenty-first century reader, the hairshellac system that Skeeter undergoes seems ludicrous. Yet women still alter their looks in rather peculiar ways as the definition of “beauty” changes with the times. Looking back on your past, what’s the most ridiculous beauty regimen you ever underwent?
9. The author manages to paint Aibileen with a quiet grace and an aura of wisdom about her. How do you think she does this?
10. Do you think there are still vestiges of racism in relationships where people of color work for people who are white? Have you heard stories of parents who put away their valuable jewelry before their nanny comes? Paradoxically, they trust the person to look after their child but not their diamond rings?
11. What did you think about Minny’s pie for Miss Hilly? Would you have gone as far as Minny did for revenge?
If you haven’t finished Agatha Christie’s Murder at the Vicarage, you still have a few hours left to get reading before we meet tonight at Paradise Bakery and Café for our discussion. With cooler, damp, fall weather moving in, it’s the perfect time to be inside a cozy café sipping a warm beverage, enjoying a delicious baked treat and discussing a good old fashioned murder mystery from one of the most prolific authors of all time.
- The book is told from the first person point of view of the vicar rather than from the point of view of a narrator or Miss Marple. Was this unusual to you? Do you think it enhanced or hurt the book?
- At one point Miss Marple says she has a certain number of suspects. Did you suspect the same number of people she did?
- When the mystery was solved, were you right? If not, who was your prime suspect and why?
- Do you have a “Miss Marple” in your life? Do you see your self having Miss Marple-like tendencies?
- How did this mystery novel compare with any other mystery novels you have read. Were they written after this one? If so, do you think Agatha Christie’s writing may have influenced that author? Why or why not?