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The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards June 1, 2007

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Should we ever lie in an attempt to protect a loved one from grief? This is the book jacketquestion that haunts Dr. David Henry. While his wife, Norah, is in labor with their twins, he realizes that although his son is perfectly healthy, his daughter exhibits signs of Down syndrome. Hoping to save Norah from a lifetime of hardship and sadness, he tells her that their baby girl died in childbirth. In fact, he has asked his nurse, Caroline, to take the baby away to an institution. Caroline agrees, but decides instead to raise the baby as her own. David’s act has tragic consequences for his famiy: his wife is forever plagued by the death of her daughter, his son feels that he is a disappointment to his father, and David and Norah’s marriage is cold and distant. The choice David makes was one made of out of love and concern for his wife and marriage.  Did he make the right choice?

Discussion Questions:

1) David’s history is an important factor in his decision to give his daughter up to an institution. Discuss why his past led him to take such a drastic step.

2) If Caroline disagrees with David’s decision to give Phoebe to an institution, why doesn’t she say so? Was she right to raise Phoebe as her own? Should she have told Norah the truth from the beginning?

3) Contrast Paul and Phoebe’s quality of life. How do we determine why type of life is worth living?

4) Describe the connection between Caroline and David, how does his relationship differ with Norah, his wife?

5) What do you think Norah’s reaction would have been if David had been honest with her from the beginning? How might Norah have responded to the news that she had a daughter with Down’s Syndrome? How might each of their lives have been different if David had not handed Phoebe to Caroline that fateful day?

Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky May 1, 2007

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Irène Némirovsky wrote Suite Française in 1941-1942, but did not live long enough to see it published. She and her husband, were deported to Auschwitz in 1942 and both died there.  Her daughters preserved her notebooks, but did not read them until 60 years after her death, because they feared opening themselves up to more grief. They then realized that the notebooks contained a complete manuscript. Némirovsky’s intention was to publish a collection or “suite” of five novellas, however, she only had time to complete the first two. The first novella, “Storm in June,” details the mass exodus from Paris when the Germans first began their occupation. The second novella concerns itself with the lives of the inhabitants of a small French village after the arrival of and occupation by the Germans.

Questions to consider for discussion:

1) Do you think it is possible for an author to write a balanced account of an historical event at the same time as those events are happening, as Némirovsky does in Suite Française? Do you think that she does so successfully? In what ways might the book have been different if she had survived and been able to write Suite Française years after the war?

2) Suite Française is a unique pair of novels. Which of the two parts of Suite Française do you prefer? Which structural organization did you find more effective: the short chapters and multiple focus of Storm in June, or the more restricted approach of Dolce?

3) How does Suite Française undermine the long-held view of French resistance to the German occupation?

4) How does Suite Française compare to other World War Two novels you have read? How would you compare it to the great personal documents of the war (for example, those written by Anne Frank and Victor Klemperer), or to fiction?

5) Consider Irène Némirovsky’s plan for the next part of Suite Française (in the appendix). What else do you think could happen to the characters?
 

Going Back to Bisbee by Richard Shelton April 1, 2007

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Going Back to Bisbee is the reading selection for the 2007 OneBook Arizimage of book coverona initiative.

The author, Richard Shelton, moved to Bisbee in 1958 and his book explores the rich and often turbulent history of the town and of southern Arizona generally. He describes the relationships between Mexico, Arizona,  and the Apaches and other native american tribes and groups that define the area. He also discusses the incredible natural life of southern Arizona, and what impact environmental degration has had on the native wildlife and flora.  Going Back to Bisbee won the 1992 Western States Creative Nonfiction Book Award.

Question to consider for discussion:

1. Shelton describes in great detail his observations of and relationships with some wild animals including coyotes, a snake and squirrels. He is quite friendly with the snake but squirrels become his despised enemies. How do Shelton’s relationships with animals reflect his sense of place?

2. Shelton explores ghost towns and ruins from mining and stamp mills left by nineteenth century Arizonans. His stories illustrate the changing marks that people left on the land, and lead one to wonder how will future generations view us? What kinds of enduring marks are we leaving on the land?

3. Shelton states that Arizonans have not gotten to know or love rivers very much. Do you agree with this statement? Why does he consider it miraculous that the San Pedro River still flows?

4.  Shelton describes the Apaches as treacherous throughout the book. Does he ever describe events from the Apache point of view? What do you think of his viewpoint in relation to this tribe?

5. What is your overall assessment of this book? What book would you choose for a community-wide reading initiative like OneBook AZ. Do you think it has to be a book written by an Arizona author, or set in Arizona?

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant March 1, 2007

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Even people well-acquainted with the Bible, may not be familiar with the story of Dinah. She was thRed Tente daughter of the great patriarch, Jacob, and his wife, Leah. According to the biblical tale, Dinah was “defiled” by the prince of the region, Shalem. Shalem falls in love with Dinah and attempts to negotiate a marriage deal with Jacob and the male members of his family. However, Jacob’s sons betray the conditions of the arrangement in a particularly violent way.

Anita Diamant tells this story from the perpective of the women involved, and as you can imagine, it reads as an entirely different story. It also gives us insight into the lives of women during early Biblical times.

Questions to consider for discussion:

1) Read Genesis 34 and discuss how The Red Tent changes your perspective on Dinah’s story and also on the story of Joseph that follows. Does The Red Tent raise questions about other women in the Bible? Does it make you want to re-read the Bible and imagine other untold stories that lay hidden between the lines?

2) Discuss the marital dynamics of Jacob’s family. He has four wives; compare his relationship with each woman?

3) What do you make of the relationships among the four wives? And of Dinah’s relationship with each of her “mothers”?

4) Childbearing and childbirth are central to The Red Tent. How do the fertility childbearing and birthing practices differ from contemporary life? How are they similar? How do they compare with your own experiences as a mother or father?

5) Discuss Jacob’s role as a father. Does he treat Dinah differently from his sons? Does he feel differently about her? If so, how?

6) Female relationships figure largely in The Red Tent. Discuss the importance of Inna, Tabea, Werenro, and Meryt.

7) Dinah’s point of view is often one of an outsider, an observer. What effect does this have on the narrative? What effect does this have on the reader?

The Wife by Meg Wolitzer January 31, 2007

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Joe and Joan Castleman are on their way to Helsinki. Joe is about to receive a prestigious literary prize and Joan is plotting how to leave him. Joan has played the part of adoring wife for forty years and has decided that the presentation of Joe’s award in Helsinki will be her last appearance. She is tired of living in her husband’s shadow, of supporting his achievements, while subjugating her own talents.

The Wife gives us a glimpse into the disparity between the public and private faces of marriage. Often, unions that seem to be “good” marriages, turn out to be hiding ugly truths. The author, Meg Wolitzer, tells this tale with warmth and humor. Her comic timing, lightens this otherwise, dark tale.

Questions to consider for discussion:

1) Consider the themes of gender and identity in the novel. How do you think Joan would have been received in the literary world if the books had been published under her name?

2) The reader sees Joe Castleman through Joan’s eyes, discuss the author’s portrayal of his character, do you think he is presented fairly? Does he have any redeeming features?

3) Examine the other wives who appear throughout the novel, how is Joan different from them? In what ways is she similar?

4) Does the truth behind Joe Castleman’s success make you feel disappointed in Joan’s character or do you consider her in some ways to be a feminist hero?

5) The Wife raises some interesting questions about the nature of partnership, discuss the relationship between this husband and wife, are there times in the book when you see them as a happy couple? Why do you think Joan waits so long before she decides to leave her husband?

6) Discuss the twist at the end of the novel; does Joan’s revelation come as a surprise to you? Or do you think there are points in the book where the author hints at the truth?

These is My Words by Nancy Turner November 6, 2006

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Sarah Agnes Prine is an illiterate 17-year-old at the beginning of this wild-west adventure, but she grows up to become a wise, resilient, pioneer woman. Her amazing story is revealed via diary entries that chronicle her family’s journey from the New Mexico Territory to a ranch outside of Tucson, AZ. The story is based on the real life diary of the author, Nancy Turner’s great-grandmother.

At first Sarah’s diary entries are filled with grammatical errors and misspellings as she struggles to learn to read and write. But her story is never unexciting, filled as it is with Indian attacks, amputations, snakebites, and other dangers of pioneer life. The story is no less interesting once Sarah and her family arrive in Tucson and begin to build their new life. The interaction between Sarah and Captain Jack Elliot, their wagon trade guide and her future husband, is lively and romantic. This is a must-read for all Arizonans, as well as fans of historical fiction.

Questions to consider for discussion:

1) Sarah is relentless in her quest to educate herself. Why do you think this is so? How does it change her relationships with her family and friends?

2) What is the significance of Sarah’s interest in “The Duchess of Warwick and Her Sorrow by the Sea”?

3) Sarah and her sister-in-law, Savannah are very close and yet their views on religion are very different. How is each woman sustained by their respective views on theology?

4) How did you feel when Sarah marries Jimmy? Why does she marry him? Do you think their marriage ever had a chance to succeed?

5) What makes Jack and Sarah such a perfect match? Why is their wedding gift of time pieces significant?

6) Does Sarah fit your traditional definition of a “heroine”? What characteristics about her do you like or dislike?

Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo October 3, 2006

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If you haven’t yet read a novel by Richard Russo, you must, and Nobody’s Fool is a great introduction to his engaging style. The central character is sixty-year-old Sully, a stubborn, under-employed, arthritic curmudgeon. Underneath Sully’s crusty exterior is a deeply flawed yet sympathetic man, who longs to redeem himself in the eyes of his estranged son. Sully surrounds himself with a wild cast of characters who make his eccentricities seem practically normal. And yet, these people will soon seem familiar to you and their stories are irresistible.

As you can see from the cover of the paperback edition, this novel was made into a movie with Paul Newman. Although the movie is enjoyable, it can’t match the humor and heart of the book.

Questions to consider for discussion:

1. This novel’s title, Nobody’s Fool, is a punning reference to its protagonist, Donald Sullivan, who at age 60 is “divorced from his own wife, carrying on halfheartedly with another man’s, estranged from his son, devoid of self-knowledge, badly crippled and virtually unemployable–all of which he stubbornly confuse[s] with independence.” Why is Sully so insistent on remaining nobody’s fool? How has this determination affected his relationships with other people?

2. One consequence of Sully’s prickly autonomy is his tendency to go off on “stupid streaks.” Is Sully a stupid man? How would you evaluate a freedom whose defining characteristic seems to be the freedom to do the wrong thing at the wrong time?

3. From the beginning we know that Sully has a bad knee, and his refusal to treat–or even favor–it generates many of the novel’s complications. In what ways does this injury resonate with the novel’s themes?

4. Sully’s string of misfortunes may also be due to bad luck or malign predestination. Is he destined to be unlucky? To what extent are his actions and character predetermined?

5. Sully’s father brutalized him as a child. Sully deserted his son, Peter. Peter abandoned his timid eldest son, Will, to the mercies of his sociopathic little brother. What causes does the author posit for this four-generation history of cruelty and neglect?

6. Perhaps to compensate for Sully’s brutal father, Russo supplies Sully with a very good, if somewhat sharp-tongued, surrogate mother, Beryl Peoples. She may, in fact, be the most real and enduring attachment Sully has. How does their relationship compare with Beryl’s relationship with her real son, Clive, Jr.? How is the antagonism between Clive and Sully an extension of their childhood rivalry for the affections of Beryl’s late husband?

The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich August 17, 2006

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Native American antiquities specialist Faye Travers and her mother work as estate appraisers with a specialty in Native American artifacts. While appraising the estate of John Jewett Tatro, the grandson of an Indian agent, Faye finds a ceremonial Ojibwe drum. She hears it sound even though it has not been touched and its mystical energy compels her to steal it. Drums are powerful and act as a link between the living and the spirit worlds. Faye will eventually repatriate the drum to the reservation where it belongs, but not before its tumultuous history and power is revealed.
Questions to consider for discussion:

1. How does The Painted Drum affect Faye Travers, Bernard Shaawano, Simon Jack, and Shawnee individually, and to what extent can the drum’s mystical qualities be explained by its unusual origins?

2. How significant is the wolf attack on Anaquot’s older daughter in the larger context of The Painted Drum, and why might the author have chosen to relate this event in the “story within a story” format?

3. To what extent do you agree with Faye and Elsie Travers that the theft of the drum from the Jewett Parker Tatro estate and the return of it to the Ojibwe people was an ethical decision?

4. How does the author use the theme of grief relating to the deaths of young children to connect different characters in The Painted Drum?

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane July 2, 2006

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U.S. Marshal, Teddy Daniels, is shipped off to Shutter Island to Shutter Island investigate the disappearance of a patient from a hospital for the criminally insane. He and his partner, Chuck Aule, know that it was impossible for multiple murderess, Rachel Solando, to have escaped from her highly guarded cell. At least, not without help from someone on the inside. The hospital staff seem to stonewall any of their efforts to extract information about the hospital. Their fear and confusion are magnified when a terrifying hurricane traps them on the island and Teddy becomes convinced that he is being dosed with psychotropic drugs to prevent him from unearthing the conspiracy.

This is a fast-paced psychological thriller that will leave you with even more questions once the mystery is revealed.

This novel has a surprise ending so you may want to finish reading it before reading the discussion questions.

Questions to consider for discussion:

What is the purpose of the prologue? What kind of foreshadowing does it provide and what does it reveal about Dr. Sheehan and Teddy? Did you go back and read it again after finishing the novel?

Teddy is a tough and prickly character. How then does he come to trust Chuck so easily? What experiences create a bond between them? Once Teddy encounters George Noyce at Ashecliffe, he begins to doubt Chuck’s loyalty. Why?

How much of Chuck’s story do you think is real? How much has been fabricated, and by whom? Do you think Chuck betrayed Teddy or helped him?

How much of Teddy’s history is true? Was his fear of open water born during his childhood when he discovered he could never be a fisherman like his father? Or did that fear come later after the tragedy with his wife and children?

Describe Teddy’s relationship with his wife, Dolores. What draws them together? If he is so much in love with her why can’t he see that she is about to self-destruct?

Is Teddy effective as a U.S. Marshall? Does his fascination with codes now seem childish and/or melodramatic?

Teddy’s encounter with the warden is disturbing on many levels. How does the warden’s view of the patients at Ashecliffe reflect that of society at large? Does his attitude make you feel that Dr. Cawley’s experiment was justified?

Dr. Cawley had many powerful opponents. What clues indicated that his methods of treatment were not sanctioned by many of his colleagues?

How do you feel about Dr. Cawley and Dr. Sheehan’s experiment? Was it ethical? How was it dangerous and who stood to get hurt? Was it worth the risks involved? Were they deluding themselves to think it would ever work?

Would Teddy have been better off if they had never allowed the experiment to take place? He says at one point that Dr. Cawley was the “man who’d come to save him.” Do you agree with this assessment?

The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr June 2, 2006

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Mary Karr's childhood was anything but quiet. She grew up in an oil refinery town in East Texas with a hard-drinking-but-kind father, an unbalanced, artistic mother, and a tough-as-nails sister. Karr eventually became a poet, and her chaotic childhood certainly gave her lots of ripe material about which to write. This is a side-splitting, gut-wrenching read and will leave you wondering what has happened to Karr since this memoir was published in 1995.

Questions to consider for discussion:

1) Did you empathize more with Mary's mother or father? Did your feelings change by the end of the book? If so, why?

 2) How do you think Mary was perceived by her friends and family members? What words would they use to describe her? Do you think she sees herself accurately?

3) Mary Karr's mother was a frustrated artist, and yet Mary herself managed to overcome the obstacles of a horrific home life to realize her dream of being a successful writer. Why do you think she was able to succeed where her mother was not?

4) Do you identify at all with the Karr family? Is there any aspect of their lives that has universal appeal?

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