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Reader’s Guide: The Dress Shop of Dreams

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014
RHRC: What do you love most about writing?
MVP: While I fall absolutely in love with my characters, losing myself in their stories (these are often as much a surprise to me as to anyone), most of all I love the words: the way a beautiful sentence feels on your tongue, the delightful surprise of a startling and lovely simile or metaphor. I simply love words.
RHRC: What are some of your favorite books and authors?
MVP: Magical realism has always been my favourite genre. I like to think there’s more to reality than our five senses show us. My favorite author, above all others, is probably Alice Hoffman. I love the magic in her tales, along with the acute realism of the worlds she creates. Other favorite magical-­realism authors include: Isabel Allende, Laura Esquivel, Sarah Addison Allen and Barbara O’Neal. Other favorite authors, who don’t write specifically in that genre, include: Erica Bauermeister, Maggie O’Farrell, Ann Patchett, Tracy Chevalier, Carey Wallace, Anita Shreve, Kate Morton, Anne Lamott, Anne Tyler, Neil Gaiman and Sue Monk Kidd. I’ve just finished The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields, which I found to be a beautiful book. I’m always on the look out for new authors, so if we share similar tastes and you have any recommendations, please get in touch!

9780804178983Meena Van Praag’s new novel The Dress Shop of Derams is a captivating story of enduring hopes, second chances, and the life-changing magic of true love.

Since her parents’ mysterious deaths many years ago, scientist Cora Sparks has spent her days in the safety of her university lab or at her grandmother Etta’s dress shop. Tucked away on a winding Cambridge street, Etta’s charming tiny store appears quite ordinary to passersby, but the colorfully vibrant racks of beaded silks, delicate laces, and jewel-toned velvets hold bewitching secrets: With just a few stitches from Etta’s needle, these gorgeous gowns have the power to free a woman’s deepest desires. Etta’s dearest wish is to work her magic on her granddaughter. But magic spells—like true love—can go awry,, and Etta realizes she’s set in motion a series of astonishing events that will transform Cora’s life in extraordinary and unexpected ways.

Read Random House Readers Circle’s exclusive conversation with Meena below!

Random House Reader’s Circle: What do you love most about writing?

Meena Van Praag: While I fall absolutely in love with my characters, losing myself in their stories (these are often as much a surprise to me as to anyone), most of all I love the words: the way a beautiful sentence feels on your tongue, the delightful surprise of a startling and lovely simile or metaphor. I simply love words.

RHRC: What are some of your favorite books and authors?

MVP: Magical realism has always been my favourite genre. I like to think there’s more to reality than our five senses show us. My favorite author, above all others, is probably Alice Hoffman. I love the magic in her tales, along with the acute realism of the worlds she creates. Other favorite magical-­realism authors include: Isabel Allende, Laura Esquivel, Sarah Addison Allen and Barbara O’Neal. Other favorite authors, who don’t write specifically in that genre, include: Erica Bauermeister, Maggie O’Farrell, Ann Patchett, Tracy Chevalier, Carey Wallace, Anita Shreve, Kate Morton, Anne Lamott, Anne Tyler, Neil Gaiman and Sue Monk Kidd. I’ve just finished The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields, which I found to be a beautiful book. I’m always on the look out for new authors, so if we share similar tastes and you have any recommendations, please get in touch!

[Click to read more]

Reader’s Guide: Discussion Questions for The Dress Shop of Dreams

Friday, December 12th, 2014
1. Etta’s dresses give their wearers a magic push to go after their dreams. Have you ever had an item of clothing that especially inspired you to take action that you might not have otherwise? Or perhaps someone or something gave you a push to do something that you might not have initiated on your own?
2. Why do you think Etta’s magic doesn’t work on her?
3. Cora’s father tells her the chemical formula for love is “One proton of faith, three electrons of humility, a neutron of compassion and a bond of honesty.” Do you agree? Would you add anything to this equation?
4. Dylan’s letters bring comfort to many lonely fans of the Night Reader. Do you think that justifies his duplicity?
5. Another possible title for this book was The Night Reader, after Walt and his special secret. Does it change the story for you if you think of Walt as the main character? Which of the characters do you most identify with?
6. On page 142, Cora tells her grandmother that “all the great leaps are made when a scientist thinks of something she can’t yet prove, then dedicates her life to trying.” All of the characters in this book have to make leaps of faith to get something they want. What are some examples?
7. Do you think Etta made a mistake when she decided not to tell Sebastian about their daughter? Would you have made the same decision? Are secrets inherently wrong or sometimes justifiable?
8. Should Henry have fought for Francesca even when she told him she didn’t love him anymore? Do you think she was right to send him away?
9. At the start of the novel, Cora protects herself from pain by focusing on numbers and lab work. But all of the novel’s characters have ways of hiding from their feelings. What do you think these characters are afraid of? Do you ever notice yourself or others around you strategically avoiding difficult truths?
10. As he reads, Walt notices similarities between himself and the characters in his books: he identifies with Emma in Madame Bovary, Marianne from Sense and Sensibility, and Cyrano de Bergerac. Are there other great literary figures you would compare him to? What about Etta? Cora?
11. On page 37, Etta thinks: “It’s a great shame . . . that the heart cannot feel joy without also feeling pain, that it cannot know love without also knowing loss.” Do you agree that it’s true that we cannot love without also suffering?

9780804178983


Meena Van Praag’s The Dress Shop of Dreams is a captivating novel of enduring hopes, second chances, and the life-changing magic of true love.

Since her parents’ mysterious deaths many years ago, scientist Cora Sparks has spent her days in the safety of her university lab or at her grandmother Etta’s dress shop. Tucked away on a winding Cambridge street, Etta’s charming tiny store appears quite ordinary to passersby, but the colorfully vibrant racks of beaded silks, delicate laces, and jewel-toned velvets hold bewitching secrets: With just a few stitches from Etta’s needle, these gorgeous gowns have the power to free a woman’s deepest desires. Etta’s dearest wish is to work her magic on her granddaughter. But magic spells—like true love—can go awry,, and Etta realizes she’s set in motion a series of astonishing events that will transform Cora’s life in extraordinary and unexpected ways.

Discuss this “bighearted, beautiful” novel with your book club this holiday season! (Susan Wiggs)

1. Etta’s dresses give their wearers a magic push to go after their dreams. Have you ever had an item of clothing that especially inspired you to take action that you might not have otherwise? Or perhaps someone or something gave you a push to do something that you might not have initiated on your own?

2. Why do you think Etta’s magic doesn’t work on her?

3. Cora’s father tells her the chemical formula for love is “One proton of faith, three electrons of humility, a neutron of compassion and a bond of honesty.” Do you agree? Would you add anything to this equation?

4. Dylan’s letters bring comfort to many lonely fans of the Night Reader. Do you think that justifies his duplicity?

5. Another possible title for this book was The Night Reader, after Walt and his special secret. Does it change the story for you if you think of Walt as the main character? Which of the characters do you most identify with?

6. On page 142, Cora tells her grandmother that “all the great leaps are made when a scientist thinks of something she can’t yet prove, then dedicates her life to trying.” All of the characters in this book have to make leaps of faith to get something they want. What are some examples?

7. Do you think Etta made a mistake when she decided not to tell Sebastian about their daughter? Would you have made the same decision? Are secrets inherently wrong or sometimes justifiable?

8. Should Henry have fought for Francesca even when she told him she didn’t love him anymore? Do you think she was right to send him away?

9. At the start of the novel, Cora protects herself from pain by focusing on numbers and lab work. But all of the novel’s characters have ways of hiding from their feelings. What do you think these characters are afraid of? Do you ever notice yourself or others around you strategically avoiding difficult truths?

10. As he reads, Walt notices similarities between himself and the characters in his books: he identifies with Emma in Madame Bovary, Marianne from Sense and Sensibility, and Cyrano de Bergerac. Are there other great literary figures you would compare him to? What about Etta? Cora?

11. On page 37, Etta thinks: “It’s a great shame . . . that the heart cannot feel joy without also feeling pain, that it cannot know love without also knowing loss.” Do you agree that it’s true that we cannot love without also suffering?

Reader’s Guide: The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

9780385343527

The publication ofThe Great Santini, a powerful, painful novel based on the often cruel and violent behavior of Pat Conroy’s father, Marine Corps fighter pilot Donald Patrick Conroy, brought Pat much acclaim, the rift it caused brought even more attention, fracturing an already battered family. But as Pat tenderly chronicles here, even the oldest of wounds can heal. The Death of Santiniis a heart-wrenching act of reckoning whose ultimate conclusion is that love can soften even the meanest of men, lending significance to the oft-quoted line from Pat’s novel The Prince of Tides: “In families there are no crimes beyond forgiveness.”

The moving eulogy that Pat wrote for his father is immortalized in the paperback edition of the book.

My dear friends and fellow lovers of Santini,

You have written so many letters of condolence since my father died that I’ve been overwhelmed at the task of answering them. But know this: All of them meant something, all of them moved me deeply, all were appreciated, and all were read. Don Conroy was larger than life and there was never a room he entered that he left without making his mark. At some point in his life, he passed from being merely memorable to being legendary.

[Click here to read the rest!]

Thanksgiving Recipes: Frozen Chocolate Velvet Pie from Carla Buckley

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

9780553393736This week, we’ve invited a few of our authors to share their favorite Thanksgiving recipes with you. Whether they’re family tradition or the product of a frantic internet search, we’re excited to hear and share with you what these writers have on their tables on this holiday season. Today, Carla Buckley, author of The Deepest Secret, shares a special recipe for a tasty dessert.

Every year of my childhood, my mother took on preparing Thanksgiving dinner for our family, friends, and a few lucky neighbors, a massive undertaking that spanned a full week. She was a fabulous cook and our house swam in delicious aromas. Each morning, I would wake and run into the kitchen to see what she had prepared during the night while I slept. The one thing we all waited for was her Chocolate Velvet Pie, cooling in the freezer. This is an old-time recipe, from the days when people didn’t count calories or worry about fat grams. To me, it summons back my mother, now long gone, and reminds me what Thanksgiving is all about: family, those we’re born into, and those we make.

Jacquie’s Frozen Chocolate Velvet Pie (8” pie, serves 10-12)

2 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 cups finely chopped walnuts
¼ cup white corn syrup
1 T water
1 T vanilla
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate pieces
2/3 cup chilled sweetened condensed milk
1 ½ cups heavy cream

Crust:5292388069_9659658356_m

While oven heats to 400 degrees, beat egg whites to soft peaks with salt. Gradually beat in sugar until stiff. Add nuts. Spread over bottom and up the sides of a greased pie plate. Bake twelve minutes and cool.

Filling:

Bring corn syrup and water to a boil, stirring. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla and semi-sweet chocolate pieces until melted. Let cool. Reserve 2 tablespoons, and pour the rest into a large bowl. Stir in condensed milk and heavy cream, and beat at low speed until mixture forms soft peaks. Pour into cooled shell and place in freezer until frozen. Remove and decorate with reserved chocolate to form a lattice pattern. Cover with plastic wrap and return to freezer. Keeps up to a month. Allow to soften on counter 25 minutes before serving.

Thanksgiving Recipe: Cranberry Salad from Darcie Chan

Friday, November 21st, 2014

9780345538239This week, we’ve invited a few of our authors to share Thanksgiving staples, family recipes, or dishes that somehow always make it onto their holiday tables! Today’s recipe is from Darcie Chan, author of The Mill River Recluse and The Mill River Redemption.

The beauty of this cranberry salad isn’t just in how fabulous it looks and tastes, but also in the fact that it is best prepared a day ahead of time, before the real crush of cooking gets underway.

Growing up, my mom and two sisters and I would sit around the dining room table the evening before Thanksgiving. We didn’t have an electric chopper back then, so each of us would get a knife and cutting board and start chopping up one of the main ingredients — cranberries, walnuts, celery, or apples. Inevitably, we’d get bored with the work and start telling stories and jokes, which would then degenerate into making faces across the table and otherwise acting like idiots. Once we finally had everything chopped and ready to combine, our faces and sides ached from laughing. My mom usually ended up pulping the oranges (since we hated doing that and she was best at it, anyhow) and getting everything into the pan and then the fridge. Finally, the four of us would totter off to bed, often still giggling, and always happily anticipating snitching some of the finished cranberry salad for breakfast!

Ingredients:

1 can whole berry jellied cranberry sauce
2 large boxes sugar-free cherry Jell-O
2 cups walnuts, chopped
2 apples, peeled and finely chopped
1.5 bags whole fresh cranberries, finely chopped
2 cups celery, finely chopped
Pulp of 2 large oranges

Preparation:Cranberries

Combine all ingredients except for the jellied cranberry sauce and the Jell-O in a large bowl and stir until well-mixed. Set aside.

Boil water for Jell-O. In a glass 9″ x 13″ pan, stir Jell-O powder into boiling water per instructions on the box until Jell-O is completely dissolved. Add the canned cranberry sauce to the Jell-O liquid and stir until it, too, is dissolved.

Add the combined ingredients in the bowl to the liquid in the 9″ x 13″ pan, as well as the remaining water called for in the instructions on the Jell-O box (or as much of the water as will fit in the pan) and stir gently until evenly mixed.

Place pan in refrigerator for several hours until Jell-O mixture is firm and set.

Thanksgiving Recipes: Laura McHugh’s Grandma’s Stuffing

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

This week, we’ve invited a few of our authors to share their favorite Thanksgiving recipes with you. Whether they’re family tradition or the product of a frantic internet search, we’re excited to hear and share with you what these writers have on their tables on this holiday season. Today, Laura McHugh, author of The Weight of Blood, shares her grandmother’s recipe for stuffing (my personal favorite part of Thanksgiving!).

My grandma passed away just after I graduated from college, and I’ve now lived half of my life without her. That doesn’t seem possible, as she is with me each day in a hundred small ways, andmchugh_grandma[1]especially in the kitchen: her dented measuring cup; the rolling pin with the broken handle.

Every Thanksgiving we make Grandma’s stuffing, and we do our best to get it right. She never wrote down her recipe, so we work from memory. It is a group effort. My sisters and I hover around the stove like a team of surgeons about to perform a risky operation. Our brothers stand back, requesting status updates and begging us not to screw up. We remind each other to be generous with the sage, to mix in the egg with bare hands. We fret over turkey drippings. We always think we won’t have enough bread and we always end up with too much.

When it comes out of the oven, I take a test bite, hoping that it will transport me back to my grandma’s tiny kitchen in Keokuk, Iowa, where she let us tear the bread and crack the eggs. When the stuffing turns out right, there is nothing better. We serve it with reverence, like communion wafers. We rejoice as though we have done something miraculous. We eat the scraps left on our children’s plates—they don’t quite grasp its importance. When it is right, it is more than stuffing; it is a certain kind of magic, like Grandma is still with us at the table.

Recipe: Grandma’s Stuffing

1 loaf of dried or toasted white bread

1 small onion, chopped

1 stalk of celery, chopped

2 eggs

Turkey drippings

Dried sage

Salt and peppermchugh_stuffing[1]

Tear the bread into pieces and place in a baking dish (kids love to help with this part!). Sprinkle a generous amount of sage over the bread. Cook onion and celery until tender. In a mixing bowl,combine cooked onion and celery with two beaten eggs, more sage, and a little salt and pepper. Add this to the bread and mix with your hands. Pour turkey drippings over the stuffing, adding enough to make the bread moist, but not soggy. Feel free to sprinkle on some more sage, because Grandma was right, you can never have too much. Bake approximately 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Reader’s Guide: Q&A with Laura Hillenbrand

Friday, November 14th, 2014

Unbroken MTI

Random House Reader’s Circle: Louie Zamperini is a larger-than-life figure. He enjoyed a measure of fame in his youth—both during his running career and after surviving the POW camps—but was relatively unknown in the second half of the twentieth century. How did you first learn about Louie? When did you realize there was a book in his story?
Laura Hillenbrand: My first book was about the Depression-era racehorse Seabiscuit. While working on it, I pored over 1930s newspapers. One day I was reading a 1938 clipping about the horse when I happened to turn the paper over and find a profile of a young running phenomenon named Louie Zamperini. I started reading. Louie had not yet gone to war, but his story was already so interesting that I jotted his name down in my Seabiscuit research notebook.
Later, I came across Louie’s name again, and this time I learned a little about his wartime odyssey. I was very intrigued, and when I finished writing Seabiscuit: An American Legend, I did some searching, found an address for Louie, and wrote him a letter. He wrote back, I called him, and I found myself in the most fascinating conversation of my life. He told me his story, and I was captivated.
So many elements of Louie’s saga were enthralling, but one in particular hooked me. He told of having experienced almost unimaginable abuse at the hands of his captors, yet spoke without self-pity or bitterness. In fact, he was cheerful, speaking with perfect equanimity. When he finished his story, I had one question: How can you tell of being victimized by such monstrous men, yet not express rage? His response was simple: Because I forgave them.
It was this, more than anything, that hooked me. How could this man forgive the unforgivable? In setting out to write Louie’s biography, I set out to find the answer.

Laura Hillenbrand’s #1 New York Times bestselling book, Unbroken, tells the improbable, inspiring story of Louis Zamperini, childhood delinquent, Olympic runner, and prisoner of war. This Christmas, this unforgettable testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit will premiere as a major motion picture directed by Angelina Jolie. Watch the trailer here, and read our conversation with Laura below!

Random House Reader’s Circle: Louie Zamperini is a larger-than-life figure. He enjoyed a measure of fame in his youth—both during his running career and after surviving the POW camps—but was relatively unknown in the second half of the twentieth century. How did you first learn about Louie? When did you realize there was a book in his story?

Laura Hillenbrand: My first book was about the Depression-era racehorse Seabiscuit. While working on it, I pored over 1930s newspapers. One day I was reading a 1938 clipping about the horse when I happened to turn the paper over and find a profile of a young running phenomenon named Louie Zamperini. I started reading. Louie had not yet gone to war, but his story was already so interesting that I jotted his name down in my Seabiscuit research notebook.

Later, I came across Louie’s name again, and this time I learned a little about his wartime odyssey. I was very intrigued, and when I finished writing Seabiscuit: An American Legend, I did some searching, found an address for Louie, and wrote him a letter. He wrote back, I called him, and I found myself in the most fascinating conversation of my life. He told me his story, and I was captivated.

So many elements of Louie’s saga were enthralling, but one in particular hooked me. He told of having experienced almost unimaginable abuse at the hands of his captors, yet spoke without self-pity or bitterness. In fact, he was cheerful, speaking with perfect equanimity. When he finished his story, I had one question: How can you tell of being victimized by such monstrous men, yet not express rage? His response was simple: Because I forgave them.

It was this, more than anything, that hooked me. How could this man forgive the unforgivable? In setting out to write Louie’s biography, I set out to find the answer.

Read the rest of their conversation here!

Reader’s Guide: Discussion Questions for Aimless Love by Billy Collins

Thursday, November 6th, 2014
1. Billy Collins has said, “In a poem you have the greatest imaginative freedom possible in language. You have no allegiance to plot, consistency, plausibility, character development, chronology.” Do you agree or disagree? How do you find yourself reading a book of poetry differently than you do a novel? Did you find yourself creating narrative connections between poems in Aimless Love?
2. What patterns can you identify in Collins’s writing? Are there images, subjects, or themes that you see him returning to again and again? What specific images stood out for you?
3. Collins skillfully moves between many emotional tones in his work, from light-hearted to somber, from ironic to sincere, from astonishment and wonder to remorse and grief. How does he achieve such scope in just a few lines? Find your favorite examples of poems with a range of tones.
4. When reading poetry, do you assume it is the writer speaking? Who else might it be? Discuss the role of autobiography in poetry.
5. Collins has said that in his poems he is “speaking to someone I’m trying to get to fall in love with me.” How does Collins get this idea across on the page?
6. Read “Litany.” Now read “Litany” out loud. Now listen to Collins read “Litany”: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56Iq3PbSWZY). Finally, watch three-year-old Samuel recite “Litany”: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVu4Me_n91Y). What did you hear differently? Did your own interpretation of the poem change?
7. Collins has been called “America’s favorite poet.” What do you think defines popularity in poetry? Do you perceive reading poetry as hard work? Did Aimless Love change that perception?
8. Robert Frost said, “A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.” Collins hopes that his poems “begin in Kansas and end in Oz.” What do you think each poet means? Do the two statements contradict each other?
9. Collins employs epigraphs of all kinds, including a reference from The Notebooks of Robert Frost in “The Four-Moon Planet” and a line from an article on printing in “Flock.” Did the epigraphs change your reading experience? How? In what other ways does Collins engage with poetry and other literature in his work?
10. Collins wrote his September 11–themed poem, “The Names,” when he was U.S. Poet Laureate of the United States. Do you think poetry as commemoration still serves an important role in society today?
11. Look at the Acknowledgments. Have you read any of those publications? How do you interact with poetry in your everyday life?
12. We speak of the gift of poetry. What does that mean to you? Identify three people in your life and choose a poem from Aimless Love that you would like to share with them.

9780812982671Has your book club ever discussed a book of poetry? By turns playful, ironic, and serious, Collins’s poetry captures the nuances of everyday life while leading the reader into zones of inspired wonder. In the poet’s own words, he hopes that his poems “begin in Kansas and end in Oz.” Touching on the themes of love, loss, joy, and poetry itself, these poems showcase the best work of this “poet of plenitude, irony, and Augustan grace” (The New Yorker). There is plenty to discuss in this lush collection of poems, Collins’ first in nine years. Encourage your book club to try something new, and dive headfirst into Aimless Love:

1. Billy Collins has said, “In a poem you have the greatest imaginative freedom possible in language. You have no allegiance to plot, consistency, plausibility, character development, chronology.” Do you agree or disagree? How do you find yourself reading a book of poetry differently than you do a novel? Did you find yourself creating narrative connections between poems in Aimless Love?

2. What patterns can you identify in Collins’s writing? Are there images, subjects, or themes that you see him returning to again and again? What specific images stood out for you?

3. Collins skillfully moves between many emotional tones in his work, from lighthearted to somber, from ironic to sincere, from astonishment and wonder to remorse and grief. How does he achieve such scope in just a few lines? Find your favorite examples of poems with a range of tones.

4. When reading poetry, do you assume it is the writer speaking? Who else might it be? Discuss the role of autobiography in poetry.

5. Collins has said that in his poems he is “speaking to someone I’m trying to get to fall in love with me.” How does Collins get this idea across on the page?

6. Read “Litany.” Now read “Litany” out loud. Now listen to Collins read “Litany.” Finally, watch three-year-old Samuel recite “Litany.” What did you hear differently? Did your own interpretation of the poem change?

7. Collins has been called “America’s favorite poet.” What do you think defines popularity in poetry? Do you perceive reading poetry as hard work? Did Aimless Love change that perception?

8. Robert Frost said, “A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.” Collins hopes that his poems “begin in Kansas and end in Oz.” What do you think each poet means? Do the two statements contradict each other?

9. Collins employs epigraphs of all kinds, including a reference from The Notebooks of Robert Frost in “The Four-Moon Planet” and a line from an article on printing in “Flock.” Did the epigraphs change your reading experience? How? In what other ways does Collins engage with poetry and other literature in his work?

10. Collins wrote his September 11–themed poem, “The Names,” when he was U.S. Poet Laureate of the United States. Do you think poetry as commemoration still serves an important role in society today?

11. Look at the Acknowledgments. Have you read any of those publications? How do you interact with poetry in your everyday life?

12. We speak of the gift of poetry. What does that mean to you? Identify three people in your life and choose a poem from Aimless Love that you would like to share with them.

Reader’s Guide: Discussion Questions for THE DEEPEST SECRET

Monday, October 27th, 2014
1. How do you think Melissa’s and Tyler’s involvement in the crime (Melissa as a suspect and Tyler planting evidence) impacted Eve’s actions? Would she have confessed if her children had not been involved?
2. Eve’s efforts to guard her son from light are sometimes considered excessive—by her son, her husband, and her neighbors. Notably, Eve’s determination to prevent Sophie from installing outdoor lights on her house leads to a neighborhood fight. What do you think of Eve’s protective instincts? Does she take things too far, or is she behaving as any concerned parent would?
3. At one point, Holly asks Tyler “Do you think it’s better to have dreams and lose them, or not have dreams at all?” How would you respond? What do you make of Holly and her relationship with Tyler?
4. David wants to move the family to Washington, but Eve -considers this impossible given Tyler’s condition. Is David’s desire to move selfish, or is he looking out for the family’s best interests?
5. What sacrifices does Eve make for the sake of her family? Are they necessary? Is it worth it?
6. Describe the relationship between Tyler and Eve. In the end, Tyler’s desire to protect his sister led him to make questionable choices. How are his choices similar to Eve’s? How are they different?
7. Discuss the nature of secrets. Is it human nature to keep secrets? Do our secrets define us? Is it human nature to want to know the secrets of others and to confess our own? Do you believe that all secrets eventually come to light? What is The Deepest Secret?
8. Tyler learns some surprising truths about his neighbors during his nighttime wanderings. How do people change in the moments during which they believe themselves to be alone? During unobserved moments, are people more themselves? How much of life is a performance, and to what extent are we defined by the external perceptions and behavioral expectations of others?
9. How much did you sympathize with Eve? Would you feel differently about her actions if she had not been texting at the time of the accident? What if Tyler had not been burned while playing basketball with David? Would you have felt differently about Eve’s behavior if Melissa had been the one to hit Amy?
10. How would you describe Eve’s relationship with Melissa? Melissa’s needs in her family are often viewed as secondary to Tyler’s, given his illness. How do you think this attitude impacted her psychologically? How did it affect her relationships with Tyler, Eve, and David?
11. It seems clear by the end that a number of people played some role in Amy’s death, including Charlotte, Robbie, and Eve. Who, if anyone, do you hold responsible?
12. What do you consider appropriate punishment for the driver in a hit-and-run accident? Can there ever be extenuating circumstances, such as Tyler’s condition, that justify fleeing the scene of a deadly accident? If so, what are those circumstances?
13. Toward the end of the novel, Charlotte says, “If it were my Amy—I’d have done just what Eve did.” What do you think of this statement? If you had been in Eve’s position, how would you have acted on the night of the accident? In the weeks following?
14. What did you think of the conclusion of the novel? Did it end as you expected it to? Were you satisfied?

9780553393736For fans of Jodi Picoult, Kim Edwards, and William Landay, Carla Buckley’s The Deepest Secret is part intimate family drama, part gripping page-turner, exploring the profound power of the truths we’re scared to face . . . about our marriages, our children, and ourselves. Fraught with emotional and moral choices, this book is full of juicy topics for your book club to discussion.

1. How do you think Melissa’s and Tyler’s involvement in the crime (Melissa as a suspect and Tyler planting evidence) impacted Eve’s actions? Would she have confessed if her children had not been involved?

2. Eve’s efforts to guard her son from light are sometimes considered excessive—by her son, her husband, and her neighbors. Notably, Eve’s determination to prevent Sophie from installing outdoor lights on her house leads to a neighborhood fight. What do you think of Eve’s protective instincts? Does she take things too far, or is she behaving as any concerned parent would?

3. At one point, Holly asks Tyler “Do you think it’s better to have dreams and lose them, or not have dreams at all?” How would you respond? What do you make of Holly and her relationship with Tyler?

4. David wants to move the family to Washington, but Eve -considers this impossible given Tyler’s condition. Is David’s desire to move selfish, or is he looking out for the family’s best interests?

5. What sacrifices does Eve make for the sake of her family? Are they necessary? Is it worth it?

6. Describe the relationship between Tyler and Eve. In the end, Tyler’s desire to protect his sister led him to make questionable choices. How are his choices similar to Eve’s? How are they different?

7. Discuss the nature of secrets. Is it human nature to keep secrets? Do our secrets define us? Is it human nature to want to know the secrets of others and to confess our own? Do you believe that all secrets eventually come to light? What is The Deepest Secret?

8. Tyler learns some surprising truths about his neighbors during his nighttime wanderings. How do people change in the moments during which they believe themselves to be alone? During unobserved moments, are people more themselves? How much of life is a performance, and to what extent are we defined by the external perceptions and behavioral expectations of others?

9. How much did you sympathize with Eve? Would you feel differently about her actions if she had not been texting at the time of the accident? What if Tyler had not been burned while playing basketball with David? Would you have felt differently about Eve’s behavior if Melissa had been the one to hit Amy?

10. How would you describe Eve’s relationship with Melissa? Melissa’s needs in her family are often viewed as secondary to Tyler’s, given his illness. How do you think this attitude impacted her psychologically? How did it affect her relationships with Tyler, Eve, and David?

11. It seems clear by the end that a number of people played some role in Amy’s death, including Charlotte, Robbie, and Eve. Who, if anyone, do you hold responsible?

12. What do you consider appropriate punishment for the driver in a hit-and-run accident? Can there ever be extenuating circumstances, such as Tyler’s condition, that justify fleeing the scene of a deadly accident? If so, what are those circumstances?

13. Toward the end of the novel, Charlotte says, “If it were my Amy—I’d have done just what Eve did.” What do you think of this statement? If you had been in Eve’s position, how would you have acted on the night of the accident? In the weeks following?

14. What did you think of the conclusion of the novel? Did it end as you expected it to? Were you satisfied?

Reader’s Guide: Discussion Questions for Andrew’s Brain

Friday, October 24th, 2014
1. Near the beginning of the story, Andrew says that he is indirectly responsible for Briony’s death: “indirect—not directly causal” (page 20). How might he have reasoned that he was responsible for her death? Do you agree or disagree that Andrew ultimately had a hand in it? Why?
2. Andrew switches back and forth between telling the story in the first person and telling it in the third person, sometimes describing what happened to him, sometimes describing what happened to “Andrew.” Why might he do this? Did you notice a pattern in the moments when Andrew switched from one form of narration to another?
3. In speaking to “Doc,” Andrew says, “Your field is the mind, mine is the brain” (page 14). What do you understand to be the difference between the mind and the brain, within the context of this book? Would the meaning of the title have changed for you if the book had been called Andrew’s Mind instead of Andrew’s Brain?
4. Andrew says, “What else can we do as eaters of the fruit of knowledge but biologize ourselves” (page 7)? Does the quest to “biologize ourselves” contain pitfalls or dangers? How might it relate to the tension within the story between the biology of the brain and the more intangible aspects of the mind?
5. Andrew describes the Wasatch mountains as a “mountain bureaucracy,” town rulers that negotiated the light and colonized the townspeople (page 22). Why might Andrew have decided to describe the mountains in such specific and unusual terms? How might this connect with Andrew’s later experience with a different kind of bureaucracy in Washington, D.C.?
6. When Andrew connects Briony to the brain graph machine, he says, “I saw things more intimately Briony’s than if I had seen her undressed” (page 33). What does he mean by this? What are the implications of this “cephalic-invasive” voyeurism for Andrew and Briony’s relationship?
7. Mark Twain is a recurring motif in the book. Why do you think Andrew is so drawn to Twain? Think of when Andrew refers to the “imperial outrages annotated by MT in the last years of his life” (page 54). Twain lived through a different imperialistic era in America (the late 1800s and early 1900s), but how might this resonate with “imperial outrages” in Andrew’s own lifetime?
8. Andrew describes the possibility of humans yearning for a group brain, a larger social mind: “Perhaps we long for something like the situation these other creatures have—the ants, the bees—where the thinking is outsourced” (page 123). He mentions that this kind of thinking “brings us to politics.” What does he mean by this? How might this relate specifically to his encounters in the White House later in the book? What are other instances, in the book and in real life, when humans are drawn to this kind of “group brain” phenomenon?
9. Briony seems to transform Andrew. He speaks of how “watching her lifted me into a comparable state of happiness” (page 77). How do you think Briony manages to rescue Andrew from his “cold clear emotionless pond of silence” (page 77)? What is it about her that inspires such life in him?
10. Andrew also remarks about Briony that he finds “redemption” in “the loving attentions of this girl” (page 77). Then, at the very end of the book, he describes how Mark Twain found a different kind of redemption in the world, when his children “remember this tale and laugh with love for their father” (page 200). What is similar about their two kinds of redemption? What is different?
11. How does love transform Andrew? Is it a permanent transformation, or is it temporary? Andrew describes love as “the blunt concussion that renders us insensible to despair” (page 29). He also describes the happiness that stems from love as a feeling “possibly induced by endormorphin, the brain’s opiate” (page 104). Why do you think Andrew gravitates towards physical metaphors to describe the power of love?
12. By the end of the story, how much did you trust or believe in the literal truth of what Andrew was saying? Did your attitude toward his narrative reliability change at all over the course of the novel?

“One of the things that makes [Andrew] such a terrific comic creation is that he’s both maddeningly self-delusive and scarily self-aware: He’s a fool, but he’s no innocent. . . . Andrew may not be able to enjoy his brain, but Doctorow, freely choosing to inhabit this character’s whirligig consciousness, can.”—The New York Times Book Review

9780812980981E.L. Doctorow’s latest novel, Andrew’s Brain, takes us on a radical trip into the mind of a man who, more than once, has been the inadvertent agent of disaster. Speaking from an unknown place and to an unknown interlocutor, Andrew is thinking, Andrew is talking, Andrew is telling the story of his life, his loves, and the tragedies that have led him to this place and point in time. As he peels back the layers of his strange story, we are led to question what we know about truth and memory, brain and mind, personality and fate, about one another and ourselves.

Take on the challenge of unraveling Andrew’s Brain with your book club, with the help of these handy discussion questions!

1. Near the beginning of the story, Andrew says that he is indirectly responsible for Briony’s death: “indirect—not directly causal” (page 20). How might he have reasoned that he was responsible for her death? Do you agree or disagree that Andrew ultimately had a hand in it? Why?

2. Andrew switches back and forth between telling the story in the first person and telling it in the third person, sometimes describing what happened to him, sometimes describing what happened to “Andrew.” Why might he do this? Did you notice a pattern in the moments when Andrew switched from one form of narration to another?

3. In speaking to “Doc,” Andrew says, “Your field is the mind, mine is the brain” (page 14). What do you understand to be the difference between the mind and the brain, within the context of this book? Would the meaning of the title have changed for you if the book had been called Andrew’s Mind instead of Andrew’s Brain?

4. Andrew says, “What else can we do as eaters of the fruit of knowledge but biologize ourselves” (page 7)? Does the quest to “biologize ourselves” contain pitfalls or dangers? How might it relate to the tension within the story between the biology of the brain and the more intangible aspects of the mind?

5. Andrew describes the Wasatch mountains as a “mountain bureaucracy,” town rulers that negotiated the light and colonized the townspeople (page 22). Why might Andrew have decided to describe the mountains in such specific and unusual terms? How might this connect with Andrew’s later experience with a different kind of bureaucracy in Washington, D.C.?

6. When Andrew connects Briony to the brain graph machine, he says, “I saw things more intimately Briony’s than if I had seen her undressed” (page 33). What does he mean by this? What are the implications of this “cephalic-invasive” voyeurism for Andrew and Briony’s relationship?

7. Mark Twain is a recurring motif in the book. Why do you think Andrew is so drawn to Twain? Think of when Andrew refers to the “imperial outrages annotated by MT in the last years of his life” (page 54). Twain lived through a different imperialistic era in America (the late 1800s and early 1900s), but how might this resonate with “imperial outrages” in Andrew’s own lifetime?

8. Andrew describes the possibility of humans yearning for a group brain, a larger social mind: “Perhaps we long for something like the situation these other creatures have—the ants, the bees—where the thinking is outsourced” (page 123). He mentions that this kind of thinking “brings us to politics.” What does he mean by this? How might this relate specifically to his encounters in the White House later in the book? What are other instances, in the book and in real life, when humans are drawn to this kind of “group brain” phenomenon?

9. Briony seems to transform Andrew. He speaks of how “watching her lifted me into a comparable state of happiness” (page 77). How do you think Briony manages to rescue Andrew from his “cold clear emotionless pond of silence” (page 77)? What is it about her that inspires such life in him?

10. Andrew also remarks about Briony that he finds “redemption” in “the loving attentions of this girl” (page 77). Then, at the very end of the book, he describes how Mark Twain found a different kind of redemption in the world, when his children “remember this tale and laugh with love for their father” (page 200). What is similar about their two kinds of redemption? What is different?

11. How does love transform Andrew? Is it a permanent transformation, or is it temporary? Andrew describes love as “the blunt concussion that renders us insensible to despair” (page 29). He also describes the happiness that stems from love as a feeling “possibly induced by endormorphin, the brain’s opiate” (page 104). Why do you think Andrew gravitates towards physical metaphors to describe the power of love?

12. By the end of the story, how much did you trust or believe in the literal truth of what Andrew was saying? Did your attitude toward his narrative reliability change at all over the course of the novel?

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Bertelsmann Media Worldwide