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Reading Guide: MOTHER DAUGHTER ME by Katie Hafner

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Hafner_Mother Daughter Me Last week, Katie Hafner’s Mother Daughter Me went on sale in trade paperback. We are excited to share these questions and topics for discussion with you below.

Questions and Topics for Discussion:

1. Do you find Hafner’s mother to be a sympathetic character? Why or why not? Do you think the author herself is a sympathetic character? Why or why not?

2. Hafner often finds herself in the middle of arguments between her mother and her daughter. Do you think it was possible for her to effectively mediate, while also working out her own difficulties with her mother?

3. Money plays a significant role in the book. Discuss why money can be such a flashpoint for families. Why do you think it was a point of contention in Mother Daughter Me?

4. Objects, such as the piano, also held great emotional significance throughout. Did the piano and other gifts carry different meanings for Hafner and her mother? How did their different understandings of the symbolism of those tangible objects lead to conflict?

5. Hafner is a longtime journalist who turned to memoir writing. How do you see her skills as a journalist employed in the writing of Mother Daughter Me?

6. Memory—and the presentation of memories—can be tricky when writing memoirs. Many of Hafner’s childhood memories emerge during sessions with the therapist Lia. Others surface when she finds letters and other documents from the past. How do you think Hafner handles the reliability of her own memo- ries, especially from her early childhood? How do you think she handles the issue of memory when her recollections differ from her mother’s?

7. In its piece on Mother Daughter Me, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote of children of parents who drink, “While their parents black out and forget, they remember, and their memories, their stories, matter. More than assigning blame, this is Hafner’s point—and her memoir is a brave manifestation of it.” Do you agree with the writer? Do you think Hafner steers clear of assigning blame? To what extent do you think it is necessary make a parent confront the details of a difficult past?

8. After Hafner’s husband, Matt, dies suddenly, Hafner tells the reader, she quickly does everything wrong. Instead of waiting to make any big changes, she acts hastily and, as she admits, inappropriately. What is your opinion of Hafner’s hasty decision to make large life changes? Are you sympathetic?

9. Bob, the man Hafner starts to date during the year chronicled in the book, is an anchor of sanity and stability throughout the book. How do you think Hafner was able to let another person into her life in during this year of such chaos and tumult? What role did you see Bob playing as he entered the family?

10. Hafner discusses the difficulty that subsequent generations often have in not repeating the mistakes of their parents, especially when it comes to inflicting trauma on one’s children. Do you think Hafner succeeds in breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma that her own mother was unable to break?

11. Hafner discusses the long-term effects of divorce on children, citing Judith Wallerstein’s book The Legacy of Divorce. Why do you think she chooses to discuss divorce at such length, when alcohol might seem to be the bigger problem?

12. Hafner’s father comes off as a complex, much-loved, but muted character in the book. Why do you think Hafner chose to keep him in the background of the narrative?

13. Do you think Hafner has created a balanced view of herself and her mother? Was she even in a position to do so? Are there examples of why or why not?

14. Why do you think the author’s sister had a life that was so deeply troubled, while Hafner herself, despite coming from the same background, was able to make different, healthier choices earlier in life?

15. Despite being in many ways a typical, occasionally difficult teenager, Zoë also shows herself to be surprisingly adult and insightful at times. What role do you think she plays in the choices that Hafner makes once Zoë’s grandmother comes to live with them?

16. Hafner describes in detail her relationship with her daughter, and the fierce attachment between the two. What do you think drew them so close? Does their bond add to the challenges they faced that year?

17. The mother-daughter relationship is inherently complicated, which Hafner makes very clear in the book. What are your thoughts on what makes the mother-daughter bond so complex, and often so fraught?

18. Toward the end of the book, Hafner states that instead of feeling the need to act as the constant pleaser and appeaser, she can finally “have relationships with all of the people that I love without having to connect the dots between them.” Does this insight seem like a good life lesson? Is there a contradiction in loving two people while knowing they may never reconcile? How does Hafner confront this question?

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Rachel Bertsche’s MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

MWF Seeking BFFI couldn’t put it down.” – Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of The Happiness Project

When Rachel Bertsche first moves to Chicago, she’s thrilled to finally share a zip code, let alone an apartment, with her boyfriend. But shortly after getting married, Bertsche realizes that her new life is missing one thing: friends. Sure, she has plenty of BFFs—in New York and San Francisco and Boston and Washington, D.C. Still, in her adopted hometown, there’s no one to call at the last minute for girl talk over brunch or a reality-TV marathon over a bottle of wine. Taking matters into her own hands, Bertsche develops a plan: She’ll go on fifty-two friend-dates, one per week for a year, in hopes of meeting her new Best Friend Forever.

In her thought-provoking, uproarious memoir, Bertsche blends the story of her girl-dates (whom she meets everywhere from improv class to friend rental websites) with the latest social research to examine how difficult—and hilariously awkward—it is to make new friends as an adult. In a time when women will happily announce they need a man but are embarrassed to admit they need a BFF, Bertsche uncovers the reality that no matter how great your love life is, you’ve gotta have friends.

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Discuss George Bishop’s debut novel LETTER TO MY DAUGHTER

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Letter to My DaughterLetter to My Daughter is a heart-wrenching novel of mothers, daughters, and the lessons we all learn when we come of age. The below questions are intended to enhance your book group’s discussion of this absorbing and affirming debut novel.

1. Many readers have commented on the fact that the narrator of the story, Laura Jenkins, is a woman, but the author of the book, George Bishop, is a man.  Does this strike you as surprising?  How well do you think Bishop captures a woman’s voice?

2. Laura writes to her daughter that she wants to “write down in a letter everything I’ve always meant to tell you but never have.”  Do you think she’s wise to “tell it all”?  Or are there limits on how much parents should tell their children about their own childhood mistakes?

3. Letters play an important role in the novel.  There are the letters that Laura exchanges with Tim, there’s The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and, of course, there’s the letter that Laura writes to her daughter.  What is an important letter that you’ve written or received?  Do you agree with Laura that letter writing is an “archaic” practice?

4. How would you characterize Laura’s relationship with her daughter Elizabeth?  How well do you think she really knows her daughter?

5. Generally, do you find Laura to be a “reliable” narrator?  Are there times in her narration where you think she could be mistaken in her understanding of events?

6. Growing up in the South in the early 1970s, Laura confronts issues of race and class.  For example, her parents look down on both Cajuns and black people, and at Sacred Heart Academy, Laura feels like a “charity case” compared to her relatively well-off classmates.  Do you think Laura’s daughter Elizabeth is likely to face similar problems as a teenager?

7. While writing her letter, Laura draws parallels between the Vietnam War and the war in Iraq that she sees on TV.  What are the parallels she sees?  Do you think she’s justified in drawing these parallels?

8. Laura finds a sympathetic teacher at the school in Sister Mary Margaret. How is “Sister M&M” different from the other nuns?   Do you think she behaved appropriately in passing letters between Laura and Tim?

9. Laura describes her friends at Sacred Heart Academy as “the charity cases.”  Is this a fair description of them?  What makes them charity cases?

10. Laura writes that as adults, “We’re not a whole lot smarter than we were when we were fifteen . . .Often, we don’t know what the hell we’re doing.”  Do you agree?  Does the adult Laura seem wiser than she was at fifteen?

11. We only meet Laura’s husband occasionally in the novel. What can you tell about their relationship from their interactions?  Do you think theirs is a good marriage?  Why or why not?

12. Tattoos play an important part in the novel.  Take a survey of your reading group:  Do any of your members have tattoos?  What are the stories behind their tattoos?  Would you allow your children to tattoo their body? Do you feel tattoos are a legitamate form of personal expression?

13. Laura tries to understand her parents’ apparently racist and cruel behavior by saying, “Maybe they were doing the best they could.”  Considering the time, their age, and their environment, are her parents’ behaviors pardonable?  Or not?

14. We learn little about Laura’s life after high school.  With your group, try to imagine Laura’s life after high school.  What was she like as a college student?  How did she meet her husband?  Did she, or does she now, have a career?  If so, what is it?

15. Think of three questions you would ask Laura if she was a guest in your reading group.

16. Now, imagine Laura’s answers.

17. At the end of her letter, Laura writes, “We survived.  The scarred ones.  The lucky ones. What does she mean by this?

18. What happens, exactly, at the end of the novel?  Did you find the ending satisfactory? Why do you think the author chose to end the novel as he did? And what do you think happens immediately after the end of the novel?

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