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Discussion Questions: STILL POINTS NORTH by Leigh Newman

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Newman_Still Points NorthIf you and your book club have Leigh Newman’s beautiful memoir Still Points North in the reading queue then we have the discussion questions to accompany your next meeting.

1. In the beginning, the author describes events and objects as belonging to either an “Inside” or “Outside” world. What do these divisions represent? Do the two halves ever change or overlap?

2. Leigh’s childhood is split between two very different worlds. How do you think her life would have been different if she had only grown up in Alaska, or only in Baltimore? What did the combination of these experiences give her?

3. Leigh begins Part II “The Middle of the Woods” with the memory of swimming with a dolphin family. Why do you think she chose this story as a transition to the adult part of her memoir?

4. Acquiring Leonard the dog and a more homelike new apartment represent an important life change for Leigh. What do they signify? Have you had any similar markers of transitional moments in your life?

5. Despite the belief that opposites attract, Leigh and Lawrence seem to get along because of their similarities. What does Lawrence provide for Leigh and vice versa? How does their relationship change over time?

6. Leigh insists on catching a king salmon despite her admitted indifference to the fish. Why do you think this is? What does catching a king salmon mean for Leigh and her Great Alaskan life? Have you ever done something like this?

7. Leigh and her mother have a complex relationship. What does her mom’s commitment to finding the wedding dress help Leigh understand?

8. Why is the scene in the Parisian flower shop an important moment for Leigh? What does she learn?

9. On page 125 Leigh realizes, “That’s the thing about parents…you don’t have to see them all that much to imitate them.” In what ways do the characters in this memoir imitate their parents?

10. How does Leigh’s relationship with her father transform over the course of her life? What were the most influential moments? What has she learned about her father and herself by their conversation in Chapter 15?

11. Why is Nana such an important character to Leigh? How does she compare to Leigh’s other grandmother, Maybelle? Why are both important in shaping the author’s development?

12. On page 220, Leigh wonders “how long do you have to live somewhere for it to be home?” How would you answer her question?

13. Of all the themes in the memoir—wanderlust, travel, family, home, and love in all its permutations—which did you find the most compelling? Why?

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“[Leigh] Newman has crafted a vivid exploration of a broken family. . . . Her pain will resonate strongly with readers, and she vividly brings both Alaska and Maryland to life. . . . A natural for book clubs.”—Booklist

A Letter to Book Clubs from Leigh Newman, author of STILL POINTS NORTH

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Newman_Still Points North

Dear Book Club Readers,

Growing up as a girl in Alaska, I had a dad with his own motto, one that came in handy every time our floatplane almost fell out of the sky or we ran into grizzly. “One day,” my father would say, “That bear by the cooler will make a pretty funny story.”

As with so many other things, Dad was correct. All those narrow escapes did make pretty funny stories, as well as scary and sad and drastically joyful stories—mostly because they were also about how much I loved my parents and how much they loved me, even as our family fell apart right on the spongy, mosquito-swarmed tundra.

My life changed after my mom and I left the state and I began commuting 5,000 miles between her and Dad. But what’s so wonderful about the wilderness is that you take it with you wherever you go. Nobody just forgets the ragged, unflagging desire to survive. It exists in all of us and in every kind of place and situation. It gets us off the ground every time people don’t come through or just go away, every time the house burns down or the wedding gets called off, every time we have stand there with a smile made of broken diamonds while somebody explains, “Hey, you are not going to get what you so badly wanted—sorry.”

Another of Dad’s mottos was “Don’t lose altitude.” By this, he meant, “Keep climbing that mountain, honey.” I kept climbing. So many of us do. The only problem is with weepy ding-dong on our back, the one who feels so hugely and vastly alone, even as we march onward with our fast little rigid steps.

Lately, I’m beginning to think of competency as a mother-of-pearl shell that can leave you caught in your own luminous ability to keep going no matter what.

As you read Still Points North, I’d be honored if you’d happen to think of those moments in your life where either the shell broke or you collapsed under its glittering weight—and you had finally to choose: strong or weak; stay or leave; me or my past; me or my future; me or the other-me who might never ever be unless I do the thing I’m most afraid of doing. Which is almost always to risk being both hopeless and hopeful at the same time.

Then, if you’ll send me an email (alaskaleigh@gmail.com) and tell me the story of your choice, even if you’re still making it. I’m still making mine, and I’ll probably go on making it every day of my life.

Thank you so much for making time for this book.


Leigh Newman

Bertelsmann Media Worldwide