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Posts Tagged ‘literary fiction’

A Letter From the Author: Rowan Coleman on The Day We Met

Monday, April 6th, 2015

Rowan Coleman Day We Met coverThe name of your first-born. The face of your lover. Your age. Your address…

What would happen if your memory of these began to fade?

Is it possible to rebuild your life? Raise a family? Fall in love again?When Claire starts to write her Memory Book, she already knows that this scrapbook of mementoes will soon be all her daughters and husband have of her. In her mid-40s, Claire is scared and increasingly confused by the world around her, struggling to hold onto her identity as thoughts of her mother, her daughters, and her husband grow fuzzier every day. Fearing what will happen if those memories fade altogether, her family’s gift of a red sketchpad is her most treasured possession. As they fill it with scenes from a joyous life lived together, Claire again experiences the ecstatic highs and terrible lows of a life well lived: full of heartbreak and love, tears and laughter.

 
 
Here is a letter from the author, Rowan Coleman, describing what this book means to her.


A Note From the Author

About three years ago I was sitting at my desk in my office, looking out the window, thinking about a dream I’d had years ago. It’s a very long story, but I first met my now husband, Adam, when we were both twelve, starting a new school at the same time. I fell in love with him at first sight, I actually did, just like they talk about in movies and books.

Years went by, years of nothing much happening between us (well, we were only twelve) and then around the age of sixteen there was a romance, and there continued to be on and off again for the next twenty-five years. But we never did quite get it together; something, maybe fate, would always conspire to keep us apart. Around fourteen years ago, after a really long time without seeing or hearing from Adam, and believing that that door was finally shut for good, I woke up from a dream so strong and so powerful that I had to check that it wasn’t real. I’d dreamed that I’d married him. I dreamed that a few years earlier, when we had been together, we’d run away and gotten married. And then things fell apart again. My head knew that that had never happened, we had never gotten married, but my heart believed it. My heart remembered how I felt about him, and how I always have felt about him, and it wouldn’t let that feeling go.

Another ten years would go by between that dream and finding him, quite by chance, again. This time we would not be parted, and four years ago we were married at last.

So as I sat in my office and thought about that dream, I thought about how even when life changes everything, everything around you, some things are so indelibly printed on your soul that they never go away. Love will always remain, whether you want it to or not. And that thought, that memory, was the very first inkling of the idea that would become The Day We Met.

There was another incident too: a few years earlier I almost lost my mother. My mum is an amazing woman; she was married in the fifties and was raised to be a wife and mother. For twenty-eight years that was what she did—until my dad left us. Mum had no choice but to change completely, change everything she knew. Battling grief and loss, she went out and got a job, supported my brother and me, and guided us single-handedly into adulthood. My mum brought me up to be strong and independent, to always try my best, to never give up, to believe that my gender would never prevent me from doing anything I chose to do. She encouraged me to take the chances that she never had, and she taught me how to be a mother. So when over a period of years she became increasingly ill, forgetful, and uncoordinated, with a severity that increased in slight but devastating increments, my brother and I feared the worst. She was diagnosed with high blood pressure, with having most likely suffered transient ischemic attacks (sometimes described as mini-strokes), but that never really felt right to me. I saw her change; I saw her personality descend into depression. There would be attacks when she didn’t know us, when she forgot that a friend had died and would insist on ringing his wife at three in the morning to prove that I was an “evil liar.” It was hard, and although she wasn’t even seventy, I believed that the relentlessly cruel disease of dementia was taking a grip on her and taking her away from me. Then one Christmas she became so ill that she was rushed (against her will) to hospital. They were on the point of sending her home, deciding she had overeaten, when I insisted on a CT scan. They discovered that there was a large cyst in her brain, and she was at once rushed to another hospital, where the cyst that was putting enormous pressure on her brain was drained. I will never forget walking into her hospital room just hours after the operation: my mum, the woman I loved and admired, was sitting up in bed, talking and laughing. I had my mum back, and I thank God for it every day since. But it didn’t stop me from thinking about dementia and Alzheimer’s and how this devastating disease is so little understood, and I knew that one day I wanted to write a book about it as best as I could—a book that would somehow open up the mind of a sufferer and show it to the world.

Well, on that day that I remembered my dream about Adam, these two ideas collided, and Claire was born. Several months of research, writing, and rewriting followed, and I found myself pouring my own memories into The Day We Met. Claire’s red wedding dress is my red wedding dress. Claire and Caitlin’s dance to Rhapsody in Blue actually happened when I was a girl. My mum sends me newspaper clippings every week. (Even though I see her in person more than once a week!) I watched my little girl dance and sing solo in the school play full of fear and anxiety and then relief as she came into her own and showed me a strength I never knew she had. Those are some of my memories that are in the book, and there are others too.

So, sometimes when you are working on a novel, there occurs, so rarely, a kind of alchemy that produces from a jumble of words and ideas, thoughts and emotions, something precious. And that’s how I feel about The Day We Met. I hope you do too.

—Rowan Coleman

Discussion Questions: Remember Me Like This

Monday, February 9th, 2015

Remember Me Like This TR coverFour years have passed since Justin Campbell’s disappearance, a tragedy that rocked the small town of Southport, Texas. Did he run away? Was he kidnapped? Did he drown in the bay? As the Campbells search for answers, they struggle to hold what’s left of their family together.

Here are some discussion questions below to guide your book club,
 
 


1. Remember Me Like This is rendered from the perspectives of various characters, but never Justin’s. Why do you think Johnston decided not to include his point of view? What do the alternating perspectives do for the story?

2. The novel opens with a body floating facedown in the ship channel, then flashes back and shows the events that led up to the discovery. Who did you think was in the water at first and why? Did your feelings change throughout the book?

3. The novel opens with a body floating facedown in the ship channel, then flashes back and shows the events that led up to the discovery. Who did you think was in the water at first and why? Did your feelings change throughout the book?

4. The novel takes place during a humid summer in South Texas, and Johnston asks the reader to pay a lot of attention to the heat and weather. How does this setting relate to the themes of the book?

5. Early in the novel, the reader learns that Cecil believes love can be shown through not disclosing what you know. Do you agree with him? What role do secrets play in the book?

6. Are Eric and Laura good parents? In what ways do their actions support or undermine each other’s? What would you have done differently in their shoes?

7. Each of the Campbells seeks different kinds of shelter in the book: Eric is involved in an extramarital affair; Laura spends much of her time volunteering at Marine Lab; Griffin devotes most of his energy to skateboarding and Fiona; and Cecil retreats deeper into the grooves of his life. What do these shelters offer the characters? What do the shelters reveal about them? Do the shelters hold up?

8. Most of the novel takes place in Southport, a small coastal town with a tightly knit community. How does that sense of closeness and isolation play into the story? How does the realization that, geographically, Justin was never that far away affect the Campbells?

9. Which character do you identify with the most and why?

10. In your own family, do you think you’re more like Eric or more like Laura?

11. Had Cecil’s plan worked, what do you think he would have done with Buford? Did you believe the story he tells Eric about taking Buford into Mexico? Did he ever intend to include Eric in the plan? Why does he decide against including him?

12. Do you think Buford’s father is being honest with Cecil about just wanting one last day on the water with his family? Why or why not?

13. The novel ends with Eric imagining what might have happened to Buford. What do you think happened to Buford? Do you think Laura had anything to do with it?

14. Where do you imagine each of the Campbells in a year? In five years? In ten?


Reader’s Guide: A WEDDING IN PROVENCE by Ellen Sussman

Friday, July 25th, 2014

Sussman_Wedding in Provence“Utterly charming and wildly romantic.”—Christina Baker Kline, New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train

…And that’s just one bit of praise about this summer’s romantic feast for the senses. A Wedding in Provence by Ellen Sussman

When Olivia and Brody drive up to their friend’s idyllic inn—nestled in a valley in the Mediterranean town of Cassis—they know they’ve chosen the perfect spot for their wedding. The ceremony will be held in the lush garden, and the reception will be a small party of only their closest family and friends. But when Olivia and Brody’s guests check in, their peaceful wedding weekend is quickly thrown off balance.

If this is on your reading list, then we hope you’ll check out these questions and topics for discussion from your friends at Random House Reader’s Circle. Happy Reading!

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. A Wedding in Provence starts by introducing a happy couple on the way to their idyllic wedding. How did this affect your expectations for the book? Were you nervous about how events would unravel?

2. Nell is clearly a loose cannon. What were your initial thoughts when she decided to bring Gavin to the wedding? Did you think he was dangerous, or just a fun-loving, spontaneous stranger?

3. Were you surprised when Carly took off with Gavin? Why or why not?

4. In many ways Carly is Nell’s opposite, but the two sisters end up attracted to the same man, however briefly. Is it possible that they aren’t actually as different as they seem? Do you think they share any other qualities?

5. At the beginning of Chapter Sixteen Olivia and Emily are discussing Nell’s vulnerability. Was Emily’s advice to Olivia helpful? How would you have suggested Olivia manage her daughters’ differences?

6. After learning that Sebastien cheated on Emily, Olivia is clearly rattled. She says “We’re brave old fools…. We still choose love when we know everything that can happen,” (pg.19). Do you think a marriage can survive infidelity?

7. What did you think of Sam leaving Fanny after fifty-five years of marriage and refusing to come to Brody’s wedding? Were you surprised when you found out why?

8. Throughout the novel Olivia and Brody are faced with numerous obstacles that threaten to ruin their low-key wedding weekend. From Nell’s surprise guest, to Carly’s disappearance, to Sebastien’s infidelity, which do you think caused the biggest stir? Why?

9. Of all the characters in the novel, which one did you most sympathize with?

10. Even though Olivia’s big day is the backbone of the plot, the narrative rotates between her perspective and each of her daughters’. Was there ever a time when you felt drawn to one of the three points of view more than the others? If so, when and why?

11. As Olivia and Brody get ready to commit to marriage, they witness their friends and family struggling with relationships. Is their love tested by these struggles? Do you think it’s hard to say yes to love when we know everything that might go wrong in a marriage?

12. Of all the themes present in this novel – love, loss, starting fresh – which resonated with you the most? Why?

Stay connected with Ellen on Facebook and Twitter!

Reader’s Guide: & SONS by David Gilbert

Monday, May 19th, 2014

Gilbert_AndSons Wouldn’t it be great if David Gilbert, author of & Sons, could join your book club meeting? With these Random House Reader’s Circle discussion questions written by David, it feels like he is there chatting about the book with you! So, if you are planning the next book club discussion then have no fear- David Gilbert has expert questions and topics to facilitate what is sure to be a robust meeting!

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. First of all, thank you for reading the book. Want to get that out of the way. A big thanks. One of the scariest things a person can tell me is “Oh, hey, I’m reading your book.” It makes me want to crawl directly into the nearest hole. Funny choice of career. Here I’ve published a book with a big-time publisher—dream come true— and the knowledge that someone might actually read my book makes me cringe to the point of splitting in two. I’m cringing now. The other scary thing you can tell me is “Oh, hey, I read your book,” particularly if you tweak the verb with a raised eyebrow, like a hairy umlaut. I might smile in return and say, Oh Great, that’s great, but in reality I’m performing a private Seppuku ceremony, a thousand doubts the blade. Anyway, discuss vis-à-vis A. N. Dyer and ask yourself, “Why would anyone want to be a writer?”

2. It took me six years to write this book, which seems a ridiculous amount of time. I mean, it’s a kind of a long book, but six years long? At best three years, maybe three and a half while also maintaining a full-time gig with Doctors Without Borders. Now A. N. Dyer hasn’t written a truly new book in something like twenty years (forgive the vagueness, but it’s been a year since I actually read this book). Why do you think he’s stopped writing? I have my ideas, obviously. I think it has something to do with the breakup of his marriage—duh—but also with the birth of his third son, the young Andy. Has this boy perhaps taken on the role of fiction? What is Andy’s relationship with fiction in terms of his relationship with his father? Did I just answer my own question? I don’t think I’m very good at this.

3. You know when you go to the theater and you read the Playbill and there are those bios for the actors and the director and the playwright (I love reading those bios)? Did you know that those bios are actually written by the actors and the director and the playwright? You probably did, but for some reason I didn’t, or not until maybe ten years ago. I just assumed there was a national bio database, very official, probably housed in a suburb of D.C., that fact-checked and sourced and confirmed all this professional information. Yes, yes, Patty St. John did indeed play Fastrada in the Tacoma Players’ 2007 production of Pippin. It wasn’t until I started seeing those personalized messages that suddenly became popular—“Ms. St. John would like to express her gratitude to her Chihuahua Chekhov for teach- ing her how to be human”—that I realized, Wait a sec, these things are actually self-constructed. At first I was shocked. It seemed dubious. And kind of braggy too. How much of this is truly true? But then I found myself digging into these credits, not only to suss out a career but also to suss out a person, and suddenly a deeper appreciation began to emerge from those handmade bios. A trajectory. I mean, how do we compose our lives for public consumption? What do we say? And where are the divergences, the betraying tells? Who is composing who? Or is it whom? And does David Gilbert live in New York City or does he live in Brooklyn or in Queens? Is that a question?

4. I don’t normally like books about writers. A writer writing about a writer writing, well, that sentence alone is tedious. I want to read about someone who does something. Like I wish someone would write the great American novel about scuba diving. That would be cool. Shipwrecks. Sharks. Those giant clams and your foot is suddenly caught. There has to be treasure too. We as a nation deserve a fabulous piece of scuba diving literature. But another book about a writer? And an old privileged white male writer at that? I almost feel as if I should apologize. That said, what interested me was the tension between fiction and life and how we twist our own stories to suit our will. I remember in fifth-grade English class the teacher mentioning in Huck Finn the theme of Appearance Versus Reality, underlined twice on the chalkboard, and I was blown away by the notion—yes, yes, appearance versus reality! It was my Matrix moment. My teenage anthem. Like Jake with Chinatown, it explained all things without explaining a thing. It is, after all, the mother of all themes and introduces by far the most interesting element of any decent piece of writing, the subtext. So: What is the subtext of & Sons? Sorry, that’s a terrible question.

5. Okay, how about this: Who is telling the story? And how is he telling the story? Is this an act of autobiography or an act of fiction, and is there a difference between the two? I mean, we have the one narrator and then we have each chapter divided into three separate character-driven parts (and here I have to acknowledge Richard Powers since I essentially stole that structure from him—a really useful structure by the way, if you’re ever looking for structure— and Philip Roth’s Zuckerman books in the way Zuckerman jumps into other people’s heads yet always remains distinctly individual). I guess the question is: How good a writer is Philip Topping? Also, a follow-up: What writer is the biographer of your life? (For me, it’s Charles Schulz.)

6. Why all the Wizard of Oz allusions? Seriously. I think a lot of readers assume that the writer has relative control of his/her text, but I can tell you that that simply is not true. I mean, that’s not true either, and no need to bring up Derrida or any of the deconstructionists, please God no, though during the eighties I used to say Paul-De-Man instead of You’re Da Man (and got just as many laughs), but in all seriousness, I wrote a draft of this book and looked over it and saw all of these Wizard of Oz references, which I then burnished since it seemed so odd and unexpected and must mean something. So tell me about Dorothy. And Kansas and Oz. Who is the Wicked Witch?

7. Is this tedious?

8. Why did I write this book? Finally, a question for me. I wrote this book because I have a son and a father and I myself am a son and a father and this funhouse mirror effect has been interesting, to say the least. Raising children is an act of love as well as an act of fiction in which the characters slowly free themselves from the supposed author. I remember being scared about having a boy. There seemed so much pressure involved. How would I teach someone how to be a man when I had no idea how to be a man myself? My own father is a wonderful guy, very impressive, an intimidating figure to me when I was growing up, as well as bit distant. He himself was the product of a strict family, raised by a stepfather after his own father’s early death. Anyway, my dad had a successful career in banking, and I remember when I was in my early thirties and just starting my own family, I was at an event and my father had to get up and say a few words and he was as always confident and charming, a commanding presence, and this old friend of his was sitting next to me and she leaned over and said, “It really is amazing, seeing your dad in these situations, so comfortable and at ease, considering how painfully shy he was as a boy. I mean, he could barely look you in the eye and had a bit of stammer. Amazing, the transformation.” Now this surprised me. I’ve always known him as a reserved and self-contained man, a bit unknowable, but never as a shy and awkward boy, and so I remember imagining: What if I could meet him when he was younger, say seventeen? How would my impressions change? That was the impetus behind & Sons. Hence this follow-up question: What if you could meet your father when he was five, or ten, or fifteen, at the height of his vulnerability? How would your feelings for the man change? We all reinvent ourselves with our children.

9. Let’s talk about the book within the book, Ampersand. Go ahead, I’m listening.

10. Okay, the women in the book—I know, what women? But hey, the book’s called & Sons, what did you expect? That said, there are women, in particular Isabel Dyer and Eleanor Topping, and they do play their part. How do these women function within this world of boys (notice I didn’t use the word men)? Does it ring true? I really wanted to make Richard’s wife, Candy, a bigger character and there was a scene in an early outline where she bonded with A. N. Dyer (much to the frustration of Richard), but I couldn’t quite find the narrative space for its inclusion. I’m curious, did I get away with my impersonation of Alice Munro in that Isabel chapter? I’m a fan of her stories and I loved trying to write in her particular style, not just overtly but covertly (and setting some action on a train). That said, is there a deeper purpose to my impersonation? What does it say about the fluid nature of authorship?

11. The novel has a prologue and an epilogue, though thankfully not tagged as prologue and epilogue since I myself always skip prologues and epilogues. I’ve never understood their purpose. Just start the book and end the book. I’ve never read a prologue and said, “Wow, now that’s a great prologue.” And an epilogue is like that awkward encounter with a friend after you say goodbye and depart down the street in the same direction. “Oh, yeah, hey [awkward laugh].” That said, I am guilty of writing a prologue and epilogue (italicized, no less). For me to stoop to this shame, there must be a reason . . . I hope.

12. Does Phillip Topping work as a narrator? I mean, yeah, he’s kind of unreliable, (unreliable narrator is like Subtext 101), but do you believe him? I know, I know, I just said he’s unreliable, but how much of what he says is believable? The same with A. N. Dyer. I know, I know, A. N. Dyer is being filtered through Phillip, his big- gest fan, who at the same time is trying to channel A. N. Dyer—so many layers of fiction. I guess the question is: Who is the dog and who is the tail?

13. Do you like the letters? Regardless, they look great. The Random House interior designers did an incredible job to create that sense of reality. That was very important to me, to maintain a tight grip on the real, just like all the locations in New York and beyond are very real places, the same with the schools. That reality was key. Why do you think I cared so much? Sometimes I think of A. N. Dyer as a spider who has spun his web in the corner of these realities, a beautiful and intricate construction, lovely to behold, and not once does he think of the poor creatures who blindly fly into these traps and find themselves stuck and immobilized, a sudden character in one of his dramas. What stories do you tell yourself about your own life that you know are untrue, those exaggerations that have become fact? How much of who we are is what we steal? And if fiction can bring a family together, do we care about the truth?

14. If you called someone up and told them to come find you in front of your favorite work of art, where would you be standing?

15. With Richard in the beginning, when he’s at the movie studio and feels as if his dreams are about to come true, Richard playing the fantasy forward and then discovering, too late for his ego, that he has misread the situation, can you relate to this mortifying situation? I certainly can. I once thought a girl was madly in love with me but actually she was in love with my best friend— wait, is that me or a movie I saw? How much of our memory is collage? games interest you? If they do, play on.

17. When I started & Sons I wrote a single word on a Post-it note and stuck it to the wall in front of my desk. What was that word? Five dollars to anyone who guesses right.

Have more to say about the book? Connect with David Gilbert on Facebook and Twitter!

Reader’s Guide: REMEMBER ME LIKE THIS by Bret Anthony Johnston

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

Johnston_ THIS ONE_ RMLTBret Anthony Johnston is the author of the award-winning Corpus Christi: Stories. This month, his debut novel, Remember Me Like This, hits bookshelves and this is one you must read! This gripping novel has the pace of a thriller but the nuanced characterization and deep empathy of some of the literary canon’s most beloved novels. It introduces Bret Anthony Johnston as one of the most gifted storytellers writing today.

Random House Reader’s Circle has exclusive book club discussion questions to share with you today! If you and your book club are planning a discussion of this novel, be sure to take a look at the below! And, stay up to date with the author on his Facebook page.

Questions and Topics for Discussion:

1. Remember Me Like This is rendered through the perspectives of various characters, but never Justin’s. Why do you think Johnston decided not to include his point-of-view? What did the alternating perspectives do for the story?

2. The novel opens with a body floating facedown in the ship channel, then flashes back and shows the events that led up to the discovery. Which character did you think was in the water at first and why? Did your feelings change throughout the book?

3. Johnston alludes to the abuse that Justin endured during his “away life,” but a definitive answer of what he suffered is never offered. Why would he leave that information out?

4. The novel takes place over a hot summer in South Texas and Johnston asks the reader to pay a lot of attention to the heat and weather. How might these choices relate to the themes of the book?

5. What are the themes of Remember Me Like This?

6. Most of the characters have at least one significant secret in the novel. What role do secrets play in the book? Early in the novel, the reader learns that Cecil believes love can be shown through not disclosing what you know. Do you agree with him?

7. Are Eric and Laura good parents? Why or why not?

8. Each of the Campbells seeks different kinds of shelter in the book: Eric is involved in an extra-marital affair; Laura spends much of her time volunteering at Marine Lab; Griffin devotes most of his energy to skateboarding and Fiona; and Cecil retreats deeper into the grooves of his life. What do these shelters offer them? What do the shelters reveal about the characters? Do the shelters hold up?

9. Most of the novel takes place in Southport, a small coastal town, and on Mustang Island. Discuss the role of place in the story? Does the isolation of the landscape relate in any way to the characters? If so, how?

10. Which character do you identify with the most and why?

11. If you are a parent, which parent most resembles you in the novel?

12. Had Cecil’s plan worked, what do you think he would have done with Buford? Do you believe the story he told Eric about taking Buford into Mexico? Did he ever intend to include Eric in the plan? Why does he decide against including him?

13. Do you think Buford’s father was being honest with Cecil about just wanting one last day on the water with his family?

14. The novel ends with Eric imagining what might have happened to Buford. What do you think happened to Buford? Do you think Laura had anything to do with it?

15. Where you do you imagine each of the Campbells in a year? In five years? In ten?

Sweepstakes Opportunity: Enter for a Chance to Win THE DINNER by Herman Koch

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Koch_The Dinner Certain appetites run in the family.

Since its publication last year, THE DINNER has become an internationally bestselling phenomenon. It’s the darkly suspenseful, highly controversial tale of two families struggling to make the hardest decision of their lives over the course of one meal—and it’s out now in paperback.

On a summer’s evening in Amsterdam, two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. At first, the conversation is a gentle hum of small talk—the banality of work, the latest movies they’ve seen. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened. Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act, one that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children, and as civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple shows just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love. Tautly written, incredibly gripping, and told by an unforgettable narrator, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.

The New York Times Book Review calls THE DINNER “a clever, dark confection,” and Gillian Flynn raves, “The Dinner begins with drinks and dark satire, and goes stealthily and hauntingly from there. It’s chilling, nasty, smart, shocking and unputdownable.”

Reading Guide: ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT by Erich Maria Remarque

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

Remarque_AllQuiet This month we are revisiting one of the greatest war novels of all time. Erich Maria Remarque’s masterpiece, All Quiet on the Western Front, is reissued in trade paperback. If you or your book club are looking for great literary fiction this fall, then look no further because Random House Reader’s Circle has the exclusive book club materials to get your discussion going.

“The world has a great writer in Erich Maria Remarque. He is a craftsman of unquestionably first rank, a man who can bend language to his will. Whether he writes of men or of inanimate nature, his touch is sensitive, firm, and sure.”—The New York Times Book Review

Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Kantorek the schoolmaster convinced Paul Bäumer and all his schoolmates to enlist, but Paul’s actual wartime experiences prove to be very different than expected. What effect do you think this had on Paul’s faith in the adult world?

2. As their comrade Kemmerich lies dying in the infirmary, Paul and the other soldiers gather around him to offer encouragement and comfort. But they’re also very concerned about who will get Kemmerich’s boots once he dies. What is the significance of this?

3. Paul muses: We were eighteen and had begun to love life and the world; and we had to shoot it to pieces. What makes this so poignant?

4. What did you make of Himmelstoss’s treatment of the soldiers, and vice versa? How did Paul’s opinion of him change over time?

5. Paul imagines that even being back in the time and place of his happiest memories would be like gazing at the photograph of a dead comrade. Those are his features, it is his face, and the days we spend together take on a mournful life in memory; but the man himself it is not. What did you make of his alienation?

6. When Paul is caught in a trench with a soldier from the other side, he wants to help the man’s family after the war. But later, back among his comrades, he says: “It was only because I had to lie there with him so long . . . After all, war is war.” What does he mean by this?

7. What do you think Paul and his friends hoped to gain on their visits to the French women across the canal? Why is he so disappointed when he realizes that his brunette companion is unimpressed by the fact that she’ll never see him again?

8. Paul’s descriptions of the Russian prisoners of war show evidence of compassion. How have Paul’s attitudes towards the enemy changed over the course of the book?

9. What did you think of the ending?

10. Remarque’s second novel, The Road Back, is about veterans in postwar Germany. If Paul had not died, how do you imagine he would have dealt with the postwar world?

11. A hundred years after WWI, what has changed? What has stayed the same?

12. What do you think Remarque was ultimately trying to say about war?

Giveaway Opportunity: A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

Dee_A Thousand Pardons “A Thousand Pardons is that rare thing: a genuine literary thriller. Eerily suspenseful and packed with dramatic event, it also offers a trenchant, hilarious portrait of our collective longing for authenticity in these overmediated times.”—Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad

In this sharply observed tale of self-invention and public scandal, Dee raises a trenchant question: what do we really want when we ask for forgiveness?

Once a privileged and loving couple, the Armsteads have now reached a breaking point. Ben, a partner in a prestigious law firm, has become unpredictable at work and withdrawn at home—a change that weighs heavily on his wife, Helen, and their preteen daughter, Sara. Then, in one afternoon, Ben’s recklessness takes an alarming turn, and everything the Armsteads have built together unravels, swiftly and spectacularly.

Thrust back into the working world, Helen finds a job in public relations and relocates with Sara from their home in upstate New York to an apartment in Manhattan. There, Helen discovers she has a rare gift, indispensable in the world of image control: She can convince arrogant men to admit their mistakes, spinning crises into second chances. Yet redemption is more easily granted in her professional life than in her personal one.

As she is confronted with the biggest case of her career, the fallout from her marriage, and Sara’s increasingly distant behavior, Helen must face the limits of accountability and her own capacity for forgiveness.

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Discussion Questions: THE SOLITARY HOUSE by Lynn Shepherd

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Shepherd_The Solitary HouseThe Solitary House by Lynn Shepherd hit bookshelves in paperback on July 30th and we have discussion questions for you and your book club. Don’t forget to check the back of your copy for more exclusive content from Random House Reader’s Circle.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Did the author’s rendering of London remind you of any other city you’ve been in? What do you think defines a city? What qualities do you attach to cities?

2. In reading The Solitary House, how do you see the separation of the classes playing into the story? Do you think there are similarities in how people of different income brackets are divided today?

3. What image that the author uses to describe the streets of London strikes you as being the most vivid?

4. When we first meet Charles Maddox, the author describes him as a “sentimental young man.” Do you agree with this assessment? Why or why not?

5. Is detection a science? What methods do Charles Maddox and Maddox use that would lead you to believe that it may or may not be?

6. What qualities do you associate with a book being “Dickensian”? Do you think The Solitary House, beyond using characters created by Charles Dickens, is a Dickensian thriller?

7. Compare and contrast Charles Maddox with the detectives of contemporary mysteries.

8. How do the multiple narrative viewpoints influence your reading of this mystery? Is there any one viewpoint more reliable than the others?

9. Explore the role that notes play in this novel. How does it compare with today’s use of technology, from email to tweets, as a method of communication? Of danger?

10. Discuss the many meanings of the term “solitary house.”

11. How does the author work the concept of discovery into this novel? For example, one of the ways is in chapter four, when Charles listens to the lecture on “A Scientific Journey through Africa.” How do you see the various characters exploring this ever-growing understanding of their world? Compare it to today, when the Internet has made it possible to “explore” previously undiscovered realms.

12. Explore the ways in which the author references both Bleak House and The Woman in White.

13. Why do you think Charles rejected following his father into medicine and instead followed his uncle into detection?

14. Discuss the relationship of Charles Maddox and his uncle. Is it the traditional mentor /mentee relationship? Does Maddox have anything to learn f rom his protégé, or is the training one way?

15. What qualities do you think a good detective has? Why do you think Tulkinghorn hires Charles, and does Charles meet or exceed Tulkinghorn’s expectations? How?

Discussion Questions: A THOUSAND PARDONS by Jonathan Dee

Monday, August 5th, 2013

Dee_A Thousand PardonsIf you or your book club is planning a discussion of Jonathan Dee’s novel A Thousand Pardons, then we have some questions to kickstart the meeting!

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Scandals seem to be perennially topical. Did you see any parallels in the novel with real-life events?

2. Jonathan Dee’s novels are often described as social critiques. Do you think A Thousand Pardons should be interpreted that way? If so, what is the author criticizing?

3. Helen has a special gift for making powerful men apologize. Why do people respond the way they do to these apologies?

4. Why is Sara drawn to Cutter? Does it have anything to do with why Helen was drawn to Hamilton?

5. Hamilton asks Helen for forgiveness but she thinks, “His whole life was a Method performance, a dream within a dream, but whatever he wanted from her, however preposterous, she was not free to refuse him.” What transaction is being completed when she kisses him?

6. How did Sara’s relationships with each of her parents change throughout the course of the book? Did you find Sara to be sympathetic?

7. Do you think Hamilton will ever find out the truth about what hap- pened to Bettina? Why does Helen hope that he never will?

8. By end of the book, Ben and Helen find themselves back where they started, at the house on Meadow Close. Have they come full circle? How have they grown or changed over the course of the novel?

9. Do you think Sara orchestrated her parents’ reunion? If not, what brought Ben and Helen back together?

10. Do the characters in the novel deserve to be forgiven for their vari- ous transgressions?

11. Was the ending satisfying? What do you think will happen next?

12. Is there anyone in your life who should issue a public apology? Or to whom you’d like to apologize?

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