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Posts Tagged ‘reading guide’

Reader’s Guide: THEN AND ALWAYS by Dani Atkins

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Atkins_ThenandAlways The early feedback for THEN AND ALWAYS by Dani Atkins has been stellar! Readers and book clubs alike are flocking to this book. The suspense will keep you on the edge of your seat page after page, and the conclusion leaves plenty of room for book club discussions.

Here at Random House Reader’s Circle, we have the book club questions and topics for discussion to get your conversation going. Be sure to mark your calendars for May 20th- this is a read you won’t want to miss!

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Three accidents seem to shape this novel. To what extent is Rachel’s future affected by events outside her control?

2. Why do you think Rachel feels so responsible for the outcome of the restaurant accident? Do you think she would feel differently if Matt had died in Jimmy’s place?

3. Would you feel differently about Rachel if the book began as she woke up in the hospital? Why do you think the author chose to begin the novel where she did?

4. What did you think really happened when Jimmy showed up in Rachel’s hospital room? Did you question your logic throughout the novel?

5. The characters encounter mirrors and reflections at several points during the story. Do you think the idea of mirror images relates to the way the author organizes the novel?

6. Which of Rachel’s relationships do you think is most im- portant to her in her personal life and in her career? Does that change over the course of the book?

7. How do you interpret the seeming intersection between fate and free will in this novel? Do you believe in fate? Or do you believe we control our own destinies?

8. Rachel has deep feelings for Jimmy even when she is with Matt. Do you think it’s possible to be in love with two people at the same time?

9. Despite their imperfections, did you feel any sympathy for Matt or Cathy by the end of the novel?

10. Were you surprised by the ending? Do you think there is more than one way to interpret the events at the end of the book?

11. Did you pick up on any of the specific clues in the novel that foreshadow the ending? What were some clues that
you noticed?

12. Did you ever come to a crossroads in your life when you felt the choice you made impacted your life in unimaginable ways? If you could go back, would you choose differently and why?

Join Dani Atkins on Facebook and Twitter!

Reader’s Guide: A Q&A between Gail Caldwell, author of NEW LIFE, NO INSTRUCTIONS, and her Editor

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Caldwell_New Life No InstructionsBeloved and Pulitzer prize-winning author Gail Caldwell sits down to chat with her longtime editor, Kate Medina, about her latest New Life, No Instructions.

Kate Medina: Authors sometimes say that while writing their books, they learn something new about themselves or their characters; since you are a “character” in your book, did you learn new things about yourself, or others, or about the portion of your life discussed in New Life, No Instructions?


Gail Caldwell: Oh God yes. I think most writers write to find out what they think, or who they are. A friend was reading the book in its last draft, and said she was struck by how hopeful I seemed. I think of myself as determined, rather than hopeful, but writing the book made me realize those traits are often pretty good substitutes for one another. I also realized, for the hundredth time, how cool my mom was.

KM: You wrote, “Most of all I told this story because I wanted to say something about hope and the absence of it, and how we keep going anyway.” This reflects something people often feel, but don’t know how to express. Would you say a little more about this? Was this your goal of writing the book from the very beginning, or did this emerge as the book came into being? 


GC: I had a vague notion of this idea in my mind from the start—particularly because I was so struck, in hindsight, by that image of the child (me, trying to walk after polio) trying to get up again and again. One of the earliest lines I wrote was about that: “We are engineered to rise up, in every developmental sense.” And I suppose on a larger scale, I think that life is so hard—often so silently, humdrum hard for so many people. And yet they move through the day with tremendous courage. Hard not to laud that.

KM: People love the title, which came from a line in the book about what happens after what seems like a miracle. Would you say more about what the title means to you?

GC: I wrote that line in the context of the people supposedly “cured” at religious shrines—the pilgrims to Lourdes and Fatima, for instance: Miracle, new life, no instructions. It’s such an odd notion, to think that with a blink (or a visitation, or a surgery) life changes and you’re good to go. I suspect most miracles have a small-print addendum, or even caveat: PS. You have to learn how to make this work; you’re on your own now; good luck!

KM: One of the strongest themes, and discoveries in the book, is the strength of friends, and how your neighbors and friends became your family. You said that your travel for Thanksgiving was “to walk across the driveway.” Could you say more about this? 


GC: Ha! I was going to Nancy’s, a heroine in the book, who lives one house over. They’ve done studies recently showing that people with balconies and front porches are happier and more connected to the community. I don’t know that geography is destiny, but in my lucky case it’s been a deciding influence. I’m a single-woman-with-dog, and my neighborhood has parks and friends and grocery stores within shouting distance. If I fall on the ice, someone would pick me up pretty fast.

KM: You write in the book about relationships and what it means to create an alternative family, how there are many different ways to live your life without a traditional relationship path. Would you say something about your life as an independent woman?

GC: Each of these questions keeps feeding me back into the same waters! I always half-meant to get married but in retrospect I’m not sure I’d have been very good at it. I came of age during the women’s movement—I was 22 when I stumbled upon my first rally for Women’s Liberation, as it was called then—and I was wearing eyeliner and an anti-war armband. If life is a kaleidoscope of images, that’s one of mine—the young woman finding a different (and to me, thrilling) path. Consciously or unconsciously, I spent the next few decades finding communities where “traditional” was not an important word in the lexicon.

KM: Your mother is such a wonderful presence in the book, and in your life. What one thing—if one can ever say one thing about one’s mother—would you say about yours?

GC: My mother was strong as hell and did not suffer fools. Eight years after her death, I am still figuring out how smart she was. I also think (see above) she was sort of proud of me for going it alone.

For more from Gail Caldwell be sure to visit her website and connect with her on Facebook.

Reader’s Guide: A DUAL INHERITANCE by Joanna Hershon

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Hershon_Dual Inheritance For readers of Rules of Civility and The Marriage Plot, Joanna Hershon’s A Dual Inheritance is an engrossing novel of passion, friendship, betrayal, and class—and their reverberations across generations.

Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Compare the changes in Murray Cantowitz’s neighborhood and in Fishers Island throughout the four parts of the novel. Why is this difference important? How does this dichotomy relate to larger themes of the book?

2. Discuss Connie’s role in the novel. What does she symbolize for Ed? Why is she important?

3. How are Rebecca and Vivi similar to their parents? How are they different? Does their resemblance to their parents remind you of anyone in your life?

4. Photography is a recurring theme throughout the novel. How does it connect the characters? What else connects the characters throughout the generations in the story?

5. Why is the scene where Hugh cuts o! his “ngers so striking for Rebecca? What do you think about their relationship?

6. There are a few points throughout the novel where Ed realizes that, depending on his actions, his entire life could have evolved differently. What are these points? Do life-changing moments exist in your life?

7. On page 33, the president of the club tells Hugh “man is tribal.” Do you agree? Why or why not?

8. For years, Ed continues to love Helen despite all odds. Do you think this type of prolonged unrequited love is possible? What does it mean that Ed is able to cut Hugh out of his life, but not his love for Helen?

9. At the end of the novel, we learn that Rebecca and Vivi have found out about Ed and Helen’s relationship. Do you think that Hugh ever learns the truth?

10. How different are Hugh and Ed from the beginning to the end of the novel? How do they change, if at all?

11. If you had to write a sequel, what would happen next?

12. Of all the themes in the novel— friendship, upbringing, family, love, etc.— which resonates the most with you? Why?

13. After reading this novel, how important do you think inheritance is? What are your thoughts on dual inheritance theory? Have Ed and Hugh challenged your understanding?

Stay connected with Joanna on Facebook and Twitter!

Reader’s Guide: EIGHTY DAYS by Matthew Goodman

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

Goodman_Eighty Days “A fun, fast, page-turning action-adventure . . . the exhilarating journey of two pioneering women, Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland, as they race around the globe.”—Karen Abbott, author of American Rose

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. In the book’s prologue Matthew Goodman writes, “Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland were not only racing around the world; they were also racing through the very heart of the Victorian age.” What do you think he meant by this? In what way did Bly and Bisland’s race illustrate some of the larger social issues of the time?

2. In what ways were Elizabeth and Nellie similar, and in what ways were they dissimilar? Did they have differing views of themselves as women, as writers, as Americans? How might this have colored their attitudes about the around-the-world race?

3. Almost every story of the time mentioned the fact that Nellie Bly carried only a single handbag for her trip around the world. How do you think you would pack for such a trip? What would you consider the essentials to bring along?

4. How might other female journalists of the time have viewed Bly and Bisland’s race around the world? Do you think they would have been supportive or critical?

5. Throughout the book Goodman intersperses the narrative of the race with discussions of historical issues—such as the hardships faced by women journalists, the power of the railroads, and the working conditions of stokers on the steamships. Why do you think he did this? Did you feel that this added to or detracted from the book as a whole?

6. Did you find yourself rooting for one of the women to win the race? Which of the women would you rather have as a traveling companion? In what ways would you say each of the women changed over the course of the race?

7. How do you think that Nellie Bly’s difficult childhood might have helped to shape some of the choices she made as an adult?

8. Eighty Days is an example of the genre called “narrative history”—that is to say, a work of history that adopts some of the techniques generally associated with fiction writing. In what ways does this book read like a novel? How was Matthew Goodman able to accomplish this? Did you ever find yourself momentarily forgetting that it was a true story?

9. Visiting the Tanks of Aden in the moonlight, Elizabeth Bisland has a profound moment in which she comes to understand what the trip has given her: “the vividness of a new world, where one was for the first time, as Tennyson had written, Lord of the senses five, where the light of night and day had a new meaning, where years of indifference could fall away like a dried-up husk and every sense respond with the keenness of faculties newborn.” Have you ever had an experience like that while traveling? Which of the places described in the book would you most like to visit?

10. The very first story that Bly proposed to The World was to sail across the Atlantic in steerage, so that she could report firsthand on the conditions endured by the passengers there. Yet during her around-the-world race, when she had the opportunity, she did not write about steerage passengers. Why do you think this was? Do you think that she had changed as a journalist, and if so, in what ways?

11. Might Eighty Days be viewed as a kind of cautionary tale about celebrity? How so?

12. The book’s epilogue describes the very different lives led by Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland in the decades after the race. Were you surprised by the way that things turned out for them? Why or why not? How would you answer the question posed about Nellie Bly at the end of the final chapter: “She had outraced Elizabeth Bisland; but now, looking back, it was not entirely clear which of them had won.”

13. The story told in Eighty Days took place more than 120 years ago. An around-the-world trip that once required two and a half months to complete could be accomplished today in a matter of days. Are there other ways in which society has changed far less dramatically since 1889?

Connect with the author on Facebook!

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?

MWF Seeking BFF: A Reader’s Guide

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

MWF Seeking BFF

Consider these questions if you’re reading Rachel Bertsche’s irresistible memoir, MWF Seeking BFF:

1) After moving to Chicago from New York City, Rachel quickly realized that “friend-making is not the natural process is used to be.”  Why do you think it is so much harder to make friends as adults? Or do you think making friends is as easy now (or easier) than it was when you were a kid?

2) When Rachel writes her BFF “want ad,” she hears from a number of women in her same situation, all of whom are hesitant to admit they too are looking for new friends. Rachel writes, “Popular culture has made it okay to yell ‘I need a man!’ from the rooftops, so why are we still embarrassed to say ‘I want a best friend?’” What do you think? Is it easier to admit you’re looking for love than it is to say you’re in the market for friendship? Why?

3) What would your BFF want-ad look like?

4) After Rachel meets Amanda (friend-date 18) she realizes that her new friend has a blog, and they’ve each blogged about the other. How has social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs) affected your friendships and the way you make new friends?

5) Rachel claims that her husband isn’t her best friend.  “A husband can fill many vital roles—protector, provider, lover—but he can’t be a BFF,” she writes. “Matt is my most intimate companion and the love of my life, But I can’t complain about my husband to my husband. That’s what friends are for.” Do you agree? Or do you think your spouse could be (and maybe should be) your best friend forever?

6) After looking at the relationship research, Rachel claims that when it comes to friends, “more is more.” Do you agree? Or do you believe in quality over quantity?

Bertsche_Rachel7) Have you ever been on a blind friend-date? If yes, what were the circumstances? How did you meet? If no, would you like to? Did MWF Seeking BFF warm you up to the idea of friend-dating? What parts of Rachel’s search would you be willing to incorporate into your own life?

8. At first, Rachel thinks people will find her friendship advances weird or creepy. Eventually, though, she realizes that “it’s not that people are less civilized now, it’s just that we think they are, and so we act accordingly. We don’t reach out unsolicited for fear of being rejected. We don’t talk to new people because we assume they don’t want to be bothered. But as I continue to pursue friendships, I’m constantly surprised at how receptive people are.” Are you surprised that women were receptive to Rachel’s attempts at friendship? How would you have reacted if she had asked you out?

9) Rachel makes clear throughout the book that even though she is looking for new friends, she has plenty of great old friends. What is it about our lifers that makes them so special? Did reading about Rachel’s quest make you appreciate your own lifelong BFFs more?

10) Throughout her search, people tell Rachel she can’t force friendships, they should just happen. Do you think one can successfully search for friendship, or should it always happen naturally?

11) By the end of her quest, Rachel may not have a new BFF but she says she has a “bouquet of friends.” For Rachel, the definition of BFF has changed. She realizes she isn’t as likely to talk on the phone with her best friend every night for two hours like she did when she was 15. Families, careers and responsibilities make that impossible. How has your definition of BFF, or your requirements of your friends, changed over the years?

Susan Vreeland’s CLARA AND MR. TIFFANY: a reading guide

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Clara and Mr. Tiffany coverA sweeping story of art and love set against the exciting backdrop of turn-of-the-century New York City.

It’s 1893 and Louis Comfort Tiffany makes his debut with a luminous exhibition of innovative stained-glass windows, which he hopes will honor his family business and earn him a place on the international artistic stage. But behind the scenes in his New York studio is the free-thinking Clara Driscoll. Publicly unrecognized by Tiffany, Clara conceives of and designs nearly all of the iconic leaded-glass lamps for which he is long remembered.

Struggling with desire for artistic recognition and faced with the insurmountable challenges of a professional woman, Clara is ultimately forced to protest against the company she worked so hard to cultivate. She must decide what makes her happiest—the professional world of her hands or the personal world of her heart.

Consider these questions when reading Clara and Mr. Tiffany:

1. How do Clara’s yearnings and goals change during the course of the novel. What personal growth is revealed, and what experiences prompt that growth?

2. At the first Tiffany Ball with Edwin in chapter nine, Clara says, “We straddled a double world.” How does that play out in Clara’s experience? What did she learn from Edwin?

3. Of all of the adjectives Clara and Alice heap on Tiffany in chapter twenty-seven, which ones do you believe are justified and which are exaggerations? In spite of their accusations, Clara says in the same scene that she adores him. How can that be? Did she truly love him? What kind of love was it?

4. How was Clara’s love different for each of the five men in her life? Given that love can sometimes be an indefinable thing, in each case, what prompted her love and how did it change, if at all?

5. Is George Waldo a tragic character? Is Edwin? Is Wilhelmina? How do you define tragic character?

6. Throughout the novel there are social contrasts–rich and poor, suffering and insouciance. Speculate on how these serve to make Clara a more well-rounded or deeper person, as well as how they serve to make the novel transcend the period depicted.

7. Mr. Tiffany makes a surprising final concession in chapter forty-seven. What was it based on? In light of it, should Clara have stayed working at Tiffany Studios? How was her decision right or wrong for her?

8. How is the Brooklyn Bridge an icon or symbol of the time? Consider its style, the construction process, the men and woman who worked on it. You may have to do a little research. Why was Edwin so moved by it? What other material things were symbols of the time? In what way were Tiffany lamps icons of the time?

9. The style and sensibility that had no name at the turn of the century came to be known as camp, one element of which is seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon and then exaggerating it. Another element of it is the playful duplicity of which Henry Belknap speaks. What art movements, artists, or pieces of art in your lifetimes reflect the camp sensibility? Do you own anything with camp sensibility? Oscar Wilde, spokesperson of high camp, said, “In matters of great importance, the vital element is not sincerity, but style.” To what extent do you hold this to be true? Was he just being flippant by making this statement or is there any truth to it?

10. The protagonists of two other novels of mine are female artists. How do Clara’s goals, obstacles, and attitudes compare with those of Artemisia Gentileschi and Emily Carr? Has anything changed for women in the arts?

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