HandmaidsThe next meeting of the All Good Books group will be on Thursday, January 11, 2018 at 7 PM in the Community of Christ Church Library (7842 Mission Road, Prairie Village, KS). The group will discuss one of two books (choose what you wish to read, one or both): The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood or Mrs. Saint and the Defectives by Julie Lawson Timmer. Discussion questions for the Atwood book are posted below. Discussion questions for the Timmer book will be posted later.

Discussion questions for The Handmaid’s Tale

  1. What is a dystopia and how does it contrast with a utopia?
  2. What are some of the events that led to the dystopia in the novel (page 174)?
  3. Were you surprised that the novel was written by a woman? Why or why not?
  4. How would you describe the novel? Imaginative, hopeful, distressing, depressing, unbelievable, or?
  5. The narrator refers to several Colloquialisms from the “before time.” What is the before time?
  6. Authors of science fiction often take events from today’s news and extrapolate them into the future. What events today might lead to the dystopia described in the novel?
  7. Among the colloquialisms in the novel are the following. Have you heard them? What does each mean to you?
    “Waste not, want not.” Page 7
    “I know what you mean” and “I hear where you’re coming from.” Page 11.
    “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” Page 52
    “The understatement of the year…” Page 137
    “Time to take stock.” Page 143
    “Context is all.” Page 144
    “Steel yourself.” Page 160
    “Even Steven.” Page 172
    “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.” Page 211
    “What are you waiting for?” Page 291
  8. What is an Eye? An Angel? What is meant by the phrase “under his Eye?” Page 18.
  9. What does the following passage from page 18 of the novel tell you about the society described by Offred and its origins? “I used to be bad at waiting. They also serve who only stand and wait, said Aunt Lydia. She made us memorize it. She also said, Not all of you will make it through. Some of you will fall on dry ground or thorns. Some of you are shallow-rooted. She had a mole on her chin that went up and down while she talked. She said, Think of yourselves as seeds, and right then her voice was wheedling, conspiratorial, like the voices of those women who used to teach ballet classes to children, and who would say, Arms up in the air now; let’s pretend we’re trees. I stand on the corner, pretending I am a tree.”
  10. On page 24, Aunt Lydia says, “There is more than one kind of freedom….Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.” Is it possible to have freedom to and freedom from? Explain.
  11. What did Aunt Lydia mean (page 25) when she says “We were a society dying, of too much choice.”
  12. What was the role of the Econowives (described on page 24) in the Gilead society? Do we have a similar position in today’s society?
  13. Did you think the Epilogue added to or diminished the story? Was it necessary?
  14. Offred says on page 19 (with the war with the Baptists raging off-screen) “…I’m ravenous for news, any kind of news; even if it’s false news, it must mean something.” Do you see a parallel today or has one occurred during your lifetime, when news (any news) was better than no news?
  15. In Gilead, men are hung for past crimes (Angel Makers), “Gender Treachery” is punished by death, women are not allowed to write, stores are marked by images rather than lettered names, and one’s clothing is standardized (red, blue, green, black, striped). Why?
  16. Serena Joy is described by the narrator this way (page 45). “She wasn’t singing anymore by then, she was making speeches. She was good at it. Her speeches were about the sanctity of the home, about how women should stay home. Serena Joy didn’t do this herself, she made speeches instead, but she presented this failure of hers as a sacrifice she was making for the good of all.” Is this a case of “do as I say, not as I do?” Or is a contradictory life style sometimes necessary to make political and social gains?
  17. On page 46, the life situation of Serena Joy is described as “She doesn’t make speeches anymore. She has become speechless. She stays in her home, but it doesn’t seem to agree with her. How furious she must be, now that she’s been taken at her word.” What’s your reaction to Serena Joy? Is she an admirable character? Pathetic? Powerful? Neglected?
  18. On page 48, the narrator says, “The dishtowel is white with blue stripes. Dishtowels are the same as they always were. Sometimes these flashes of normality come at me from the side, like ambushes. The ordinary, the usual, a reminder, like a kick. I see the dishtowel, out of context, and I catch my breath. For some, in some ways, things haven’t changed that much.” Have you ever had a memory triggered by an object? Describe it and indicate whether the memory was pleasant, painful or just unwanted.
  19. What does “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum” mean? Why is it used several places in the story?
  20. At one point in the story, Offred says, “We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.” What does she mean? Who are these people?
  21. The Red Center’s official name is the “Rachel and Leah Center.” What’s the significance of the name?
  22. What caused the inability of many women in Gilead to bear children. See page 112.
  23. Do you agree with the statement (page 125), “But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Pain marks you, but too deep to see. Out of sight, out of mind.”
  24. Why do you think the Commander want to see Offred alone in his study? Why would he show her an old copy of Vogue (page 156)?
  25. Do you agree “Better never means better for everyone, he says. It always means worse, for some.” See page 211.
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HandmaidsThe All Good Books group will not meet in December 2017. The next meeting will be on Thursday, January 11, 2018 at 7 PM in the Community of Christ Church Library (7842 Mission Road, Prairie Village, KS). The group will discuss The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Discussion questions for the book will be posted later. There will also be no book club meeting in February, but meetings will return in March.

The All Good Books group will meet tonight (Thursday, November 9, 2017) to discuss both “The Westing Game” by Ellen Raskin and “The Obsession” by Nora Roberts. We’ll meet in the Church Library at the Community of Christ Mission Road Congregation (7842 Mission Road, Prairie Village, KS) at 7:00 PM. Everyone is welcome!

Possible discussion questions for “The Westing Game” are posted online at https://allbooksclub.wordpress.com/2017/10/18/the-westing-game-discussion-questions/
Possible discussion questions for “The Obsession” are listed below:
  1. At the age of almost 12 years old, could you have done what Naomi did?
  2. Wayne, the Sheriff’s Deputy, gives Naomi some juicy fruit gum (page 18) “And she would always, from that morning on, associate the gum with simple kindness.” Is there a smell or product that reassures you or brings to mind an event in your life, either pleasant or unpleasant?
  3. What’s your impression of Naomi’s Mom, Susan? Are you sympathetic or disgusted by her reactions to her husband’s crime (page 26)? Do you understand her reactions or are they incomprehensible?
  4. On page 140, Naomi says to Xander, “People don’t always know people close to them the way they think they do.” Do you believe the family of a criminal, like Thomas David Bowes, can truly be unaware of his crimes? Do you believe his wife, friends and fellow church members were unaware?
  5. There often seems to be, in popular literature and film, a character who is deeply, radically religious and has a dark, secret life that is anything but “Christian.” Do you believe that characterization is fair? Or realistic? Or possible?
  6. Do you believe a “killer gene” exists? Are some people wired from birth to be cruel, sadistic and/or murderers?
  7. There seems to be a theme throughout the novel, that people (society) never consider or are sympathetic to the plight of a criminal’s family. Is that accurate or justified? Have you ever considered the criminal’s family and if so, in what light?
  8. On page 52, the author describes Naomi this way: “She loved movies, and truth be told she liked movies like Spider-Man and The Lord of the Rings more than the love stories her girlfriends sighed over. She liked movies where people had to do something, overcome something. Even if it meant getting bitten by a radioactive spider to do and overcome.” What kind of movies do you enjoy and seek out?
  9. On page 54-57, Mason and Naomi are discussing their father. How would you describe Thomas David Bowes?
  10. On page 58, the author states, “Living with Susan was like carrying around something delicate. You watched every step so you didn’t stumble, drop the delicate so it shattered.” Have you ever met someone like that? Why do you think Susan was so “fragile?”
  11. When talking about Susan’s secret visits to her husband in jail, Harry ( in conversation with Naomi) says “We’re going to stop lying to each other. I knew your mother was lying about going to the prison, about keeping in contact. I knew, and I kept it from Seth. I didn’t tell him because it would upset him. And that’s a lie. Omission is a lie.” Do you believe honesty is the best policy, always? Is an omission a lie?
  12. On page 79, a quote from Robert Frost states “Ends and beginnings—there are no such things. There are only middles.” What does that mean?
  13. On page 233, is a quote by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe: “Where there is a great deal of light, the shadows are deeper.” What does that mean?
  14. Naomi states on page 240, “I’d say the person in the original image knows what’s true and what’s manipulated. That’s the thing about words and images. Once the words are on the page, the image printed, it becomes what’s true.” What does that mean? Do you agree?
  15. Was there a time during your reading of “The Obsession” that you considered various characters as Naomi’s stalker and the murder/rapist? Xander? Mason? Kevin? Sam Winston, the local Sheriff? John James Mooney (realtor) Anyone else?
  16. What was your favorite part of the book? Did you view it as a thriller? A romance novel? A murder mystery? Something else?
  17. There’s a great deal of focus in the novel on Naomi fixing up the old house. Any thoughts on the inclusion of so much remodeling and refinishing in the novel?
  18. Were you surprised by the ending of the novel? Was it satisfying? Too abrupt? Unexpected? Predictable?
  19. What is “The Obsession” of the novel’s title?

The next meeting of the All Good Books discussion group will be on Thursday, November 9, 2017. We’ll discuss The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin and The Obsession by Nora Roberts. The group will meet at 7 PM in the Church Library at the Community of Christ, Mission Road Congregation (7842 Mission Road, Prairie Village, Kansas).

The following questions are offered as possible kick starters for the discussion of Ellen Rankin’s The Westing Game, first published in 1978. Questions for The Obsession will be posted later.

  1. One reviewer claimed that The Westing Game met the criteria for an excellent murder mystery because it included an unusual plot, “a nutso bunch of characters” and “more unexpected twists than you can count.” Agree or disagree? Explain why.
  2. The novel has been taught for over 30 years in elementary and middle schools while it also appealed to adults. Why do you think that’s the case? Did you enjoy the book? Why or why not?
  3. Many mystery novels provide only a single point of view. The Westing Game provided insight into the thoughts of most of the characters. Did that make the novel more interesting? More confusing? Would it have been better if you only had one point of view (a narrator or one participant)?
  4. On page 4, the author says the tenants in Sunset Towers include, “A dressmaker, a secretary, an inventor, a doctor, a judge. And, oh yes, one was a bookie, one was a burglar, one was a bomber, and one was a mistake. Barney Northrup had rented one of the apartments to the wrong person.” Which characters in the novel are identified by each label?
  5. On page 29, Sam Westing’s will reads, “My life was taken from me—by one of you!” What did he mean? Who took away his life?
  6. On page 31, Mr. Hoo says, “The poor are crazy, the rich just eccentric.” What does that mean to you?
  7. The novel includes 26 characters: Turtle Wexler, Angela Wexler, Grace Windsor Wexler, Theo Theodorakis, Chris Theodorakis, George Theodorakis, Catherine Theodorakis, Sandy (Alexander) McSouthers, Dr. Denton Deere, Otis Amber, Berthe Erica Crowe, Sydelle Pulaski, Flora Baumbach, Mr. Hoo, Madame Hoo, Sam Westing, Barney Northrup, Julian R. Eastman, Ed Plum, Sikes, Rosalie Baumbach, Violet Westing, Mr. Schultz, Shirley Staver, Alice Deere, Judge J.J. Ford.What do you know about each of them? Is there something about each person’s name that you found significant or symbolic?
  8. Why do you think Sam Westing (and the author) paired up specific heirs to compose the 8 teams at the reading of the will? The teams were: Madame Hoo and Jake Wexler, Turtle Wexler and Flora Baumbach, Chris Theodorakis and Dr. Denton Deere, Sandy McSouthers and J. J. Ford, Grace Wexler and Mr. Hoo, Berthe Crowe and Otis Amber, Theo Theodorakis and Doug Hoo, Sydelle Pulaski and Angela Wexler.
  9. Were there clues you picked up early in the book that helped solve the mystery? What were they?
  10. Why do you think Angela develops a rash on her ring finger?
  11. Why do you think the bomber set off the (first three) bombs?
  12. Did the Westing Game have anything to do with chess? Who was playing chess in the Game Room with Theo?
  13. Did “twins” have anything to do with the Westing Game?
  14. On page 68, why did Mrs. Wexler and Flora Baumbach indicate Turtle’s real name was, respectively, Tabitha-Ruth and Alice?
  15. Why do you think Judge J.J. Ford gave the entire $10,000 to Sandy the doorman? Does she ever realize what she’s done?
  16. On page 92, what does Grace mean by “English-speaking ears?” What issue does her behavior raise?
  17. On page 94, why do you think Sandy describes Mrs. Westing differently than Judge Ford remembers her (after meeting her briefly years earlier)? Judge Ford recalls that, “Mrs. Westing was white. Very white.” What does she mean?
  18. On page 99, Turtle tells Angela, “I didn’t look at your notes or clues, honest.” And then the author notes, “But she had removed the incriminating evidence.” What was the evidence?
  19. Why does Judge Ford consider Sam Westing a manipulative, mean man? Why does Sandy disagree?
  20. Are there secrets held by each of the 16 heirs that we haven’t discussed?
  21. On page 149, the will repeats, “It is not what you have, it’s what you don’t have that counts.” What was missing from the clues?
  22. How did Turtle’s habit of kicking people figure into solving the murder of Sam Westing?
  23. How did you react to the novel’s conclusion? Was it anticipated? A Surprise? Satisfying? Disappointing?
  24. Would you recommend The Westing Game to a pre-teen? To a teenager? To a young adult? To an adult? Did you enjoy the book? Why or why not?

Please come and join the discussion.

WestingGameThe next meeting of the All Good Books discussion group will be on Thursday, October 19, 2017. We’ll discuss The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. Note the date change! This meeting is a week later than normal.

We’ll meet at 7 PM in the Church Library at the Community of Christ, Mission Road Congregation (7842 Mission Road, Prairie Village, Kansas).

Please come and join the discussion.

StarsAreFireThe All Good Books discussion group will meet this Thursday, September 14, 2017 at 7 PM to discuss the novel Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve. We’ll meet in the Community of Christ (7842 Mission Road, Prairie Village) Church Library.

The publisher has posted some discussion questions which we can use as discussion starters. Further, I’ve added a few additional questions below:

  1. Was there a quote in the book that bears discussion? Something you underlined because it “spoke to you?”
  2. What do you imagine it would be like to be a disaster survivor? Have you ever survived a disaster? How has it effected your life?
  3. What would you take with you in the face of a natural disaster or catastrophe? Sentimental items or practical items or a bit of both? Be as specific as you can.
  4. In the marriage vows, what do you consider the limits of “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part?” Is there ever a time when “worse” is so bad the vows can/should be broken?
  5. Assuming every novel has a central idea or thesis statement, what would it be for Stars are Fire?

We hope you can join us!

StarsAreFireThe All Good Books discussion group will meet on Thursday, September 14, 2017 at 7 PM to discuss the novel Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve. We’ll meet in the Community of Christ (7842 Mission Road, Prairie Village) Church Library.

We hope you can join us!