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The All Good Books group will meet to discuss “The Overstory” by Richard Powers on Thursday, January 21, 2021, at 7:00 PM on Zoom.

Possible discussion questions for the session are listed below. They are all derived from the PBS New Hour website at https://www.pbs.org/newshour/arts/discussion-questions-for-the-overstory.

  1. Why do you think Richard Powers chose the title “The Overstory”?
  2. What was your experience with trees as a child, and what has it been as an adult? Have trees shaped your life in any meaningful way? Do you have a favorite tree?
  3. Adam initially builds his career on studying the faults in human brains, such as confirmation bias and the conflation of correlation with causality. Meanwhile, Douglas is convinced that humans’ greatest flaw is mistaking agreement for truth. What questions does this book ask about human failings?
  4. What does Powers mean when he describes humans as “trapped in blinkered bodies”?
  5. What do you make of the voices Olivia hears, and her sense of conviction that “the most wondrous products of four billion years of life” need our help?
  6. Which character’s story do you identify with the most, and why?
  7. It is a difficult moment for Douglas when he learns that all of his years of planting trees have only allowed companies to increase its annual allowable cut. How did this book make you think differently, if at all, about clear-cutting? Do you see it happening in your own community?
  8. What are you learning about trees that you didn’t know before? Did some of Patricia’s research surprise you, either about the “giving trees” or the ways dead trees contribute to forests? Did any of it change the way you see trees?
  9. Patricia describes trees and humans as being “at war” over land and water and the atmosphere, and that she can see “which side will lose by winning.” What does she mean by that?
  10. The book is divided into four parts: “Roots,” “Trunk,” “Crown,” and “Seeds.” What is the significance of each section? Were you surprised when the stories began to intertwine?
  11. Our book club just finished reading “We the Corporations,” a book about the ways corporations have gained many of the same rights as individuals. In “The Overstory,” Ray is moved and upset by a legal argument that suggests trees should also share those rights. Do you agree?
  12. Were you surprised by the lengths that Adam, Olivia, Nicholas, Mimi and Douglas went to try to wake people up to the destruction of forests? What did you think of their tactics?
  13. What have you read in the news lately that mirrors the stories in “The Overstory”? How is “The Overstory” playing out in real life in your own community?
  14. What is the significance of the worlds Neelay creates within his game, “Mastery”?
  15. What was your opinion of “direct action” as a means of effective activism before the book? What is your opinion after reading it? Do you think it should play a role in addressing the destruction of our planet?
  16. Toward the end of the book, Dorothy is arrested for her determination to let her yard grow wild. Did this book change how you see your own backyard?
  17. As the book closes, Mimi seems to say that the world as it has been is ending and a new one will begin. Does that ring true to you? How does that make you feel?
  18. Richard Powers writes: “The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.” Do you agree? Did any part of this story change your mind?

The All Good Books group will meet on Zoom this Thursday evening, November 19, 2020 at 7:00 PM. To discuss “The Lending Library” by Aliza Fogelson.

Possible discussion questions include:

  1. How would you describe “The Lending Library” to a friend and would you recommend the novel?
  2. Have you read any of the books mentioned in “The Lending Library?” Are there any books mentioned that you’d like to read or have read?
  3. Dodie, the main character through whose voice much of the novel is narrated, seems to have numerous “irons in the fire.” What are they? Is she juggling too much or is that a realistic depiction of a young woman her age?
  4. How would you describe the relationship between Dodie, Maddie and Coco?
  5. Describe Maddie’s birthday meal with Dodie. What does it reveal about the two?
  6. Who is Benton and how does he tie in with the plot? Who are Kendra and Geraldine? What role did they play in the novel?
  7. Who are Sullivan and Elizabeth? What was their big disagreement about? What advice would you have given if you were their friend or parent?
  8. Who is Elmira? Does she play a significant role in the novel? She’s re-reading “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.” Have you read the book? Is there significance to its mention in the novel?
  9. Bridge to Terabithia” is mentioned in the novel. Why? Have you read the novel? What significance does it hold for the characters in “The Lending Library?”
  10. Who is Shep? What’s his story within the story?
  11. Who’s the most interesting character in the novel?
  12. Did you feel the characters in the novel were privileged, average, relatable, fanciful, realistic or stereotypical?
  13. Are there passages you underlined in the novel or re-read? Were there scenes that stuck with you? Please share.
  14. Describe the three sister’s meeting with “Not Dad.” How did you react to the meeting?
  15. Were you pleased, surprised, anxious or ho hum about the ending? Did you race to the ending or saunter along until you reached it?
  16. What is or has been your personal relationship to books and libraries?

The All Good Books group will meet on Thursday, November 19, 2020 to discuss The Lending Library by Aliza Fogelson. The meeting will be held on Zoom and access information shared later.

The All Good Books club will meet on Thursday, October 22, 2020 at 7 PM to discuss Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network. The meeting will be held on Zoom. Thank you to all who agreed to this one week postponement!

The first twelve questions that follow are from the end matter in Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network. The remaining questions are home-grown, but first here’s a list of prominent characters:

  • Charlie St. Clair, 19-year-old pregnant schoolgirl in 1947, takes on the alias of Mrs. Donald McGowan.
  • Rose Fournier (Charlie’s cousin) 21 years old in 1947, good with numbers, pregnant by her boyfriend Etienne.
  • Tante (aunt) Jeanne, infirm, mother of Rose.
  • Eve Gardiner, stutters, recruited in WWI to spy for England. In 1915 uses the code name Marguerite Le François, came from a troubled home, unfaithful father, spendthrift mother, always arguing.
  • René Bordelon, collaborator and profiteer takes on alias of René du Malassis.
  • Finn Kilgore, Gardiner’s man of all work. In 1947, he’s 29 or 30 years old, drives a Lagonde, an ex-convict.
  • Captain Cameron, in 1915 recruits spies for the Alice Network.
  • Alice (Lili) Dubois, Eve’s contact in the spy network. Her real name is Louise de Bettignies.
  • Violette Lameron, also a spy in the Alice network (appears in both 1917 & 1947 in the novel). Her real name is Léonie van Houtte.

Discussion Questions:

  1. ​Female friendship is a constant theme throughout The Alice Network. Charlie St. Clair and Eve Gardiner begin as antagonists, whereas Eve and Louise de Bettignies (Lili) are friends from the start. How does each friendship grow and change over the course of events?
  2. ​The young Eve introduced in 1915 is very different from the older Eve seen through Charlie’s eyes in 1947. How and when did you see the young Eve begin to change into her older self? What was the catalyst of those changes?
  3. ​Lili tells Eve, “To tell the truth, much of this special work we do is quite boring.” Did the realities of spy work surprise you, compared to the more glamorous version presented by Hollywood? How do you think you would have fared working for the historical Alice Network?
  4. ​René Bordelon is denigrated by his peers as a war profiteer and an informer. He sees himself as a practical businessman, pointing out that he is not to blame for making money off the invaders, or for tragedies like Oradour-sur-Glane that happened on German orders. Did you see him as a villain or an opportunist? Do you think he earned his final fate?
  5. ​Eve loves Captain Cameron and hates René Bordelon—but her relationship with René is longer, darker, and more complex. How is her hatred for him complicated by intimacy? How does his realization of Eve’s true identity change him? How do you think they continued to think and feel about each other during their thirty years’ separation, and how did that affect their eventual climax?
  6. ​Finn Kilgore and Captain Cameron are parallels for each other: both Scotsmen and ex-soldiers with war wounds and prison terms in their pasts, acting as support systems for the women they love who go into danger. How are the two men different as well as alike? How does Finn succeed where Cameron fails?
  7. ​The disappearance of Charlie’s cousin Rose Fournier provides the story’s driving search. Did her eventual fate surprise you? Had you ever heard of Oradour-sur-Glane? How did Rose’s fate change the goal of the search?
  8. ​Everyone in The Alice Network suffers some form of emotional damage from war: Charlie’s depression after losing her marine brother to suicide, Eve’s torture-induced nightmares, Finn’s concentration-camp memories and resulting anger issues, Cameron’s guilt over losing his recruits. How do they each cope with their war wounds? How do they help each other heal? How is PTSD handled in Eve’s day as compared to Charlie’s day—and as compared to now?
  9. ​Charlie dreads the stigma of being a “bad girl” pregnant out of wedlock, and Eve fears shame and dismissal as a horizontale if it is learned she slept with a source for information. Discuss the sexual double standards each woman faced. How have our sexual standards for women changed since 1915 and 1947?
  10. ​Charlie decides to keep her baby, and Eve decides to have an abortion. Why did each woman make the choice she did?
  11. ​Charlie argues that René should be brought to legal justice, and Eve argues for vigilante justice. Who do you think is right? How did it affect the ending? How do you think the outcome will bind Eve and Charlie and Finn in the future, since they cannot share their adventure with anyone else?
  12. ​“There are two kinds of flowers when it comes to women. The kind that sit safe in a beautiful vase, or the kind that survive in any conditions . . . even in evil.” The theme of the fleurs du mal carries from Lili to Eve—how does Eve pass it on to Charlie? When do you see Charlie becoming a fleur du mal in her own right? How has knowing Eve changed Charlie’s life, and vice versa?
  13. Did you look up Edith Piaf and listen to any of her music? If so, have you heard it before.
  14. The novel starts in May 1947 but reverts to May 1915 through March 1916; jumping back and forth between the two time periods. Why, what happens in those time periods? And why is the story told out of chronological order?
  15. What is Charlie St. Cloud’s “Little Problem?”
  16. Why does Charlie take on the alias of Mrs. Donald McGowan? What issues cause this deception? How did you reaction to subsequent references to “Donald?”
  17. After reading “The Alice Network” in times of war, could you be a spy?
  18. Who said, “The army doesn’t want me anymore. I did my part and the war’s over, so now they’ll pin some b-bits of tin on me and tell me to bugger off back to the file room. Well, they can keep their damned tin scraps” and why?
  19. Some characters appear throughout the novel who are based on historical figures, such as Edith Cavell (a nurse) and Léon Trulin (18-year-old). Who are they and why are they important to the novel?
  20. Did you look up “fleur du mal?” What does it mean? Who is described by that phrase in the novel and does it apply?
  21. The poem “Le Mort Joyeux” or “The Joyful Corpse” is mentioned in the novel. Did you look up the verses? What do you think it refers to? Who’s the author?
  22. Did you read the Author’s Notes at end of the novel? Did any of the information stick in your memory? How much of the novel and which of the characters are historically based?
  23. Who would you recommend this 500-page novel to? Who would you not recommend it to?
  24. If you completed the novel, would you have done so if it were not assigned for a book club discussion?

I thought you might find this link and article interesting. See https://www.bookbub.com/blog/best-book-club-books-of-the-decade

Not surprisingly, we’ve read ten of them for our All Good Books book club!

Don’t forget to start reading “The Alice Network” by Kate Quinn for our book club meeting on Thursday, October 15, 2020, at 7 PM on Zoom.

The All Good Books group will discuss Allen Eskens’ novel The Life We Bury this Thursday, September 17, 2020 at 7 PM on Zoom.

Possible discussion questions follow:

  1. How would you summarize “The Life We Bury” to a friend without giving away the ending or other important events?
  2. Would you have interviewed a murderer as Joe Talbert did? Why or why not?
  3. How would you describe the main characters in the book? Joe Talbert, Carl Iverson, L. Nash, Jeremy Naylor, Kathy Nelson, Mary Lorngren, Grandpa Bill, Crystal Hagen, Dan Lockwood, Doug Lockwood, Max Rupert, Andy Fisher.
  4. As you read the novel, did you find the characters unique or stereotypes? Believable or implausible? Was the plot believable, predictable, unexpected, or implausible?
  5. Were there concepts, ideas, people or events in the book that you researched further beyond what was indicated in the novel? Did you look up any of the following? The Innocence Project, Pascal’s gambit, Occam’s razor, Dying declaration, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Donner party, Romanesque Revival, or BOLO?
  6. In a conversation between Joe Talbert and Carl Iverson the question of “killing” vs. “murdering“ is raised. Is there a difference?
  7. What did you think the novel’s title indicated about the story and its characters? Whose was the life that was buried and what was buried?
  8. Was there an event or happening in the novel that “stuck with you” or was particularly memorable?
  9. Is guilt a character in the novel? Explain your response.
  10. Why do you think Carl Iverson watched the girl next door so closely? Is his motivation ever explained in the novel?
  11. What is Hillview Manor? How is it described? Does that description match your experiences?
  12. Would you read another murder mystery by Allen Eskens? Explain.

The All Good Books discussion group will meet on Thursday, September 17, 2020 at 7 PM to discuss The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens. The publisher’s description follows:

College student Joe Talbert has the modest goal of completing a writing assignment for an English class. His task is to interview a stranger and write a brief biography of the person. With deadlines looming, Joe heads to a nearby nursing home to find a willing subject. There he meets Carl Iverson, and soon nothing in Joe’s life is ever the same.

Carl is a dying Vietnam veteran–and a convicted murderer. With only a few months to live, he has been medically paroled to a nursing home, after spending thirty years in prison for the crimes of rape and murder.

As Joe writes about Carl’s life, especially Carl’s valor in Vietnam, he cannot reconcile the heroism of the soldier with the despicable acts of the convict. Joe, along with his skeptical female neighbor, throws himself into uncovering the truth, but he is hamstrung in his efforts by having to deal with his dangerously dysfunctional mother, the guilt of leaving his autistic brother vulnerable, and a haunting childhood memory. 

Thread by thread, Joe unravels the tapestry of Carl’s conviction. But as he and Lila dig deeper into the circumstances of the crime, the stakes grow higher. Will Joe discover the truth before it’s too late to escape the fallout?

Discussion questions will be posted closer to the meeting.

The All Good Books discussion group will meet this Thursday, August 20, 2020 on Zoom at 7 PM. We’ll discuss Ruth Hogan’s “The Keeper of Lost Things: A Novel.”

The main characters in the novel include:

Anthony Peardew: Owner of Padua and the Keeper of lost things; 68 when he interviewed Laura (several years ago).

Laura: Housekeeper at Padua, interviewed with Anthony on her 35th birthday.

Vince: unfaithful ex-husband of Laura, she met him when she was seventeen. Called himself Vince the Invincible.

Theresa: The love of Anthony’s life, deceased.

Charles Bramwell Brockley: cremation remains found in Huntley & Palmers biscuit tin

Freddy, the gardener. He had started working at Padua a couple of years prior to Laura. He was tall and dark, but not so handsome as to be a cliché. “faint scar which ran vertically between his nose and top lip.”

Felicity: Freddy’s apparent girlfriend.

Eunice: Responded to an ad to work for a publisher in May, 1974.

Bomber: Publisher and rescuer of Douglas, a crippled dog after being hit by a car.

Douglas: “small tan-and-white terrier with one ear at half-mast and a brown patch over his left eye.”

Portia: Bomber’s odious sister, wants Bomber to publish her book.

Godfrey and Grace: Bomber and Portia’s parents.

Sunshine: Laura’s new friend, age 19.

Stan and Stella, Sunshine’s parents.

The questions listed at the end of the novel include the first ten listed below with additional possible discussion questions following.

  1. “When Laura is hired by Anthony Peardew on her thirty-fifth birthday, she thinks the job “had been the perfect present, and the beginning of hope.” What does Anthony see in Laura? Why are she and Padua perfect for one another? Is Laura in some way one of Anthony’s lost things?
  2. What do you make of Eunice and Bomber’s relationship? Were you disappointed to discover that it would never be romantic?
  3. Anthony reflects that “he could not regret his life without Therese. . . . To give up when she had died would have been the greatest wrong; to throw away the gift that had been snatched from her would have been an act of appalling ingratitude and cowardice.” How does that square with his solitary life, surrounded by his lost things? Is Anthony truly living without her, or is he merely existing? What do you think he would say?
  4. Even her parents and brother seem to find Portia’s company almost intolerable. Is she in any way a sympathetic character? Does Portia evolve over the course of the novel?
  5. When she handles Anthony’s lost things, Sunshine seems to know their stories, saying, “I can feel it. I don’t think it in my head, I just feel it.” Why do you think that is? What other aspects of this story seemed touched with the magical or otherworldly?
  6. Why does Laura seem so reluctant to commit to her romance with Freddy? What was the turning point for her?
  7. What finally quiets Therese’s mischievous ghost? Was she trying to teach a lesson to the living, or did she require their help in order to find peace at last?
  8. Did Eunice do the right thing when she opened the windows of Bomber’s room? What would you have done if you were her?
  9. Which of the stories of the lost things was your favorite? Have you ever discovered a lost thing and tried to discover its owner or learn more about it?
  10. What do you think happens to the characters in this novel after it ends? What comes next in the lives of Laura, Freddy, Sunshine, and Eunice?
  11. Laura refers to “The Truth Fairy had a very suspicious nature.” Who was the Truth Fairy?
  12. What did Eunice find when she left her interview with Bomber? What’s it’s significance to the story?
  13. What’s the story behind the lost blue-sky puzzle piece?
  14. Bomber felt that “the wonderful thing about books was that they were films that played inside your head.” Do you agree? Is that always the case? Have you ever read a book then watched the movie adaption and been satisfied with both?
  15. Eunice feels sad that “the best day of her life so far had been the last day of someone else’s, and all that had separated them had been a few feet of tarmac.” What happened? Theoretically, we all know that is possible, but has it ever happened to you?
  16. The term codswallop is used several times throughout the book. What does it mean? Did you have to look it up? What’s a Ming-Mong? What’s a Dancing Drome? How do those terms appear in the novel? Were there other terms in the novel that you looked up?
  17. What had Anthony lost and why was it important? Have you ever had a similar loss? Describe it.
  18. At a point in the story, Theresa’s photo always appears face down. Why? When Laura replaces it in its upright position, she says “I hope to God you find each other,” and then wonders “to herself if that counted as a prayer.” What counts as a prayer? Who is the “each other” she refers to?
  19. Why do you think the clock always stops at 11:55 pm? If it’s a windup clock, shouldn’t the stopping time vary?
  20. Sunshine frequently refers to Anthony as St. Anthony. Who was St. Anthony and where did he come from? Did you look it up while reading the novel? Are you familiar with the Miracle Prayer to St Anthony? How does it relate to the novel’s plot?
  21. What image did you initially form of Sunshine? Was that image changed during the marriage/burial service (where she spoke during the scattering of the ashes ceremony)?
  22. Did it register that the author frequently uses alliteration in the novel? Did you find that fascinating or distracting? Too much or it didn’t even register with you?
  23. One reviewer writes, “Bomber’s sister Portia’s never-ending homages to the classics of literature are side-splitting.” Do you agree?
  24. The phrase “Where reason fails, chimera flourishes” appears in the novel. What do you think that means? How does it apply to the plot?
  25. Several of the stories of the lost items are related in the novel. Did you assume they would all tie in at some point? Did they? Were you disappointed with any of the lost object stories? Which stories “stuck” with you? Which of the characters within the novel wrote the stories behind the lost objects?
  26. Movies play a role in the novel. How? Did that add a level of meaning for you? Were you familiar with any of the movies mentioned? Which ones?
  27. What happens at the conclusion of the novel? Were you satisfied or dissatisfied with the ending? Why?
  28. Would you recommend “The Keeper of Lost Things” to a friend with similar literary interests? Would you like to read another Ruth Hogan book?

The All Good Books group will next meet (using Zoom) on Thursday, August 20, 2020 to discuss The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan. Discussion questions related to the novel will be posted here prior to the meeting.

The All Good Books group will meet using Zoom at 7 PM this Thursday, July 16, 2020 to discuss The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce. It’s the sequel to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

Here’s a brief list of characters in the Queenie novel. Twenty-four possible discussion questions follow.

  • Queenie Hennessy: writer of letters to Harold Fry
  • Harold Fry: the walker whose story is told in The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
  • David Fry: He likes unexpected adventure, very smart. “His intelligence is like a knife” (page 118).
  • Napier: Harold and Queenie’s boss at the brewery.
  • Finty – rubs off foil seals to see if she has won a vacation or prize or free vouchers for dining. Coordinates the party for the arrival of Harold Fry.
  • Mr. Neville Henderson – won’t do crossword puzzles, because he may not be around for the answers. “The knuckles poked out and his sleeves hung loose as if Mr. Henderson had no more substance than a coat hanger inside a dogtooth jacket. His mouth was so blue, the lips looked bruised.” He stole a Purcell record and likes Queenie. His wife Mary, hired his best friend as her divorce lawyer. They “took him to the cleaners.”
  • Barbara: Has two glass eyes, Albert Bates once loved her.
  • The Pearly King: receives packages but almost never opens them. Says a lot of women loved him, hope they don’t all come to visit. Has an artificial arm. Never told his family he was in hospice.
  • Sister Philomena: very spiritual nun at the hospice.
  • Sister Lucy: youngest nun, naive, most active of nuns in helping patients, kind, puzzles puzzle her, no idea of distance from Kingsbridge to Berwick-upon-Tweed.
  • Sister Catherine: nosey but always helps Mr. Henderson even when he doesn’t want help. Brought the word of Harold’s phone call to residents of the hospice. She brings in the mail bag each day.
  • Sister Mary Inconnu: (Inconnu means “an unknown person or thing”). Types the letters to Harold for Queenie.
  • The Lonely Gentleman: shows up in the Harold Fry story and on page 58.

Possible Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you describe “The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy” to a friend to encourage them to read it? Would you encourage them to read it?
  2. Are there specific passages that you underlined in the book? If so, what are they? Why do they have significance for you?
  3. How do you imagine the novel be received and interpreted by a teenager? By someone in mid-life? Or by a senior?
  4. Does your view of Queenie and Harold change as you read “The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy?” How?
  5. Can “The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy” stand on its own? Would it be understood without the reader first reading “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry?”
  6. On page 56 Queenie says, “I don’t know why some of these memories must remain so crystal clear. I recall one sliver and the whole picture comes rushing back, while other things, for instance, other things I would like to remember, are completely unavailable.” Why do you think that happens? Do you have a similar experience?
  7. Why was Mr. Henderson so upset with Sister Catherine? See page 72.
  8. Queenie’s mother told her (page 74), “There is no such thing as love at first sight. People get together because the time is right.” Do you agree?
  9. What is bindweed and why does Queenie compare Napier to it? See page 78.
  10. Does your view of Mr. Napier change at all in the second novel?
  11. What is a rockery and how does it connect with Queenie’s statement on page 94, “I’d made my sea garden to atone for the terrible wrong I had done to a man I loved, I said. Sometimes you have to do something with your pain because otherwise it will swallow you.” Do you agree?
  12. What is the color of Harold’s suit and why does the author keep referring to it (as on page 102)?
  13. What is the meaning of the lesson of the peach on page 108?
  14. “Waiting” is one of the themes in the book. What did you learn about “waiting” in the book and from life?
  15. When Sister Lucy unveils the Harold Fry corner on page 122, Mr. Henderson responds, “Good grief…this is worse than Huis Clos.” To what is he referring? Did you look it up?
  16. Sister Lucy is always removing pieces from the puzzle. Why does she keep dissembling the puzzle?
  17. Who had the more difficult pilgrimage, Harold Fry or Queenie Hennessy?
  18. On page 168 Sister Inconnu says, “The sky and the sun are always there. It’s the clouds that come and go. Stop holding on to yourself, and look at the world around you…. Those days are over too. So the only thing left for you to do now is to stop trying to fix the problem.” What’s the message in that exchange?
  19. On page 173-176, Queenie relates the story of the day when the car sputters, she and Harold are lost on the highway and must walk back to Kingsbridge. Why does she describe that as a perfect day?
  20. Queenie says (on page 200), “When you know a thing is wrong, you have to work very hard to stick with it.” What does she mean, and do you agree?
  21. On page 263 Queenie reminisces that “my mind was caught up in thinking of ways to keep it safe. I was wrong, though, about the threat coming from wind or gulls. Five years ago, something else got it.” To what is she referring? Who “got it?” And what’s the life lesson?
  22. Sister Mary Inconnu at one point (page 309) says, “Dear oh dear. We really should sit and laugh at trees more often.” What was that episode about?
  23. Share your opinion: were Queenie’s letters to Harold written in Morse code or shorthand? Explain your opinion.
  24. Besides “waiting” are there other themes throughout the book? Other lessons learned?