Archives for posts with tag: history

Mrs.Lincolns.DressmakerThe All Good Books group will meet this Thursday, June 21, 2018 to discuss  Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini. We’ll meet at the Community of Christ Mission Road Congregation (7842 Mission Road, Prairie Village, KS) in the Church Library.

The following are some suggested discussion questions:

  1. When you began reading the novel did you think that Elizabeth Keckley was a fictional character used by the author to talk about Civil War events and the Lincoln’s life in the White House? Or did you think that she was and historical figure? Did your opinion changed as you read the novel?
  2. From the novel, what surprised you most about Mrs. Lincoln? About President Lincoln? About the Lincoln family? And about Elizabeth Keckley?
  3. What are your thoughts on Elizabeth’s publication of her memoir, Behind the Scenes? Do you believe she have the right to publish about her years as a dressmaker, friend and confidante to Mrs. Lincoln? Was it a breach of confidentiality and privacy that her employers should have expected of her?
  4. Why do you think Elizabeth published her memoirs? Would you have published a similar memoir if you had served in the White House as a friend and confidant of the President or the First Lady?
  5. How would you describe Mrs. Lincoln as a wife, a mother, and a friend? Could you have served as a friend and confidant of Mrs. Lincoln like Elizabeth? How would you describe Elizabeth’s service and response to Mrs. Lincoln’s requests?
  6. What is your opinion of the relationship between Mrs. Lincoln and the Washington elite? Was she mistreated, or should she have expected the treatment she received? Explain.
  7. Would you recommend the novel to other readers? Why or why not?

The following are additional questions suggested by the publisher:

  1. What are Elizabeth Keckley’s most admirable qualities? What makes her such an appealing figure?
  2. Lincoln and Elizabeth both suffer terrible tragedies. Elizabeth was born into slavery, raped by her white master, and betrayed by her husband. She lost her only son in the war and was the victim of a scandal that damaged her reputation and left her in poverty. Mrs. Lincoln lost three of her four sons, as well as her husband, and was also the victim of devastating scandals and financial distress. How do they respond differently to the trials that life throws at them?
  3. What picture of President Lincoln emerges in the novel? In what ways does the novel deepen our understanding of Lincoln, both as a political leader and as a husband, father and friend?
  4. Elizabeth likes to think “that she too had played some small part in helping President Lincoln know the desires and worries of colored people better. She hoped she had used, and would always use, her acquaintance with the president and her time in the White House for the good of her race” [p. 192]. In what ways — direct and indirect — did Elizabeth helped the cause of people of color during her time in the White House? How might her personal example of dignity, compassion, and integrity have helped her cause? What actions does she undertake on behalf of her race?
  5. Why is the press so eager to vilify Mrs. Lincoln? Are any of their criticisms deserved?
  6. After her husband’s death, Mrs. Lincoln tells Elizabeth, “You are the only good, kind friend I have anymore, and I don’t know how I shall get along without you” [p. 259]. Why does Mrs. Lincoln come to rely so heavily on Elizabeth? In what ways is Elizabeth a loyal and generous friend to Mrs. Lincoln? What does she offer Mrs. Lincoln beyond dressmaking?
  7. Late in her life, Elizabeth tells the reporter, Mr. Fry, “When I am most in distress, I think of what I often heard Mr. Lincoln say to his wife: ’Don’t worry, Mother, because all things will come out right. God rules our destinies” [p. 349]. Does the novel itself seem to confirm Mr. Lincoln’s belief in divine providence? Does Lincoln’s death seem fated?
  8. What are some of the novel’s most moving scenes? How is Chiaverini able to bring the era, as well as the Lincoln family, so vividly to life?
  9. What are Elizabeth’s intentions in writing her memoir? In what ways does the editor of Carleton & Co., Mr. Redpath, take advantage of her?
  10. One reviewer of Elizabeth’s memoir, Behind the Scenes, writes that “The Line must be drawn somewhere, and we protest that it had better be traced before all the servant girls are educated up to the point of writing up the private history of the families in which they may be engaged” [p. 321]. Why do the critics respond with such hostility — and inaccuracy — to her book? Why would they feel threatened by it?
  11. How does Lincoln’s Dressmaker complement and add to the portrait of President Lincoln in the recent, Oscar–winning film Lincoln?
  12. Elizabeth learns from Mrs. Lincoln’s negative example that “the only way to redeem oneself from scandal was to live an exemplary life every day thereafter” [p. 325]. In what ways is her life, not just after the scandal but her entire life, exemplary?
  13. Reflecting on her teaching at Wilberforce University, Elizabeth feels that “Her greatest legacy could not be measured in garments or in words but in the wisdom she had imparted, in the lives made better because she had touched them” [p. 339]. In what ways does Lincoln’s Dressmaker also strengthen Elizabeth’s legacy? How much did you know about her before reading the novel?

 

 

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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!

TruthAccordingToUs

January Book Club Selection

The All Good Books discussion group will meet on Thursday, January 14, 2016 at 7:00 PM to discuss The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows at the Community of Christ church (7842 Mission Road, Prairie Village, KS).

Here are a few suggested discussion questions for the novel:

  1. Who is your favorite character in the novel? Describe your favorite character and share why you chose that character.
  2. Why do you think the author/publisher chose the title for this novel? Would you have selected a different title? If so, what?
  3. Between Jottie, Mae and  Minerva, they are always sharing an old saw (conventional wisdom) with Willa and Bird. Some of the sayings include: “idle hands are the devil’s playground,””least said, soonest mended,””Oh, what a tangled web we weave…when first we practice to deceive,” “discretion is the better part of valor,” “Rightness is nothing. You can’t live on it. You might as well eat ashes,” and “hatred is a poor bone to chew.” Have you heard these sayings before? What do they mean to you?
  4. Layla in a letter to her brother Lance writes, “I’ve been thinking about history a good deal in the past few weeks, and I believe it fails when it offers only a tepid recitation of events and dates. A successful history is one that captures the living heat of opinion and imagination and ancient grudge.” Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  5. As Miss. Betts reads some of Layla’s draft history, she comments, “All of us see a story according to our own lights. None of us is capable of objectivity. You must beware your sources.” What did she mean?
  6. At the point in the novel when Jottie is thinking about whether to continue her relationship with Sol, she thinks, “The past was the only thing that really existed; there could be no future that was not based on the past. She had to choose one side or the other, and the side she chose had to be Felix’s.” How did you react to Jottie’s decision at that point in the novel?
  7. Is there a scene in the story that you found especially endearing?
  8. Is there a scene in the book that your found especially tragic?
  9. At one point, Willa is trying to comprehend the world around her and thinks, “In books, even in books like The Beautiful and Damned, things were connected; people did something and then something else happened because of that. I could understand them. But outside, here in the real world, things seemed to happen for no reason that I could see. Maybe there was no reason. Maybe people just drifted here and there, aimless and silly. But no, people had been thrown out of the Garden of Eden for knowing, so there must be something to know, reasons, all the time and everywhere, for the way they behaved. Reasons I couldn’t see yet, no matter how hard I tried.” Any reactions to her quandary?
  10. The novel repeatedly returns to an exploration of the nature of history such as when Layla writes, “I’ve learned that history is the autobiography of the historian, that ignoring the past is the act of a fool, and that loyalty does not mean falling into line, but stepping out of it for the people you love.” Did the novel generate any personal thoughts about the nature of recorded history? Any thoughts you’d like to share?
  11. Do you believe that Sol really loved Jottie? Why?
  12. Can you understand and justify why Felix did what he did? Explain.
  13. How would you describe Layla and Felix’s relationship? Did you see it coming? Did you expect the resolution offered by the author?
  14. If you were to write a sequel to the novel, what would happen next?
  15. How would you describe the book? Was it like a roller-coaster ride? A stroll through the park? A run-away train? A 10th grade history text book?

Aviator's WifeThe next meeting of the All Good Books Club is at 7:00 PM, this Thursday, January 15, 2015 at the Leawood Pioneer Library (4700 Town Center Drive, Leawood, KS) to discuss  “The Aviator’s Wife” by Melanie Benjamin.

Unless you’re already familiar with more than the typically brief “history book” version of the Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh story, you will probably learn far more than you want to know in Benjamin’s well researched novel.  Much has been written on Lindbergh and most American’s think they know his history, but in most cases that “knowledge” is superficial (see http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/10-fascinating-facts-about-charles-lindbergh and http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/lindbergh/sfeature/fallen.html for a sampling of little know facts).

A few questions that might generate discussion for Thursday night’s meeting:

  1. What is the most significant fact or event in the life of Charles Lindbergh that you didn’t know prior to reading The Aviator’s Wife?
  2. What is the most significant fact or event in the life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh that you didn’t know prior to reading The Aviator’s Wife?
  3. Why do you think that Anne Morrow married Charles Lindbergh? Why do you think Charles married Anne?
  4. What’s your reaction to the Lindbergh’s parenting skills and methods?
  5. Describe the marital relationship between Anne and Charles. Why did it work? What didn’t work?
  6. What clue does the following quote offer about the role of women in the 1930s-1950s? Does the quote apply today? “I was Mom. I was Wife. I was Tragedy. I was Pilot. They all were me, and I, them. That was a fate we could not escape, we women; we would always be called upon by others in a way men simply never were. But weren’t we always, first and foremost —woman? Wasn’t there strength in that, victory, clarity— in all the stages of a woman’s life?” – page 340.
  7. The author suggests “JEALOUSY IS A TERRIBLE THING. It keeps you up at night, it demands tremendous energy in order to remain alive, and so you have to want to feed it, nurture it—and by so wanting, you have to acknowledge that you are a bitter, petty person. It changes you.” – page 333. Do you agree or disagree? How was Anne changed?
  8. How has your view of Lindbergh changed as a result of reading The Aviator’s Wife?

We hope you’ll join us on Thursday evening!

Light The book club will discuss M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans: A Novel at our Thursday, February 13, 2014 meeting at the Leawood Pioneer Library (7 PM). Here are some suggested questions for discussion.

  1. If you were in Tom Sherbourne’s position, would you have let the lightkeeper’s log book “stay silent” when the baby was found? Do you understand why Tom did what he did? Explain.
  2. If you were in Isabel’s position, what would you have done when the baby was found? Would any of your subsequent actions have differed from Isabel’s?
  3. At what point, if any, during the story did you feel uncomfortable with the Sherbourne’s choices? What would you have done differently?
  4. The author writes “The logbook tells the tale of the keeper’s life in the same steady pen. The exact minute the light was lit, the exact minute it was put out the following morning. The weather, the ships that passed. Those that signaled, those that inched by on a squally sea, too intent on dealing with the waves to break into Morse or— still sometimes— international code, about where they came from or where they were bound.” Any comments or reactions to that passage?
  5. Isabel says, ““Love’s bigger than rule books, Tom. If you’d reported the boat, she’d be stuck in some dreadful orphanage by now.” Do you agree with either the first or second sentence? Explain.
  6. What role, if any, does the war play in the novel? Or is it only background atmosphere?
  7. How did you react to the passage where Isabel thinks, “She knew that if a wife lost a husband, there was a whole new word to describe who she was: she was now a widow. A husband became a widower. But if a parent lost a child, there was no special label for their grief. They were still just a mother or a father, even if they no longer had a son or a daughter. That seemed odd. As to her own status, she wondered whether she was still technically a sister, now that her adored brothers had died.”
  8. Does the amount of grief experienced by Bill and Violet Graysmark and Tom and Isabel Sherbourne outweigh the grief of Hannah Roennfeldt and mitigate the choices made by the Sherbournes? Is there ever a case where “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?”
  9. The author states, “History is that which is agreed upon by mutual consent. That’s how life goes on— protected by the silence that anesthetizes shame. Men who came back from the war with stories they could have told about the desperate failings of comrades at the point of death say only that they died bravely. To the outside world, no soldier ever visited a brothel or acted like a savage or ran and hid from the enemy. Being over there was punishment enough. When wives have to hide the mortgage money or the kitchen knives from a husband who’s lost the thread, they do it without a word, sometimes acknowledging it not even to themselves.” Do you agree? Is there such a thing as authentic or true history?
  10. When Tom is talking to Bluey about marriage and parenting, he thinks “Sometimes, you’re the one who strikes it lucky. Sometimes, it’s the other poor bastard who’s left with the short straw, and you just have to shut up and get on with it.” Is that true? Or is it a jaded, cynical view of reality? Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  11. In a conversation with Ralph, Tom says, “Right and wrong can be like bloody snakes: so tangled up that you can’t tell which is which until you’ve shot ’em both, and then it’s too late.” Have you ever faced a situation where right and wrong were so entangled that the choice was unclear? How do you react to Tom’s statement?
  12. The author states, “A lighthouse is for others; powerless to illuminate the space closest to it.” Is that an accurate metaphor? Why or why not?
  13. Tom reflects, “there are different versions of himself to farewell— the abandoned eight-year-old; the delusional soldier who hovered somewhere in hell; the lightkeeper who dared to leave his heart undefended. Like Russian dolls, these lives sit within him.” Are we all different versions of ourselves hidden like Russian dolls within ourselves?
  14. Hannah remembers a conversation with her husband Frank when he said, “Oh, but my treasure, it is so much less exhausting. You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things.” He laughed, pretending to wipe sweat from his brow. “I would have to make a list, a very, very long list and make sure I hated the people on it the right amount. That I did a very proper job of hating, too: very Teutonic! No”— his voice became sober—“ we always have a choice. All of us.” Your reaction?
  15. Is The Light Between Oceans a romance or a tragedy? Is it a story about the struggle between good intentions and evil or about the fogginess of moral choice?
  16. The novel closes with a very melancholy passage. What are your thoughts on the passage: “There are still more days to travel in this life. And he knows that the man who makes the journey has been shaped by every day and every person along the way. Scars are just another kind of memory. Isabel is part of him, wherever she is, just like the war and the light and the ocean. Soon enough the days will close over their lives, the grass will grow over their graves, until their story is just an unvisited headstone. He watches the ocean surrender to night, knowing that the light will reappear.”