Archives for posts with tag: journey

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?

The All Good Books group will meet using Zoom at 7 PM this Thursday, June 18, 2020 to discuss The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.

There are discussion questions at the end of the novel, but since I was unaware of that, I started writing discussion questions as I read. The result is 43 questions (too many to discuss in an hour meeting). So, I’m listing the questions below, but have put ten in boldface. We can discuss whatever you wish, but the boldface questions might be a good place to start.

Discussion Questions: The Unlikely Journey of Harold Fry

  1. The girl in the garage who helps Harold warm up a hamburger says (on page 15), “You have to believe. That’s what I think. It’s not about medicine and all that stuff. You have to believe a person can get better.” What’s her story? What do you discover later in the story?
  2. The author describes the same girl in the garage while “resuming her place, in front of cigarettes and lottery tickets. Harold tried to catch her eye but she wouldn’t meet his. She had returned to being dull and empty again, as if their conversation about her aunt had never happened.” What happened?
  3. The author, on page 37, describes how the people that Harold met, “They believed in him. They had looked at him in his yachting shoes, and listened to what he said, and they had made a decision in their hearts and minds to ignore the evidence and to imagine something bigger and something infinitely more beautiful than the obvious.” What’s the meaning of that observation? Do you have a personal example of how that has occurred?
  4. Why does Harold (on page 47) untie his shoelaces when his son, David, is being swept out by a riptide? What would you have done?
  5. What episodes in the novel define who Harold is as an adult? How would you describe his character traits in a sentence?
  6. On page 48 early in Harold’s pilgrimage the author describes how, “Several cars slowed, but he waved them on, not wanting their attention.” Why won’t Harold accept a ride?
  7. The author comments that “A child’s growing [is] a constant pushing away (page 51). Agree or disagree?
  8. Elizabeth (Rex’s deceased wife) “had once confided across washing lines that his mother’s fussing had turned him (Rex) into the most appalling hypochondriac.” Is that the image you get of Rex?
  9. On page 63 Harold meets an inn keeper who complains about South Brent but then  tells him “I won a holiday to Benidorm once. All I had to do was pack my suitcase. But I couldn’t do it. They sent me the ticket in the post, and I never opened the envelope. Why is that? Why, when the chance to escape came, couldn’t I take it?” How would you respond to the inn keeper who asked that question?
  10. Harold remembers all the failures he had with his son, David. He asks himself, “Why must [I] remember?” Do you remember failures more than successes? If so, why?
  11. What was the lesson learned (pages 71-74) when Harold meets the husband and wife hikers (the woman loved Jane Austin and the husband loved hiking)?
  12. Harold describes his transition from countryside to city on page 84: “What had been so clear to him when he was alone, two feet on the ground, became lost in this abundance of choices and streets and glass-fronted shopping outlets. He longed to be back in the open land.” Which is your preference: city or country? Do you understand Harold’s distress?
  13. Is there a lesson to be learned from the “silver-haired gentleman” that Harold meets in a café and shares his teacake with Harold (on page 89)?
  14. Have you ever had an experience like Maureen has when she goes to the doctor’s office? What happened to Maureen and to you?
  15. How does Maureen initially react to Harold’s journey? Does her attitude change over time? (see page 109) How? What is she experiencing?
  16. Maureen has a dream on page 93 where she imagines that “She must remain very still and very quiet and no one must know she was nursing her entrails.” How would you interpret her dream?
  17. On page 107 Harold thinks that “If he kept looking at the things that were bigger than himself, he knew he would make it to Berwick.” What did Harold see that gave him hope? What gives you hope?
  18. How would you describe Mr. Napier (page 117)? Was he a good boss?
  19. How would you describe a Harold and Maureen’s marriage?
  20. Can harsh words ever be unsaid as suggested on page 122?
  21. As you began the book what did you think was the relationship between Harold and Queenie? How did he define friendship (page 141)? How do you define it?
  22. What was Martina from Slovenia’s story? See page 143.
  23. What was Maureen’s story? What did she mean on page 146 by “She had bleached and annihilated every waking moment of the last twenty years”? What happened 20 years ago to change everything?
  24. On page 157 the author says Harold “had learned that it was the smallness of people that filled him with wonder and tenderness, and the loneliness of that too. The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time. Harold could no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human.” What are your reactions to that statement?
  25. How did Harold and Maureen first meet? Do you remember how you first met your spouse or partner?
  26. What are the major life lessons from Harold’s unlikely pilgrimage?
  27. In 3-4 sentences how would you describe the novel to a friend to either encourage or discourage them from reading it?
  28. Do you see any parallels between Harold’s unlikely pilgrimage and the life of other historical or literary characters?
  29. Was there a significance to Harold’s side trip (page 168) to the Roman baths?
  30. Harold has a “new beginning in one chapter and the (page 177) he meets the actor and the physician. What the meaning of those two chapters? Why did the author juxtaposition one after the other?
  31. What was Rex’s “plan up his sleeve” for Maureen (page 184)? Was it a good plan?
  32. On page 187, Maureen describes the current state of her relationship with Harold. She says, “I say so many things that I don’t mean. It’s as if, even if I think something nice about Harold, by the time it’s got to my mouth it’s become not nice. He goes to tell me something and I’m saying ‘I think not’ before he’s finished the sentence.” Have you ever been in a similar situation with a friend or spouse? Why do we sometimes get in that kind of rut with friends and loved ones?
  33. What was David’s problem? Could his parents have done more to help him?
  34. At one point in Harold’s journey, he starts giving away much that he has. Why?
  35. What was the result of the newspaper article about Harold’s journey? See page 209.
  36. Who is Rex? On page 211, Rex describes loss in this way: “It’s like discovering a great hole in the ground. To begin with, you forget it’s there and you keep falling in. After a while, it’s still there, but you learn to walk round it.” What lesson does Rex’s comment teach about loss?
  37. At one point in Harold’s journey he attracts all different sorts of followers. How did that affect the goal of reaching Queenie? What’s the lesson in that segment of his pilgrimage?
  38. Who was Rich? Kate? Wilf? Why couldn’t Harold continue his quest alone (page 238) without them and the other followers?
  39. Why do you think Maureen would not accept Harold’s offer to walk with him?
  40. On page 254, Harold expresses a belief that “there was a basic goodness to be found in everyone, and that… [he] could tap into it.” Was he able to do so? Do you share a belief in the basic goodness in everyone?
  41. On page 310, Kate says, “You got up, and you did something. And if trying to find a way when you don’t even know you can get there isn’t a small miracle; then I don’t know what is.” Why is that a small miracle? 
  42. When you consider Harold’s conversation with the girl in the garage, and his final meeting with Queenie, what does the novel say about faith?
  43. Was Harold’s meeting with Queenie what you expected? How did you react to it? Would you have written a different ending?

The All Good Books discussion group will meet on Thursday, February 18, 2016 at 7 PM to discuss “The Children Act” by Ian McEwan. We will meet at the Community of Christ congregation in Prairie Village at the corner of 79th Street and Mission Road, in the church library.

To generate some pre-thinking for our discussion, please consider the following questions.

  1. Would you consider Fiona Maye a fair and impartial judge? Do you agree with her ruling in the case of Mark and Matthew? What about her decision regarding  Adam Henry? What, if anything, would you have done differently?
  2. Describe your impressions of Jack Maye. Do you understand his motivation throughout the novel? Would you have forgiven him?
  3. At one point, Fiona reflects on the case of Adam Henry, “It was not her business or mission to save him, but to decide what was reasonable and lawful.” Do you agree that is the role of a judge?
  4. What is your reaction to Fiona’s reminiscence regarding Matthew and Mark when she thinks: “Blind luck, to arrive in the world with your properly formed parts in the right place, to be born to parents who were loving, not cruel, or to escape, by geographical or social accident, war or poverty. And therefore to find it so much easier to be virtuous.” Thoughts?
  5. “Welfare, happiness, well-being must embrace the philosophical concept of the good life,” writes the author. What defines the good life for you?
  6. In Fiona’s thoughts she comments, “the archbishop preferred Mark to die along with Matthew in order not to interfere with God’s purpose. That churchmen should want to obliterate the potential of a meaningful life in order to hold a theological line did not surprise or concern her. The law itself had similar problems when it allowed doctors to suffocate, dehydrate or starve certain hopeless patients to death, but would not permit the instant relief of a fatal injection.” Do you see parallels in Fiona’s two examples? Is the issue black and white on preserving life? If not, what are the conditions or extenuating circumstances that should be considered?
  7. In some passages, like the following, the author is very descriptive. Is it too much? Did you enjoy the use of detail in language? Comment on the novel as an art form. “They entered a glassed-in atrium the height of the entire building. Mature native trees, rather starved, pushed hopefully upward from the concourse, from among the cheerful chairs and tables of competing coffee and sandwich concessions. Higher up, then even higher, other trees rose from concrete platforms cantilevered into the curving walls. The remotest plants were shrubs silhouetted against the glass roof three hundred feet up. The two women went across the pale parquet, past an information center and an exhibition of unwell children’s art. The long straight run of an escalator brought them to a mezzanine, where a bookshop, florist, newsagent, gift shop and business center were ranged around a fountain. New Age music, airy and unmodulating, merged with the sound of tinkling water. The model was, of course, the modern airport. With altered destinations. At this level there was little sign of illness, none of medical equipment. The patients were finely spread between visitors and staff. Here and there were people in dressing gowns, looking rakish.”
  8. Did you feel the pain of Fiona in her personal crisis with Jack? How did it affect her role as judge? Or did it? If you had been Fiona, would you have acted differently as a wife or spouse? As a judge?
  9. If you were Adam Henry’s parents, what would you have done? How would you feel about Fiona’s judgment?
  10. What was the meaning of the kiss?
  11. How would you describe this book? A walk in the park? A doctoral thesis? A love story? Enlightening? Boring? A roller coaster ride? A legal thriller? An artwork in words?
  12. Would you recommend the book to other readers? To other book clubs?

As I read Breakfast with Buddha byRoland Merullo, I kept running into questions I hope to remember to bring up at the book club meeting. To reinforce my forgetful brain, here are the questions I have asked myself. Maybe you have an answer?

By the way, Rinpoche is “(in Tibetan Buddhism) an incarnate lama or highly respected religious teacher (often used as an honorific title).”

  1. How did your parents show affection for you? Do you show it differently to your children? Why?
  2. Why is Otto so angry?
  3. When observing Amish and Mennonite farmers and their neat farms, Otto ponders the thought, “Would it (their sacrifice) earn them minds as clear as drinking water completely free of sidewalk grit? After they died would there be a special place reserved for them above the clouds, God smiling on them with a  special affection…? And if so, what would be reserved for ordinary good folks…who’d given up nothing, but who’d done little harm and a fair amount of good in our years on earth? Was it all just a game, the winners being those who give up the most?” How do you respond to Otto’s reflection?
  4. Otto talks about “the way you love a wife of many years” and ends with “”there is a part of her you do not know.” Say it isn’t true!
  5. Why so much anger in America?
  6. Who made better use of the hour before dinner, Rinpoche meditating or Otto flipping thru channels? Which would you normally do if left alone?
  7. If you defined religion very broadly (e.g. football for Notre Dame as Otto suggested), what would your religion be?
  8. Even as Otto mocks spirituality or Rinpoche’s way of thinking because it threatens him, what ideas do you mock? Any?
  9. Is there an invisible barrier, such as Rinpoche describes in “his book” (The Greatest Pleasure) within the novel, that prevents you (and me) from the next spiritual level (refers to the story of the young man learning to play the piano)?
  10. Any thoughts on the episode when Otto and Rinpoche go bowling? Does that really ever happen or is it just in novels and movies?
  11. What did Buddha’s deathbed statement to his followers mean when he said “Work our your own salvation with diligence?”
  12. How comfortable are you with Rinpoche’s view of Jesus Christ vs. the angry nun’s?
  13. Any comments on the contrast between the Yanquis (Yankees) and the Mexicans that Otto encountered on his honeymoon? That is, “superiority” vs. “the world is enormous and mysterious?”
  14. Why would a bar have a sign saying “Notre Dame Stop Importing Crime, Drugs, and Homelessness for Money?”
  15. At the end of their Mexican honeymoon, what did Jeanne mean when she said, “No one runs away from anything here?”
  16. Anyone want to talk about sex? Paraphrasing Otto’s mental journey, he asks, “Why was it always the middle-aged and old people, their sexual urges barely a shadow of what they had once been, their own guilt and regrets ballooning as they aged, who insisted on telling the young to abstain?”
  17. Do you agree that as we eliminate “dirt from within the glass” (sex, food, anger, violence, greed) we simply add more “dirt” to the glass (pride)?
  18. Any comments on the Buddhist prayer that begins, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought?”
  19. Have you ever engaged in “people watching?” What have you observed contrasted to Otto and Rinpoche in their visit to downtown Chicago?
  20. What does the engineering feat of changing the direction of flow of the Chicago River say about our approach to solving problems in this country? Anything?
  21. What did you learn from Otto’s first yoga experience?
  22. Have you ever tried abstinence to enhance an experience or pleasure? Would you consider fasting an abstinence to enhance worship or spirituality? Do you practice fasting?
  23. What is the “blue space?” Have you ever been in the “blue space?” What’s it’s purpose? Does it need one?
  24. Rinpoche says “Do not force information into your mind….you think too much it pushes you from God.” What do you make of that statement?
  25. What’s your contract with God? Anything similar to “Don’t do anything evil during the week, go to church on Sunday, God will take care of the rest. Yoga classes optional?”
  26. Why do you think the Duluth professor was so antagonistic and combative to Rinpoche?
  27. If our armor is made of smartness or fear or anger or quiet or being nice or talking as Rinpoche suggests; what is your armor?
  28. Do you agree or disagree (or both) with Rinpoche’s views about terrorism and this world?
  29. Consider the “quiet space” that Rinpoche says some people have available in order to chose. Do you believe that some people do not have access to such a “quiet space?”
  30. Do you agree that “inside the big world that you cannot control, you have the small world of you that you can control?”  Is that the only answer to hunger, poverty, violence, terror and fear?
  31. Rinpoche talks about God’s music as the love that moves everything, water, stone and air. Is that poetic license? Do you believe it?
  32. How do you react now when you hear or read the words “bohling,” “meditation wife,” and “furniture golf?” What images and thoughts do they conjure up for you?
  33. What were your thoughts and how were you effected when Otto and Cecelia with Rinpoche pass the spot where Ronald and Matilda Ringling died?  Any reaction?
  34. Have you ever felt the “subversion of time…the delusion of youth…that you believe you’d never reach middle age…the delusion of middle age…(that) you could go on more or less indefinitely the way things were?” What stage are you in now? How do you think you’ll face death? Like Otto’s Grandma May…or?
  35. Ultimately, what is the message of the book? Has it changed you?
  36. Finally, were you uncomfortable with the novel’s conclusion? What was your intellectual, emotional and spiritual reaction?