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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?

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.”

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is certainly a jigsaw puzzle of a novel, but also very much worth reading. I’m very curious to hear the reactions of fellow All Good Books club members when we meet to discuss the novel on Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 7:00 PM at the Leawood Pioneer Library (4700 Town Center Drive, Leawood, KS). Here are some possible discussion questions I noted as I read through the 500 page novel.

  1. What’s the first line of the book? Did you view it as ominous or a foretelling of adventure? Or did you have a different response or no immediate reaction?
  2. Why do you think Morgenstern chose the circus as the venue for the competition between Marco and Celia? What is a good choice?
  3. Who said “Most maidens are perfectly capable of rescuing themselves in my experience, at least the ones worth something, in any case” and why?
  4. What is your response to the statement by the Man in the Grey Suit when he says “People see what they wish to see. And in most cases, what they are told that they see (Page 24).”
  5. Any thoughts on the statement that a secret loses its “power bit by bit” when written or shared (Page 226)?
  6. What was the message in the deaths of Herr Fredrick Thiessen and Tara Burgess? Why did they have to die? Or did they?
  7. Why was the reveurs group created? What was their purpose within the plot? The French term translates as “dreamers” (noun). Any thoughts on that?
  8. On page 440, Elizabeth (one of the reveurs) says, “We lead strange lives, chasing our dreams around from place to place….” Are the reveurs any different from the rest of us?
  9. The sign for trespassers at the Night Circus says they’ll be “exsanguinated.” Who was the one trespasser we know about and did that happen? Why or why not?
  10. When Bailey was first introduced as a character, what role did you think he was going to play? Were you correct?
  11. How were Marco and Celia bound to the competition? Did it occur to you that the method foreshadowed the outcome?
  12. Who was the Contortionist? What role did that character play and what were her motives?
  13. In a metaphorical sense, what was the role of Chandresh Lefevre? Of Prospero and Alexander H? Of the reveurs, the public who attend the Night Circus, and the competitors?
  14. As you think back on the entire novel, do you see parallels in literature? History? Religion? What did you view as the overall theme? How would you summarize the “message” of the book? Does it say anything about real life?
  15. Of all the visual images within the book, which intrigued you the most? Or which did you think most beautiful? Possible examples include: the Opening Night Bonfire (page 119-121) the Midnight Dinners, Ship of Books, the Wishing Tree, Pool of Tears (page 396), the Hall of Mirrors, and the das Meisterwerk clock (page 88-89).
  16. Who was the most fascinating character in the book? Why? Does your selection change if you exclude Celia and Marco?


At our November 2012 meeting we’ll plan to add 5-6 books to our reading list for 2013. Suggested at the last meeting (by Eloise based on Oprah‘s Recommended Reading List) are the following:

Almost Paradise by Susan Isaacs, see

The Empty Glass by J. I. Baker, see

The Forgetting River: A Modern Tale of Survival, Identity, and the Inquisition by Doreen Carvajal, see the description.

Also suggested (based on an email story several members had received) was:

Life in a Jar: The Irene Sandler Project by Jack Mayer, see

I’d also like to suggest we consider the following (a movie adaptation is being released very soon):

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, see

Please bring your list of suggested titles to the meeting or post them as comments on this blog posting or email me (Jonathan Bacon) with your suggestions.

11/5/2012 Update – I’m adding a couple of additional books, by author’s we’ve read before, as possible additions to our schedule.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (author of The Poisonwood Bible), see or the longer overview on

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, see the description on Goodreads at

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan (author of Atonement), see description on

Any other suggestions? We’ll discuss adding new books to our schedule this Thursday, November 8, 2012.

At the next meeting of the All Good Books Club, the group will discuss “Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern. The meeting will be held at 7:00 pm on Thursday, November 8, 2012 at the Leawood Pioneer Library (4700 Town Center Drive, Leawood, KS.

You can find out more about the author at her website:

You can also find an NPR discussion of the book at plus a book review (

There’s also a 7-minute interview with Morgenstern at

Please plan to meet with us on November 8th.

In preparation for our October 11, 2012 discussion of Heaven is For Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent, I’ve drafted a few questions that might generate some discussion. We’ll meet at 7 PM Thursday at the Leawood Pioneer Library, Leawood, Kansas.

  1. What did you anticipate when you started to read the book and how did your expectations correspond with what you read?
  2. Are there passages in the book that you underlined and otherwise noted that made you reflect on issues related to the afterlife, pain and suffering, rewards and punishment or other topics?
  3. How closely does your concept of Heaven correspond with Colton’s experiences? Angels with wings? Such as God sitting literally on a throne? Angels carrying swords or bows and arrows to fight Satan and his forces? The age-related appearance of those who have died (Colton’s unborn sister appears as a child but Grandpa “Pop” Barber appears as a young man)? The presence of Jesus, Gabriel, Mary, Satan, and others?
  4. Have you ever experienced “shot down power” that provided an answer when needed and it seemed as if under normal circumstances you wouldn’t know what to say? (page 146)
  5. Colton first relates his story to his parents 3½ months after the event and continues adding detail over the next several years (approximately the next 2½ to 3 years). How reliable do you consider his re-telling of the events? Do you think Colton’s reflections are at all influenced and expanded because of his environment (growing up as the son of a Pastor)?
  6. Does the book alter, reinforce or negate any of your views of the afterlife?
  7. How did you react to Colton’s statement that “This one’s right” when he saw Akiane’s portrait of Jesus?
  8. When asked how Colton’s experience had changed the family, Pastor Burpo said “it absolutely broke us” and “we learned the value of being vulnerable enough to let others be strong for us, to let others bless us.” What do you think he meant? See page 153.
  9. What answers did you find in the book?
  10. Would you recommend the book to others? Why or why not?

Related links:

Heaven is real, says neurosurgeon who claims to have visited the afterlife

Audio Interview with Todd Burpo about “Heaven Is For Real”

Today Show interview with Burpo Family