“Sweetbitter” by Stephanie Danler

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Pages: 368

Published:  May 24, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

“Appetite is not a symptom,.. It’s a state of being, and like most, has its attendant moral consequences.”

Sexy, racy, indulgent, shallow.. .an enlightening dive into life within a restaurant.  It felt authentic and raw, a full sensory & gustatory experience.. for which reason, I recommend this book be read accompanied by a glass of wine.  With all the drinking, drugging, and embarrassing mistakes made by the protagonist, you will need it.  She bares her soul and the soul of the restaurant industry.  I have not had the pleasure of working in a restaurant, but have had friends who have and this novel definitely sheds light on the subject.

“Sweetbitter” was written by Stephanie Danler drawing on her own experience as a backwaiter in NYC.  The protagonist in the novel, whose name you do not learn until half-way through is Tess.  She presents herself as naive, unpretentious, inexperienced and unworldly, but is out to prove herself to survive and achieve in the restaurant which is modeled after Union Square.  She comes under the wing of Simone, who is older, experienced, worldly and uncomfortably close to the bartender that Tess is fixated on.  Tess learns about terroir, and develops an appreciation of food and wine.  She gets swept up in the late night partying, which is part and parcel of working in the restaurant.  She becomes involved in a love triangle.  She makes ridiculous choices.  She is a character you root for, though.  Through her, you gain insight into the secret life of a restaurant, how it becomes all-encompassing, lending itself to late nights with drugs and alcohol, to relationships that lack depth, and self harm.

I felt transported to the time after college where there is so much to learn, to experience, where anything can happen, where so many relationships are fleeting.  I cannot imagine being Tess, alone and new to a city without any friends or family nearby, not returning home for the holidays.  My heart ached for her loneliness, her desperate yearning to fit in, her poor choices.  However, I also felt the energy and excitement of this time in life, the possibilities, the opportunities, the relationships.

I loved the book for the most part.  It’s an exciting and fun read.  I recommend it to anyone interested in the restaurant industry, who enjoys reading about food and wine, who’s looking for a spicy book to read.images-2

 

Wines & Spirits discussed during the book

Fernet – an Italian type of amaro, made from a number of herbs and spices with a base of grape-distilled spirits & colored with caramel coloring.  It is often served with coffee or espresso.

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Manzanilla – a variety of fino Sherry made around the port of Sanlucar de Barrameda in Cadiz Andalusia (Spain)

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Champagne – sparkling wine produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France.  The primary grapes used in its production are Pinot Noir and Pinot Meaner, but white Chardonnay is also used.

Beaujolais – generally made of the Gamay grape (a cross of Pinot Noir & the ancient white wine variety Gouais); light bodied red wine with high amounts of acidity.

Louis_Jadot_Cru_Beaujolais_in_glass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sancerre -grown in the eastern part of the Loire valley; made from Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir;  described to have flinty, citrusy and spicy notes.

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Pouilly-Fume – vineyards are in the Nievre (east of the Loire); made purely from Sauvignon Blanc, described as “smoky bouquet”

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Pouilly-Fuisse – from Burgundy region in south of France; grown from Chardonnay grapes;  Hints of oak and clay

Pouilly_fuisse_from_Macon

french-wine-regions-map-simplified

 

Discussion Questions:  Please see the back of the book for some great ones.  No need to add more.

Vanity Fair’s Interview with Stephanie Danler

New York Times Review of Sweetbitter

Reading Group Guide from Doubleday

“The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead

 

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Pages: 320

Publication Date:  August 2, 2016

Literary Awards:  Kirkus Prize Nominee for Fiction (2016),  Oprah’s Book Club Selection (2016)

 

 

A work of amazing scope and breadth, shocking in the brutality of events, and so pertinent to politics and race discussions being held today.  This is an important piece of literature reminding Americans of our history, the beginnings of race relations in our country, and you can follow this thread out to today and realize that we still have a long way to go.  I love that Michelle Obama reminded us that the white house was built by slaves, at the DNR earlier this month, a fact that is also mentioned in this book.  Our government is literally built on slavery.

“White folk eat you up but sometimes colored folk eat you up, too.”

Cora is the protagonist of the novel, born on a Georgia cotton plantation, whose mother runs away from the plantation while Cora is still young.  Cora is mistreated by the slave owners and fellow slaves alike, being shunned, raped, whipped, and degraded in every way seemingly possible.   She is labelled a stray.  The horrors she and others face on the plantation at the outset of this novel are shocking in their rendering and brutality.

“With strategic sterilization – first the women but both sexes in time – we could free them from bondage without the fear that they’d butcher us in our sleep.”

Caesar, a fellow slave, approaches her with an escape plan and she accepts.  The book follows Cora’s tortuous escape route on a literal underground railroad, bringing a magical element into the novel.  This isn’t the only time that Colson Whitehead takes liberty with historical elements.  Each stop along the railroad highlight different aspects of African American history, that in reality may have occurred in vastly different times and places.  While Cora and Caesar are in South Carolina, the Tuskegee experiment is being conducted on the black population, an event that in history does not occur until much later, 1932-1972, with penicillin becoming available for the treatment of syphilis in 1947.  It was also here in South Carolina, where Cora is offered sterilization and is asked to help persuade the other blacks living there to accept this measure.

“In North Carolina, the negro race did not exist except at the end of ropes.”  Again, the fear many whites have of blacks is manifested in hatred and horrific acts.  The North Carolinians in the novel abolished slavery by abolishing blacks from the state; those who did not leave willingly were hung along the “Freedom Trail,” as decided by the “Justice Convention.”  Such ironical terms are attached to such atrocities to emphasize the justification involved.   “But they were prisoners like she was, shackled to fear.”  Those who aid Cora are subjected to the same fate as blacks.

Whitehead tackles many heavy issues in this novel, even religion.  Cora sees paradox and hypocrisy in the bible.  Ridgeway and other use the bible to find justification for their cause and actions.  It is interesting to me the continuing theme of religion, something that many people find such comfort and peace in, also becomes a tool or justification for divisiveness and war.

In Tennesee, Whitehead tackles the treatment of Native Americans. “Manifest Destiny” is cited as the ultimate narcissistic doctrine of self justification for the mistreatment and displacement of another race.

Some chapters are named for the location in which they occur, but others are named after a character in the book, to get better insight into their mindset and thinking.  Interestingly and unsurprisingly, the thugs of society, found purpose in becoming slave catchers.  Homer never received his own chapter, and this leaves the reader wondering why a free black would choose to spend his life working and living alongside Ridgeway, a monstrous slave-catcher.

Valentine’s Farm, in Indiana, becomes a relative utopia, where blacks can live freely and share ideas, at least for a time.  Lander states, “And America, too, is a delusion, the grandest one of all.  The white race believes – that it is their right to take the land.  To kill the Indians.  Make war.  Enslave their brothers.  This nation shouldn’t exist, if there is any justice in the world, for its foundations are murder, theft, and cruelty.  Yet here we are.”  These words are so important.

Whitehead’s words and message throughout this novel are direct, strong, and sweeping. We cannot be blind to our past. We cannot repeat the past by creating a culture of fear. We must live with our past, acknowledge our past and continue to make peace with it. There is so much to take in with this novel – the brutality of slavery and treatment of blacks outside of slavery, the kindness shown by those who were willing to risk their lives to help, the feeling that there is nowhere to escape to, only places to flee, the deeply seated racial prejudice and violence that continues, and so much more. I highly recommend this book to everyone! It is hugely pertinent to current times, beautifully rendered, and brilliant. There is so much to this novel, that I had to sit and think about it for days before attempting to put thoughts into a review. It is excellent material for discussion.   images

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why do you think the author chose a female for the main character?
  2. How did you feel about the historical facts being changed for the sake of the story here?
  3. How does fear affect people?
  4. What role does religion play in this novel?
  5. How is the Hob represented outside of the plantation?
  6. Do you think there was anywhere truly safe to escape to in these times?
  7. Discuss branding, literally and figuratively.  How are the former slaves branded?
  8. In what way do blacks become equals to whites in this novel?
  9. What did you suspect happened to Mabel, Cora’s mother?
  10. Why is the character Homer important?  Why do you think he stays with Ridgeway?
  11. Discuss some of the discussions that took place on the Valentine farm.
  12. Discuss the role of those who helped slaves escape via the underground railroad and the risks taken.

Interview with Colson Whitehead published in Vulture

Review published by NPR

Review published in NY Times

Oprah’s Reading Group Guide

“Nightbird” by Alice Hoffman

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Pages:  208

Published:  March 10, 2015

 

 

 

 

Lovely, delicious, mystical, tender, coming-of age story by an author I’ve been wanting to read for a long time.  I listened to the audible version with my children on a road trip, and given it’s target audience, the plot is somewhat simplistic, so I still look forward to reading some of her more acclaimed adult novels.

“Nightbird” is the story of a 12 year old girl who lives with her mother and her winged brother, a product of the “Fowler family curse.”   It is a story of friendships developed, fears overcome, pasts and futures colliding.  It has beautiful fantastical, mystical and magical elements.  It is infused with the beauty and the tastes of the Berkshires.  The message of the book is kind and loving.  I would recommend this book especially to girls aged 8-14.  images-2

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  How did Twig grow in this novel?
  2. Discuss the attire of Miss Larch and Julia.  Why do they dress this way and how does it relate to the story?
  3. Discuss the role of the ornithologist.  What clues does he give to Twig to help solve her mystery.
  4. Did you realize that Mr. Rose was the father right away?  What were the clues?
  5. Both Twig and her mother say they want to go back in time.  What do they each mean?
  6. In what ways to pasts, presents and futures collide in this novel?
  7. Discuss the two romances in the novel:  Agnes and the original Fowler who went off to war, Agate and James.  How are these romances similar?  How are they different?
  8. Discuss the role secrets play in the Nightbird.
  9. What role does fear play in the novel?  How is fear overcome?
  10. How is the play important to Sidwell?  What does it mean to Twig’s family?  How do you think Twig rewrites it?

Pink Apple Pie

Create a lovely pink apple pie with two different toppings, including a crumble-top variation. Best if shared with a friend. But isn’t everything?

Pastry Ingredients

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
4 1/2 tablespoons cold water

You can also use two premade 9-inch crusts bought at the market. Or see below for crumble-top variation.*

Filling Ingredients

6 to 8 medium apples
1 cup seedless strawberry jam
3 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam

Making the Pastry

Preheat oven to 375˚F. Butter a nine-inch pie plate.

Sift flour into bowl. Mix in butter (with your fingers!), smooshing it into flour. Add sugar and mix. Add cold water a little at a time (you may not need it all). Mix until it forms a dough.

Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill in fridge for 20 minutes.

Remove dough from refrigerator. Let stand at room temperature for a few minutes if necessary until slightly softened.

Divide pastry into two balls and roll out with rolling pin. Put one crust into pie plate and form to the plate’s size. Save the second crust for the top of the pie.

Making the Filling

Peel, core, and slice apples. Mix in strawberry jam and place the apple/jam mixture in pastry in pie plate. Dollop with spoonfuls of raspberry jam.

Cover apple mixture with second pastry crust. Pinch crusts together with wet fingers around the sides.

Pierce top of pie with fork (you can make a design if you’d like) to release air as it bakes.

Bake for approximately 40 minutes at 375˚F.

*Variation: Crumble Topping

If using this topping, make half the pastry recipe above (3/4 cup flour, 6 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 1/4 tablespoons cold water). This will make one crust. Fill the crust as above, then add topping.

1 cup flour
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar

Mix the flour with cut-up butter (with your fingers!) until it forms crumbs. Add sugar and mix. Sprinkle on top of pie.

Bake for approximately 40 minutes at 375˚F.

Alice Hoffman’s Website

New York Times Review of “Nightbird”

“High Rise” by J. G. Ballard

 

 

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Pages: 208

Published: 1975

Movie Released: April 28, 2016 in USA

 

 

High Rise is a horrific novel about a building that begins to have a strange hold over its residents.  The high rise is a virtual vertical city, with the higher levels representing higher social class status.  The building has it’s own school, restaurants, pools, grocery store.  The only reason for its’ residents to leave is to go to work.  The residents begin to throw louder and wilder parties and begin leaving the building less and less often to go to work.  Often if they do go, they rest at work for a few hours and then return to the high rise, or they may get to their car and then turn right around and go back to the high rise.   The parties turn to violence, vandalism, voyeurism, raiding, raping,  murder and cannibalism with the ultimate goal being survival of the fittest.  The characters become either checked out or fully engrossed in the “game” they are playing.   Although there is some hope they will get caught, no one ever bothers to call the police or seek outside help.  The men and women revert to hunter/gatherer roles.  The women seem banded together by the end and it appears the women have come out on top, however, no one really is a winner in this book.  Reading this novel from 1975 did not feel much like I had jumped back in time with the exception of the polaroid cameras and lack of cell phones/social media.  This novel was many things at once:  a horror story, a dystopian science fiction story,  and most impressively a chilling social commentary.   It  is a commentary on the psychological effects of modernization and technological advancement.  This advancement leads to an increasingly fragmented and socially insular society that yearns for more connectedness even if that connectedness is horrific. The writing was excellent and I look forward to watching the movie.  images-2

 

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Interestingly, J. G. Ballard (15 November 1930 – 19 April 2009) grew up in in Shanghai, which came under Japanese control in 1943.  He spent 2 years in an internment camp with his family.  Presumably this early exposure to the atrocities of war shaped his writing and the horror it contains.  In 1945, he returned to Britain with his mother and sister.  He began medical school in 1951 with the intention of becoming a psychiatrist, however, abandoned his medical studies 2 years later, to pursue a career in writing.  Since then, he led an incredibly interesting life with various twists and turns.  His wife and mother of his 3 children died young of pneumonia and he was left to raise 3 children.  He has had movies and television series made of his stories and novels.  He has influenced the genre of dystopian science fiction literature, art and music.  With the publication of “The Atrocity Exhibition,” there was an obscenity trial and in the United States, the publisher destroyed nearly all of the print.  He had become an icon with this work.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Who ends up on top, the women or the men?
  2. How is this book a literal struggle to the top?
  3. How are the characters psychologically affected?  Why do they become that way?
  4. How do you think J. G. Ballard’s background affected his writing?
  5. Laing isn’t sure if what is happening is all in his head.  Could the building be a Freudian representation of himself?
  6. Debate which the better, the movie or the book?

Review at Fantasy Book Review

Book/Movie Comparison:

I watched the movie shortly after finishing the book.  I thought it had a similar dreamlike surreal quality to it.  The events occurring in the book are horrific and repulsive yet somehow, in both reading the book and watching the movie, I felt ok with it.  I was interested, intrigued, waiting for what was next, almost complicit in the act of chaos and abandon that the characters/actors demonstrate.

The movie rendition is mostly true to the book.  I did think that children figured more prominently in the movie than they had in the book.  It’s a movie that’s interesting to watch after reading the book and understanding the author, his background and the year in which it was written.  Given the graphic content contained within the movie, it is not a movie for everyone.  If you can stomach, I highly recommend watching it if you’ve read the book!

Review of the Film as published in The Telegraph

“The Magician’s Nephew” by C. S. Lewis

 

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Pages: 221

Published:  1955

 

 

 

I loved the Chronicles of Narnia as a child and was excited to read this with my 8 year old son.   As a child, I loved the magic and beauty contained in these other worlds.  As an adult, I now see the parallels to the bible, and the messages it is intending to teach.   The ending of the book is actually a retelling of sorts of the story of creation from the bible.    I must say my remembrance of the book was that of a 5 star read, but in re-reading it, I can only give images-2.  My son, although very interested and attuned to the storyline throughout, I think would agree.

I will keep this review short as there is so much already written about this novel and instead of providing discussion questions, I will simply provide links.

Discussion Questions from Charlevoix Library

Study Questions from Oxford Tutorials

Official website of C. S. Lewis

“Eligible (The Austen Project #4) ” by Curtis Sittenfeld

 

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Published: April 15, 2016

Pages: 513

 

 

 

At first I was a little leery, thinking this was over the top, not very deep.. However, I found myself laughing out loud over and over again and reading late into the night, never wanting to put this book down.  I would literally be aching to read it while at work or with the kids during the day. It is highly addictive, highly inventive and utterly hilarious!!  I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed so much while reading a book.

So, the plot:  five sisters who grew up together in Cincinnati are reunited there again to support their parents when their father is recovering from heart surgery.  They are in their 20s and 30s, with the eldest two being 37 and 39.  Their mom,  the social climber, feels the need to try to marry them off well.  The social dynamics within the household and with various suitors is hilarious.  The sexual tension that develops between Liz (the 37-year old sister) and Fitzwilliam Darcy becomes a thread winding it’s way through the book to it’s conclusion.

It is a hugely fun read that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys romantic comedy!  It’s been forever since I’ve read “Pride and Prejudice,”  but this story evokes similar tensions, comedy, and excitement about the outcome.images-2

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Would this book be as good on it’s own without the comparison to “Pride and Prejudice?”
  2. Compare this novel to “Pride and Prejudice.”  Discuss relationships, setting, plot, comedic value.
  3. The book read mostly through the voice of Liz.  Did you find yourself identifying with her to any extent?
  4. Why do you think there have been so many adaptations to Jane Austen’s books?  What is it about them that lend them to retellings?

A Negative New York Times Review

A Positive New York Times Review

Curtis Sittenfeld’s website

“The Invoice” by Jonas Karlsson

 

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Pages:  208

Published (in Sweden):  September 22, 2011

Expected Publication (in USA):  July 12, 2016

 

This novel brought to mind”The Stranger” by Albert Camus, a novel I read back in high school, due to the absurdity of the premise and the situation of the protagonist.  “The Invoice” is not nearly as dark and in fact this novel has everything to do with happiness.   The protagonist is a 39-year-old single male living in Sweden who works part-time in a video store.  His only friend, Roger, seems to be pretty miserable.  He has a sister who seems overrun with her family life.  His parents are deceased.  Yet, he receives an invoice stating he owes a ridiculous sum of money for his assessed happiness.  Through his investigations into the reasons why he owes so much money which is primarily through the woman he reaches at the call-in center, Maud, it is revealed that calculations were mistaken and the amount he owes keeps increasing.  It seems incredible to him that he could owe so much working a dead-end job, having very little actual life experience, and no money to speak of.  In the end, he realizes just how lucky he his that he is able to experience happiness with the simple things in life where others do not.  He ultimately finds that the ridiculous sum of money they wanted to charge him does not come close to the amount he should owe for all of the happiness he has in his life. I enjoyed this philosophical, satirical novel that seems light-hearted and deep both at once.  It is a novel that makes you think about happiness, the roots of happiness, what it means to be surrounded by people who are truly happy and to be truly happy yourself.  I give this novel images-2 and recommend it to everyone.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why do you think the protagonist is so happy?
  2. Do you think we could ever truly quantify a person’s happiness?
  3. Compare and contrast Roger and the protagonist’s perceptions of similar events.
  4. Explain the importance of the scene in The Bridge to this novel.
  5. Why do you think Maud spends so much time speaking with our protagonist on the phone?
  6. What do you think are the strongest components or personality traits to being a happy person?
  7. Do you feel happier when you are around happy people?
  8. In what ways is this novel a commentary on governmental regulation?

 

Review of “The Invoice” in the Independent

“Rich and Pretty” by Rumaan Alam

 

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Pages: 304

Published:  June 7, 2016

 

 

 

 

A book written about a friendship between two women and how it changes, develops, pushes and pulls…  by a man.  Actually, he does a very good job portraying the intricacies of a female friendship.  It is a book many would describe as a “summer read,” a book that doesn’t really go anywhere.  Nothing extraordinary happens, but you feel the nuances of the friendship and relate to them.  It is a friendship between two girls who met when they were 11 years old and the novel follows their friendship into their 30s.  One of the girls is “rich” and the other is “pretty.”  These adjectives don’t define them, but definitely play a role in who they are and who they become.  The novel is a realistic look at how friendships look uneven at times and from many different angles, at how there are intrinsic and external factors that push and pull the friendship together and apart.  It shows how beautiful a thing friendship is when it is long-lasting with so many shared experiences that make two people feel like siblings, even when the two people on the surface may seem so different.

I feel like there is a whole class of books like this, some with much more depth than others.  This felt light and fluffy, leaving me wishing for more from the book.  I would give it 3-stars.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why does this friendship work?
  2. Who did you relate to more, Sarah or Lauren?  Why?
  3. Did you feel that their friendship was lopsided or equal?  How?  In what ways?
  4. What do you think the most important components of a friendship are?
  5. How do you think friendships are changing in this digital age?
  6. Do Sarah and Lauren seem closer to themselves or their families? Do you think this is typical?  Does this change with marriage and relationships?
  7. Describe an important friendship to you.  How much work do you put into your friendships now and in another time in your life?
  8. If you were to rank your priorities in your life, where would friendships rank?
  9. Were there any clues while reading this that the novel was written by a man?

Interview with the author done on NPR

Review on Rebl Nation Blog

 

 

 

 

“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory” by Caitlin Doughty

 

Published: September 28, 2015Smoke Gets in Your Eyes PBK mech.indd

Literary Awards:  Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Memoir & Autobiography

Pages: 272

 

 

 

“What does not kill me makes me stronger.”  – Nietzsche

I was thoroughly impressed by this memoir and social commentary on death and dying written by such a young woman.  Caitlin Doughty, at the age of 23, has produced an impressive, well researched commentary on how we as a society perceive death, talk (or not talk) about death, and view the body and what happens post-mortem.  She brings the death industry to light as well as the options available for burial or cremation.  She speaks frankly and does not gloss over details that some may find distasteful.  This is a book written by someone who has spent a lot of time ruminating over what makes a good death and what should happen with the body.  She has worked in various facets of the death industry, most notably a crematory and has attended mortuary school.

Admittedly, I approached this book with some level of apprehension, presupposing that a book about cremation would be awfully dull.  Yet, I was pleasantly surprised at the level of wit and humor sprinkled within such a dark and morbid topic.  The author is wise well beyond her years.  The fact that she can discuss these topics and make them so riveting, compelling, and in some cases, downright laughable make this book not only a super important read, but a highly enjoyable one.

I am an emergency medicine physician.  I see dead people often.  One of the greatest gifts I can give a patient and family, is a death with dignity.  Too often, patients come through the ER, without a hope of surviving a tragic accident or disease, yet everything is done to try.  The more humane option in my opinion is to speak to the family about the prognosis and how much they want done .  These conversations can lead to a much more peaceful end of life, and lead to a much more gratifying experience by all involved (nurses, physicians, family & loved ones).  Caitlin speaks to the increasingly ever-aging population; the increasing physician-shortage, especially in the area of geriatrics; and the increasing need for care-givers for the elderly.  These are critically important topics where increased awareness and discussion need to be held on many levels.

Caitlin speaks about the need for people to think about their own mortality and what they would like to happen with their bodies after their death.  It is a huge burden to families and loved ones, emotionally and financially, to know what to do these circumstances when the wishes of the deceased are unknown.  This is a book that everyone should read.  It is a book that will hopefully change misconceptions about death and encourage more conversations.  Death should not be such a mysterious process.images-2

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Discussion Questions:

  1.  What do you think constitutes a good death?
  2. What would you like done with your body after you die?  Did reading this book change your answer to this?
  3. Are you afraid of death?  What could you do to lessen your fear of death?
  4. Why do you think that society at large hides death and it is spoken of very little?
  5. What kind of celebration/remembrance would you like there to be for you after you die?
  6. Natural burial (being buried with embalming and without a casket) is presented as the most ecologically sound burial.  What are your thoughts on this?
  7. Should there be a manual on the “art of dying?”
  8. Discuss some traditional ways of celebrating death honored by different eras and cultures.
  9. How do books like “Younger Next Year” and the “Fountain of Age” affect our conception of mortality?
  10. Have you discussed your wishes about your manner of death and post-mortem handling with your family and loved ones?

Caitlin Doughty’s Blog: The Order of a Good Death

Review by Rachel Lubitz that appeared in the Washington Post

Interview with the author published in Kansas City Star

“You” by Caroline Kepnes

 

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Pages: 422

Published: September 30, 2014

 

 

 

 

It’s been 14 hours and 2 days since reading YOU…

Could you stand 400+ pages of being inside the head of a psychopath, a stalker and murderer?  Despite hating what I was reading and the feeling while reading that I was somehow an accomplice,  I felt compelled to finish.. and not just skim, but really read it.   It reads like an internal train of thought that happens to be that of a psychopath working in a book store, obsessed with a hyper sexualized  recent Brown University graduate also living in NYC.  He is able to uncover and follow her almost every move and is willing to murder anyone who gets in his way.  It is frightening how much information we put into the world with social media and texting and how easily discoverable it is.  This is different from any book I’ve read before and I must give it points for originality, but I didn’t love it.  3-stars

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you think Joe’s upbringing affected him?
  2. What do you think of Beck’s friendships?  Do they seem shallow or deep?
  3. Beck always seems to need to be writing, but isn’t.  When she does the writing seems to be stories of herself.  Why do you think she writes?  Do you think she is a good writer?
  4. Joe’s first interaction with Beck in the bookstore when she is buying books.  What do her book choices say about her?
  5. What do you think of Beck’s relationships with men?  Is this typical of today’s culture?
  6. Did you find it realistic that Joe got away with all the murders?
  7. What did you think of Dr. Nicky?
  8. Were there any characters in the book you liked?  Who and why?
  9. Did it surprise you that Joe tried out a relationship with Karen Minty?  Why do you think he was dissatisfied with this relationship?
  10. Joe and Beck seem opposite in many ways:  education, social media usage…  Do you see any similarities?  What do you think was the appeal of Beck to Joe?
  11. What do you think happened to Joe when he had been in the cage?  It is alluded that he was put there for an extended period or periods, but it is not spelled out.
  12. Did you find yourself rooting for Joe or against him?  How did the point of view affect how you felt about the outcomes in the book?

Discussion Questions from Lit Lovers

Reading Group Guide by Simon & Schuster

sharing a love of books

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