Tag Archives: Death

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

 

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Pages: 192

Published:  August 9, 2016

Format:  E-book

 

 

 

 

Exquisite!  Such a beautifully written piece of work, that it felt like poetry, both in the flow and the content.  It has an ethereal dreamy quality and is full of rich metaphors.

I have been struggling with my review of this book, because whatever I seem to write doesn’t really do the book justice.  It is such a unique beautiful piece of writing.  The story begins with August, the narrator, returning by train to visit her dying father.  She catches a glimpse of Sylvia, a childhood friend and memories come flooding back to her.  The ethereal quality of the book has in part to do with the fact that the narrator is looking way back on an earlier part of her life;  in part that she is remembering her childhood, one in which she could not comprehend or accept the death of her mother; and thirdly the poetic quality to the writing.

The idea that August thinks her mother will return and convinces her younger brother of the same, feels so honest, so real, so a part of how children really cope with the loss of a parent.  Within the book, different cultural rites of death are mentioned reminding the reader that death is there, but not letting us know the actual circumstances of the mother’s death until later.

Once August arrives in Brooklyn with her father and brother, the father cages the children in the house worried about the dangers of the outside world.  This backfires as her younger brother falls through the glass window injuring his arm in his attempts to watch the outside world.   At this point, August and her brother are allowed outside to experience the world.

August reminisces about her female friendships from this era in her life.   She had developed a close-knit group of girlfriends who become her “home, ” her family, and this allows her feel alive again, after feeling cooped up in their Brooklyn apartment.  Together these girls feel stronger and braver.  Their friendship gives them a sense of safety, of home, of togetherness that is lacking from their actual home environments.  They grow into puberty together, date, experiment with sex.  They confide in each other about  things that they do not feel safe confiding to their own parents.

August’s mother’s words about not trusting female friendships keep echoing back to her.  “Don’t trust women, my mother said to me. Even the ugly ones will take what you thought was yours.”  August learns how this can be true as the friendships begin to slip and in some cases fracture.  However, for a time, the friendships are a beautiful thing and allow the girls to feel powerful in a world where they are vulnerable, on account of being female, minorities and poor.

This reflection is of Brooklyn in the 1970’s in a neighborhood that is turning from white to black.  While August finds comfort in her friendships, her father finds comfort in religion.  It is a stunning look at this place and time period, the struggles these girls faced as they came of age and the hope and courage needed to face it.   I highly recommend this to everyone.  images

 

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Biafra  – map

 

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think August did not realize her mother was dead or did she just not accept it?
  2. Discuss the role of friendship in the novel.
  3. Discuss the role of religion in this novel.
  4. Discuss race relations in Brooklyn in the 1970s as described in this novel.
  5. Compare their Brooklyn to life as described in Biafra.
  6. Why do you think that August does not find comfort and hope with her father?
  7. Why does Jennie disappear each time her children return?
  8. Why can’t Gigi tell her parents about the soldier?  Why does she think they won’t believe her?
  9. Did her mother’s prophecy about friendships become true?
  10. Discuss the ugliness of the surroundings contrasted by the beauty of the friendships.

 

Jacqueline Woodson’s website

Review by Ron Charles in the Washington Post

Review by Tayari Jones in the New York Times

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

 

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

Literary Awards:  Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Memoir & Autobiography

Pages: 272

Format: E-book

 

 

 

“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