Everything I Never Told You – Discussion Questions Part 2 (Spoiler Alert)

July/August 2015

July/August 2015

The story deals with prejudice in the 1960’s all the way up to 1977.  According to Celeste Ng, “at the time, of course, interracial marriages were both rare and stigmatized.  Now, it’s getting to be much more common… but at the time, it would’ve been a much bigger deal.”

Each of the characters experienced discrimination of one sort or another, even Jack who had he come out of the closet would have dealt with prejudice and the ramifications of “being different” in a very homogeneous community.  While they did all face it they each chose to deal with it in different ways.  Who do you feel was able to adapt the best/least?  Could James and Marilyn have made decisions that would have made their lives and the kids lives easier?  After finding out that Lydia had died James thinks back on why he bought the house by the lake and wondered if he had chosen differently Lydia might not have died, were there decisions that were made earlier that made events inevitable?  Where they inevitable?

Celeste Ng is the child of two parents of Chinese decent.  Growing up in the ’90s she says “virtually all of the overtly racist things, large and small, in the book are things that either my family experienced of other Asian families that i knew experienced.  Sadly, I didn’t really have to do much research on that at all.”  Do you think it’s significant that Ng chose to set the book 20 years before she experienced racism as a teen, and wrote the novel 20 years (or so) after her teenage years? If so why?

I heard one comment that a reader thought that this novel felt more like a veiled memoir to her.  She truly thought that, perhaps, this was just Ng telling her own story (albeit dramatized – she did not lose a family member to drowning.)  What do you think?

Invisible City Discussion Questions – The End

May/June 2015

May/June 2015

All of us have survived the scene in the garage between Miriam including Rebekah – all that is except Miriam.

The novel neatly wraps up the murder of Rivka, but leaves us wondering about Rebekah and her relationships with Tony, her father, and the possibility of finally reuniting with her mother.

What did you think of the story?  Were there issues that you had with either the writing, the story, the depiction of Hasids?  Come on now I know you have opinions!

There is a second book out now, Run You Down, that deals with another murder. This time the story is set in the ultra-Orthodox Upstate town of Roseville, N.Y. (could it be based upon the town of Kiryas Joel?)

Would you be interested in following Rebekah’s story?

I’ll introduce our next novel next time.4th of July

Have a happy 4th.


The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey Discussion Questions (Spoiler Alert)

snow childWe’ve entered the magical world of 1920’s Alaska and have met Mable and Jack.

Were you shocked to learn that it was Mable that suggested that they move to Alaska?

Why do you think that, having lived so long as a childless couple, they decided at nearly 50 years old to leave the comfort of home and family?

On page 5 we begin to see the desperation that Mabel feels

” There were guns in the house, and she had thought of them before…She had never fired them, but that wasn’t what kept her.  It was the violence and unseemly gore of such an act, and the blame that would inevitably come in its wake.  People would say she was weak in mind or spirit, or Jack was a poor husband. And what of Jack?  What shame and anger would he harbor?”

She decides to commit suicide by river, how does she justify this?  How would her death have been easier for Jack?

As she travels across the icy river why do you think that she changed her mind?  Did she change her mind?

There is a chill between Mable and Jack yet on the night of the first snowfall they play like children.  It’s not until this night that Faina appears.  What is the significance of her appearance at this point?

More to follow.

The Illusion of Separateness – Discussion Questions Part II

seperationIn the novel we encounter a cast of characters that by all rights should never intersected.  Born in different countries, and on different continents Van Booy still manages to have them touch one another’s lives.


Which character resonated with you? What was it about him/her that drew you to them?

Did the story make you stop and consider how you might have changed someones life without knowing it at the time?  Can you reflect on an event in which your actions may have altered someones life for the better?

None of the characters in the novel realized the connections that they made or the effects that they had on one another’s existence.  How long did it take for you to realize the disconnectedness of the story lines?

Van Booy is a novelist and philosopher.  As I was reading The Illusion of Separateness for the first time I felt as though he managed to meld both disciplines in an effortless manner.  Share your thoughts with the group.

The Illusion of Separateness – Discussion

connectedIn a 2011 article Simon Van Booy stated,

“For me, I think words allow us to hold hands with strangers. They remind us that one person’s experience is everyone’s. With that in mind, to love another is to love one’s self. To insult or injure another is to insult or injure one’s self. I read somewhere that we live solely to overcome the illusion of our separateness. Stories and language allow us to live without living, and to die without dying, which is why I think the modern Holy books are rooted in language and not pictures.”

How does Van Booy convey this feeling in the novel?  Do you agree?

Van Booy is both a philosopher and a poet, and both permeate the novel.  Did the shorter, almost staccato, sentences and phrasing add to or detract from your reading experiences?

In another article Van Booy discusses the quote from Thich Nhat Hanah, his inspiration for the novel:

“We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness. And I thought that was compassionquite interesting. You know, of all the things one hears in a day, isn’t it quite wonderful that some things stick, they resonate. It’s almost like a bell, you know, you hear the chiming long after, you know, the actual note has been struck. And so for days and weeks after I considered that I was connected to everybody, even when I was stuck in traffic and not particularly happy, I thought, well, you’re connected to that person next to you, you know, the person cutting in front of you.”

Do you agree that we are all connected? Do you believe that our “contentedness” will encourage compassion?  Does it work for the characters in the novel?

The Cellist of Sarajevo

pigeonQuestions to ponder.

Which character has the greatest conflict with himself/herself?

 What do the ‘men on the hills’ represent?

Dragan sent his wife and son away but remained in the city to try to keep his job and protect his apartment.  Why did some people refuse to leave Sarajevo when it was still possible?

What do the details about Kenan’s trips to get water tell us about war?

What is your most valued possession? Would you pay 20 times the price to have it?

Explain the comparison between Kenan and a pigeon.

I have had comments that this was a very depressing read.  In the end did you think it depressing or was there any glimmer of hope?

The End of the Point – Regret


A box made out of shells is empty unless you fill it.

So much of what goes on in the novel is about choice or lack thereof.  When we end the first section that takes place in 1942 Bea comes to the realization that she has had the luxury of making her first choice – to not marry Smitty.

“…staying at home because her mother was ill and needed nursing; coming to America because her mother had died; staying in  America because-why?  A tightly wrapped bundle that mewed like a cat.” “All of this was true, though none of it quite hers.  That summer, finally: a choice.”

Juxtapose Bea’s decision to remain with the Porter family and not marry Smitty with the decision that Charlie makes to run off and marry? What drives them to make their decision?

In the caption of the picture above I made the observation about the empty box.  Do you think that Bea has lost her chance to fill her life, or do you think she’s satisfied with the choices that she’s made along the way?  Given the pull of outside influences can any of us truly be satisfied?

Elizabeth Graver has kept us in 1942 during this section, but has chosen to end with Janie’s visit  to Scotland.  Why do you think Graver has ended this way?

During the visit Janie recalls that Bea refused the proposal because Janie forbid it.  Whose memory do you believe.

Author Information – Maria Semple

maria semple

Ms. Semple has included her bio on her website.

There is some terrific information about and by Maria Semple on the website Red Room.

For more wit and wisdom and an insight into how she thinks read the New York Times article “A Novel Asks Seattle to Laugh at Itself” by Julie Bosman.

The Jericho Public Library subscribes to a database “Biography in Context” that offers a substantial biography of Ms. Semple.  You can access this database via the Jericho Public Library website. Visit jericholibrary.org, click on the “Databases” tab and then click on “Adults.”  You can find the database either on the A-Z listing or click on the link for BiographyYou will then need to enter your Jericho Public Library barcode (all fourteen numbers with no spaces.)

A summary from the above database about Maria Semple:

  • Born May 21, 1964, in Los Angeles, CA; daughter of Lorenzo Semple, Jr. (a television writer and producer); partner of George Meyer; children: one daughter.
  • Education: Graduated from Barnard College.
  • Screenwriter for television series, including Beverly Hills 90210, Ellen, Saturday Night Live, Mad about You, Suddenly Susan, and Arrested Development.
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette has been optioned for a feature film.
  • Writer, television screenwriter, movie screenwriter, and novelist.
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette was named one of the ten best fiction books of 2012, Time.



A Land More Kind Than Home – (Spoiler Alert)

MP900341322[1]Today we’re going to finish the discussion of  A Land More Kind Than Home.  We’ve seen the death of both Chambliss and Ben in that startling scene at the Hall place.  Julie and Chambliss were set to run off, but Julie decided that she wanted to retrieve her belongings (no mention of taking Jess with her.) Ben greets them on the porch with a shotgun and blows Chambliss away. Having had a modicum of sense, Julie has called and requested the police to be present, but Clem arrives too late to save Chambliss. Clem does try to get Ben to put down his weapon.  Ben too angry to hear reason is shot and killed.  Julie injured by the shotgun blast that Ben sent into the car recovers and runs off.

We need to talk about Julie!  A few chapters ago Adelaide Lyle tried to explain why Julie is so fervent in her beliefs.  Should her behavior be forgiven because of her religious beliefs?  Do you believe that her motives for bringing Stump to that service were pure?  Why doesn’t she consider taking Jess with her?  How could she leave him behind? What do you think were the motives of Pastor Chambliss?

Julie knew that there was going to be trouble.  What motivated her to go back to the house? Was what happened inevitable?

Julie, Jess and Adelaide knew things about what had gone on that might have prevented the deaths of Stump, Ben and Chambliss, yet all three have survived.  There was plenty of blame to go around, but do you think that justice was served?  Did you get a sense that any of them took a lesson from the mistakes that were made?

After the death of Chambliss Addie claimed, “But in the Old Testament, when God’s chosen people called out, “Save us, Lord!” He heard them, and they were saved.  He was there for them because they believed.”  Do you think any of the characters in the novel were saved?

Clem and Jimmy were each instrumental in the deaths of each others son.  Why do you think Wiley Cash wrote the events this way?  Was it just poetic justice?

I’ve finished with the book and my portion of the discussion.  I hope that you enjoyed the novel and the discussion. Even after reading it for a second time I still enjoyed it. I found aspects that I could reflect upon that I missed the first time. Please comment below if you would like to share your thoughts on the book.

While we might be finished with A Land More Kind Than Home the discussion continues.  I’ll be back to announce our next selection and other book related topics.

Stay tuned!