Discussion

Hillbilly Elegy Discussion Questions

The following discussion questions for “Hillbilly Elegy” were compiled by our member Allison. Questions 2, 6, and 7 are written by Allison while the rest were adapted from LitLovers. We freely share our original discussion questions, but please consider including a credit and link to our website.

  1. What does this book bring to the national conversation about poverty in America? What did you learn about the roots and persistence of poverty?
  2. Is there a culture of cruelty surrounding poverty? Why are the poor often referred to as worthless, leaches, and lazy (or otherwise demonized)?
  3. What are the positive aspects of Appalachian culture?  
  4. Discuss the author’s resentment towards his neighbors who were receiving welfare but owned cellphones.  
  5. Vance refers to Appalachian culture as one that is “encouraging social decay” instead of counteracting it. Can you give an example to support his assertion?
  6. How has the opioid addiction epidemic affected the lives and communities of Appalachian culture?  
  7. The Rust Belt has suffered tremendous and pervasive economic hardship with the loss of manufacturing jobs. How can this area of the United States ever recover?  

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Hissing Cousins Discussion Questions

The following discussion questions for “Hissing Cousins” were created by our member Heather. We freely share our original discussion questions, but please consider including a credit and link to our website.

  1. What did you learn about the two fractions of the Roosevelt family?
  2. What surprised you about the history of the Roosevelts? Were you surprised to learn about all of the adultery?
  3. The book's title suggest that the two cousins, Eleanor and Alice don't get along. Did you feel this was a true representation of their relationship?
  4. What are the similarities between Alice and Eleanor's lives? How do their lives differ? How do these different and similar life experiences influence these women's view of the world?
  5. Throughout Eleanor's life she is introduced to many strong women. How do these women help influence and shape Eleanor's character?
  6. How do Eleanor and Alice each break down gender barriers during their lifetimes?
  7. If FDR had not contracted polio, do you think Eleanor would have evolved into the woman she became?
  8. In the book, the authors discuss the speculations surrounding Eleanor's sexuality. What are your opinions on whether Eleanor was a lesbian, bisexual, or heterosexual?

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Wild Discussion Questions

The following discussion questions for “Wild” were adapted by our member Jenny. We freely share our original discussion questions, but please consider including a credit and link to our website.

  1. “The Pacific Crest Trail wasn’t a world to me then. It was an idea, vague and outlandish, full of promise and mystery. Something bloomed inside me as I traced its jagged line with my finger on a map” (p. 4). Why did the PCT capture Strayed’s imagination at that point in her life?
  2. Each section of the book opens with a literary quote or two. What do they tell you about what’s to come in the pages that follow? How does Strayed’s pairing of, say, Adrienne Rich and Joni Mitchell (p. 45) provide insight into her way of thinking?
  3. Strayed is quite forthright in her description of her own transgressions, and while she’s remorseful, she never seems ashamed. Is this a sign of strength or a character flaw?
  4. “I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told” (p. 51). Fear is a major theme in the book. Do you think Strayed was too afraid, or not afraid enough? When were you most afraid for her?
  5. Strayed chose her own last name: “Nothing fit until one day when the word strayed came into my mind. Immediately, I looked it up in the dictionary and knew it was mine...: to wander from the proper path, to deviate from the direct course, to be lost, to become wild, to be without a mother or father, to be without a home, to move about aimlessly in search of something, to diverge or digress” (p. 96). Did she choose well? What did you think when you learned she had assigned this word to herself—that it was no coincidence?
  6. On the trail, Strayed encounters mostly men. How does this work in her favor? What role does gender play when removed from the usual structure of society?
  7. What does the reader learn from the horrific episode in which Strayed and her brother put down their mother’s horse?
  8. Strayed writes that the point of the PCT “had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets” (p. 207). How does this sensation help Strayed to find her way back into the world beyond the wilderness?
  9. On her journey, Strayed carries several totems. What does the black feather mean to her? And the POW bracelet? Why does she find its loss (p. 238) symbolic?
  10. Does the hike help Strayed to get over Paul? If so, how? And if not, why?
  11. Strayed says her mother’s death “had obliterated me.... I was trapped by her but utterly alone. She would always be the empty bowl that no one could fill” (p 267). How did being on the PCT on her mother’s fiftieth birthday help Strayed to heal this wound?
  12. What was it about Strayed that inspired the generosity of so many strangers on the PCT?
  13. “There’s no way to know what makes one thing happen and not another.... But I was pretty certain as I sat there that night that if it hadn’t been for Eddie, I wouldn’t have found myself on the PCT” (p. 304). How does this realization change Strayed’s attitude towards her stepfather?
  14. To lighten her load, Strayed burns each book as she reads it. Why doesn’t she burn the Adrienne Rich collection?
  15. What role do books and reading play in this often solitary journey?

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The Invention of Wings Discussion Questions

The following discussion questions for “The Invention of Wings” were created by our member Jenny. We freely share our original discussion questions, but please consider including a credit and link to our website.

  1. Talk about some of the things in “The Invention of Wings” that inspired the title of the book.  Which character comes to mind first when you think of the title?
  2. We'd all like to think we'd be strong and brave when faced with adversity. Were you surprised at Charlotte's fearlessness and risky behavior considering the harsh and sometimes deadly punishment if she got caught?  (Sneaking out, selling goods without permission, faking slave passes, etc.) Do you think you would do the same under such circumstances?
  3. Why do you think Sarah gave Hetty back to her mother? Do you think that was the right thing to do? Do you think she should have kept her so she could someday set her free? Do you think Sarah regretted it?
  4. Sarah and Angelina Grimke were pioneers in the fight for, not only abolition, but also for women's rights. Compared to the 1830's, do you think we've come a long way in the fight for women's rights? Or do you think we have a long way to go for equality? Compare the struggles female activists had to deal with back then with those of today.
  5. Did you know anything about the Grimke sisters and their role in abolitionism and women's right before reading this book? What about Denmark Vessey? Do you think Denmark was a positive role model?
  6. What were some of the symbols used throughout the book and what were their significance to the story? (The fleur de lis button, the story quilt, the rabbit head cane, spirit tree)
  7. Sarah was crushed when her father told her she could not study to become a lawyer because she was female. Do you think she gave up too easily? Were you surprised she didn't fight for it given her love of learning and books?
  8. Were you surprised when Sarah declined Isreal's proposal? Do you think she could have been happy had she accepted?
  9. When Sarah became Nina's godmother, and basically her sole caretaker, how did this change Sarah's and Nina's relationship with their mother? Did you think it was odd for a girl so young to become godmother/caretaker?
  10. Talk about the male characters and they're significance in the story. Who did you think was the strongest male character and what made him so?

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The Girl on the Train Discussion Questions

The following discussion questions for “The Girl on the Train” were created by our member Heather. We freely share our original discussion questions, but please consider including a credit and link to our website.

  1. When did you figure out “Who Done It”?
  2. The book is based on voyeuristic tendencies.  Do you think this type of behavior is typical of people who travel the same path daily?  Do you think Rachel’s voyeurism was more profound due to her situation? 
  3. The book is full of lies and secrets.  How do the lies told by Rachel benefit her or harm her?  How do the lies by Megan benefit her or harm her?  Is it okay to lie sometimes?  Do you think Megan would have been better off keeping her secrets in the end?
  4. In both Rachel Watson’s and Megan Hipwell’s marriages, deep secrets are kept from the husbands. Are these marriages unusual or even extreme in this way? Consider how many relationships rely on half-truths? Is it ever necessary or justifiable to lie to someone you love? How much is too much to hide from a partner?  This question comes from “The Book Report Network” discussion questions.
  5. There are many references to mothers and motherhood in the book.  How do you think motherhood affected Megan, Anna and Rachel?  Do you think Anna would have done what she did in the end if she hadn’t been a mother? 
  6. The book brings up concepts of “black outs” related to excessive drinking.  Do you think memories that occur during a black out episode are lost for good or can they be retrieved?  Are they reliable memories?
  7. A crucial question in THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is how much Rachel Watson can trust her own memory. How reliable are her observations? Yet since the relationship between truth and memory is often a slippery one, how objective or “true” can a memory, by definition, really be? Can memory lie? If so, what factors might influence it? Consider examples from the book. This question comes from “The Book Report Network” discussion questions.
  8. Trust and trustworthiness are important topics in this book. Many characters seem trustworthy but in the end are not.  What helps us form trust in others?  What breaks trust between people?  How does one reestablish trust?  Once trust is broken, can it ever be restored?  How do we establish trust in someone we meet for the first time? 
  9. Who is responsible for Megan’s fate in the end? 

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A Man Called Ove Discussion Questions

The following discussion questions for “A Man Called Ove” were created by our member Heather. We freely share our original discussion questions, but please consider including a credit and link to our website.

  1. Definition of Curmudgeon: miser. An ill-tempered (and frequently old) person full of stubborn ideas or opinions. https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/curmudgeon.  How is Ove a curmudgeon?  How did Ove’s life events create the curmudgeon that he was? In what ways is Ove not a curmudgeon?
  2. Ove loves things that have a purpose, that are useful. How does this worldview fail him when he believes himself to be useless? How is he convinced that he can still be useful? This question taken from the publisher’s discussion questions.
  3. Ove is bothered by the laziness of the society that we now live in.  He complains that no one knows how to do or fix anything themselves, that we have become a society of thought and no action.  How does he help foster more action and personal responsibility in the community that he lives in?
  4. Ove is described by Sonja as the strangest “superhero” after she hears about all of the things he did in Spain while she was napping.  Give examples of how Ove is a superhero to those around him.
  5. Throughout Ove’s life, he is being wronged by “men in white shirts”.  Give some examples of these situations.  If Ove had lived in the United States instead of Sweden, would he have faced similar types of “white shirts”?
  6. We often talk of “it takes a village…”.  In the book, “A Man Called Ove”, how does the community where Ove lives help him and how does Ove help the community?
  7. Ove and Rune are said to have had a falling out over a car (Rune bought a BMW after always having bought a Volvo).  What was the real reason for the feud between Ove and Rune?
  8. This book is filled with many losses that Ove and many of the characters experience.  How do Ove’s many losses shape him and subsequently his relationship with others?
  9. Ove and Sonja seem to be an unlikely couple yet their relationship is portrayed as sweet and loving.  Why did their relationship work so well?
  10. What surprised you about Ove’s past? Why do you think the author revealed Ove’s past in bits and pieces throughout the book? This question taken from the publisher’s discussion questions.  How did this help the reader engage with Ove?
  11. Ove is forced into many situations throughout the book by his neighbor, Parvenah.  How does her persistence help Ove?  What does Parvenah learn from Ove?
  12.   Ove is forced to adopt the scraggly, stray cat. What does the relationship provide to Ove?
  13. What was the driving force that kept Ove from killing himself?  Was it the memory of Sonja and how she would be disappointed in him?  Was it his personal responsibility to the community that he lived in?
  14. On page 113, after a younger Ove punches Tom, the author reflects: “A time like that comes for all men, when they choose what sort of men they want to be.” Do you agree with this sentiment, especially in this context? How does the book deal with varying ideas of masculinity?  Question taken from the publisher’s discussion questions.
  15. What other books or movies have similar characters and themes as were portrayed in “A Man Called Ove”?

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Peace Like a River Discussion Questions

The following discussion questions for “Peace Like a River” were created by our member Julia. We freely share our original discussion questions, but please consider including a credit and link to our website.

  1. Reuben describes his birth in the beginning of the book—of how he was stillborn and his father saves his life—Reuben says “I believe I was preserved…in order to be a witness.” What types of things does he witness throughout the book?
  2. Is it necessary for the reader to believe in the existence of heaven and miracles to enjoy this book?
  3. Why do you think Jeremiah decided to leave medical school after he survives the tornado?
  4. Do you think this lead to his wife leaving him and the children?
  5. How does being motherless affect the children?
  6. Do you think Davy was justified in shooting Tommy and Israel? Even after learning he provoked them by smashing their car windows?
  7. Do you think Davy would be facing the same set of circumstances if these same set of events took place today rather than in the 1960s?
  8. Do you think the Western saga of Sunny Sundown, as written by Swede, parallels or foreshadows the book?
  9. How does the code of the old west—an eye-for-an-eye—the right-to-bear-arms—the existence of outlaws—influence Davy’s actions?
  10. Why doesn’t Jeremiah perform a miracle to heal Reuben’s asthma?
  11. The novel opens and closes with Jeremiah saving Reuben’s life, bringing the novel full circle. Is this the last miracle Reuben is meant to “witness” or just a clever way to wrap-up the story?

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The Trees Discussion Questions

The following discussion questions for “The Trees” were created by our member Jenny. We freely share our original discussion questions, but please consider including a credit and link to our website.

Discussion information about the publication history of The Trees

TheTrees_1940The Trees was first published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1940. It was the first installment in the Awakening Land trilogy, followed by The Fields and The Town. In 1966, a single-volume trilogy was published. The Ohio University Press released rewritten versions of the trilogy in 1991. These revised versions included scenes that Conrad Richter never wrote in the original novels. The plot changes expressed a more contemporary social attitude and were inspired by a 1978 miniseries based on the trilogy. It should also be noted that all these changes occurred after Richter’s death.

This needs to be communicated when your book club decides to read and discuss The Trees. Our book club was unaware of the later revised editions and discovered we all read different versions of the book!

One Amazon reviewer expressed their disdain at the alteration of Conrad Richter’s original writing: 

“Being intimately familiar with the original publication of this trilogy, I can say with utmost disdain that whoever was responsible for taking the liberties of rewriting what was very nearly perfection must have a great fondness for soap operas and should stick with romance novels instead. Not only are there additional passages inserted that were never written by Conrad Richter, there are also altered meanings of existing passages that totally change the flavor and the original intent. There are so many instances in all three volumes that I don't even know where to begin with examples. This is by far the most appalling reprint of an award-winning piece of historical fiction I have ever witnessed. You would do better to find a used copy from the original publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.”

Discussion Questions

  1. First talk about the different versions of this book. A lot was changed in the revised versions. People talked about it in their reviews saying how the book was bastardized, stripped of its beauty, things added that didn't make sense, etc. Who read the original version? Why do you think it was changed so much in its revision? Let's talk about the differences.
  2. Richter did extensive research both for historical details and to convey the mode of speech of the early 19th-century pioneers of the Ohio Valley. He used rare collections of old manuscripts, letters, and records that documented the speech of early 18th- and 19th-century residents. For me this book was at once incomprehensible and beautiful. Do you think that was the authors intention? Discuss the pros and cons of his use of this “foreign” language.
  3. The following is an example of the incomprehensible beauty of this book: “She reckoned it must be true she took after her mother’s side of the house, for a woman’s comfort in another woman still lingered in her bones.” What do you think this means? What does it mean to Sayward?
  4. Sayward often talked about “a man’s world” and how men could do things and get away with them, but a woman couldn’t. She was strong and independent and didn’t seem to need a man. Do you think the author intentionally made Sayward out to be somewhat of a feminist? Did these references surprise you considering the time?
  5. Worth often went into the wilderness to get meat but always returned to his family. Were you surprised that when Sulie disappeared he never returned, especially having other young ones? Did you think he would someday return?
  6. Often Sayward would say “if he doesn’t run off” about the men in their lives. Why do you think the men had “itchy feet” and would freely run off on their own, leaving their families in such a secluded, dark and sometimes scary place?
  7. “It was good enough, she felt, just to know they had humans closer around them…They weren’t set out any more in these woods only God Almighty knew how far…You might say they were living in a settlement now. She wished Jary could have hung on long enough to see it.” Discuss the differences between the “woodsies” like Worth and Wyitt and settlement people, like Jary and Sayward, that needed to be around other people.
  8. Many stories involved people going crazy in the woods, getting lost, running out of meat, and moving further into the trees. While reading this book I was thinking, “Just clear the land! Get some sunshine! Plant a garden! Eat some vegetables!” At the end of the book they were clearing land, planting seed, Portius got back into lawyering…it was the beginnings of a real human society. Why do you think it took them so long to finally clear the land?
  9. Early in the book you sense a distant and reserved relationship between the children and their mother, Jary—even before she got sick. Do you think that was just how relationships were at the time? Discuss this relationship and how it relates to mother/child doting relationships of today. What are some examples from the book of this disparity.

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If you like our website, please consider supporting us by buying this book through Amazon. You are directed to Amazon by clicking on the book cover to the left or on book covers displayed throughout our site. This link leads you to a number of different formats and editions to choose from through Amazon. Check the publishing dates for the version you wish to read. The Ohio University Press editions are the revised versions. Thank you!


 

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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry Discussion Questions

The following discussion questions for “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” were created by our member Michele. We freely share our original discussion questions, but please consider including a credit and link to our website.

  1. Do you think the transformation that Harold Fry? Or the transformation of his wife Maureen?

  2. Did you foresee that Harold & Maureen’s son had passed away, prior to the revelation towards the book’s end?

  3. Discuss the “cover up” that Queenie participated in for Harold. What were her possible motivations and how did this impact Harold’s path?

  4. In what ways do the “pilgrims”, who join in Harold’s walk, add to Harold’s experience versus detract from his pace?

  5. During an interview, the author states that she chose the book’s ending, of Harold and Maureen happy together on the beach, because of her view that “there is hope for anyone who can laugh.” Reflect on this comment. Is there an experience/period of time that you can relate this to?

  6. After years of no correspondence, Queenie wrote a kind letter of closure to inform Harold of her upcoming death. Who would be the surprised recipient of a “final farewell” letter from you?


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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry discussion questions are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.


Cruddy Discussion Questions

The following discussion questions for “Cruddy” were created by our members Susie,  Julie, and Lisa. We freely share our original discussion questions, but please consider including a credit and link to our website. Right now it appears these might be the only discussion questions on the internet for this book. We encourage your book club to read this book because it makes a great discussion!

  1. The author is a well-known cartoonist. Does her art background shape her writing style? In what way do the illustrations enhance the story?
  2. “The cruddy girl named Roberta was writing the cruddy book of her cruddy life and the name of the book was called Cruddy.” Why did Barry choose to tell the story in Roberta’s voice? Would you like to read the story from another character or the author’s point of view?
  3. Roberta’s father calls her Clyde and pretends she is his son. Doolie Bug is run over while wearing Marie Cardall’s clothes. Vicky’s father is called Susy Homemaker and wears a pink chenille woman’s robe. And then there is Gy-Rah, the Sequined Genius and poetry spouting six-peckered son of Doris. Why do you think Barry blurred the gender lines?
  4. “I’m Sorry” is carved and scarred down Roberta’s arm? She tells Stick she is not sorry. So why does she have the scar?
  5. The father said, “The monkey with the most meat wins.” A boy named Monkey tells Roberta the truth about Turtle. A sock monkey named Trina holds a secret stash of money and Little Debbie. A cliff-climbing circus man, Powder Monkey, steals Doris from Old Dad. What’s up with all the monkeys in this book?
  6. Roberta obsessed over trains and jumping in front of one. She had easy access to many weapons. What was so captivating about trains? Why couldn't she end her own life?
  7. So many people die around Roberta or because of Roberta. Which death did you find most memorable? Would you consider Roberta a sociopath? What about Ray? Do you think Roberta could kill someone she loved?
  8. Why do you think the mom shoved Roberta into the back seat of Ray’s car before he left for his road trip? Why did the father let her stay? How does Ray perceive Roberta?
  9. Ray felt betrayed by Old Dad after he sold the meat business, gave away three suitcases of money, and hung himself. Ray’s road trip was revenge for this betrayal. If Old Dad had given Ray the meat business instead, would he have become homicidal anyway at some point? Roberta’s mother betrayed Ray also. Why didn’t he kill her?
  10. Throughout the book Barry describes the unrelenting negative smells in disgusting places. How did this contribute to the story? Do you think it was a significant part of Roberta’s narrative?
  11. Do you think Roberta changes as the story progresses?
  12. Vicky is not interested in hearing Roberta’s story. She is the only one in the group of teens who doesn’t die or get hurt. Is there any meaning to this? Why does her brother, Stick, kill himself?

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