Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Book Discussion: Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

Discussion Questions:

What is the significance of the crow? What does he represent?

On page 16 the crow states "I find humans dull except in grief. There are very few in health, disaster, famine, atrocity, splendor or normality that interest me but the motherless children do. Motherless children are pure crow. For a sentimental bird it is ripe, rich and delicious to raid such a nest." What does the crow mean when he says they are pure crow?

On page 35 Dad is remembering a tender moment with his wife where she states "my body is no bird-like." With all the bird symbolism in the novel, what do you think she meant by this?

In several stories including the one on page 37 the boys tell partial truths to the reader. What is the significance of that?

On page 98 Dad states "Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project." Have you found this to be true?

Representations of crows: death, destiny, personal transformation, intelligence, trickster, fearless, bad omen,

What are some other famous crows in literature?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Book Discussion: Homegoing by Yaa Guasi

Who is the firewoman that Akua sees in her dreams? Or what does she represent?

The black stone necklace is passed down Effia's family line. Esi loses hers in the dungeon at the Castle. What is passed down among Esi's family line?

Scars emerge as a theme in this book.  Does the author believe that scars can be inherited or passed down from one generation to the next?

Who was your favorite character and why?  Which chapter did you like best?

What effect do the British have on Africa as slave traders?  as missionaries?

How is race defined in different ways within the novel? How do we define race in our country currently? By skin color, by speech?

Yaw is a teacher of history.  What does he teach his students about the learning of history?  How is the theme of storytelling important within this chapter as well as throughout the novel?

James seems to be a turning point in the Effia story line where he is realizing that "everyone is responsible" for the slave trade in Africa. What do you think would have happened if the peoples of Africa stood united against the Europeans?

Which family storyline did you enjoy more? Esi's or Effias?

Akua says the curse of enslavement, is “like a fisherman casting a net into the water. He keeps only the one or two fish that he needs to feed himself and puts the rest in the water thinking that their lives will go back to normal. No one forgets that they were once captive, even if they are now free.” What are your thoughts on that quote?

Explore the theme of belief. What forms of belief are depicted in the book and what purpose do these beliefs seem to serve for the characters? Does the author reveal what has shaped the characters' beliefs? Do these beliefs seem to have a mostly positive or negative impact on the believer and those around them?

Evaluate the treatment and role of women in the novel. What role does marriage play within the cultures represented in the novel and how are the women treated as a result? Likewise, what significance does fertility and motherhood have for the women and how does it influence their treatment? How different would you say the treatment and role of women is today?

Would this novel have changed much if it was not written in the point of view of so many narrators? Would it be as impactful?

Why does Akosua Mensah insist to James, "I will be my own nation" (99)? What role do patriotism, heritage, and tradition play in contributing to the injustices, prejudices, and violence depicted in the book? Which other characters seem to share Akosua's point of view?

Explore the theme of complicity. What are some examples of complicity found in the novel? Who is complicit in the slave trade? Where do most of the slaves come from and who trades them? Who does Abena's father say is ultimately responsible (142)? Do you agree with him? Explain why or why not.

Examine the relationships between parents and children in the book. Do the children seem to understand their parents and have good relationships with them and vice versa? Do the characters' views of their parents change or evolve as they grow up? How do the characters' relationships with their parents influence the way that they raise their own children?

What significance does naming have in the book? Why do some of the characters have to change or give up their names? Likewise, what do the characters' nicknames reveal both about them and about those who give or repeat these names? What does this dialogue ultimately suggest about the power of language and naming?

Sonny says that the problem in America "wasn't segregation but the fact that you could not, in fact, segregate" (244)? What does he mean by this? What does Sonny say that he is forced to feel because of segregation? Which of the other characters experience these same feelings and hardships? Does there seem to be any progress as the story goes on? If so, how is progress achieved? Alternatively, what stymies and slows progress in this area?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Blind Date with a Book

This year I am trying out at our Central branch a Blind Date with a Book display the first 2 weeks of February. We have RFID at our libraries so this will work particularly well so that we do not have to make a cutout in the wrapping for a barcode.

Lots of great colors to choose from
I purchased regular sized sandwich bags from Amazon.com in Magenta and Black. Hardcover books can be placed in these bags and then the top folded over and stapled, glued or taped shut. This eliminates having to wrap up each book (flashbacks to paper bag wrapping my textbooks in Elementary School!)

Once the book is wrapped I printed out, filled out and glued these cute book profiles to the outside. I made these to look like the dating profiles on OKCupid (a popular dating website.) The 3 questions are even right from the website. Please see below for my list of book profiles. Here is the link to the public Canva document I made for all the profiles below.

For the cover of each bag
Here is the 8.5 x 11 sign to go with the book display as well.

To find good titles I used Novelist but Goodreads can be great too. The reviews on Goodreads can help you get to know a title a little bit better in order to fill out the profile for each book better. I also tried to select titles we owned multiple copies of or that were not in high demand (since they can't be found for holds.)

Book Profiles:

Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan
My self summary: I'm an amusing story of starting over and finding your passion when you least expect it.
On a typical Friday night I am: Experimenting with new dough recipes
You should take me home if: You are looking for a delicious mental vacation

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
My self summary: I create technological virtual utopias so I don't have to deal with the real world of famine, poverty and disease.
On a typical Friday night I am: Playing Space Invaders at the arcade by my house
You should take me home if:  You like to solve a good puzzle

The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman
My self summary: I know my name is a little unorthodox for a teenage girl but you'd get it if you lived in the world I do.
On a typical Friday night I am: Searching for a cure to save my brother (I like to party too, but not much time for that these days.)
You should take me home if: You want to join my band of nomads

The Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
My self summary: It is hard for me to trust you at first. I have demons in my past but I am working through them.
On a typical Friday night I am: Looking for the next big scoop
You should take me home if: A little suspense and secrets do not scare you

Homer & Langley by EL Doctorow
My self summary: I live with my brother in New York City in our 5th avenue apartment. But don't worry, my parents are out of the picture.
On a typical Friday night I am: Working on my newspaper and hosting tea dances
You should take me home if: You loved the film Grey Gardens as much as I did

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
My self summary: We've all seen it happen -- someone makes a bad decision in the public eye and people pile on in judgment.
On a typical Friday night I am: Trolling the comment sections of You Tube
You should take me home if: You own your shame and don't enjoy public humiliation. Let your freak flag fly!

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
My self summary: I'm no guru but I do have a lot of sweet wisdom I will impart on anyone who asks.
On a typical Friday night I am: Sitting down to my Macbook and catching up on emails
You should take me home if: You need some down to earth advise on some of life's hardest questions

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
My self summary: Sometimes I lay awake at night wondering if there is a world beyond this place. I dream about the world my parents told me existed before my birth.
On a typical Friday night I am: Traveling with my musical theater troupe across the wasteland
You should take me home if: You can get down to "It's the End of the World as we Know It" by REM

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin
My self summary: I was left for dead, I was the one who got away. No, seriously.....
On a typical Friday night I am: Not answering the phone and making sure the deadbolt is locked
You should take me home if: You like a fast paced thrillers that span a lifetime

Love in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction by Judd Trichter
My self summary: Single white male seeks Android for long walks on the beach
On a typical Friday night I am: Wandering the streets of this cesspool of a city that I loathe but could not live without
You should take me home if: You are a fan of the TV show Westworld

Say You're One of Them by Akpan Uwem
My self summary: I a collection of short stories as intense as Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart."
On a typical Friday night I am: Working to make enough food to feed my brothers and sisters
You should take me home if: You enjoy haunting, gritty and complex stories

Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education  of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton
My self summary: I'm working on building my career as a writer and working kitchen jobs on the side.
On a typical Friday night I am: Peeling potatoes and scraping plates
You should take me home if: You enjoy witty behind-the-kitchen memoirs

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
My self summary: My son and I are always on the move looking for food and shelter. It would be nice to have a special partner to share that burden with.
On a typical Friday night I am: Scavenging the wasteland for food, same as everyone else
You should take me home if: When the end of the world comes, you are one of the good guys

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
My self summary: I'm darkly funny, and very heartfelt living in Newfoundland.
On a typical Friday night I am: Hopefully finding a sitter for my girls and going on a date with you
You should take me home if: You welcome a little melodrama at a leisurely pace

Fool by Christopher Moore
My self summary: Looking for NSA fun. Rodent-faced muck-suckers need not apply.
On a typical Friday night I am: Entertaining a court of hypocrites and buffoons
You should take me home if: Offbeat British humor and wordplay turns you on

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs
My self summary: I may have a degree from Yale but I never forgot the streets I came from
On a typical Friday night I am: Hanging out with my friends, smoking, joking
You should take me home if: You like a good gritty story about a young man's rise to the top and eventual descent

Lost Girls: an Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker
My self summary: I may not be as famous as Jack the Ripper but we do have something in common
On a typical Friday night I am: Trolling Craigslist for my next victim...
You should take me home if: You are a fan of true crime novels

The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black
My self summary: I'm a straight talking PI that don't take no poppycock from nobody
On a typical Friday night I am: Hanging out in the parking lot of the Motel 6 with my zoom lens
You should take me home if: You are a fan of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe private eye novels

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar
My self summary: I am the story of two women from very different backgrounds that forge a friendship in an unlikely way.
On a typical Friday night I am: Cooking a pot of Beef Vindaloo to share with my friends
You should take me home if: You find flawed but likable female characters compelling

Little Bee by Chris Cleave
My self summary: I am new to your country. I find much of it very strange. Could you help me?
On a typical Friday night I am: Helping Charlie fight the baddies
You should take me home if: You see scars as beauty

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen
My self summary: I just moved to this town to live with my grandfather and am looking for new friends.
On a typical Friday night I am: Exploring this new town by moonlight
You should take me home if: Big family secrets, romance and a touch of magic pepper this novel

Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My self summary: There is something a little different about me. I am a pond as big as an ocean
On a typical Friday night I am: Keeping the dark and the light balanced
You should take me home if: You want to help harvest kitty turnips (just promise to not let go of my hand)

This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff
My self summary: It is amazing I turned out the way I did after the childhood I had!
On a typical Friday night I am: Going on bad dates with women who are no good for me (hopefully you can change that)
You should take me home if: If you like memoirs about dysfunctional families

In the Garden of Beasts: love, terror, and an American family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larsen
My self summary: I have taken this high power job in a new place with a new language. I am wondering if I am cut out for this
On a typical Friday night I am: Staying up late waiting for my daughter to return home. Teenagers! Am I right?!
You should take me home if: You are interested in a long distance relationship. I may be in Germany for a while

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
My self summary: I am a single librarian and I love my job but am a bit of a misanthrope
On a typical Friday night I am: Trying to decipher this book my father left behind to me
You should take me home if: Do you know anything about Tarot? I'll pay for the drinks

Third Angel by Alice Hoffman
My self summary: Why am I always finding the wrong men at just the right time!
On a typical Friday night I am: Haunting the halls of foreign hotels
You should take me home if: Stunning, simultaneous stories with a common thread is something you can get down with

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
My self summary: If I were a flower I would be a Rhododendron. I can help you figure out what you would be too
On a typical Friday night I am: In bed! I have to get up super early on Saturdays to make it to the flower market in time
You should take me home if: You may enjoy a fairy tale in parts with a sprinkling of  grit

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
My self summary: I cannot stand these rich, pretentious people around me
On a typical Friday night I am: Reading Tolstoy and Kant
You should take me home if: You might like a leisurely paced, reflective novel with quirky characters

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Book Discussion: Tenth of December by George Saunders

Which stories did you enjoy most?

Did you notice any overarching themes in these stories? Anything that connects them?
  • The struggle of being a good person when our culture/environment might be otherwise
  • Families with financial burdens
Do any of these stories seem like they take place in the same world?

Were you able to find humor in any of the stories?

Did you identify with any characters in the book?

"Sticks" is short even by short story standards. What do you think Saunders accomplished (or was trying to accomplish) in this one to two pages?

Do any difficult people in your life have something equivalent to the poles -- a way of showing unusual affection or enthusiasm?

Marie thinks, after leaving without the puppy, "it was a nice pup, but Marie was not going to contribute to a situation like this in even the smallest way" (41). In the end, though, her actions led to Callie abandoning the puppy in the cornfield. What does it mean to "contribute" and has Marie already done so? What do you think an appropriate reaction to the situation would be?

"Escape from Spiderhead" could be classified as a different genre than the preceding stories since its premise is science fiction. Did you enjoy that change?

Abnesti justifies his experiments by saying he is working for the greater good and that the people harmed have done very bad things in the past. Do you think he is justified? If prisoners had a choice between regular prison and Spiderhead, then would the experiments be justified?

What sort of work do you imagine the workers Todd is addressing do?

Did you like or sympathize with Al Roosten?

How long did it take you to figure out what an "SG" was?

Do you think Saunders is trying to draw parallels between the Semplica Girls and any situations in our current culture?

In "home," what do you think happened to the narrator while he was at war? How can we explain the animosity he feels towards his family?

Once again Saunders uses a science fiction pharmaceutical drug as a key element in the story. Why do you think he does this? Does the use of the drug allow him to express something about human nature that would be harder to show in a realistic story?

Why do you think the title of this story was chosen as the title for the book?

Monday, August 22, 2016

Book Discussion: Between the World and Me

Coates mentions the American Dream in the book. What aspects of the dream does he discuss?

On pg. 78, Coates speaks of the recent talk about “diversity, sensitivity training, and body cameras.” He says that “these are all fine and applicable, but that (they)understate the task and allow the citizens of this country to pretend that there is real distance between their own attitudes and those of the ones appointed to protect them.”

  •  If speaking about diversity, sensitivity training, and body cameras allows the American people to dissociate racism from themselves, what is it that we should be discussing? 
  • How can we make the American people face the racial injustices and prejudices that still exist? 
Is this book's message hopeful or pessimistic? 

What does Coates want us to take-away from this book?

On page 7 Coates writes "but race is the child of racism, not the father." What is he suggesting here?

On page 60 he states "hate gives identity." Do you agree? Can you think of examples to illustrate that statement.

Some questions pulled from 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Science Fiction Authors

Taken from the August 2016 Library journal Article "Ten Top SF Writers Diverse Voices." p. 26-28

Steven Barnes
Octavia Butler
Samuel R. Delaney
Nalo Hopkinson
Adre Norton
Wesley Chu
N.K. Jemisin
Yon Han Lee
Ken Liu
Ndedi Okorafor

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Book Discussion: Little Children by Tom Perotta

A group of young suburban parents, including a stay-at-home dad, a former feminist, and an over-structured mom, finds its sleepy existence shattered when a convicted  molester moves back into town and two of the parents have an affair

Discussion Questions:

Why is Ronnie's story included in the book?

What do you think about the way we deal with sex offenders in our society?

Which characters do you sympathize most with in the novel?
       Do your sympathies shift over course of the novel?

What did Todd and Sarah represent to each other?    

How are children portrayed in the book?

On page 109 Richard states that "if there was one thing life had taught him, it was that it was ridiculous to be at war with your own desires." What are your thoughts on this statement? How can one make peace with your own desires?

Why is the book called Little Children?