Under the Header

“She is too fond of books, and it has
turned her brain.” - Louisa May Alcott

Friday, August 2, 2013

Discussing Hunger of Memory

Some sites with discussion questions:
CSU - Santa Barbara

Updated Reading List

I have removed the dates (since we are 6 months behind the last time I published it) and left space for the add on books between the list's books:

Sunday, January 27, 2013

General Book Discussion Tips

From LitLovers:

How to Discuss a Book

Our ideas can help you lead a discussion, find helpful resources, and be a smart participant.

How to lead a discussion

1. Toss one question at a time out to the group. Use our LitLovers Resources below to help you with specific questions.

2. Select a number of questions, write each on an index card, and pass them out. Each member (or team of 2 or 3) takes a card and answers the question.

3. Use a prompt (an object) related to the story. It can help stimulate members' thinking about some apsect of the story. It's adult show & tell.

(Think maps, photograpahs, paintings, food, apparel, a music recording, a film sequence.)

4. Pick out a specific passage from the book—a description, an idea, a line of dialogue—and ask members to comment on it.

(Consider how a passage reflects a character...or the work's central meaning...or members' lives or personal beliefs.)

5. Choose a primary character and ask members to comment on him or her.

(Think character traits, motivations, how he/she affects the story's events and characters, or revealing quotations.)

6. Play a literary game. Use one of our Icebreaker Games. They're smart and fun—guaranteed to loosen you up and get your discussion off to a lively, even uproarious start.

7. Distribute hand-outs to everyone in order to refresh memories or to use as talking points. Identify the primary characters and summarize the plot.

LitLovers Resources
  • Fiction and Nonfiction generic discussion questions to help with almost any book.
  • Reading Guides — discussion questions, reviews and summaries for 1,800 books.
  • Read-Think-Talk — a guided-reading chart to use while your're reading.
  • LitCourse — our 10 free online courses on literature are short and fun...and highly informative. You'll be the smartest person in the room! Guaranteed...or your money back. (Oh, wait. They're free!)

How to participate in a discussion

1. Watch your language! Try to avoid words like "awful" or "idiotic"—even "like" and "dislike." They don't help move discussions forward and can put others on the defensive. Instead, talk about your experience—how you felt as you read the book.

2. Don't be dismissive. If you disagree with someone else, don't refer to her as an ignoramus. Just say, "I'm not sure I see it that way. Here's what I think." Much, much nicer.

3. Support your views. Use specific passages from the book as evidence for your ideas. This is a literary analysis technique called "close reading." (LitCourse 3has a good discussion of close reading.)

4. Read with a pencil. Takes notes or mark passages that strike you—as signficant or funny or insightful. Talk about why you marked the passages you did.

5. Use LitLovers for help. Check out our Litlovers Resources above. They'll help you get more out of what your read and help you talk about books with greater ease.

General Questions for Fiction

Use our general fiction questions to get your book club discussions off to a good start. They're basic but smart.

1. How did you experience the book? Were you engaged immediately, or did it take you a while to
"get into it"? How did you feel reading it—amused,
sad, disturbed, confused, bored...?

2. Describe the main characters—their personality traits, motivations, inner qualities. Why do they do what they do? Are their actions justified? Do you admire or disapprove of them? Do they remind you of people you know?

3. Do the main characters change by the end of
the book? Do they grow, or come to learn something
about themselves and how the world works?

4. Is the plot engaging—does the story interest you? Is this a plot-driven book: a fast-paced page-turner? Or does the story unfold slowly with a focus on character development? Were you surprised by the
plot's complications? Or did you find it predictable, even formulaic?

5. Talk about the book's structure. Is it a continuous story...or interlocking short stories? Does the time-line more forward chronologically...or back and forth between past and present? Does the author use a single viewpoint or shifting viewpoints? Why might the author have choosen to tell the story the way he or she did—and what difference does it make in the way you read or understand it?

6. What main ideas—themes—does the author explore? Don't forget to talk about the title, often a clue to a novel's theme.

7. What passages strike you as insightful, even profound? Perhaps a bit of dialog that's funny or poignant...or encapsulates a character? Maybe comments that state the book's thematic concerns?

8. Is the ending satisfying? If so, why? If not, why not...and how would you change it?

9. If you could ask the author a question, what would you ask? Have you read other books by the same author? If so how does this book compare. If not, does this book inspire you to read others?

10. Has this novel changed you—broadened your perspective? Have you learned something new or been exposed to different ideas about people or a certain part of the world?

Discussion Questions for Cold Sassy Tree

From LitLovers:

1. How would you describe Rucker? Do you consider him a shallow human being? What possess him to marry Miss Love so soon after burying Mattie Lou?
2. Do the reactions of family and friends toward Rucker's new marriage seem genuine to you...or do they ring hollow? What was your initial reaction...did it change over the course of the novel?
3. What is your attitude toward Miss Love? Do you find her, a Yankee living in the South, sympathetic?
4. How would you describe the relationship between Rucker and Miss Love? Do they love one another...at first...eventually...never?   
5. The story is seen through the eyes of Will Tweedy. Why would the author have chosen a bare adolescent as narrator? Is Will's voice believable?
6. How would you describe life in Cold Sassy...especially the relationships among its citizens? Do you find small-town living, as described in the novel, appealing, even enviable...or judgmental and claustrophobic? 
7. Do small towns, like Cold Sassy, exist today...is it possible given the speed, ubiquity, and distractions of modern telecommunications and travel?
8. Which episodes do you find most humorous...the Christmas play? What else?
9. What do you think of Burns's use of dialect? Does it enhance the novel's sense of place for you? Or do you find it distracting and irritating?
10. How does Burns present Christianity as practiced in a small town in Georgia at the beginning of the 20th century? What do you think of Grandpa Rucker's sermon from his sick-bed?
11. Cold Sassy Tree is generally viewed as a coming-of-age story? What does Will come to learn, about the adult world and his place in it, by the end of the novel? In what way does he change? Do any other characters change?
12. What is the relationship between blacks and whites in Cold Sassy? Does Burns present African-Americans as fully developed characters...or stereotypes? Talk specifically about Queenie.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Bauer's Suggested Autobiography Questions

Grammar-stage Reading
  1. Look at the title, cover, and table of contents (looking for an overview of the writer's purpose.)
  2. What are the central events in the writer's life?
  3. What historical events coincide - or merge - with these personal events?
  4. Who is the most important person (or people) in the writer's life?  What events from the outline of that story?
  5. Give the book your own title and subtitle.
Logic-stage Reading
  1. What is the theme that ties the narrative together?
  2. Where is the life's turning point? Is there a "conversion"?
  3. For what does the writer apologize? In apologizing, how does the writer justify?
  4. What is the model - the ideal - for this person's life?
  5. What is the end of the life:  the place where the writer has arrived, found closure, discovered rest?
  6. Now revisit your first question:  What is the theme of this writer's life?
Rhetoric-state Reading
  1. Is the writer writing for himself, or for a group?
  2. What are the three moments, or time frames of the autobiography? (The time during which the events actually happened; the time during which the writer is putting the events on paper; and the time in which the autobiography is read.)
  3. Where does the writer's judgement lie?
  4. Do you reach a different conclusion from the writer about the pattern of his life?
  5. What have you brought away from this story?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lightening up a bit

We have a couple of ladies joining our discussion next month and rather than scare them off right away, it seemed appropriate to introduce a fun, simple read to our little circle.

February's discussion will be on Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns:

Our local library system has several copies.

With the newcomers adding to the mix, it is an opportune time to review the aim of our reading group -- a post I will write soon.

In the meantime, the list of recommended questions for evaluating a novel might be helpful:
In the Logic stage:
  1. Is the novel a "fable" or a "chronicle?"
  2. What does the central character (or characters) want? What is standing in his (or her) way? And what strategy does he (or she) pursue in order to overcome this block?
  3. Who is telling this story?
  4. Where is the story set?
  5. What style does the writer employ?
  6. Images & metaphors -- Is any particular image repeated again and again?  What does it represent?
  7. Beginnings and endings -- what do they represent?  Are they related?
In the Rhetoric stage:
  1. Is it true?
  2. Do you sympathize with the characters?  Which ones, and why?
  3. Does the writer's technique give you a clue as to her "argument" -- her take on the human condition?
  4. Is the novel self-reflective?
  5. Did the writer's times affect him?
  6. Is there an argument in this book?
  7. Do you agree?