28 February 2009

Book clubs

I really should be writing up our trip to Barcelona (to cement it in my own memory not anyone else's), but with guests arriving for a selection of Spanish cheeses and hams in half an hour, I'll fall back on my vast store of archived delights. Here's one of my favo(u)rites. I especially like #2. Tim Dowling is an expat American journalist married to a British bookstore owner.

'Is the world like a big, slightly boring book we never quite finish reading?'

Tim Dowling
Saturday October 20, 2007
The Guardian

Book Group Help Page
Suggested Generic Discussion Questions

1) This novel is filled with intriguing characters. Which character do you most identify with, and why? Can you remember his or her name? Perhaps you should just let someone else go first.

2) What are some of the more appealing qualities of the main character? Do you share any of those qualities? What are some interesting things about you that having nothing to do with the book? What, for example, did you do yesterday?

3) In the picnic scene, the heroine reveals a dark secret about her past that sets in motion a train of events. Or did this happen only in the movie? Be careful: don't blurt out anything. There's no harm in mentioning the film, but since you saw it only once on a plane three years ago, you're not exactly an expert on that, either. Just preface your comment with the words, "I'm always reminded of that pivotal moment when Meryl Streep...", and hope that someone interrupts.

4) What point do you think the author is trying to make about the nature and limitations of human knowledge? Is he or she saying that the world is like a big, complicated, slightly boring book that we never quite finish reading? Do you think anybody else in the room feels this way?

5) How do the events in Chapter 2 foreshadow the novel's startling conclusion? Given that you read only up to chapter 2, how can you be certain? Discuss the cover art and offer the opinion that the paperback is actually much more appealing.

6) In the end, what do Richard and Judy really know about literature, anyway? Is it safe to say something such as this out loud? Don't forget that Richard and Judy have their spies everywhere.

7) Remember when she jumped out of the bath with the knife right at the end, when everyone thought she was dead? That was hilarious. No, wait, that wasn't Meryl Streep - that was what's her name. Meryl Streep was the one who was like, "A dingo stole my baby!" That was hilarious, too.

8) What has everyone been talking about for the past 10 minutes? Why weren't you paying attention? What the hell does "litotes" mean?

9) What are some acceptable reasons for not finishing a book? Is it sufficient to say, "I thought it sucked", or is it necessary to elaborate? Which pre-conditions of suckiness did it fulfil? Could it have sucked any worse?

10) How does the book compare with other books that you haven't read? Try characterising the story in terms of previous book group selections - for example "Angela's Ashes meets The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency" or "We Need To Talk About Kevin, But With a Whale" - and see where that gets you.

11) The white wine has run out. Is your host going to get another bottle, or is she going to keep going on and on about the symbolism of the frigging wind chimes? There's plenty of red left. Should you switch to red?

12) You might now wish to pre-empt further discussion by suggesting a book for the next meeting. Pick something you have read already - that way, you get a freebie. Then perhaps you could memorise a few phrases from that essay you plagiarised at university. It's probably what everyone else does, anyway.

13) Are there any nuts in a bowl nearby? Try some and then stand up and shout, "Oh my God, I forgot I was completely allergic to nuts!" With any luck you'll be home in time to catch the last half of CSI.

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