Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Secret Life of Bees


The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd – To be Discussed on Wed Nov. 7, 2018, at Geneseo Public Library

Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily's fierce-hearted black "stand-in mother," Rosaleen, insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily decides to spring them both free. They escape to Tiburon, South Carolina--a town that holds the secret to her mother's past. Taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sister, Lily is introduced to their mesmerizing world of bees and honey, and the Black Madonna. This is a remarkable novel about divine female power, a story that women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come.

Questions:

1.       How would you describe Lily's feelings about her mother? Did they change throughout the novel? How did hearing that her mother left her to affect her perception of her mother?

2.      Do you believe T-Ray's account of what happened when Lily's mother died?

3.      Did your opinion of T-Ray change when August told Lily about how much he used to love her mother? Does Deborah's abandonment explain or excuse T-Ray?

4.      Do you agree with Lily that people would rather die than forgive? Does she forgive her mother? T-Ray? Herself?

5.      What do the bees mean to the story? What is "the secret life of bees?"

6.      Do you think race was portrayed realistically in The Secret Life of Bees? What do you think Sue Monk Kidd was saying about race in this novel?

7.      Why did Rosaleen spit on the men's shoes? What are the ways the characters in the novel confront injustice? How do you think we should deal with injustice? Do these kinds of prejudices still exist today?

8.      What was your reaction to Lily's relationship with Zach? What do you think happened to them in the future?

9.      Talk about the sisters. Who was your favorite? Do we all need a wailing wall, like May? Why do you think June was cold toward Lily? How would you describe August

10.   What role did the Black Madonna play in their community? What do you think about the legend of the Black Madonna?




Notes from Oct 2018 group


Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel – Discussed on Wed. Oct. 3, 2018 at Geneseo Library



Many people dream of escaping modern life. Most will never act on it—but in 1986, twenty-year-old Christopher Knight did just that when he left his home in Massachusetts, drove to Maine, and disappeared into the woods. He would not have a conversation with another person for the next twenty-seven years.
 
Drawing on extensive interviews with Knight himself, journalist Michael Finkel shows how Knight lived in a tent in a secluded encampment, developing ingenious ways to store provisions and stave off frostbite during the winters. A former alarm technician, he stealthily broke into nearby cottages for food, books, and supplies, taking only what he needed but sowing unease in a community plagued by his mysterious burglaries. Since returning to the world, he has faced unique challenges—and compelled us to reexamine our assumptions about what makes a good life. By turns riveting and thought-provoking, The Stranger in the Woods gives us a deeply moving portrait of a man determined to live his own way.

This was an interesting book.  We were amazed at how a 20 year old American man could drop out of society for 27 years.  His family did not report him missing.  Chris was very resourceful, inventive, and able to survive outdoors all year long. He did what he wanted to do which was just leave him alone in the woods.  He has a very different personality. He was finally caught stealing food and other necessities as he had done for 27 years.  He never got sick until he went to prison.  Most of our group liked this book and it generated great discussion.


Monday, September 10, 2018

Stranger in the Woods

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel - To be Discussed on Wed. Oct. 3, 2018 at Geneseo Public Library


Many people dream of escaping modern life. Most will never act on it—but in 1986, twenty-year-old Christopher Knight did just that when he left his home in Massachusetts, drove to Maine, and disappeared into the woods. He would not have a conversation with another person for the next twenty-seven years.
 
Drawing on extensive interviews with Knight himself, journalist Michael Finkel shows how Knight lived in a tent in a secluded encampment, developing ingenious ways to store provisions and stave off frostbite during the winters. A former alarm technician, he stealthily broke into nearby cottages for food, books, and supplies, taking only what he needed but sowing unease in a community plagued by his mysterious burglaries. Since returning to the world, he has faced unique challenges—and compelled us to reexamine our assumptions about what makes a good life. By turns riveting and thought-provoking, The Stranger in the Woods gives us a deeply moving portrait of a man determined to live his own way.
Questions:
1. Discuss the significance of the Socrates epigraph that opens The Stranger in the Woods. How does this set the tone for the book? How does it relate to the book’s larger discussion of needs versus wants?

2. In the early pages of the book, Finkel states that Knight has “stripped the world to his essentials.” Consider the lifestyle that Knight leads in North Pond. What are his essentials? How many of these essentials are material versus immaterial? What does he value the most? 

3. On page 5, Finkel states that Knight has a “moral code” that he lives by, which determines what he will and will not steal. How would you describe his moral code? How does his moral code relate to larger ideas about capitalism and materialism in the United States?

4. In the first few chapters of the book, Knight is referred to solely as “the hermit,” before his name and identity are revealed to the reader. Why do you think Finkel chose to employ this narrative device? Explore the significance of the lore around Knight as “the hermit,” and how the mythos of “the hermit” is complicated once his identity is made publicly known.

5. How would you describe the locals’ attitudes toward the hermit over time? Discuss the varied experiences of those who were victimized by his crimes and how these incidents affected their perceptions of their hometown, their domicile, and their safety. After his arrest, how does the narrative of the hermit change, if at all?

6. How do you feel about Knight? On the North Pond camp owners’ scale of “Lock Knight up forever” to “Let him go immediately,” where do you reside?

7. In chapter six, Finkel describes the fanfare surrounding Knight’s arrest, pronounced “a circus” by some local officials. Consider the irony of Knight’s fame in relation to his desire for solitude. How does Knight play into the public’s idea of what a hermit “should” be?

8. In chapter seven, the narrative lens of The Stranger in the Woods shifts to allow for the author’s point of view to emerge. What spurs Finkel to reach out to Knight, initially? Discuss their early exchanges, as well as Finkel’s first visit. How does their relationship evolve?

9. Early in their relationship, Finkel reveals to Knight that he is a “flawed journalist,” based on past actions during his reportage. Why does he choose to do this? Discuss the “lofty ideals” that both men strive for in their lives. How are they both committed to seeking truth?

10. Discuss Knight’s time in jail. How does the movement from complete solitude to imprisonment affect his morale? What tactics from his time in the woods does he use to pass the time? 

11. Throughout The Stranger in the Woods, Knight is defined by many labels: He is a hermit, a thief, a prisoner, a purist, a son, a brother. Which of these labels does he associate himself with, if any? How much of a person’s identity is shaped by socialization, and how much is self-determined?

12. On page 50, Finkel states that Knight “seemed to say exactly what he was thinking, raw and true, unfiltered by the safety net of social niceties.” Discuss this statement. How does Knight’s time in the woods affect his understanding of human interactions? What is his general standpoint toward humanity? How does his exposure to media (books, radio) keep him connected to society at large?

13. When reading Notes from the Underground, Knight felt that Dostoyevsky was reaching through time and speaking directly to him. What books have made you feel that way?

14. Discuss Knight’s childhood and family. How does the idea of rugged individualism and self-reliance color his upbringing? The value of privacy? Consider his absence in the lives of his family members, and his sudden return to them. Does he feel any guilt about his decision to disappear? How does his family interpret his return?

15. On page 78, Finkel notes that Knight’s decision to retreat to the woods “had elements of a suicide, except he didn’t kill himself.” Unpack this statement. Considering Knight’s promise to go back into the woods at the end of the book, how does he view death in relation to the natural world?

16. Consider Finkel’s discussion of various hermits or secluded individuals in societies around the world. What does Knight share with these other historical examples of hermits? Is there a mutual moral commitment that underpins their solitude?  How much of Knight’s decision to isolate himself seems to come from a place of idealism versus personal preference? How does his existence in Little North defy the typical categorization of what a hermit is?

17. Discuss the discipline inherent to Knight’s existence in the woods. How is his life reliant on patterns and consistency? How does he use fear as motivation?

18. On page 112, Knight wonders if “modern society, with its flood of information and tempest of noise, was only making us dumber.” Reflect on this statement. What are the pitfalls of technology in relation to modern living? How does our reliance on technology undercut some of the most essential human functions?

19. Stranger in the Woods asks complicated, fundamental questions about solitude, self-reliance, and humans’ relationship with nature, with an extraordinary, singularly unique human at the center. Consider your own life as it relates to these concepts. How often are you completely alone? Do you ever seek out solitude, particularly in nature? How is nature both restorative and challenging for the human spirit? By the end of the book, how did your feelings toward Knight evolve?


Notes from the Sept 2018 group


Radium Girls The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore – Discussed on Wed   Sept. 5, 2018 at Geneseo Public Library






The Curies’ newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty, and wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of the First World War.

Meanwhile, hundreds of girls toil amidst the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe; they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” are the luckiest alive — until they begin to fall mysteriously ill.
But the factories that once offered golden opportunities are now ignoring all claims of the gruesome side effects, and the women’s cries of corruption. And as the fatal poison of the radium takes hold, the brave shining girls find themselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of America’s early 20th century, and in a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights that will echo for centuries to come. 
Written with a sparkling voice and breakneck pace, The Radium Girls fully illuminates the inspiring young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium, and their awe-inspiring strength in the face of almost impossible circumstances. Their courage and tenacity led to life-changing regulations, research into nuclear bombing, and ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives...

This was a subject that my group did not know much about.  This British author did lots of research and family interviews to write this book.  The reality of so many young women dying due to men / corporate conspiracy, greed, and lack of communication between the different American company locations created many emotions for us readers.  We were shocked at the doctors and dentists who became involved in the coverup – they lied privately and at the trials for money.  It was extremely difficult for the sick women to find anyone to take on their cause.  Our group had good discussions.  We found this an interesting but long book, in parts too detailed and wordy.  Overall most of us enjoyed learning about this issue. 





Monday, August 6, 2018

Radium Girls


Radium Girls The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore – To be discussed on Wed Sept. 5, 2018 at Geneseo Public Library





The Curies’ newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty, and wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of the First World War.
Meanwhile, hundreds of girls toil amidst the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe; they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” are the luckiest alive — until they begin to fall mysteriously ill.
But the factories that once offered golden opportunities are now ignoring all claims of the gruesome side effects, and the women’s cries of corruption. And as the fatal poison of the radium takes hold, the brave shining girls find themselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of America’s early 20th century, and in a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights that will echo for centuries to come. 
Written with a sparkling voice and breakneck pace, The Radium Girls fully illuminates the inspiring young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium, and their awe-inspiring strength in the face of almost impossible circumstances. Their courage and tenacity led to life-changing regulations, research into nuclear bombing, and ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives...

Questions:
1. Trace the emotional trajectory of the women who worked with radium paint—from their initial excitement about their jobs to their realization that it was killing them.

2. What do you find most horrifying about the suffering the women endured as their health deteriorated? Was this too difficult to read? Or did you get through it?

3. Talk about the response of the United States Radium Corporation to the women's complaints—how much did it truly understood about the hazards of radium? What arguments did the company enlist against the health claims of the women?

4. What most outraged you about the treatment the women received? The dentist who approached the company for hush money, for instance? What else?

5. To what extent do today's laws offer workers protection against hazardous materials and other dangers in the workplace? Consider OSHA, for instance. How far have we come? What relevance does this story have in the 21st century?

Notes from August 2018 group


Pawleys Island by Dorothea Benton Frank - Discussed on Aug 1, 2018 at the Geneseo Library



Catapulted from her home, her marriage and her children, artist Rebecca Simms has come to Pawleys Island, South Carolina, to hide herself from herself. Little does she know that on this “arrogantly shabby” family playground, she’ll encounter three people who will change her life: a wise and irresistible octogenarian who will pry her secrets from her, a gallery owner who caters to interior decorators and heaven save us, tourists, and a retired attorney from Columbia who’s complacent in her fat and sassy life until Rebecca’s stormy advent.

This is an easy to read, soap opera style plot with quirky characters.  Pawleys Island is a real island in South Carolina near Myrtle Beach.  We enjoyed the beach setting and descriptions.  The villain was truly a bad, immoral guy.  We had great discussion on the characters and topics of spouse abuse, substance abuse, the trial, family/parent rights, and southern personalities etc.  The trial and ending were unrealistic.  Our group split on comments on this book – half liked it and others had mixed feelings.






Monday, July 9, 2018

Pawley's Island


Pawleys Island by Dorothea Benton Frank – To be discussed on Aug 1, 2018 at the Geneseo Library



Catapulted from her home, her marriage and her children, artist Rebecca Simms has come to Pawleys Island, South Carolina, to hide herself from herself. Little does she know that on this “arrogantly shabby” family playground, she’ll encounter three people who will change her life: a wise and irresistible octogenarian who will pry her secrets from her, a gallery owner who caters to interior decorators and heaven save us, tourists, and a retired attorney from Columbia who’s complacent in her fat and sassy life until Rebecca’s stormy advent..

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

·  Abigail is a confident, independent, educated woman, but she is also extremely hard on herself at times. What does she want to change about her life?
 

·  Why do Abigail and Huey decide to help Rebecca?
 

·  Although the story is mainly told through Abigail’s eyes, some chapters are shown through other points of view. Why might the author have chosen to reveal some of Rebecca’s past, including her abandonment, through Miss Olivia’s perspective? What is revealed about Rebecca’s attitude toward Abigail when we see things from her view, especially in the early chapters?
 

·  At first Rebecca is less than comfortable with the idea of Abigail taking over her case. What leads to her change of heart?
 

·  During her preparations for the trial, Abigail feels like she has stepped into the past while Rebecca is clearly moving forward. Is she merely referring to her reprise as a divorce lawyer, or is there more to it than that?
 

·  Discuss Rebecca’s mild abuse of pharmaceuticals and alcohol. How did this affect your opinion of her, if at all?
 

·  How do issues of socioeconomic power factor into the characters’ motivations? Do you think things would have turned out differently if Rebecca had been hired at the local dry cleaner’s instead of Huey’s gallery?
 

·  Shortly after she finds out about Charlene, Rebecca muses that she could have understood Nat’s infidelity if he’d left her for someone beautiful and aristocratic. Is there any validity to that line of reasoning? How does it speak to her self-esteem?

·  On the surface, Abigail and Rebecca appear to be very different, but they share similar insecurities. How do they help each other?
 

·  Discuss Charlene. Do you think she is a victim of circumstance or a ruthless home wrecker? Perhaps a little of both?
 

·  What does it take for Abigail to finally forgive herself for her son’s death?
 

·  The idea of having secrets—and maintaining protective illusions—is a major theme of Pawleys Island. Abigail hides the crippling guilt she feels about her empty marriage and the death of her son, Rebecca retreats to Pawleys Island to escape public scrutiny of her divorce (or so she thought), and Huey’s lover hides his true identity from Miss Olivia. Discuss how each character liberates him/herself.
 

·  What is Abigail’s philosophy on finding love later in life?
 

·  The subject of the poem in the beginning of Pawleys Island is the idea that a place can absorb one’s “unbearable secrets.” Do you think this is true? Do you have an equivalent of Pawley’s Island in your life? How can such places be both a sanctuary and a crucible for change?