Friday, June 9, 2017

The Wright Brothers

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough – To be Discussed on Wed July 5, 2017 at Geneseo Public Library



The #1 New York Times bestseller from David McCullough, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize—the dramatic story-behind-the-story about the courageous brothers who taught the world how to fly—Wilbur and Orville Wright.

On a winter day in 1903, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, two brothers—bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio—changed history. But it would take the world some time to believe that the age of flight had begun, with the first powered machine carrying a pilot.

Orville and Wilbur Wright were men of exceptional courage and determination, and of far-ranging intellectual interests and ceaseless curiosity. When they worked together, no problem seemed to be insurmountable. Wilbur was unquestionably a genius. Orville had such mechanical ingenuity as few had ever seen. That they had no more than a public high school education and little money never stopped them in their mission to take to the air. Nothing did, not even the self-evident reality that every time they took off, they risked being killed.

In this “enjoyable, fast-paced tale” (The Economist), master historian David McCullough “shows as never before how two Ohio boys from a remarkable family taught the world to fly” (The Washington Post) and “captures the marvel of what the Wrights accomplished” (The Wall Street Journal). He draws on the extensive Wright family papers to profile not only the brothers but their sister, Katharine, without whom things might well have gone differently for them.

Discussion Questions:

1. Talk about the Wright family circle—especially Sister Katharine and Bishop Milton Wright—and the influence its members had on Orville and Wilbur and their achievement. This leads, inevitably, to the roles that upbringing and genetics play in individual accomplishment. To what extent are all of us shaped by our family environment? How much of our accomplishments are fully our own?

2. Talk about the differences—and similarities—between the two brothers? 

3. Follow-up to Question 1: What goes into making genius like the Wright brothers, aside from sheer intelligence? Consider traits such as perseverance, focus, and energy. What else? What about the role of imagination? 

4. In his book, David McCullough reveals that when Wilbur Wright was in France, he spent a fair amount of time at the Louvre and that he was deeply moved by the great Gothic works he saw. What is the importance that the author ascribes to that interest—and why? What does it suggest about the importance of the liberal arts even in the fields of science and technology?

5. Why were the Wright brothers dismissed in the United States but taken seriously in France? What was the difference in culture and/or politics that generated interest on the part of the French but not the Americans?

6. Wilbur and Orville displayed few emotions. Do you think this hampered the author in his attempt to characterize the two men, to portray them as rich, fully-developed human beings? How does McCullough bring them to life—does he, or doesn't he? Do the two men come across as heroic? Why or why not?

7. Why was the story of the Wright brothers' achievement so unlikely? Talk about the hardships, knowledge deficits, and other obstacles they had to overcome in order to get their invention off the ground, so to speak?

8. What struck you most in the story of the the Wright brothers? What surprised you or impressed you? How much did you know (or understand) before you read McCullough's book...and what did you come away having learned?

9. In 1908, when the Wrights finally showed their plane to the press, one reporter wrote: "this spectacle of men flying was so startling, so bewildering to the senses...that we all stood like so many marble men." Imagine yourself in that situation: how might you have reacted? Can you think of a future technological advancement that might astonish you the same way?

10. Were the brothers compensated fairly for their invention? As someone replied to Wilbur, "I am afraid, my friend, that your usually sound judgment has been warped by the desire for great wealth." What is your assessment of that remark—fair or unfair?
 

Notes from June 2017 group

Product Details
Z :  A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler – Discussed on Wed June 7, 2017 at Geneseo Public Library


                                                                                                                                        
When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the "ungettable" Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn't wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner's, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick's Cathedral and take the rest as it comes.
What comes, here at the dawn of the Jazz Age, is unimagined attention and success and celebrity that will make Scott and Zelda legends in their own time. Everyone wants to meet the dashing young author of the scandalous novel―and his witty, perhaps even more scandalous wife. Zelda bobs her hair, adopts daring new fashions, and revels in this wild new world. Each place they go becomes a playground: New York City, Long Island, Hollywood, Paris, and the French Riviera―where they join the endless party of the glamorous, sometimes doomed Lost Generation that includes Ernest Hemingway, Sara and Gerald Murphy, and Gertrude Stein.
This was an interesting, thought provoking book.  We did not agree with the main characters lifestyle.  Scott and Zelda lived an exciting life in many locations, never settling down.  We felt they were selfish people, not good parents, and made poor decisions that eventually affected their health.  Scott was very controlling and Zelda was not able to use her talents. We enjoyed the connection between Scott and Hemingway. This story brought up many serious topics which generated good discussions. Most of our group liked this biography.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Z :  A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler – To be Discussed on Wed June 7, 2017 at Geneseo Public Library
The Wright Brothers by David McCullough – To be Discussed on Wed July 5, 2017 at Geneseo Public Library


The #1 New York Times bestseller from David McCullough, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize—the dramatic story-behind-the-story about the courageous brothers who taught the world how to fly—Wilbur and Orville Wright.

On a winter day in 1903, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, two brothers—bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio—changed history. But it would take the world some time to believe that the age of flight had begun, with the first powered machine carrying a pilot.

Orville and Wilbur Wright were men of exceptional courage and determination, and of far-ranging intellectual interests and ceaseless curiosity. When they worked together, no problem seemed to be insurmountable. Wilbur was unquestionably a genius. Orville had such mechanical ingenuity as few had ever seen. That they had no more than a public high school education and little money never stopped them in their mission to take to the air. Nothing did, not even the self-evident reality that every time they took off, they risked being killed.

In this “enjoyable, fast-paced tale” (The Economist), master historian David McCullough “shows as never before how two Ohio boys from a remarkable family taught the world to fly” (The Washington Post) and “captures the marvel of what the Wrights accomplished” (The Wall Street Journal). He draws on the extensive Wright family papers to profile not only the brothers but their sister, Katharine, without whom things might well have gone differently for them.
Discussion Questions:

1. Talk about the Wright family circle—especially Sister Katharine and Bishop Milton Wright—and the influence its members had on Orville and Wilbur and their achievement. This leads, inevitably, to the roles that upbringing and genetics play in individual accomplishment. To what extent are all of us shaped by our family environment? How much of our accomplishments are fully our own?

2. Talk about the differences—and similarities—between the two brothers? 

3. Follow-up to Question 1: What goes into making genius like the Wright brothers, aside from sheer intelligence? Consider traits such as perseverance, focus, and energy. What else? What about the role of imagination? 

4. In his book, David McCullough reveals that when Wilbur Wright was in France, he spent a fair amount of time at the Louvre and that he was deeply moved by the great Gothic works he saw. What is the importance that the author ascribes to that interest—and why? What does it suggest about the importance of the liberal arts even in the fields of science and technology?

5. Why were the Wright brothers dismissed in the United States but taken seriously in France? What was the difference in culture and/or politics that generated interest on the part of the French but not the Americans?

6. Wilbur and Orville displayed few emotions. Do you think this hampered the author in his attempt to characterize the two men, to portray them as rich, fully-developed human beings? How does McCullough bring them to life—does he, or doesn't he? Do the two men come across as heroic? Why or why not?

7. Why was the story of the Wright brothers' achievement so unlikely? Talk about the hardships, knowledge deficits, and other obstacles they had to overcome in order to get their invention off the ground, so to speak?

8. What struck you most in the story of the the Wright brothers? What surprised you or impressed you? How much did you know (or understand) before you read McCullough's book...and what did you come away having learned?

9. In 1908, when the Wrights finally showed their plane to the press, one reporter wrote: "this spectacle of men flying was so startling, so bewildering to the senses...that we all stood like so many marble men." Imagine yourself in that situation: how might you have reacted? Can you think of a future technological advancement that might astonish you the same way?

10. Were the brothers compensated fairly for their invention? As someone replied to Wilbur, "I am afraid, my friend, that your usually sound judgment has been warped by the desire for great wealth." What is your assessment of that remark—fair or unfair?
 
                                                                                                                                        

When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the "ungettable" Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn't wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner's, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick's Cathedral and take the rest as it comes.
What comes, here at the dawn of the Jazz Age, is unimagined attention and success and celebrity that will make Scott and Zelda legends in their own time. Everyone wants to meet the dashing young author of the scandalous novel―and his witty, perhaps even more scandalous wife. Zelda bobs her hair, adopts daring new fashions, and revels in this wild new world. Each place they go becomes a playground: New York City, Long Island, Hollywood, Paris, and the French Riviera―where they join the endless party of the glamorous, sometimes doomed Lost Generation that includes Ernest Hemingway, Sara and Gerald Murphy, and Gertrude Stein.
Discussion Questions:

1.      Many accounts of both Scott and Zelda contend that Zelda wouldn’t marry Scott unless he was well off—a view they themselves encouraged in the early years of their marriage. How does this play into the flapper image Zelda embodied in the ‘20s? Overall, was it harmful or beneficial to her?

2. How much of Scott’s success is owed to Zelda’s manufactured breakup with him in 1919?

3. The first time Zelda thinks she may be pregnant she refuses to pursue an abortion. Why, then, does she choose differently later on?

4. Why does Zelda have so little regard for her parents’ views and the standards by which she was raised?

5. Is Scott’s alcohol abuse a cause or a result of the life he and Zelda led and the troubles they experienced?

6. How legitimate was it for Scott and his agent, Harold Ober, to sell Zelda’s short stories under a joint by-line?

7. Which of Zelda’s talents do you feel was her truest calling?

8. How do you feel about Scott’s insistence on hiring strict nannies to care for Scottie? What benefit, or harm, may have come from this?

9. Modern psychiatrists have said that Zelda was probably troubled not with schizophrenia in its current definition but with bipolar disorder, which is characterized by dramatic mood swings and the behaviors that sometimes result. Where do you see evidence of Zelda’s illness in the years before her breakdown in early 1930? How much, if any, of her vibrant personality might be tied to the disorder?

10. What does it say about Scott that he was so highly involved in Zelda’s care during her episodes of hospitalization?

11. Why does Zelda tolerate Scott’s infatuation with actress Lois Moran and, later, columnist Sheilah Graham?

12. When Zelda says Ernest Hemingway is to blame for the disaster she and Scott made of their lives, what exactly does she mean? What might have been different for them if Hemingway hadn’t been Scott’s close friend?

13. Ernest Hemingway’s sexuality has been the subject of scrutiny by literary scholars and curious readers alike. In what ways was Zelda’s fear about the nature of Scott’s friendship with Hemingway justified?

14. Owing greatly to Ernest Hemingway’s account of her in A Moveable Feast (1964), Zelda has been seen as “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s crazy wife.” Why do you think Hemingway wrote so spitefully about her and so critically about Scott so many years after both their deaths?

15. Scott made almost all his money writing for the popular magazines (“the slicks”) and from the movie industry—and making money was essential for the lifestyle he wanted to lead. Why, then, was he forever struggling to impress the critics with more serious work?

16. Alcohol abuse and infidelity were seen as common and acceptable during the Jazz Age and among the expatriates especially. How much have views changed since then?

17. How do Sara and Gerald Murphy influence Zelda? What about Zelda’s friend Sara Haardt Mencken?

18. Despite her evolving interests and ambitions, Zelda never saw herself as a feminist. How might that view have affected her choices, both as a young woman and then later, when she aspired to dance professionally?

19.  In what ways would the Fitzgeralds’ public and private lives have been different if they’d lived in the 1960s? 1980s? Today?

20. The Great Gatsby is often said to have been modeled on the Fitzgeralds’ time in Great Neck (Long Island), New York, with Gatsby’s love for Daisy inspired by Zelda’s affair with Edouard Jozan. Where in Z do you see evidence of this?

21. Scott turns Zelda’s affair with Jozan into another Fitzgerald tale. What does this say about him? What does it say about Zelda that she allows it?

22. Though Zelda spends most of her adult life away from her family and the South, she doesn’t escape their influences. Where do you see this most vividly?



Notes from May 2017 group



The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce -
Discussed on Wed May 3, 2017 at Geneseo Public Library



Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning a letter arrives, addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl, from a woman he hasn’t heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye. But before Harold mails off a quick reply, a chance encounter convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. In his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold Fry embarks on an urgent quest. Determined to walk six hundred miles to the hospice, Harold believes that as long as he walks, Queenie will live. A novel of charm, humor, and profound insight into the thoughts and feelings we all bury deep within our hearts, 

There were many serious topics throughout this novel.    – bad parenting, child suicide, troubled marriage, getting older/dementia, retirement, sickness/hospice, etc,  The plot and characters were interesting.  We had to keep reading to find out where this story was going.  Our group had mixed feelings on this book, but it generated very good discussions.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry



The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce – To be Discussed on Wed May 3, 2017, at Geneseo Public Library
                                                                                                                                          https://static01.nyt.com/images/2012/07/30/arts/30BOOK/30BOOK-popup.jpg

Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning a letter arrives, addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl, from a woman he hasn’t heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye. But before Harold mails off a quick reply, a chance encounter convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. In his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold Fry embarks on an urgent quest. Determined to walk six hundred miles to the hospice, Harold believes that as long as he walks, Queenie will live. A novel of charm, humor, and profound insight into the thoughts and feelings we all bury deep within our hearts,

Discussion Questions:
1.    Why does the story that the garage girl tells Harold affect him so deeply? Do you think Harold would have mused on faith and gone on this tremendous journey had the garage girl told Harold that her aunt died of cancer anyway?

2. How does Maureen’s relationship with Rex allow her the perspective to understand Harold’s decision to walk?

3. The publicity that Harold receives on his journey often feels like a curse. What are some benefits that come out of the media coverage?

4. What does Harold’s choice to live off the land and other people’s kindness mean to him?

5. In what ways is the incident at the beach with his son representative of Harold’s fears about himself? In what ways do those fears reflect the reality?

6. “He had not said goodbye to his son. Maureen had; but Harold had not. There would always be this difference.” Do you think anything would have been different for Harold had he had the moment of closure with David’s body at the funeral home? How did this difference manifest over the years?

7. How might things have been different for Harold and Maureen if she had told him about Queenie’s visit to the house in which she explained why she took the blame? Maureen thinks her withholding of this information caused years of irreversible damage. How might Harold have been affected if he’d known any sooner that Queenie didn’t blame him at all?

8. What state did you think Queenie would be in when Harold reached the end of his journey? Were you surprised by their interaction once he got there? How do you think that scene might have been changed if Harold had arrived any sooner?

9. Think about all the people Harold met along the way—the garage girl, the barkeep, the woman with the apples and water, Martina, Wilf. Had Harold not met even one of them, might his journey have diverged, stalled, or even ended before he reached Queenie?

10. Where would Harold be today if he hadn’t made his pilgrimage? What would the state of his relationship with Maureen be? How would news of Queenie’s death have affected him? What would his life look like?

11. Does Harold’s journey feel secularly or religiously spiritual to you? Does it change over time? How does his idea of faith fit with your own beliefs?

12. What would it take to get you to make an extraordinary journey? Is there anyone or anything that could compel you to walk six hundred miles? What would such a journey mean to you?

13. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry has become an international bestseller. Readers from Taiwan, Germany, England, Australia, the United States, Italy, South Africa, and many other countries have embraced the novel. What do you think accounts for Harold reaching the hearts of so many people from all over the world?

Notes from April 2017 group




 The Glass Kitchen by Linda Francis Lee - Discussed on Wed April 5, 2017 at Geneseo Public Library


Portia Cuthcart never intended to leave Texas. Her dream was to run the Glass Kitchen restaurant her grandmother built decades ago. But after a string of betrayals and the loss of her legacy, Portia is determined to start a new life with her sisters in Manhattan . . .

When she moves into a dilapidated brownstone on the Upper West Side, she meets twelve-year-old Ariel and her widowed father, Gabriel, a man with his hands full trying to raise two daughters on his own. Soon, a promise made to her sisters forces Portia back into a world of magical food and swirling emotions, where she must confront everything she has been running from. What seems so simple on the surface is anything but when long-held secrets are revealed, rivalries exposed, and the promise of new love stirs to life like chocolate mixing with cream.

"The Glass Kitchen" is a delicious novel, a tempestuous story of a woman washed up on the shores of Manhattan who discovers that a kitchen--like an island--can be a refuge, if only she has the courage to give in to the pull of love, the power of forgiveness, and accept the complications of what it means to be family.

This was an interesting, easy to read book.  We enjoyed the characters and especially the cooking and recipes given. There were good topics for discussion in this story including city vs country life, family relationships, poor vs rich lifestyles.  There was a lot of family drama.  Most of our group enjoyed this novel.