One-Minute Book Reviews

September 9, 2013

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to the ‘The Fault in Our Stars,’ a Young-Adult Novel by John Green

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10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
The Fault Our Stars
By John Green
Source: One-Minute Book Reviews
http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com

This guide for reading groups and others was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher or agent for the book. It is copyrighted by Janice Harayda and is only for your personal use. Its sale or reproduction is illegal except by public libraries, which may make printed copies for use in their in-house reading programs. Other reading groups that wish to use this guide should link to it or check the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce it.

Sixteen-year-old Hazel Lancaster has metastatic thyroid cancer and wears a nasal cannula attached to a rolling oxygen cart, but former basketball player Augustus Waters thinks she looks like Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta. Gus has lost a leg to osteosarcoma, but Hazel knows he’s hot. Sparks fly when the two meet in a support group for 12-to-18-year-olds with cancer in John Green’s fifth young-adult novel. But will Hazel and Gus live long enough to get together? As they explore their feelings for each other in this cross between a teen weepie and a romantic comedy, they also must come to terms with a central question of human existence: What does it mean to live a good life?

The questions below include spoilers. Please stop here if you would prefer not to see them.

10 Questions for Discussion:

1. Many critics have raved about The Fault in Our Stars. Others have found it “mawkish” and “exploitative.” Where do you stand?

2. Which characters did you find most believable? Why?

3. Which characters did you find least believable? Why?

4. Hazel, the narrator, sounds like a teenager when she says things like: “We said this stupid mantra together — LIVING OUR BEST LIFE TODAY.” She also says things like “my aforementioned third best friend” or “wherein I put my hand on the couch” (which, you could argue, make her sound more like an elderly lawyer drafting a will). Did her shifts in tone make her voice less convincing? Why or why not?

5. One critic said that her main complaint about The Fault in Our Stars was that at times “it’s a little too slick”: “The dialogue between Gus and Hazel is to clever it felt like I was watching an adorable indie comedy.” Do you agree? Did the breezy dialogue clash with the serious subject? How effective was the dialogue overall?

6. Hazel dislikes some of the ways Americans treat people with cancer, which she finds “bullshitty.” What does she implicitly or explicitly fault? Which, if any, of her criticisms did you find valid?

7. The Fault in Our Stars has many references to water, a major symbol in the book. Do any stand out in your mind? Why is water so important in a book about life and death? (Green gives his answer on his website.)

8. John Green foreshadows that Gus will die first in The Fault in Our Stars. Where in the novel does he do this most clearly?

9. Were all aspects of the plot equally well-developed? Or did Green handle some better than others? (Did you buy, for example, that Peter Van Houten would fly to Indianapolis for Gus’ funeral? Or that Hazel’s mother would hide her graduate school plans?)

10. Green has said that a central question of The Fault in Our Stars involves “what constitutes a full and well-lived life”: “I wanted to argue that a good life need not be a long one.” Hazel and Gus differ on what makes for “a full and well-lived life.” How would you describe each of their views on it? Did the book reconcile their views? Are your views closer to those of Hazel or Gus?

Extra:
1. Many references to Jesus appear early in the story (when Hazel and Gus’ support group meets “in the middle of the cross, where the two boards would have met, where the heart of Jesus would have been”). These references might lead you to expect to find religious or explicitly Christian themes in the novel. But Green doesn’t really follow up on them, except in passing references by Hazel to the “Literal Heart of Jesus.” How did you react to this? (A fuller discussion of this point appears at the end of the One-Minute Book Reviews review of The Fault in Our Stars.)

Vital statistics:

The Fault in Our Stars. By John Green. Dutton Children’s Books, 313 pp., $17.99. Ages 13 and up. Published:  January 2012.

A review of The Fault in Our Stars appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on Sept. 9, 2013 http://oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2013/09/09.

Jan Harayda is a novelist and award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. You can follow her on Twitter at @janiceharayda.

Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides are a free alternative to publishers’ guides, which are not unbiased analyses but marketing tools designed to sell books. One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept free books from editors, publishers or authors, and all reviews and guides offer an independent evaluation of books. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear frequently but not on a regular schedule. To avoid missing them, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the blog.

© 2013 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

October 14, 2012

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to ‘What Happened to Sophie Wilder’: 10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others

What Happened to Sophie Wilder: A Novel

By Chris Beha

Source: One-Minute Book Reviews

http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com

This guide for reading groups and others was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher or agent for the book. It is copyrighted by Janice Harayda and is only for your personal use. Its sale or reproduction is illegal except by public libraries, which may use it in their in-house reading programs. Other groups that would like to use this guide should link to it or check the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce it.

A young convert to Catholicism faces a test of her faith when she cares for a dying man in the first novel by Chris Beha, an associate editor of Harper’s. Sophie Wilder fell in love with Charlie Blakeman in college and drops back into his life when they are both in their 20s and have had books published. Sophie has re-entered Charlie’s life, it seems, to tell him about her recent, troubling experience of caring for a dying man. What Happened to Sophie Wilder is Charlie’s attempt to make sense of Sophie’s life from his perspective as a New Yorker who has abandoned traditional religious practices. Told from two alternating viewpoints, the novel raises such questions as: Why do we need stories, whether religious or literary? And at what point does an investment in a “story” become irreversible?

10 Discussion Questions for What Happened to Sophie Wilder:

1. A lively debate has occurred online about whether Sophie’s conversion to Catholicism was convincing. How plausible did it seem to you?

2. The publisher of this novel says that it is about “the redemptive power of storytelling.” Do you agree? If so, why? If not, what is the novel “about”?

3. The novel tells Sophie’s story from two alternating points of view. The odd-numbered chapters give Charlie’s first-person point of view. The even-numbered chapters use third-person narration. Who is telling the story in even-numbered chapters? Some critics believe they represent Charlie’s attempt to tell the story from Sophie’s perspective. Do you agree?

4. The phrase “What happened to?” has more than one meaning. It can signify curiosity (whatever became of?) or alarm (what went wrong?). In this novel, the phrase has a third, metafictional meaning: What happens to Sophie Wilder at the end of the novel What Happened to Sophie Wilder? What do you think happens to her at the end?

5. Did you find the ending of the book — really, two endings — satisfying? Why?

6. A critic for Publishers Weekly said it’s hard to sympathize with Sophie even when she’s trying to do the right thing, “because she’s so blatantly indifferent to the harm she causes.” What, if anything, did you admire about Sophie?

7. Chris Beha dealt indirectly with a meaning of the title of the novel in the online magazine the Nervous Breakdown. He wrote: “What Charlie does discover about what happened to Sophie has nothing to do with the success of her first book or her failure to write another. Instead, it has to do with the time she spent caring for her husband’s dying father, and the way the watching him suffer has changed her. That is, it has to do with the world’s hard realities.” Did the novel convince you that Sophie’s fate had more do with Bill Crane than with Charlie or with her writing career?

8. This novel has conspicuous literary symbols, such as the Victorian glass aquarium in the Greenwich Village townhouse in which Charlie and his cousin Max rent rooms. What does the fish tank represent? Who or what are the tropical fish? You might interpret the tank in either a secular sense (it’s an expensive object from earlier era) or in a sacred one (in some contexts, fish symbolize Christianity).

9. “We had been given something beautiful, asked only to watch over it,” Charlie says at the end of the novel. “We’d been careless, and now it was all in ruin.” He’s talking about the aquarium he and Max were supposed to tend, but his words may have more than one meaning. What you think he’s saying in these lines?

10. What Happened to Sophie Wilder has drawn raves from some critics, such as David G. Myers of Commentary, who said that it is “a remarkable first novel” that “should especially be read by those who have given up on contemporary literature.” The book has had mixed reviews from others, including Sarah Towers, who wrote in the New York Times Book Review: “In places the novel suffers from too much distancing exposition — the price of so many flashbacks to Charlie and Sophie’s college days. And yet, like Charlie, I found myself absorbed throughout with the mystery of Sophie.” How would you sum up the novel?

Extras:
These questions relate to the religious ideas in What Happened to Sophie Wilder:

1. Sophie begins to read her dying father-in-law the story of how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, found in the Bible in John 11:1-44. (“Now Jesus loved Martha …) He cuts her off. Why did Sophie choose that passage? Why did Bill reject it?

2. The Bible says that Christians will receive the gifts listed in Galatians 5:22: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering [i.e., patience], gentleness, goodness, faith.” Which, if any, of those traits does Sophie show? Does it matter, in a literary sense, whether or not she shows any?

3. Sophie converted to Catholicism after reading the monk Thomas Merton’s spiritual autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, and each of the two main sections of the novel has seven chapters. (The title of Merton’s book refers to the mountain of purgatory in Dante’s Divine Comedy.) Does the division of the novel into seven-chapter sections have meaning? If so, what is it? In what ways is Sophie in her own purgatory?

Vital statistics:
What Happened to Sophie Wilder. By Christopher R. Beha. Tin House, 256 pp., $15.95. Published: May 2012. A review of the novel appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on Oct. 14, 2012.

Publishers’ reading group guides are marketing tools designed to sell books. They typically encourage cheerleading instead of a frank discussion of the merits or demerits of an author’s work. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides are an alternative to those commercial guides and are intended to give books a fuller context and to promote a more stimulating conversation about them.

One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept free books or other promotional materials from editors, publishers or authors, and all of its reviews and guides offer an independent evaluation of books. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear frequently but not on a regular schedule. You can avoid missing the guides by subscribing to the RSS feed or following Jan on Twitter.

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the Plain Dealer book editor and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. You can follow Jan on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button in the right sidebar.

© 2012 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

August 1, 2008

What Books for Adults Would You Recommend to Teenagers – August Meeting of Ruthless Book Club

Filed under: Ruthless Book Club,Young Adult — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:12 am
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Lately there’s been a lot of talk about the increasing crossover between books for the adult and young adult (YA) markets, typically defined as ages 13 and up. More people in each group seem to reading books written for the other.

This crossover is occurring partly because the young-adult market has exploded and offers many more books that might appeal to adults than it did a generation ago. At the same time, as cultural literacy has declined, books for adults have gotten dumber. A lot of them would suit adolescents better than people who haven’t been carded since the Clinton administration. So the adult and young-adult markets are meeting in the middle: The average bestseller is pitched to an 11- or 12-year-old, to judge by the calculations of authors’ writing levels that that I’ve done using the Microsoft Word readability statistics. Still another reason for the crossover might be that parents are more involved with homework than they used do, so they’re dipping the books their children bring home and finding that they like them.

So here this month’s question: What books for adults have you read that you would recommend to teenagers and vice versa? One of the best recent examples I can think of is The Red Leather Diary, a journal kept in the 1930s by a woman now in her 90s whom the journalist Lily Koppel tracked down and interviewed. This adult book would no doubt appeal to many teenagers, too.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

July 27, 2008

Only a Few Days Left to Talk About ‘The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher’ and Other Books at the July Meeting of the One-Minute Book Reviews Online Book Club

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We’ve been talking about The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher and other books you might want to take to the beach at the July meeting of the online reading group on One-Minute Book Reviews. The club has no required reading: You can “join” by leaving a comment about any book you’ve been thinking about lately at www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/07/01 on or before July 31. A new conversation will start on August 1.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com and www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

July 9, 2008

Julia Glass and Jonathan Lethem Are Reading ‘Netherland’ This Summer – What Are You Reading? Join the Conversation at One-Minute Book Reviews’s Online Club

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Julia Glass and Jonathan Lethem are reading Joseph O’Neill’s novel Netherland. Or so they said in a Wall Street Journal article that also listed the summer reading of John Irving, Geraldine Brooks, Philippa Gregory, Oscar Hijuelos, Joyce Carol Oates and others www.wsj.com/article/SB121332522673370767.html.

What’s in your beach bag? If you’d like to talk about a great book or warn people away from a clinker, join the conversation at a new online book club by clicking here www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/07/01/. A review of and reading group guide to Netherland appeared on this site in separate posts on June 24 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/06/24/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

July 1, 2008

July 2008 Meeting of the Ruthless Book Club — What Books Are You Taking on Vacation or Reading in a Hammock at Home?

Filed under: Ruthless Book Club — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:48 pm
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Welcome to the second meeting of the Ruthless Book Club, the online book club with no required reading. All you have to do to join is to leave a comment on this post about a book you like (or want to warn others away from) on any day in July. The book doesn’t need to have been reviewed on this site, but it can’t be one you got for free from the author, publisher or anyone else connected to it. (That sex-education manual your parents gave you at the age of 9 is, of course, fine.) A new virtual meeting will begin August 1.

I promised that I’d get the conversation started each month. So here’s my question: How do you decide what books to take on vacation? I’ve spent hours – sometimes days – winnowing the options.

Last year I packed On Chesil Beach, but it turned out to be overrated and so lightweight I finished it on the train before I arrived at the shore. The only bookstore in my resort town sold mostly bestsellers, so I bought Lone Survivor. It had more to say than Ian McEwan’s novel but was partly a screed against journalists. Am I a masochist?

I probably had the least trouble with the vacation-reading dilemma the year I read all of the Jane Austen novels in a one-volume edition that Oxford University Press has, tragically, allowed to go out of print. I’d read a few of the novels before I left town, enough to know I’d probably like the others, and the book was compact enough to be easily portable.

So what are you taking with you this year?

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

June 26, 2008

Another Meeting of the One-Minute Book Reviews Online Book Club on Tuesday

Filed under: News,Ruthless Book Club — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 8:48 pm
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Last night I had dinner with some of my most literary friends, and we had an interesting conversation on the subject of: Are we supposed to take seriously the reading lists in books like 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die? One of my companions — who used to be the top editor at an esteemed imprint — argued that we weren’t. He said that he thought editors published those lists to spark arguments, not to make a definite statement. And he may be right. But I suspect that whether or not editors intend it, a lot of people do take the lists seriously.

A new discussion will begin Tuesday on the online book club that started on this site on June 1 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/06/01. And this might be a good topic to explore there: Did you ever buy a book because it had turned up on a lot of those “best of” lists (or even on one list)? What was your reaction?

You can also use the comments section of Tuesday’s post to bring up other books you’ve enjoyed recently (or would like to warn others away from), whether or not they’ve been reviewed on this site.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 5, 2008

Ha Jin, James Jones, Jane Hamilton … Now Being Discussed on the Ruthless Book Club

Filed under: Ruthless Book Club — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:37 pm
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It’s not to late to join the conversation at a new guilt-free online book club

A new online book club – one with no required reading – began on June 1 on One-Minute Book Reviews. It’s a place where you can tell others about books you like or don’t like, whether or not they’ve been reviewed on this site or any other.

You can take part by leaving a comment on the June 1 post, which you can do by clicking on this link www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2008/06/01. Some of the authors who’ve been mentioned so far are Ha Jin, James Jones and Jane Hamilton.

My sense is that a lot of serious readers have strong views on books that they don’t share with others because the books don’t relate to blog posts they’ve read. So I’ve created a space where you can do that.

You can leave a comment on any day during the month and, even if no other visitor has read the book, you’ll probably get a response at least from me. A new discussion will begin on July 1.

Thanks for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews, home of the Delete Key Awards for the Year’s Worst Writing in Books and the Gusher Awards for Achievement in Hyperbole in Book Reviewing.

Jan

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 1, 2008

The Ruthless Book Club – June 2008 Meeting

Filed under: Ruthless Book Club — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:03 am
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Okay, everybody. Time to start the first meeting of the Ruthless Book Club, the reading group for people who don’t like reading groups. Did you bring the cake and coffee?

The Ruthless Book Club is a guilt-free online book club with no required reading. All you have to do to take part is to leave a brief comment about a book that’s on your mind or that another visitor has mentioned. (The book can’t be one you got for free from the publisher or anyone else with ties to the book – that’s one reason this is called the Ruthless Book Club.) You can bring up another book at the July 1 meeting.

I promised to get the discussion started, so here’s my comment:

Not long ago, I reviewed John Buchan’s classic spy novel The Thirty-Nine Steps, which Alfred Hitchcock made into one of his best movies. I hadn’t read the book sooner partly because I thought I “knew” it from the film. But Hitchcock made so many changes in the plot and other aspects of the story that I didn’t know it at all. That experience reminded me of how often movies affect our perceptions of novels. Some films keep us away from books because they’re so good, we imagine that they are definitive. Other films keep us away because they’re so bad they mislead us about whether we might enjoy the books that inspired them.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 31, 2008

The Ruthless Book Club — the Online Reading Group for People Who Don’t Like Reading Groups — Starts Tomorrow

Filed under: Reading Groups — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:25 pm
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A guilt-free, no-required-reading book club starts tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews.

To take part, all you have to do read the post that will appear on this site on the first day of each month. In the post, I’ll start the conversation by mentioning a book I’ve reviewed that made an unusual impact for good or ill.

Then it’s your turn to leave a brief comment on a book you’ve read that made an impression on you. The book doesn’t have to have to have been reviewed on this site. At the Ruthless Book Club you can share a discovery or warn others about an overrated book.

Here are the rules:

You may talk about “your” book on the first day of the month or any other day. Visitors may comment on your post or mention another book at any time during the month, or until a new discussion starts on the first day of the next month.

You may bring up any kind of book – children’s or adult, trade or scholarly, in-print or out-of-print. Please keep comments brief – you can expand them if people have questions – and don’t paste in reviews or other material.

You may bring only one book to the club, not a roster. You can bring up other books at later “meetings.”

You may not comment on a book you’ve received for free from the author, agent, publisher or anyone with ties to the book. Book publicists are barred from taking part the discussion.

You may not comment on a book by a friend, enemy or anyone else with whom you might appear to have a conflict. The Ruthless Book Club will follow the rule observed by journalists: You don’t just avoid conflicts of interest but the appearance of conflicts of interest. That’s one reason the club is called “ruthless.”

Thanks for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews, and hope to see you at the club.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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