One-Minute Book Reviews

August 13, 2007

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to Marcus Luttrell’s ‘Lone Survivor’

10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
Lone Survivor
The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10

By Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson
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 reproduce it for use in their in-house reading programs. Other 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.

In 2005 Marcus Luttrell set out with three other U.S. Navy SEALs to capture an al Qaeda leader hiding on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Luttrell and his unit soon became engaged in a fierce firefight with Taliban soldiers that he alone survived. He tells his story in his memoir, Lone Survivor, a No. 1 New York Times bestseller.

Questions for Readers

1. Military books don’t usually become immediate bestsellers unless they have famous authors, such as Private Jessica Lynch or General Colin Powell. Lone Survivor reached the No. 1 spot on the New York Times list quickly even though Marcus Luttrell was little-known. Why do you think accounts for this? What drew you to the book? What do you think attracted others to it?

2. Luttrell is the son of Texas horse ranchers and had something of a cowboy childhood. For example, his father taught him to shoot a .22-caliber rifle at the age of seven. [Page 51] Is Lone Survivor a kind of cowboy story? Why or why not?

3. At times Luttrell rails against what he calls “the liberal media.” But you might wonder whether he means “the liberal media” as opposed to “the conservative media” or “the media in general, which tend to be liberal.” What do you think he meant? Does it matter to his story?

4. Luttrell says that on an earlier assignment in Iraq, he realized that some people thought “we who put our lives on the line for our nation at the behest of our government should be charged with murder for shooting our enemy.” They included “the liberal media, which knows nothing of combat, nothing of our training, and nothing of the mortal dangers we face out there on the front line.” [Page 37] Was this a fair comment when so many reporters are embedded with troops? Why or why not?

5. Luttrell also lashes out against provisions of the Geneva Conventions that prevent civilians from becoming targets of attacks. He argues that these are unfair in wars such the one SEALs were fighting in Afghanistan, because soldiers often disguise themselves as civilians. [Page 367 and elsewhere] How well does Luttrell make his case against some provisions of the Conventions?

6. Nations clearly have several options if some provisions of the Geneva Conventions don’t work in wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq: 1) Obey all the provisions, even those put soldiers’ lives at risk; 2) Ignore provisions that would endanger soldiers (even if this would anger other countries); 3) Don’t get involved in wars that would require soldiers to make such choices. Luttrell seems to favor a variation on the second option: Either repeal some provisions or allow soldiers to disregard them. Which option makes most sense to you?

7. Some of America’s greatest books involve sole survivors of disasters. These include Moby-Dick. (Its epilogue includes a line from the Book of Job: “And I only am escaped alone to tell thee.”) What accounts for the appeal of these survival narratives? Do Americans tend to see themselves as “alone” in some fundamental way and identify with their characters? Or is something else at work?

8. In an interview with the New York Times, Luttrell said his main goal in writing Lone Survivor was to tell the story of the SEALs who did not survive. ”Now I think the American public knows who they are, and now they are forever immortalized,” he said. ”Their memory will never die out, and that’s what I wanted.” [“He Lived to Tell the Tale (And Write a Best Seller), by Motoko Rich, in the New York Times, Aug 9, 2007, page E1.] Did he achieve his goal? Do you agree that his friends’ memory “will never die”?

9. Many studies have shown that schoolchildren today have trouble identifying major battles of the Civil War or World War II, let alone their winners, losers, and individual participants. In that context, do you think that people will remember Operation Redwing years from now? Or will they forget it after other military memoirs appear? Why or why not? What does your answer say to you about our country?

10. Luttrell says early in his book, “I am not a political person.” [Page 39] After reading Lone Survivor, do you agree? Why or why not?

Vital statistics:

Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10. By Marcus Luttrell with Patrick Robinson. Little Brown, 249 pp., $24.99. First American edition: June 2007.

Links: You can read an excerpt and listen to a podcast at www.hachettebookgroupusa.com. You can learn about other military books by Patrick Robinson at www.patrickrobinson.com.

Your book group may also want to read:

Return With Honor (Doubleday, 1995). By Captian Scott O’Grady with Jeff Coplon. This gripping bestseller tells the true story of a U.S. Air Force caption who was shot down while enforcing a NATO no-fly zone over Bosnia in 1995 and eluded capture for six days until rescued by Marines. Return With Honor lacks the angry political rhetoric of Lone Survivor, and for that reason, some people may prefer it to Luttrell’s book.

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is an 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. She does not accept free books from editors, publishers or agents, and all or her reviews and guides offer an independent evaluation that is not influenced by marketing concerns. If this guide helped you, please bookmark One-Minute Book Reviews or subscribe to the RSS feed. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear frequently but not on a regular schedule.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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August 2, 2007

One of the Best Memoirs of 2006 Arrives in Paperback

One of the best memoirs of 2006, Alexander Masters’s Stuart: A Life Backwards (Delta, $12), has arrived in paperback, not long after becoming a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. If you don’t think anybody could tell a charming story of the life an “ex-homeless, ex-junkie psychopath,” this book could change your mind. This link will take you to a review that has a reading group guide posted just below it: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/22/. The readers’ guide is also saved with the March posts and in the “Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides” category.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 16, 2007

Reading Group Guides on One-Minute Book Reviews — A Complete List

Looking for a way to give your summer reading a little structure? Or for books your reading group might want to consider in the fall?

Here’s a complete, print-and-save list of readers’ guides available on One-Minute Book Reviews. Each title is followed by a one-sentence review of the book that inspired the guide and a link to the longer, original review. If a link doesn’t work, you can find all of these guides saved in the “Totally Unauthorized Reading Groups” category on the site. Most readers’ guides appeared on the same day that the review of the book was posted, usually in the post just below it. Some of the earliest guides appeared later and, in those cases, the links to both the guide and the review appear below.

Books for Adults

Summer at Tiffany (Morrow, $14.95). By Marjorie Hart. A lovely memoir of Manhattan in the weeks just before and after V-J Day, written by one of the first female pages at the famous jewelry store. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/07.02/.

The Manny (Dial, $25). By Holly Peterson. A rich Park Avenue wife and television producer hires a male nanny for her son — and gets more than she bargained for — in a glorified romance novel with some of the year’s the worst sex scenes. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/06/26/.

The Empty Nest: 31 Parents Tell the Truth About Relationships, Love, and Freedom After the Kids Fly the Coop (Hyperion/Voice, $23.95). Edited by Karen Stabiner. Recent studies have shown that the “empty-nest syndrome” is mostly a myth, so this collection is a bit of a throwback to the 1950s with a few good essays — most notably, from Ellen Goodman, Charles McGrath and Roxana Robinson. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/06/11/.

When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa (Little, Brown, $24.99). By Peter Godwin. A journalist writes about the terrors that Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe has inflicted on his family and others in one of the great memoirs of the year. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/06/08/.

No, I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a 60th Year (Viking, $24.95). By Virginia Ironside. In this semi-autobiographical comic novel, a well-known British agony aunt argues that the great thing about getting old is that there are so many things you can’t do. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/05/29/.

Fat, Forty, and Fired: One Man’s Frank, Funny and Inspiring Account of Leaving His Job and Finding His Life (Andrews McMeel, $19.95). By Nigel Marsh. The CEO of Leo Burnett Australia gives a breezy account what happened when, after losing his former job, he took time off to pursue goals that included losing weight, overcoming his alcoholism and becoming more than “a bit player” in his family. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/05/17/.

Acceptance (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Sarah Crichton, $23). By Susan Coll. Coll send sends up the college admissions race in a tart novel that has many funny lines but also digressive subplots and point-of-view problems. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/05/13/.

Serpent in Paradise (Anchor, $12.95). By Dea Birkett. The true story of an award-winning English travel writer’s frightening experiences on Pitcairn Island, the refugee of the Bounty mutineers, in the 1990s. Older and harder to find than some books on this list, but one of the most unusual travel memoirs you’ll ever read. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/05/07/.

Stuart: A Life Backwards (Delacorte, $20). By Alexander Masters. A charming biography of an “ex-homeless, ex-junkie psychopath” that has won or been short-listed for several major literary awards. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/22/.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (Simon & Schuster, $12, paperback). By Eric Hodgins. Illustrated by William Steig. The classic satire of the modern lust for property that has inspired two movies, Mrs. Blandings Builds His Dream House and The Money Pit. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/04/09/.

Infidel (Free Press, $26). By Ayaan Hirsi Ali. A memoir by the Somali-born former member of the Dutch Parliament who writes about events including her circumcision and opposition to Muslim extremism. Readers’ guide: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/04/03/. Review: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/04/03/.

The Second Child: Poems (Random House, $19.95). By Deborah Garrison. Rhymed and unrhymed poetry about the intersection of work and motherhood, including classic forms such as the sonnet and sestina. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/12/deborah-garrison-finds-poetry-at-the intersection-of-work-and-motherhood/

Born Twice: A Novel (Vintage, $13.95, papeerback). By Guiseppe Pontiggia. One of the great recent novels about fatherhood, which won Italy’s highest literary award, the Strega Prize. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/08/.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Sarah Crichton, $22). By Ishmael Beah. A young writer’s story of his experiences as a fighter in the government army during the civil war in Sierra Leone. Readers’ guide: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/o3/05/. Review: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/02/27/.

The Birthday Party: A Memoir of Survival (Putnam, $24.95). By Stanley N. Alpert. A former federal prosecutor’s account of being kidnapped on a Manhattan street and held for thugs who showed a gang-that-couldn’t-shoot-straight ineptitude. Readers’ guide: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/02/04/.Review: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/01/30/stuart-alperts-25-hours-in-hell-with-a-turkey-sandwich/

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughs on Being a Woman (Knopf, $19.95). By Nora Ephron. Witty and trenchant essays by the author of Heartburn and the script for When Harry Met Sally … . Readers’ guide: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/20/. Review: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2006/10/14/ms-ephron-regrets/

Books for Children

The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Novel in Words and Pictures (Scholastic, $22.99, ages 9–12). By Brian Selznick. A much-admired children’s author gets and A+ for the art and a C for the writing in this bestselling novel about an orphaned thief who lives in a Paris train station early in the 20th century. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/04/21/.

 

The Higher Power of Lucky (Atheneum, $21.99, ages 10 and up). By Susan Patron. Illustrated by Matt Phelan. Ages 10 and up. The controversial winner of the 2007 Newbery Medal that has the word “scrotum” on the first page. Readers’ guide: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/02/22/. Review: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/02/19/that-scrotum-book-for-children/

Books by Janice Harayda

The Accidental Bride (St. Martin’s Griffin, $13.95, paperback). A comedy of Midwestern manners about a Cleveland reporter who decides at the last minute that she wants to bail out of her break-the-bank wedding. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/05/28/.

Manhattan on the Rocks (Sourcebooks, $14, paperback). A comedy of New York manners about a 25-year-old writer who leaves Ohio and takes a job on a glossy Manhattan magazine run by a talk-show-host-turned magazine editor who hopes to become the next Oprah. www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/03/26/.

Most reading group guides on the Web were compiled by publishers or by people paid by publishers to write them. They are not “objective” guides (any more than the two guides I wrote for my novels are “objective”). They are part of a marketing plan designed to sell books. The reading group guides on One-Minute Book Reviews offer an independent evaluation of books and possible discussion questions, written by Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com, an award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. The reviews and guides on this site are not influenced by marketing concerns.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

July 2, 2007

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to Marjorie Hart’s Memoir, ‘Summer at Tiffany’

10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
Summer at Tiffany
By Marjorie Hart

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 reproduce it for use in their in-house reading programs. Other reading groups that wish to use this guide should link to it or use the address on the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to request permission to reproduce it.

In the summer of 1945 Marjorie Hart and a sorority sister at the University of Iowa set out, like Dorothy and Toto, for New York City, determined to find work as salesgirls. Turned down by Lord & Taylor, they talked their way into jobs as the first female pages at Tiffany & Co. Now in her 80s, Hart describes that experience in Summer at Tiffany, an affectionate memoir of Manhattan just before and after V-J Day.

Questions for Readers

1. Marjorie Hart seems to feel only gratitude that she and her friend Marty had the opportunity to work Tiffany’s in the summer of 1945. “We had to be the luckiest girls in town to be part of the Tiffany family and watch the curtain open to the toniest display of jewelry in the world.” [Page 34] Based on what she tells you about herself in her book, what do you think accounts for her sunnyside-up view of life? Do you think it has to do with her generation, her small-town Midwestern background or something else?

2. Many bestselling memoirs and biographies are what Joyce Carol Oates has called “pathography,” or books that focus on the pathological. Why do you think Hart was able to get Summer at Tiffany published when it’s so different from memoirs like Augusten Burroughs’s Running With Scissors? What makes her story enjoyable?

3. The end of World War II received more coverage than any previous event and continues to inspire books, movies, and TV shows. It also resulted in one of the most famous photographs of the century, Alfred Eisenstaedt’s picture of a sailor and nurse in Times Square on V-J Day. What did Summer at Tiffany tell you about that event (and the days just before and after it) that you hadn’t learned from other media?

3. Hart tells us up front that she has taken liberties with her story. She writes: “In some cases composite characters have been created or timelines have been compressed in order to further preserve the privacy of dear friends and maintain the narrative flow.” [Page vi] Could you see evidence of this in her story? Where?

4. Using composites characters or scenes in nonfiction is controversial. Some journalists say you should never use these. Others say it’s okay if a) you tell readers up front that you have done so and b) it’s necessary to tell a worthy story. After reading Summer at Tiffany, what do you think? Did the book justify any liberties that Hart took?

5. In our era we continually hear that it’s “healthy” to express your feelings, even if they might upset others. Hart grew up with different values: “It’s important not to disappoint anyone, or make them worry.” [Page 248] Does she seem to have suffered from this? Why or why not?

6. Do you think your parents and grandparents have the same view of this book that you would? Why or why not?

7. Some of Hart’s experiences have an underside she doesn’t deal with. For example, all of the women in the photo of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority are white. Should Hart have explored these issues? Or would that have made it a different book?

8. Late in the book, Hart has to decide whether to accept a scholarship to Yale that, she says, arose suddenly. Does she give you enough information to understand why she made the choice she did? What factors seemed most important to her decision? Would you have made the same choice?

9. Hart offers vibrant glimpses of her small-town and of Manhattan in the 1940s. For example, after the Queen Mary brought thousands of soldiers back from Europe, the Red Cross gave out 35,000 half-pint cartons of milk because the servicemen and -women seldom had milk overseas. [Page 80] What details do you remember best? Why did they make an impression on you?

10. The caption for the last photo in the book tells us that after visiting Tiffany’s in the winter of 1945, Hart didn’t return until 2004. Apparently it wasn’t because she couldn’t afford the trip. Does it seem remarkable that she didn’t go back sooner? What might explain her delayed return? Have you ever avoided going back to a place where you were happy? Why?

Vital statistics:
Summer at Tiffany. By Marjorie Hart. Morrow, 258 pp., $14.95.

A review of Summer at Tiffany appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on July 2, 2007 http://oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/07/02 It is saved both with the June posts and in the “Memoirs” category on the site.

Your book group may also want to read:
The Bell Jar (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, $16.95, paperback). By Sylvia Plath. This satirical novel about a young woman’s nervous breakdown fictionalizes the author’s stint as a guest editor of Mademoiselle in the 1950s. Plath’s experiences in the city were so different from Hart’s that you might enjoy comparing the two books.

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is an 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. 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 that is not influenced by marketing concerns. If this guide helped you, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear frequently but no on a regular schedule.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 26, 2007

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to Holly Peterson’s ‘The Manny’

10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
The Manny
By Holly Peterson

This readers’ guide 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 reproduce it 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 the guide.

Five years ago Holly Peterson wrote a story about male nannies for the New York Times in which she explained why she had hired men to care for her 3-year-old son. It seems that Jack wanted to sell his baby sister at the supermarket. ”Just leave her on the shelf next to the Teddy Grahams, Mom,” he suggested. Peterson now returns to male nannies in her first novel, The Manny. Jamie Whitfield, a 36-year-old New York television producer, hires a younger man to care for her son because her rich, caddish husband doesn’t seem to care that Dylan suffers from a “loss of self-esteem more than likely due to an absent dad.” Jamie comes from a middle-class Midwestern background and loathes many of her “showy and vulgar” Upper East Side neighbors, whose sexual adventures can be as explicit as their preferences for brands like Bulgari and Chanel. And they aren’t her only problem. The Manny also involves infidelity, a political scandal and an FBI investigation. As the action moves from Manhattan to Aspen, Jamie faces a final question: Should she stay with her indifferent husband or cast her lot with a seemingly penniless male nanny who has charmed her young son?

Questions for Readers

1. Many well-known novelists have written about the world of the Park Avenue elite, including Tom Wolfe in The Bonfire of the Vanities. What, if anything, did you learn from The Manny that you didn’t get from other sources?

2. Nannies or other underlings have taken center stage in such recent bestsellers as The Nanny Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada. Some people would say that it’s easier for a novelist to evoke sympathy for such obviously exploited characters than for their bosses. Jamie Whitfield is the boss in The Manny. Does Holly Peterson create sympathy for Jamie? What did you find appealing or not appealing about her?

3. Peterson says that Jamie comes from “middle-class, Middle American roots” and “married into” her elite realm on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. [Page 7] Did Jamie strike you as a credible daughter of the Heartland? Why or why not?

4. Jamie dislikes many of the people in her social orbit, whom she sees as pretentious snobs. She says that guests at a museum benefit are “showy and vulgar” and “unintellectual and boring.” [Page 312] Does Jamie ever come across as a snob? Where? Do you think that Peterson intended this or that it’s a flaw in the novel?

5. New York magazine had this novel reviewed by real-life manny, Jake Shapiro, who questioned its title: “A more apt title would be The Mommy – the book focuses pretty tightly on Jamie and her desires for happier kids, an exciting career, and a better marriage. Peter, the manny, is a stock character, a callow guy in his twenties on the rebound from a busted romance.” [“A Man Among Nannies,” by Jake Shapiro, New York, June 25, 2007 www.nymag.com/arts/books/features/33518/.] Do agree that Peter is a “stock character”? Why or why not? What could Peterson have done to make him less of a stock character and give him more depth?

6. One critic of The Nanny Diaries wrote that while the nanny and others in the novel were unique and believable characters, the boy the nanny cared for wasn’t – he came across as a generic child. How well did Peterson portray Dylan in The Manny? Was he unique and believable or a generic boy?

7. Critics use the term roman-à-clef (novel-with-a-key) to describe books that invite you to guess which people or incidents inspired their characters. Does that characterization fit all or parts of The Manny? Why?

8. The Manny has its roots in an article Peterson wrote for the New York Times. A British reviewer wrote that the novel feels “more like a collection of newspaper pieces than a coherent narrative.” [The Telegraph, March 18, 2007] Do you agree or disagree? What makes the book seem like a novel or collection of articles to you?

9. The Manny has multiple story lines that involve the manny, a political scandal Jamie is covering at her network, and an FBI investigation of the law firm where her husband, Phillip, practices. One challenge of keeping several story lines going is that you have to tie them together at the end. How well did Peterson do this?

10. Another challenge of working with multiple story lines that you have to give background for each up front, which can make a novel slow in getting off the ground. How would you describe the pace of The Manny? Did it ever seem to drag? Where? Why did the novel move faster in some places than others?

If you dare:
11. The Manny has some fairly explicit – some might say trashy – sex scenes, such as the one on page 167. Did these strike you as realistic? Or is Peterson one of those authors who should be barred by the New York City Council from ever trying to write a credible scene that includes the line, “Now she was on her knees …”

Vital statistics
The Manny. By Holly Peterson. Dial Press, 353 pp., $25. Published June 2007.

A review of The Manny appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on June 26, 2007 http://oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/06/26. It saved both with the June posts and in the “Novels” category on the site.

Links: The excerpt from The Manny appears on the online edition of Newsweek dated June 17, 2007. I can’t link directly to it, but you can find the excerpt by Googling “The Manny + excerpt + Newsweek.” You can also find an excerpt and more on the Random House site www.randomhouse.com.

Peterson’s article “It’s So Nice to Have a Manny Around the House” ran in the New York Times, Nov 3, 2002, pg. 9.2. You have to register for the Times‘s site to access the article but may be able to find it elsewhere on the Web.

Your book group may also want to read:
The Nanny Diaries. By Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. St. Martin’s, 320 pp., $13.95 paperback (tie-in edition for the movie due out in September 2007). This novel does not have a diary format but uses first-person narration to depict the life of a nanny for ruthless parents who inhabit a world similar to that of The Manny.

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is an 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. 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 that is not influenced by marketing concerns. If this guide helped you, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear frequently but no on a regular schedule.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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June 11, 2007

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to ‘The Empty Nest,’ Edited by Karen Stabiner

10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
The Empty Nest: 31 Parents Tell the Truth About Relationships, Love, and Freedom After the Kids Fly the Coop
Edited by Karen Stabiner

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 reproduce it 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 the guide.

A professor of family studies recently told the Washington Post that the idea of the empty-nest syndrome has been pretty much debunked by scholars. But the departure of children still packed an emotional wallop for many of the 31 parents who describe their experiences in the essay collection The Empty Nest, edited by Karen Stabiner. The contributors to the book include men and women, married and single parents and little-known authors and celebrities such as syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman and novelist and journalist Anna Quindlen.

Hyperion/Voice has posted a brief readers’ guide to The Empty Nest at www.everywomansvoice.com that you may want to use at a starting point for your discussions. But like most publishers’ guides, that guide is part of a publicity campaign designed to sell books. It does not encourage criticism, cite negative reviews or suggest that you compare the novel to others on similar topics. For these reasons, the Hyperion/Voice guide may have less depth or promote a less lively conversation than you or your group would prefer. The following Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide is not intended to be comprehensive but to raise questions not covered by the Hyperion/Voice guide.

Questions for Readers

[Page numbers are based on the advance readers’ edition and may differ in the final version.]

1. Many experts have come to see the empty-nest syndrome as myth. Do you agree or disagree with them? How did the book affect your view of this issue?

2. If you agree with the experts who say that the negative effects of the empty nest were exaggerated, why do you think they were exaggerated?

3. Some researchers have found that effects of the empty nest are actually worse for fathers than for mothers. One reason is that women expect to face big changes when children leave home and start planning – and even grieving – before this happens. Men are less likely to prepare for the loss. So they are more likely to be emotionally blindsided by the departure. How do these findings jibe with your experiences and those of people you know?

4. A reviewer for the New York Times Book Review said that The Empty Nest “probably is an exercise in creative catharsis” for the contributors. What do you think the reviewer meant? Was the comment a criticism or compliment? [“Get Out. No, Wait, Come Back!” By Liesl Schillinger. The New York Times Book Review, April 8, 2007 pp. 9–10.]

5. Anna Quindlen says that the women of her generation “professionalized” mothering – for example, by sometimes “making motherhood into a surrogate work world.” At the same time, she adds, “Motherhood changed from a role into a calling.” What’s your reaction to this? Who saw motherhood as more of a “calling,” you or your mother (or grandmother)?

6. Quindlen also says that because of all the “professionalization” of mothering, “the empty nest is emptier than ever before.” Do you agree or disagree? Which generation had a harder time when children left home, yours or your parents’?

7. Marriages often break up when a nest empties, because some parents “stay together for the sake of the children.” Yet not one marriage in The Empty Next seems to have taken a major hit. Did you find this realistic or true to the experiences of women you know? Or did you get the sense that some writers were “spinning” their stories? Or that Stabiner had looked for a certain kind of person for the book?

8. Ellen Goodman writes that she used to think that mothers who had jobs outside the home “might avoid the cliché of the empty-nest syndrome.” Now that she’s in her 60s, she doubts it. What’s your view of this? How does having a job outside the home affect (or not affect) a parent’s reactions to children’s departures?

9. Ellen Levine said that she once found herself “whining” that her son didn’t call as much to talk to her. Some people might say that a lot of parents in The Empty Nest are whining. How did this affect the book? Would it have been stronger if Stabiner had included more writers who didn’t talk so much about their pain? Or were their comments appropriate?

10. One brave contributor, Jan Constantine, admitted that she was actually relieved when her daughter Elizabeth left for the University of Wisconsin. Or, as she put it: “I don’t know which of the two of us, Elizabeth or I, was more relieved to see the other one leave.” [Page 200] Why do you think more parents didn’t make similar comments? Do you think that they weren’t relieved or just felt they shouldn’t say it?

If you dare:
11. Letty Cottin Pogrebin says that one of the things she learned about the empty nest is: “You lose a kid, you gain a sex life.” True or false?

Extra:
12. Nora Ephron writes briefly about her own empty nest in “Parenting in Three Stages,” an essay in I Feel Bad About My Neck (Knopf, 2006). “If you find yourself nostalgic for the ongoing, day-to-day activities required of the modern parent, there’s a solution: Get a dog,” she says. “I don’t recommend it, because dogs require tremendous commitment, but they definitely give you something to do. Plus they’re very lovable and, more important, uncritical. And they can be trained.” [Page 64] Glib as it might seems to be, this comment makes a subtle point: Sometimes what we feel when children leave home is pure nostalgia. What’s your reaction to this? How does it compare to the tone of The Empty Nest? If you’ve read I Feel Bad About My Neck, which book do you think had more value for empty-nesters?

Vital statistics
The Empty Nest: 31 Parents Tell the Truth About Relationships, Love, and Freedom After the Kids Fly the Coop. Edited by Karen Stabiner. Hyperion/Voice, 320 pp., $23.95.

A review of The Empty Nest appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on June 11, 2007, and is archived with the June posts and in the “Essays and Reviews” category.

Your book group may also want to read:

1. I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman. By Nora Ephron. Knopf, 137 pp., $19.95. In this best-selling essay collection, Ephron writes about her empty nest and related topics in a short piece “Parenting in Three Stages.” I Feel Bad About My Neck was reviewed on One-Minute Book Reviews on Oct. 14, 2006, and is archived with the October posts.

2. No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a 60th Year. By Virginia Ironside. Viking, 231 pp., $24.95. This comic novel focuses on Marie Sharp, a divorced 60-year-old London grandmother who becomes a grandmother for the first time and sees her stage of life differently than do most contributors to The Empty Nest. No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club was reviewed on One-Minute Book Reviews on May, 2007, and is archived with the May posts:
http://oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/05/29/

Janice Harayda is an award-winning critic has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. 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 that is not influenced by marketing concerns. If this guide helped you, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear frequently but not on a regular schedule.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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June 8, 2007

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to Peter Godwin’s ‘When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa’

10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa
By Peter Godwin

This guide for reading groups 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 reproduce it 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.

“In Africa, you do not view death from the auditorium of life, as a spectator, but from the edge of the stage, waiting only for your cue,” Peter Godwin writes in this elegant memoir of the terrors of the nearly 30-year regime of dictator Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. If those words sound melodramatic, consider a few of the facts offered by the author, a former foreign correspondent for BBC TV who grew up in what was then the British colony of Rhodesia. Godwin’s sister and her fiancé were killed in 1978, just before their wedding, when they ran into army ambush during the war for independence. Mugabe later sent hit squads into the countryside to abduct and murder his opponents. The husband of Godwin family friend was forced to drink diesel oil before he was killed. The author’s father was beaten outside his home. A woman had worked for 20 years as the family housekeeper returned soon after her retirement with enforcers and demanded money. As Godwin tried to help his parents stay safe, he uncovered a family secret that he believes helps to explain a question at the heart of his memoir: Amid the terror, why didn’t his parents return to England, where they had lived before settling in Africa?

Questions for Readers

1. The title of When a Crocodile Eats the Sun comes from the belief among some Zulus that a solar eclipse occurs when a “celestial crocodile” eats the sun. [Page 201] Godwin is clearly using the eclipse as a metaphor. At least two kinds of eclipses – personal and national – occur in this memoir. What are the eclipses?

2. Godwin returns to the crocodile when he visits his godmother in a nursing home. She is reading a magazine that has a quote from Winston Churchill, who says, “Appeasement is feeding the crocodile, hoping it will eat you last.” [Page 326] We may assume Churchill was referring to Hitler (the crocodile) and the Munich Pact (the appeasement), which allowed Germany to claim parts of Czechoslovakia. Who is the crocodile in Godwin’s book? How does this image relate to the memoir as a whole?

3. In his memoir Godwin tries to draw parallels between the treatment of whites in Africa and Jews in other parts of the world. How effective were his efforts?

4. When a Crocodile Eats the Sun begins when Godwin gets a call saying that his father has had a heart attack and he needs to fly to Harare, Zimbabwe (formerly Salisbury, Rhodesia). At this point, his sister and her fiancé have already been killed. Godwin often seems to put himself in serious danger to provide aid or comfort to his parents. Do you see him as brave, crazy or something else? Would you have done what he did in the frightening situations in the book? Why or why not?

5. If you have lived in the U.K. or watch the BBC news regularly on cable, you know that the British media cover international events more extensively than their American counterparts do. Godwin seems to be reacting to this when writes: “Africa seldom makes it into the American media; even the venerable New York Times mostly smuggles in its Africa coverage as soft features on slow news days, or six-line bulletins in the news-in-brief section. Yet every single day, newspaper headlines can legitimately announce: ‘Another Five Thousand Africans Die of AIDS.’” [Page 204] Do you agree with Godwin’s comments on Africa and the American media? After reading his book, would you encourage American editors and producers to change their coverage? How?

6. If you agree with Godwin that the American media slight Africa, why do you think this is so? Is it racism, pure and simple, or do other factors come into play?

7. Godwin often suggests that for all the terrors his white parents faced, Mugabe’s despotism hurt black Zimbabweans the most. Do you agree? Why? What cruelties did blacks suffers under his dictatorship?

8. As Mugabe’s stranglehold on Zimbabwe tightened, a group of women from Women of Zimbabwe Arise! (WOZA) were attacked while demonstrating against the regime. “They are middle-aged black ladies – the pillars of society, normally to be found at the Women’s Institute or organizing church teas,” Godwin writes. “Yet here they are, their arms in casts, patches over their eyes, bandages around their heads. And still they are spirited and indignant. This, it seems to me, is true courage.” [Page 224] Does this recall any episodes in American history? Which ones? Would the American women you know, white or black, have the courage to do what those of WOZA did?

9. Flashes of humor appear even in parts of this book that deal with bleak subjects like the AIDS pandemic. At a backpackers’ hangout at Victoria Falls, Godwin sees a huge jar (with one condom in it) that bears the label “AIDS Kills So Don’t Be Silly, Put A Condom on Your Willy.” [Page 107] How do details like this help When a Crocodile Eats the Sun? Without them, might this book be almost too painful to read?

10. “It is sometimes said that the worst thing to happen to Africa was the arrival of the white man,” Godwin writes. “And the second worst was his departure. Colonialism lasted just long enough to destroy much of Africa’s indigenous cultures and traditions, but not long enough to leave behind a durable replacement.” [Page 155] Do you agree or disagree? How did Godwin’s memoir affect your view of this idea?

Extras:
11. You may have been taught that writers use symbols only in fiction or poetry. This clearly isn’t true (given that the crocodile stands for more than a reptile in this book). The use of symbols, metaphors and other literary devices has become common in works of narrative nonfiction such as When a Crocodile Meets the Sun. For example, rattlesnakes are a recurring motif in Joan Didion’s early books. Have you read other nonfiction books that make effective use of symbols, metaphors or similar literary devices? What are some other symbols or metaphors in Godwin’s book?

12. At least one American university, Michigan State, has given an honorary degree to Robert Mugabe. Apparently the school is reconsidering the award. What would you say to the university administrators?

Vital statistics
When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa. By Peter Godwin. Little, Brown, 344 pp., $24.99. First U.S. edition: April 2007. www.hachetteookgroupusa.com

A review of When a Crocodile Eats the Sun appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com
on June 6, 2007, and is archived with the June posts and in the “Memoirs” category.

Contact the author: Peter Godwin, Author/When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, Hachette Book Group USA, 237 Park Ave., New York, New York 10169. (Yes, publishers do forward the letters.)

Your book group may also want to read:

Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa (Harper Perennial, $14, paperback). By Peter Godwin. Godwin writes about his childhood and the events that preceded those of When a Crocodile Eats the Sun in this earlier memoir.

A Problem From Hell: America in the Age of Genocide (Harper Perennial, $14 paperback). By Samantha Power. Godwin tries to forge links between the treatment of whites in Africa and Jews everywhere. You may want to see how Power handles a similar subject in this Pulitzer Prize–winning book, which compares the Nazi atrocities to genocide in Rwanda, Cambodia, Iraq and elsewhere.

“Showing Mugabe the Door.” By Peter Godwin. The New York Times, April 3, 2007, page A21. In this op-ed page article, Godwin provides an update on what’s happened in Zimbabwe since he finished When a Crocodile Eats the Sun. He also explores how the U.S. and other democracies could get rid of Mugabe.

“The Future Is Black.” By Anthony Sattin. The Spectator, March 24, 2007. www.spectator.co.uk. This is an unusually intelligent and well-written review of When a Crocodile Eats the Sun. (Search the site for “Peter Godwin” to find it.)

For a brief history of the Mugabe era in Zimbabwe, search the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia www.wikipedia.org for “Robert Mugabe.”

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is an 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. 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 that is not influenced by marketing concerns. If this guide helped you, please consider linking from your blog to One-Minute Book Reviews. Thank you for visiting this site.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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May 29, 2007

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to Virginia Ironside’s ‘No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club’

10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a 60th Year

 

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 reproduce it 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 the guide.

Marie Sharp refuses to learn Italian or take up paragliding now that she’s 60. She thinks that the great thing about her age is that there are so many things you can’t do. “You no longer have to think about going to university, or go bungee jumping!” she writes in this novel in the form of a diary. “It’s a huge release!” But if Marie is blunt, she isn’t mean-spirited. She is kind, cheerful, active and devoted to her friends and a newborn grandson who lives near her home in west London. And although she hasn’t had sex in five years, she doesn’t lose sleep over it. She’s thinking of giving it up – if a nice, rich, attractive friend named Archie doesn’t change her mind. As she tries to fathom his intentions, she pours into her diary her thoughts on age-related topics from “senior moments” to whether or not people should plan their own funerals.

Viking has posted a readers’ guide to No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club at http://us.penguingroup.com that you may want to use at a starting point for your discussions. But like most publishers’ guides, that guide is part of a publicity campaign designed to sell books. It does not encourage criticism, cite negative reviews or suggest that you compare the novel to similar books. For these reasons, the Viking guide may have less depth or promote a less lively conversation than you or your group would prefer. The following Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide is not intended to be comprehensive but to raise questions not covered by the Viking guide.

Questions for Readers

1. Author Virginia Ironside www.virginiaironside.org has spent more than 30 years as an “agony aunt” for newspapers in England. What, if any, evidence of her work do you see in her novel?

2. A theme of No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club is that the line we’ve been fed about being old – that anything is possible at any age – is a fairy tale. Marie believes that the great thing about being 60 is that “so many things are impossible.” [Page 8] For example, you no longer have to think about going back to school or taking up bungee-jumping. Do you agree? How well does the novel support this point of view?

3. Does this novel seem to be trying to refute some fairy tales about being old while perpetuating another? What, if any, fairy tales does it promote?

4. Marie Sharp spurns some activities that might stimulate her mind, such as joining a reading group. She writes of book club members: “I think they feel that by reading and analyzing books, they’re keeping their brains lively. But either you’ve got a lively brain or you haven’t.” [Page 42] Yet Marie tells us that she takes lots of fish oils: “If fish could improve Jeeves’s brain, they can improve mine, too.” [Page 109] Do these passages seem contradictory? Why or why not? Does Marie ever seem to be cherry-picking her mental stimulants without owning up to it? How does this affect the novel?

3. Similarly, Marie thinks that “sex only brings trouble and misery.” [Page 139] She tells us so little about her past relationships, especially her marriage, that it isn’t clear exactly what she means by this. But near the end of the novel she’s sure that she can have a “sexy and loving” visit with a male friend. [Page 231] Based on what has happened to her in the book, is this transformation credible? Why or why not?

6. Marie makes few comments about Americans, but they are all unflattering. (You can’t count the Bob Hope joke that she likes because Hope was born in London.) She hates “a frightful, raucous American voice.” [Page 204] She cringes at the sort of “wretched” asexual woman with a “weird” haircut who has the “American-woman-in-art-gallery” look. [Page 132] She thinks the local Starbucks is “horrible.” [Page 204] If you’ve lived in the U.K., you may recognize these as examples of the British stereotype of Americans as loud, rude and unattractive vulgarians who are polluting the world with their toxic culture. How do you think Marie would react if you told her that her views of Americans were stereotypes? Would she listen? Or would she say that Americas are loud, rude and unattractive?

7. No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club has many amusing lines. One is: “Did you hear that grandchildren are the reward you get for not killing your children?’ [Page 205] Another is that “the five ages of man” are “Lager, Aga, Saga, Viagra, Gaga.” [Page 49] What are some of your favorites? How does Ironside manage to make serious points while keeping her novel funny?

8. Marie was young in the 60s and claims she “slept with a Beatle.” [Page 7] Yet rock ’n’ roll has almost no role in her diary. Is her apparent lack of interest in the music of the 60s believable in the context of this? Why or why not?

9. England has given the world many wonderful novels in diary form, far more than the U.S. has. The best British diary novels include E. M. Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady, Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ and Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary. Why do you think England has produced more great diary novels than the U.S. has? If you have read any of them, which do you like best? How would you compare them to No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club?

10. Ironside says in an interview on the Penguin Web site that she has never belonged to a book club “and would certainly not wish to read books dictated by a group.” Dictators, what would you say to her?

If you dare:
11. Marie has found that the “clitoris was a much-overrated part of one’s anatomy, which never really lived up to the rave reviews it received over the last twenty years.” [Page 178] Is Marie nuts? Everybody in the group who thinks so, raise your hand.

Extra:
12. Novelist Jane Gardam wrote in a review in the Spectator (Oct. 14, 2006) www.spectator.co.uk “This is the sketchy diary of a 60-year-old woman with an amusing, runaway pen, written over 19 months. She is scatty, impulsive, open-minded and living cheerfully in Shepherd’s Bush, which never ceases to intrigue her (‘Today I saw a man standing on his head in the middle of the pavement’).” Do you agree with the characterization of Marie as “scatty” and “impulsive”? How would you characterize Marie? (You can read Gardam’s full review by searching for the title of the book on the Spectator site.)

Vital statistics
No, I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a 60th Year. By Virginia Ironside. Viking, 231 pp., $24.95.

A review of No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on One-Minute Book Reviews on May 29 2007, and is archived with the May posts and in the “Novels” category.

Your book group may also want to read:
I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman. By Nora Ephron. Knopf, 137 pp., $19.95. In this essay collection, Ephron offers a different view of being in her 60s than Marie Sharp does. Your group may want to compare their attitudes toward the same topics, such as sex, children, friendship and their homes. I Feel Bad About My Neck was reviewed on One-Minute Book Reviews on Oct. 14, 2006, and is archived with the October posts: www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2006/10/page/1/.

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is an award-winning critic has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of The Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. 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 that is not influenced by marketing concerns. If this guide helped you, please bookmark One-Minute Book Reviews or subscribe to the RSS feed and forward a link to others. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear frequently but not on a regular schedule.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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May 28, 2007

A Totally Authorized Reading Group Guide to ‘The Accidental Bride’ by Janice Harayda

10 Discussion Questions
The Accidental Bride
A Comedy of Midwestern Manners

Note: Because of the holiday, I’m taking the day off from reviewing and posting this readers’ guide to The Accidental Bride, my first novel. This differs slightly from the other guides on this site, because I haven’t reviewed the book and am instead using some of the material the publisher sent out when the book came out in hardcover. A guide to my second comedy of manners, Manhattan on the Rocks (Sourcebooks, 2004), appeared on March 14, 2007. You can find it by clicking either on the March posts archive or the Totally Unauthorized Reading Groups Guide category (although the guides to both of my novels, unlike the others on this site, are totally authorized). Jan

One month before her fairy-tale wedding to the third richest man in the second largest city in Ohio, Lily Blair is beset by doubts. She appears to have a charmed life – a budding newspaper career and a five-carat engagement ring from a wonderful man – but can’t decide whether to plunge headfirst into the security of married suburban life or follow her career dreams alone to New York. Her family and friends keep nudging her toward the aisle. But Lily has qualms about a wedding her mother wants to stage like a full-scale military operation. Amid the plans, Lily looks to Jane Austen for inspiration. Can she find what she needs in novels like Pride and Prejudice? The answer doesn’t emerge until the last pages of book that Publishers Weekly called “a witty and wise comedy of manners that pays homage to Jane Austen.”

Questions for Book Clubs and Others

1. Each chapter of The Accidental Bride begins with a quote from Jane Austen. How do these quotes relate to the plot? Do they serve different purposes in the individual chapters and in the novel as a whole? What are the purposes? You may want to compare The Accidental Bride to Karen Joy Fowler’s The Jane Austen Book Club.

2. Many reviewers noted that the humor in The Accidental Bride is satirical. What are some of the things the novel is satirizing? Does Janice Harayda satirize some of the same things that Austen does?

3. Satire can take many forms. For example, it can be gentle or biting (sometimes both in the work of the same author, as in Austen’s novels). How would you describe the satire in The Accidental Bride?

4. The first sentence of The Accidental Bride reads: “One month before her wedding to the third richest man in the second largest city in Ohio, Lily Blair awoke in the middle of the night and realized that she did not want to get married.” The author doesn’t name that “second largest city.” But you may know that it is Cleveland. (The largest city is Columbus, the capital.) Why you do think the author didn’t name Cleveland? Do you think she did this for legal, literary, or other reasons? How might your reactions to the novel have changed if the author had named Cleveland in the first line?

5. Lily, the heroine of The Accidental Bride, doesn’t want to see a psychiatrist because she doesn’t think many therapists are as wise as writers like La Rochefoucauld, who said, “In love there is always the kisser and the one who gets kissed.” What does this saying mean? Is there a “kisser” and a “one who gets kissed” in The Accidental Bride?

6. Lily also admires another writer who says “love is an agreement on the part of two people to overestimate each other.” Do you think that writer was being serious or facetious or both?

7. A critic for The New York Times wrote in her review of The Accidental Bride that “Harayda is an astute social commentator.” That is, she is saying some things about our society in addition to telling a story. What are some of the things you think she is trying to say?

8. In novels about women in their twenties, the men are often cads. That’s especially true of the heroines’ boyfriends. Lily’s boyfriend, Mark, is different. He is a kind and thoughtful man who is trying to understand the woman he loves. How does this affect the plot and other aspects of the story?

9. Mark is trial lawyer who is forced to defend a company accused – with good reason – of age discrimination. Do you see any parallels between Lily’s situation and that of the older people in the lawsuit (called “Geezers” and “Geezerettes” by their employer)?

10. The Accidental Bride belongs to the genre known as the “comedy of manners,” which consists of fiction that tweaks the customs of a particular group (often a group that is — or sees itself — as upper class). The humor in this genre tends to involve wit and charm instead of slapstick or physical comedy. A classic example is Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest. What are some other plays, movies, or novels that are comedies of manners? Why do you like them?

Praise for The Accidental Bride
“Satire with heart … In a style that careens from Austenesque to Corporate Memo-ese, Janice Harayda has written a farce that dissects the farce of the matrimonial ceremony. Lily is a charming character.”
— Olivia Goldsmith, bestselling author of The First Wives Club

“A thoroughly entertaining first novel.”
— Joyce R. Slater, Chicago Sun-Times

“Sparkling with wit and humor, this is a story that charms.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Harayda’s first novel has plenty of snappy, witty dialog, humorous scenarios, and sexual innuendo.”
Margaret Ann Hanes, Library Journal

“A frothy comedy … Harayda is an astute social commentator.”
— Maggie Galehouse, The New York Times

“Harayda is quick with a quip and merciless at sniping at an unnamed Ohio city … Residents of that city may not find this funny, but everyone else will.”
— Michele Leber, Booklist

“Vigorous wit, playful homage to the winsome heroines of great nineteenth-century novels, and a charming, irresolute heroine make this tale of a woman who doesn’t want to get married an unusually filling trifle.”
— Karen Karbo, San Francisco Chronicle (“Recommended” book)

“Harayda’s sense of the humorously absurd, combined with her gift for timing and fun, make this book readable and fun … Did I ever put it down? No. I read it at breakfast, at dinner, in the bubble bath. I got to liking Lily and wanted to find out what would happen.”
— Wendy Smith, San Diego Union Tribune

“The former book editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Harayda has made Lily a displaced reporter. This gives the author a wonderful chance to skewer newsroom types … half the fun for the reader is helping Lily sort out her misgivings [about her wedding] and figure out which are real and which are only flutters.”
— Kit Reed, St. Petersburg Times

“The Accidental Bride is a worthy counterpart to … Bridget Jones’s Diary [Harayda’s] hand at social satire rivals Austen’s … Lily Blair is a charming heroine … The reader is pleased to go along for the ride.”
Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

“Nicely skewers today’s over-the-top weddings and the whole wedding industry.”
— Linda Brazill, The Capital Times (Madison, WI)

“The Accidental Bride is a delightful romp of a book, both funny and wise and very much a story for our times. In Lily Blair, Jan Harayda has created a contemporary character who outdoes the best of Jane Austen’s most memorable women. When feisty Lily comes to terms with one of the biggest decisions of her life, the reader can do nothing but cheer.”
— Ruth Coughlin, author of Grieving: A Love Story

“True laughs and true lover abound in this galloping romanic comedy. Jan Harayda goes after the smug assumptions of suburban weddings and the absurdity of ‘mandatory’ matrimony. The wit is civilized, the heart is romantic, and the wisecracks are indeed wise.”
— Steve Szilagyi, author of Photographing Fairies

“The Accidental Bride is a charmingly witty, modern-day satirical tale of a woman trying to keep her balance as she teeters on the edge of matrimony.”
Charles Salzberg, co-author of On Clear Day They Could See Seventh Place

Vital Statistics
The Accidental Bride: A Romantic Comedy. By Janice Harayda. St. Martin’s/Griffin, 304 pp., $13.95, paperback.

To invite Janice Harayda to speak to your book group in person or by speakerphone, please use the e-mail address on the “Contact” page of www.janiceharayda.com and write “Book Club” in the subject heading of your note.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 17, 2007

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to Nigel Marsh’s ‘Fat, Forty, and Fired’

10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
Fat, Forty, and Fired:

One Man’s Frank, Funny and Inspiring Account of Losing His Job and Finding His Life

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

After losing his job as the CEO of an Australian advertising agency, Nigel Marsh realized he wanted to stop being “a bit player” in his family. So instead of going right back to work, he decided to spend more time with his wife and four children under the age of 9. Fat, Forty, and Fired is a breezy account of the nine months he spent pursuing that and other goals he set for himself – to lose 30 pounds, compete in an ocean swimming race, and conquer his alcoholism. Since achieving some of his goals, Marsh has returned to work and is chairman of the Leo Burnett agency in Australia, where his book was a bestseller.

Questions for Discussion
[All quotations and page numbers are based on the advance readers’ edition and may differ in the finished book.]

1. Marsh talks with a friend about wanting “a more balanced life” while they are exploring Tasmania early in the book. [Page 78] Do you think he really wanted this or thought he was supposed to want it? Does he achieve his definition of “a more balanced life”? Does he achieve yours?

2. In the chapter called Winegums,” Marsh concludes that books and articles that tell men how to achieve “work-life balance” are not only misguided but part of the problem, because the idea of “having it all” doesn’t work for men any better than it does for women. He writes [Page 266]:

“Stressed executives all over the developed world now have the added stress of trying to do it all. All our striving for balance is making us less balanced, not more. The bar has been set at a completely unrealistic level. Many men try desperately hard to do it all – and then beat up on themselves when they aren’t home for their kids’ suppers. When they finally do get home, they feel like failures and deal with their frustration by being morose and shouting at the wife and kids.”

What evidence does he offer for this besides his experience? How strong is the case he makes for his point of view? Do you agree or disagree with him?

3. Fat, Forty, and Fired tells us little about the work that Marsh did at the Darcy agency before his job was merged out of existence, except for saying that he had to fire people when the shop closed. He doesn’t talk about any of the advertising campaigns he worked on or their rewards and frustrations. Would this kind of information have added to or detracted from his story? Why?

4. Born and raised in England, Marsh was living in Australia when he lost his job. To what degree do you think his background influenced his views? How might Fat, Forty, and Fired have been different if an American had written it?

5. Marsh says that when he was five years old, his parents sent him a boarding school in the west of England. He calls such institutions “soul-destroying quasiprisons.” [Page 43] How might this experience have affected his views?

6. At one point Marsh is annoyed that his wife doesn’t thank him for dressing his twin daughters. [Page 64] Kate puts him in his place. “When do I get thanked?” she asks. “I dress the girls all the time and you never thank me. Why should I thank you when you do the basic things that you should be doing anyway?” [Page 64]

How does this passage relate to your life? Some people might call Marsh a sexist for expecting to be thanked for dressing his daughters. Would you agree or disagree?

7. Did you sense that there was a subtext to Marsh’s relationship with his wife that he couldn’t discuss without violating her privacy? What was the subtext?

8. Marsh speaks vaguely of his financial worries, such as when he writes about letting the nanny go and moving. But in Fat, Forty, and Fired, he seems mostly unconcerned with finding work. He describes no serious efforts to look for a job and, when he gets one, it seems to arrive out of the blue, almost as a deus ex machina. Nor does he cast unemployment as the crushing assault on the ego that it is for many men. Why do you think this is so? Do you think his feelings were too painful to write about? That he was confident he could get another job? That something else was going on?

9. Fat, Forty, and Fired includes bits of Marsh’s philosophy of life. Which do you remember best? Which do you think he was or wasn’t able to live by?

10. Marsh never explains how he came to write Fat, Forty, and Fired – specifically, whether he knew he was going to write a book when he began his time off. Some critics would say that if he knew this, he had an ethical obligation to say so, because it makes a difference to the story. We might see his money worries differently if we knew he had received a book advance that wasn’t an option for other men. Or we might suspect him of having sought out some experiences because they would make “good copy” or believe he had extra motivation to achieve some goals because a book advance was riding on them. Would it make a difference to you if you knew Marsh had received or not received a book contract before starting what he calls a “personal journey”? Or does the book justify itself? Note: Since this guide appeared, Nigel Marsh has posted a response to this question in the “Comments” section. Thanks, Nigel! His response follows. Jan

Hi Janice,

Subject: ‘Fat, Forty and Fired’

A friend just showed me this and I wanted to provide some answers regarding question 10.

I didn’t decide to write a book about my experiences until 4 months into my time off work, moreover I didn’t get a book deal until well over a year after I had returned to work.

Hope this helps provides some useful context for your book club readers.

Thank you for taking an interest in ‘Fat, Forty and Fired’.

Best wishes from Down Under

Nigel Marsh

Vital Statistics:
Fat, Forty, and Fired: One Man’s Frank, Funny and Inspiring Account of Leaving His Job and Finding His Life. By Nigel Marsh. Andrews McMeel, 288 pp., $19.95. www.fatfortyandfired.com Published: April 2007

A review of Fat, Forty, and Fired appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews, http://www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com on May 17, 2007, and is archived with the May posts and in the “Memoirs” category.

If you found this guide helpful, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing others. The guides are posted frequently but not on a regular schedule.

© 2007 By Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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