Thursday, December 26, 2013

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood

When the ship veered into the Cape of Good Hope, Mum caught the spicy, heady scent of Africa on the changing wind. She smelled the people: raw onions and salt, the smell of people who are not afraid to eat meat, and who smoke fish over open fires on the beach and who pound maize into meal and who work out-of-doors. She held me up to face the earthy air, so that the fingers of warmth pushed back my black curls of hair, and her pale green eyes went clear-glassy.

“Smell that,” she whispered, “that’s home.”

Vanessa was running up and down the deck, unaccountably wild for a child usually so placid. Intoxicated already.

I took in a faceful of African air and fell instantly into a fever.

In Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Alexandra Fuller remembers her African childhood with visceral authenticity. Though it is a diary of an unruly life in an often inhospitable place, it is suffused with Fuller’s endearing ability to find laughter, even when there is little to celebrate. Fuller’s debut is unsentimental and unflinching but always captivating. In wry and sometimes hilarious prose, she stares down disaster and looks back with rage and love at the life of an extraordinary family in an extraordinary time.

Books are available for you to borrow from the Gulford Free Library. We'll talk about this book on Wednesday, January 15.

New York Times review 12/21/2001

Alexandra Fuller's website

LitLover's Study Guide Discussion Questions

Map of Zambia, Rhodesia and Malawi

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Rising from the Rails-Pullman Porters and the Black Middle Class - December Book

Books are available for you to borrow at the Guilford Free Library. We'll talk about this book on Wednesday, December 18th.

When George Pullman began recruiting Southern blacks as porters in his luxurious new sleeping cars, the former slaves suffering under Jim Crow laws found his offer of a steady job and worldly experience irresistable. They quickly signed up to serve as maid, waiter, concierge, nanny, and occasionally doctor and undertaker to cars full of white passengers, making the Pullman Company the largest employer of African Americans in the country by the 1920s.

Drawing on extensive interviews with dozens of porters and their descendants, Larry Tye reconstructs the complicated world of the Pullman porter and the vital cultural, political, and economic roles they played as forerunners of the modern black middle class. Rising from the Rails provides a lively and enlightening look at this important social phenomenon.

About the author, Larry Tye.

The Legacy of Pullman Porters, from the Museum of the American Railroad.

Terry Gross interviews Larry Tye on Fresh Air in 2004.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon - October and November book

Books are available for you to borrow at the Guilford Free Library. We'll talk about this book on Wednesday, November 20 at 6:30 PM.

“Telegraph Avenue,” Michael Chabon’s rich, comic new novel, is a homage to an actual place: the boulevard in Northern California where Oakland — historically an African-American city — aligns with Berkeley, whose bourgeois white inhabitants are, as one character puts it, “liable to invest all their hope of heaven in the taste of an egg laid in the backyard by a heritage-breed chicken.”
 As the summer of 2004 draws to a close, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are still hanging in there—longtime friends, bandmates, and co-regents of Brokeland Records, a kingdom of used vinyl located in the borderlands of Berkeley and Oakland. Their wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe, are the Berkeley Birth Partners, a pair of semi-legendary midwives who have welcomed more than a thousand newly minted citizens into the dented utopia at whose heart—half tavern, half temple—stands Brokeland.

When ex–NFL quarterback Gibson Goode, the fifth-richest black man in America, announces plans to build his latest Dogpile megastore on a nearby stretch of Telegraph Avenue, Nat and Archy fear it means certain doom for their vulnerable little enterprise. Meanwhile, Aviva and Gwen also find themselves caught up in a battle for their professional existence, one that tests the limits of their friendship.

Michael Chabon's web page
interview with Michael Chabon , the Guardian
interview with Michael Chabon, KQED Radio

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Mad Max: Unintended Consequences- September Book

For our late summer, light reading, we've chosen Mad Max: Unintended Consequences. Books are available for you to borrow at the Guilford Free Library. We'll talk about this book on Wednesday, September 18 at 6:30 PM.

Mad Max Davies lives a privileged life in Manhattan when her only daughter is seriously injured in an auto accident. She rushes to Richmond, Virginia, to care for her daughter and her two grandchildren. Twelve-year-old Emilie uses her gift of feeling what others are feeling, and acts as an early warning system when her mother’s behavior deteriorates. When her daughter is murdered, Mad Max
and her grandchildren set out to solve the crime. As a result, she promises she will help raise her grandchildren even though it means completely changing her lifestyle.

Here's a link to Betsy Ashton's web page, if you'd like to read more about her.

Here are a few discussion topics to help us focus on the main themes of this book.

  1. When Mad Max learns her daughter has been injured in a bad accident, she rushes back to Richmond from New York to take care of her. Since these are estranged, do you think Max does everything she can to reconcile with Merry? Many mothers and daughters grow apart, making it harder to reconcile as years pass. Readers might want to share how they reconciled with their parents and children.
  2. Merry suffers from PTSD after her accident. Do you know anyone who suffers from this disorder? Did their behavior change? PTSD is not limited to people who have witnessed tragedy in war. Anyone can suffer stress, which can lead to physical and emotional trauma. Readers with experience with a friend or relative with PTSD should be asked to share their personal experiences, particularly as they apply to the relationship between Max and Merry.
  3. Max is conflicted about having to give up her life in Manhattan to return to child rearing. Do you know anyone who is raising grandchildren after they thought they were “done?”Even if grandparents are not actively raising grandchildren, many of them think about what they would do in Max’s situation.
  4. Eleanor and Raney give Max a “doo-wop.” Do you think Max got her “doo-wop” right? Most of us wish we had a second chance to get something right. Readers might want to engage in their own experiences when they worked to resolve issues with friends and family.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Nineteen Minutes - August Book

Jodi Picoult, bestselling author of My Sister's Keeper and The Tenth Circle, pens her most riveting book yet,
with a startling and poignant story about the devastating aftermath of a small-town tragedy. Sterling is an ordinary New Hampshire town where nothing ever happens--until the day its complacency is shattered by an act of violence. Josie Cormier, the daughter of the judge sitting on the case, should be the state's best witness, but she can't remember what happened before her very own eyes--or can she? As the trial progresses, fault lines between the high school and the adult community begin to show--destroying the closest of friendships and families. Nineteen Minutes asks what it means to be different in our society, who has the right to judge someone else, and whether anyone is ever really who they seem to be.

Discussion questions for Nineteen Minutes
  1. Alex and Lacy’s friendship comes to an end when they discover Peter and Josie playing with guns in the Houghton house. Why does Alex decide that it’s in Josie’s best interest to keep her daughter away from Peter? What significance is there to the fact that Alex is the first one to prevent Josie from being friends with Peter?
  2. Alex often has trouble separating her roles as a judge and a mother. How does this affect her relationship with Josie? Discuss whether or not Alex’s job is more important to her than being a mother.
  3. A theme throughout the novel is the idea of masks and personas, and pretending to be someone you’re not. To which characters does this apply, and why?
  4. At one point defense attorney Jordan McAfee refers to himself as a “spin doctor,” and he believes that at the end of Peter’s trial he “will be either reviled or canonized” (250). What is your view of Jordan? As you were reading the book, did you find it difficult or not to remain objective about the judicial system’s standing that every defendant (no matter how heinous his or her crime) has the right to a fair trial?
  5. Peter was a victim of bullying for twelve years at the hands of certain classmates, many of whom repeatedly tormented him. But he also shot and killed students he had never met or who had never done anything wrong to him. What empathy, if any, did you have for Peter both before and after the shooting?
  6. Josie and Peter were friends until the sixth grade. Is it understandable that Josie decided not to hang out with Peter in favor of the popular crowd? Why or why not? How accurate and believable did you find the author’s depiction of high school peer pressure and the quest for popularity? Do you believe, as Picoult suggests, that even the popular kids are afraid that their own friends will turn on them?
  7. Josie admits she often witnessed Matt’s cruelty toward other students. Why then does it come as such a surprise to Josie when Matt abuses her verbally and physically? How much did you empathize with Josie?
  8. Regarding Lacy, Patrick notes that “in a different way, this woman was a victim of her son’s actions, too” (53). How much responsibility do Lewis and Lacy bear for Peter’s actions? How about Lewis in particular, who taught his son how to handle guns and hunt?
  9. At one point during Peter’s bullying, Lacy is encouraged by an elementary school teacher to force Peter to stand up for himself. She threatens to cancel his playdates with Josie if he doesn’t fight back. How did you feel, when you read that scene? Do you blame Lacy for Peter’s future actions because of it? Do you agree or disagree with the idea that it a parent’s job to teach a child the skills necessary to defend himself?
  10. Discuss the novel’s structure. In what ways do the alternating narratives between past and present enhance the story? How do the scenes in the past give you further insight into the characters and their actions, particularly Peter and Josie?
  11. When Patrick arrives at Sterling High after the shooting, “his entire body began to shake, knowing that for so many students and parents and citizens today, he had once again been too late” (24). Why does Patrick blame himself for not preventing an incident he had no way of knowing was going to happen?
  12. Dr. King, an expert witness for the defense, states that Peter was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of chronic victimization. “But a big part of it, too,” he adds, “is the society that created both Peter and those bullies” (409). What reasons does Dr. King give to support his assertion that society is partly to blame for Peter’s actions as well as those of the bullies? Do you agree with this? Why or why not?
  13. Why does Josie choose to shoot Matt instead of shooting Peter? Why does Peter remain silent about Josie’s role in the shooting? In the end, has justice been satisfactorily dealt to Peter and to Josie?
  14. Discuss the very ending of the novel, which concludes on the one-year anniversary of the Sterling High shooting. Why do you suppose the author chose to leave readers with an image of Patrick and Alex, who is pregnant? In what way does the final image of the book predict the future?
  15. Shootings have occurred at a number of high schools across the country over the last several years. Did Nineteen Minutes make you think about these incidents in a more immediate way than reading about them in the newspaper or seeing coverage on television? How so? In what ways did the novel impact your opinion of the parties generally involved in school shootings—perpetrators, victims, fellow students, teachers, parents, attorneys, and law enforcement officials?
  16. What do you think the author is proposing as the root of the problem of school violence? What have you heard, in the media and in political forums, as solutions? Do you think they will work? Why or why not?
 Link to Jodi's webpage for Nineteen Minutes

Monday, July 1, 2013

Poetry 180 - July Book

Billy Collins says "poetry is hard enough to write...why should it be hard to read?"  "Good poetry is not poetry that is obscure with "hidden" is poetry that I can relate to, poetry that makes my heart do a little dance. These poems in
do just that. "No. 6" is the poem that has my name on it...and I never ever get tired of reading it. Get this book and pick out "your" poem. If you're sick of poetry that means nothing to you and makes you feel illiterate and dumb...this anthology will give you all the poems you've wished you could find. " Parker Prym

We'll read from, and talk about Poetry 180 on Wednesday, July 17 at 6:30 PM. Find your poem when you pick up your copy at the Guilford Free Library, the Guilford Country Store, Richmond Auto Repair or the Guilford Town Office.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind - June Book

A windmill means more than just power, it means freedom.

William Kamkwamba was born in Malawi, a country where magic ruled and modern science was mystery. It was also a land withered by drought and hunger, and a place where hope and opportunity were hard to find. But William had read about windmills in a book called Using Energy, and he
dreamed of building one that would bring electricity and water to his village and change his life and the lives of those around him. His neighbors may have mocked him and called him misala-crazy—but William was determined to show them what a little grit and ingenuity could do.

Peek at this video from before he ever wrote his autobiography.

William's TED Talk.

Discussion Questions:
1. Could you imagine living without electricity? What would your life be like? Describe William's life and compare it to American teenagers and even your own.
2. How did the villagers compensate for not having electricity, telephones, or most of the modern conveniences we take for granted?
3. What is the role of magic in the story? What about education? Contrast the two. Is there room for both in a culture? What about education and religion? How do the two impact each other? How did William's religion influence his outlook?
4. What did electricity and the creation of the windmill mean for William, his family, and his village? What might his accomplishment mean for the world?
5. What motivates people like William to attempt the unthinkable? How would you describe him to someone who's never heard of his achievement?
6. Compare William to his father and to his mother. How are they alike? How did his parents shape William's outlook?
7. Imagine what a handful of Williams with some encouragement and financial backing from government and private sources might accomplish. Offer some ideas.
8. Malawi is an extremely poor nation. What are the causes of this poverty and what exacerbates it? How might these causes and influences be overcome? How has the West—think of organizations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, run by Americans and Europeans—helped to contribute to nations like Malawi's troubles?
9. William writes of the corruption, greed, nonexistent services, and lack of empathy that turned the drought into a disaster for average people like him and his family. Can you see any similarities with our own culture, both past and present? Think about the American Depression. How did that compare to Malawi's drought?
10. William was desperate to stay in school but could not because of money. Think about American students. Why do you think with all the opportunities for schooling, students are disinterested in learning? In your opinion, what accounts for the differences between William and his American counterparts?
11. Many Americans criticize public schools and some even question the need for them. Others argue that money doesn't matter when it comes to education. How does William's experience address our own debates on the subject? Think about his school, and compare it to American schools. Might William's life be different if he had access to education without having to pay? How so?
12. What lessons did you take away from William's story?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

This month's book is Northern Borders by Howard Frank Mosher.

A synopsis and reviews are available on the official Howard Frank Mosher website

An interview with the author appears here:

Books are available to borrow from the library.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

This month's book to talk about is THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME by Mark Haddon.

This book is about a boy with a keen attention to details, trying to figure out how the world works as he tries to solve the mystery of a murdered dog.
Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. Although gifted with a superbly logical brain, Christopher is autistic. Everyday interactions and admonishments have little meaning for him. At fifteen, Christopher’ s carefully constructed world falls apart when he finds his neighbor’s dog Wellington impaled on a garden fork, and he is initially blamed for the killing. Christopher decides that he will track down the real killer, and turns to his favorite fictional character, the impeccably logical Sherlock Holmes, for inspiration. But the investigation leads him down some unexpected paths and ultimately brings him face to face with the dissolution of his parents’ marriage. As Christopher tries to deal with the crisis within his own family, the narrative draws readers into the workings of Christopher’ s mind.  -reprinted with permission from 
  1. If you know someone with autism or an autism spectrum disorder, do you think the book accurately protrayed this set of disorders?  Which parts of the book were accurate?  Where do you think Christopher’s characteristics were inaccurate?
  2. Did you enjoy the story as told by Christopher? Would it have been as intriguing if told by another character?
  3. Were you able to find any justification in the behavior of his mother and father?
  4. Did you enjoy the illustrations in the novel or were they more of a distraction?
  5. There is a little bit of Christopher in all of us.  Are there certain aspects of your life that has to be done a certain way?
Below are a few more reading guides and discussion questions.

Just a few pages about Asperger's Syndrome. There are a lot more.