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Monday, May 6, 2024

Background and Discussion Questions for The House on the Strand



Daphne du Maurier (b 1907 d 1989) was an English author, many of whose books have been adapted into films, and also her short stories including the classic horror movie "The Birds", directed by Alfred Hitchcock.  Born in London, she moved to Cornwall as a young woman in the late 1920s, and used the towns and landmarks around her home to set her novels. Her first novel was published when she was 24. She later moved to a house called Kilmarth in the town of Tywardreath, a house over-looking St. Austell Bay and used those and other place names in her novel "The House on the Strand". Cornwall's remoteness, its beautiful landscape, and long history all contributed to her work.




1. Did you enjoy the story?


2.  Why do you think Dick is so dissatisfied with his life?


3.  What do you think of Dick and Vita's marriage? Which of the 2 characters do you like more - if either?


4. Could the author have fleshed out the character of Magnus more?


5. The book is written at the end of the 1960s. It has casual derogatory remarks about homosexuality, equating it with pedophilia. Do these remarks affect the story today?


6. Dick is entranced by life in the 14th century in the surrounding countryside. Do you feel attracted to a previous time or place?


7. The author gives no reason why both Magnus and Dick are obliged to follow Roger as he moves about Cornwall. Do you think it's possible Roger has an ancestral connection to both men?


8. Did you find the family relationships in the medieval story confusing?


9. Dick says several times he will not take another "trip" but seems to be helpless to stop. This is addiction. Why do you think he finds the other life so fascinating, much more so than his own life?


10. Were you satisfied with the ending?


11. The author wrote the book in the late 1960s when psychedelic drugs such as LSD were at the height of their popularity, and the drug that Magnus invented seems quite similar to what I've read about LSD. However, in the 1970s psychedelic substances were classified as "drugs of abuse with no medical value".  Nowadays, emerging research for therapeutic purposes show there may be benefits for those suffering from mental health conditions. Do you think money should be spent on continuing research? 

Sunday, April 28, 2024

We Make a Clean Sweep of The Maid

8 of us met at the Anchor Bar to discuss The Maid, by Nita Prose.

Most of us enjoyed the book and found the story interesting and somewhat believable. One Book Club member found the story too depressing to finish the book.

We found some inconsistencies with reality, such as hotel staff using the front entrance. Talking about question #7, Molly the Maid had good feelings when she entered the hotel’s front entrance to begin her workday; but Lydia pointed out that in most hotels, particularly the fancy expensive hotels such as the one in the book, staff use the back entrance only. Throughout the book, I felt that Molly was more capable and able to understand complex social cues and situations than most characters who are “on the spectrum.” Molly’s autism did trip her up a number of times, but there seemed to be a mix of her getting into trouble, as with the arrests and detainments she suffered, and her intuitively rising above difficulties, as in her relationships with Mr. Preston, the 2 Mrs. Blacks, and Juan Manwell. Also, a reader on the Goodreads website noted that the defense attorney for one of witnesses asked some questions during the trial, which is not procedural during a trial.

On discussing question #6 about the help Molly the Maid received from various hotel staff members, Lisa suggested that Mr. Preston might have been Molly’s grandfather. The history between Mr. Preston and “Gran” was discussed in the book. Although there was no specific statement of a grandfather-granddaughter relationship, references about Gran and Mr. Preston’s relationship in their youth certainly indicate a possibility that makes a lot of sense.

We talked about the dynamics in workplaces. Reminded by the book, Suzie told us that when she was a bank manager, she used to tell the tellers that they were the ‘face of the bank’ to stress their importance and responsibility. We talked about all jobs that interface with the public being important to the workplace. Marcia said that all levels of nurses are important, Patricia said everyone’s role at work is important, and Lydia mentioned the importance of custodial staff members. Everyone seemed to agree with all of these observations. Marcia noted that you could feel it when things were working well at work, just as you also noticed when there were problems.

Then, when talking more specifically about hotels and travel, we got onto a tangent about how mixing cultures within a city or state will mix general attitudes and ways people treat ‘other people’, thus leading to both pleasant and unpleasant stereotypes of visiting or living in specific places.

Another stimulating conversation for us!

Friday, April 5, 2024

Questions / Preparation for our Discussion of The Maid, by Nita Prose


The Maid Book Club Questions


Cindy says, “I'm not sending a list of characters because in my book (page 298) there is a good list of characters, also a cleaning chart on page 300. If anyone has a good cleaning tool/hack, they can bring it to the meeting to show.

1.      What have you learned about yourself or others after reading about Molly’s journey?

2.     Does Molly remind you of anyone in your life?

3.     Molly’s superior skill is cleaning.  What’s your secret skill and why is it important to you?

4.     Gran and Molly believe in the three E’s—etiquette, elocution, and erudition.  Which one of these is most important to you?

5.     Do you think Molly’s “Robin Hood” morality serves her well?  What would you have done in her situation?

6.     Each one of Molly’s allies risks something to help her.  What do you think influenced each of their decisions?

7.     Molly has a humble opinion of herself (“just a maid’).  What do you think her opinion suggests about power dynamics and the assumptions people tend to make about others (especially those who are different from themselves)?

8.     Have you ever experienced something unusual in a hotel?

Thursday, April 4, 2024

We Get to the Nitty-Gritty of Anxious People

Thanks to Ken for suggesting this book to us and to Joyce for leading us through our discussion of Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman! First, we talked about the nonlinear style of writing. The author focused on the characters randomly. Some of us liked it, and some didn’t. For those who didn’t, Cindy T. suggested they might prefer the miniseries version on Netflix. I subscribe to Netflix, and I hope to get a chance to watch Anxious People. I think it would be interesting with the actors, putting faces to names that we’re familiar with from the book. You can see how good it looks by Googling “Netflix Miniseries Anxious People” and watching the “Teaser” and the “Trailer.”

Joyce then characterized the author as surprising the reader with insights after keeping the reader waiting a while. This might be part of Backman’s style for this book, where the story moves forward but then the author surprises the reader by shedding light on some aspect that has passed by. Ken noted that the connection between Nadia and Zara at the bridge isn’t explained until around page 100.

We talked about how people in Sweden stereotyped “Stockholmers” as, the way Joyce explained it, “People who look down on you” or make you feel like they do. Susan said that since Stockholm is the big city where the laws are made and the taxes are apportioned, the young people in the small towns aspire to live there someday, and those who live in the small towns think of Stockholm as where everything bad happens.

 Favorite Characters:

Susan chose Jim. He had lost his wife and was suffering from that grief. He used to be idealistic but had lost some of it as a police officer. In the story, Jim sees Jack, his son, trying to act on ideals, wanting to give the hostage-taker a second chance. This idealistic action could make Jim feel that he’s with his wife again for a little while.

Carla’s favorite was Estelle. Joyce remembered that the author kept it a secret that the apartment they were looking at was Estelle’s. Carla like the “ruse” Estelle had created by pretending to be a potential apartment buyer, when she was really checking to be sure the real buyer would be acceptable. Lydia noted that Estelle was also a useful character for the story because the bank robber was able to move in with her at the end without ever going outside, where she could have been arrested.

Zara was my favorite, because her sarcasm made me laugh, and she was troubled and working on it by going to a therapist. She made progress in the book, by getting a little more open to the therapy (with Nadia) and more tolerant of and kinder to other people.

Cindy’s favorite character was Anna Lena, because she was trying to help her husband by finding ways to make him feel needed and important.

Someone brought up Lennart, who wore the rabbit costume. I couldn’t tell whose favorite character he was (let me know if it was you, and I’ll fix this blog post), but his role was as “disruptor” to discourage anyone from buying the apartment, so that the person who hired him could get it. Anna-Lena had hired Lennart so that her husband, Roger, could buy the apartment and feel good about his successful purchase.

That’s just a taste, (or a “bite,” as Jimmy Fallon would say) of our wise and wonderful discussion! All of us except Patricia missed realizing that the person who jumped off the bridge had been Estelle’s son. It’s good to read with our Book Club!

Among us, we had a lot of insight into the characters and their motivations in this complex story! I’m sure you all would be proud of the transcript of our discussion! I’m always impressed by reviewing our discussions to summarize them. One of the truisms we all agreed on is that people tend to worry too much, especially about things they cannot control. And, I think we’d all agree that describing the characters as “idiots” came from a love of humanity.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Meeting in Person is More Fun, But Zoom Plays a Role in Bringing Us an Author Visit With Bette Bono

February 19th, 2024, we had a wonderful AUTHOR VISIT via Zoom, with Ken’s wife Donna’s cousin, author Bette Bono, who wrote The Better Angels! It was a very good day! Along with our author visit, we welcomed new member Susan to our discussion!

Author Bono told us that middle school students she was teaching inspired her to write about an aging person gaining a super-power. The power of choice was time-travel for Bette Bono. She added whirlpool baths, wide aisles for wheel chairs and walkers, and a variety of wonderful mature, mellow, and not so mellow characters to her novel to add to the aging theme.

She told us some of the history of places the characters in the book visited when they went to the 1800s. In The Better Angels, Viola and Bernice had chosen St. Paul’s Chapel to practice their time travel into New York City during the 1800s. There was a hotel close to the chapel; Matthew Brady had lived at the hotel for a while with his wife, and Abraham Lincoln stayed at the hotel when he was in the city to give an important speech. Matthew Brady’s first studio was nearby.

Ms Bono told us about visiting Grand Central Station and Bethesda Terrace in Central Park, some of the landmarks in New York City that she had used in her book. History in the book is well-researched and accurate.

We had a thorough question and answer session, wherein the author answered our questions about the story and the writing. It was quite a fascinating afternoon! Many thanks to Ken and Donna Miller for inviting Bette Bono to meet with us and to Bette Bono herself for sharing her story and its background with us!

The author sent me a description of her books, so I am pasting a copy of that description here. In Bette Bono’s words, with thanks to the author:

First, here are brief descriptions of my books. I have two novels in the Aggie and Abe time travel series and two books of short stories. All are available on Amazon and other online retailers and can be found in print and Kindle formats. All are free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers. The two Aggie and Abe novels are also available as Audiobooks:

1.     The Better Angels: Retired teacher Aggie May meets Abraham Irving of the American Association of Remarkable Persons (“the other AARP”) who explains she has developed the ability to travel in time. Aggie soon joins up with other “Remarkables” on a mission to 19th-century New York City in an effort to locate a missing photographic portrait of Abraham Lincoln.

2.     Fear Itself: Aggie and Abe grow closer as they investigate the pro-fascist German American Bund and America First, two groups active in the United States in the 1930s. When their safety is threatened by unexpected danger, they are forced to confront their obligation to act against evil.

3.     Neighbors & Other Stories: We think of neighbors as those that live nearby. But we’re all linked to other people, places, and time periods. These stories—about everything under the sun—explore relationships we have with other people, with ideas, with history, and with ourselves.

4.     The Second Chance Shop & Other Stories: A “second chance shop” can be as simple as a thrift store where you pick up a hand-me-down t-shirt. But life may offer us second chances of a different type: a chance to try something new, correct a mistake, change course, expand our understanding, find a friend, chase a dream, or fall in love. These stories explore what people do when they’re presented with—or seek out—a second chance.

I’m currently working on a third Aggie and Abe book and a third book of short stories. The Aggie and Abe book will involve going back in time to the lower east side of Manhattan in the early 1900s and examining the garment workers strike of 1909 and the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911."

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Preparation for Discussion of The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store - January 2024

These questions are from a Penguin Random House list: 

1. In The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store, James McBride takes readers into the lives of the people who live on Chicken Hill, a neighborhood of “ramshackle houses and dirt roads where the town’s Blacks, Jews, and immigrant whites who couldn’t afford any better lived.” As you read about Chicken Hill, how did you envision it? Did its description prompt memories of places that you’ve lived or recall from your past?

2. The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store is owned by Moshe Ludlow and his wife, Chona, who runs it, and it’s the center of neighborhood life. Are there places like that from your own life or in your past? How are they similar to (or different from) the Heaven & Earth?

3. Moshe desegregated the local theater by booking Black entertainers for Black audiences, and McBride writes in detail about the famous acts that played there. How courageous do you think Moshe had to be to do this? Have you ever tried to change the traditions of a place or an organization? 

4. Nate and Addie Timblin work for the Ludlows: Nate at the theater, Addie at the store. What similarities do you see between their relationship and that of Moshe and Chona? Do you see differences? What do you think the four have in common?

5. Dodo is a deaf boy from Chicken Hill who needs help—assistance that Nate and Chona provide. Why do you think those two were the ones who stepped in to help Dodo? Do you think they should have done anything differently? What do you think that Moshe and Addie could have done to keep Dodo safe? Or do you think his discovery was inevitable?

6. Doc Roberts is a local physician who was instrumental in sending Dodo to the Pennhurst sanitorium. He also had a complicated relationship with Chona. What about him do you think was most objectionable? Why do you think he was able to succeed for so long without being discovered?  

7. Monkey Pants is the only inmate at Pennhurst who befriends Dodo, and the two strike up an unlikely friendship—one that is literally a lifesaver. Have there been people in your life who’ve stepped in to help you when you needed it?

8. Son of Man is the sadistic attendant on Ward C-1 at Pennhurst. What similarities to (or differences from) Doc Roberts did you see in him? Are they both evil in the same way?

9. The escape the characters engineered to extract Dodo from Pennhurst was possible thanks to the relationships they had with others in their community. How important do you think community was in these characters’ lives?

10. At the end of novel you learn how the skeleton in the first chapter got in the well. Do you think the person whose skeleton it was got what he deserved? Do you think other characters in the novel did?

 Here is a link to a short interview with the author:   PBS News Hour Interview the James McBride:

Here is a link to an article in Marmalade and Mustardseed, an online book guide.  This is a long article, a smorgasbord of information about the book! 


Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Probably Better to Read About an Octopus Than to House One

Shelby Van Pelt’s surprisingly successful first novel, Remarkably Bright Creatures, was the book 12 of us discussed at our wonderful Holiday Party in December! The story centered on Marcellus, an octopus in an aquarium open to the public…and his interactions with some of the staff members. Dennis described Marcellus as an incredibly smart, devious curmudgeon. Cindy noted his self-sacrificing nature; he left his tank to help specific people, thus endangering himself. I think the adventure aspect of leaving his cage was irresistible to him.

Along with our all enjoying the characteristic octopus’s nature of Marcellus, we agreed that the story would have been effective even if it took place far from the Pacific Northwest, where the aquarium was situated. Joyce noted that house pets act smartly about what they need. Marcia gave the example of a dog being jealous of another pet (often a dog) ensconced in the master’s bed: the dog goes to the window and barks, which tricks the other dog into leaving the bed to investigate the window, and then the jealous dog takes over the bed. Ken said that cats can learn around 83 commands but will obey them only if they want to. Dennis said that octopi might be the smartest animals, and Cindy had read that they have half a billion neurons within their 8 arms. Patricia suggested we think about how we would define “smart.” Dennis had a good answer: most animals don’t destroy their habitat the way we do!

One question asked us how we felt about keeping animals in captivity. Joyce remembered that Marcellus was rescued and placed in captivity. Also, bringing the book to a fine ending, Marcellus was released to the wild. I remembered being disturbed by the conditions at the Central Park Zoo when I was in college in New York City and noticing a huge improvement after the zoo was renovated in the early 2000s. Ken said he could make allowances for captivity if animals are given homes that support them well with the conditions they need. Joyce mentioned that the Barnum and Bailey company of circus fame has stopped showing animals. The circus was such an exciting feature during much of the 1900s! Sea World is also offering less of performing animal acts. Dennis said that the caging of and experimentation with lab animals he saw in college as a biology major disturbed him. Then we moved into the goods and evils of lab animals. Captivity can keep some species alive in our world. The idea was expressed that someday there might be nothing left but humans, rats, and cockroaches!

Thanks to Carla for nominating this book and stimulating our conversation with a mix of thoughtful questions about the story and the ethics and science of animal captivity. Thanks also to Lydia for hosting our Holiday Party at her festively decorated home. Nice ending to another good year of reading and discussing choice books!