I am delighted to meet with book groups, in person if you are local or by phone. If you would like to arrange to have me visit your group or talk with your group via a phone conference, please e-mail me at email@example.com. Below are questions intended as a guide to discussion for book groups or for teachers assigning the books. Keep scrolling for a suggested reading list.
Snow Island discussion questions:
- What is the significance of the island and what role does its isolation play in the novel?
- Why are the stories of George and Alice told together in this book? Is there a connection between them?
- Why is Alice so unlike her friend Lydia? What sets the two of them apart?
- Both George and Alice are marked by their experiences of war for the rest of their lives. How do their experiences differ? What is the importance of war as a theme in the book?
- What does Alice feel toward the summer people? Why is Lydia so interested in them? Is there something Lydia wants that Alice doesn't need?
- How do the themes of life and death operate throughout the novel? Does the book make a statement about these themes?
- Why do both Alice and George return to the island and what does their return signify?
- Various sorts of love are depicted in the relationships in the book. Which loves turn out to be the most enduring and why?
Evening Ferry discussion questions:
- Rachel Shattuck is at a crossroads at the opening of Evening Ferry, after her recent divorce and the death of her mother. How would you describe where she stands at the book's end and the journey she has made?
- The structure of the novel presents two voices — Rachel's point of view and the first person voice of Phoebe in the diaries — and two time periods. How do the shifts in voice and time affect your understanding of both Rachel and Phoebe? Is the structure of the book effective and what does it achieve?
- Why does Nate want Rachel to read her mother's diaries? And why does Rachel read them in secret, trying to prevent her father from discovering that she has read them?
- The Vietnam War hovers in the background of the story. Is the war significant? Why do you think the author set this book in 1965 and 1966 rather than 1969 or the early 1970s, when American involvement and anti-war sentiment were at their strongest?
- Phoebe struggles with her role as a mother, especially to Andy, her disabled child. Is Phoebe's response to being a mother surprising? Did her handling of the decision to institutionalize Andy change your understanding of Phoebe in any way?
- How does the island setting inform this story? Could it take place somewhere else?
- At the end of the book, do you think that Rachel's relationship with her father has changed? What has Rachel learned and how do you think it will affect her understanding of herself and her father in the future? How does it affect her understanding of her mother as well?
Island Light discussion questions:
- This book uses multiple points of view to tell the stories of several characters. How do the alternating points of view inform your reading of the story as a whole?
- Ruth and Nora have in common struggles over their sexuality. How are these struggles different? How do these characters reflect the times in which they came of age?
- Ruth struggles as well with her identity as an artist. Has she changed by the end of the book?
- Can you imagine a different ending for Rachel and Nick, or is the outcome of this story inevitable?
- Is the Nick of this book the same Nick of Evening Ferry? How is Nick at 18 similar to Nick at 42? How are they different?
- Has the island community changed since the 1940s, as it is depicted in the first volume of the trilogy?
- The wars that serve as the backdrops for each book — World War II, Vietnam, and the first Gulf War — have distinct characters. How does each war affect the residents of Snow Island? Is the experience of the islanders in relation to these wars reflective of the country as a whole?
This is a fairly random list of books I have especially enjoyed in recent years. Most of these authors are contemporary, though I have included a few writers no longer with us whose books I consider under-appreciated gems or deserving of another read. Happy reading!
Frost in May by Antonia White (and all White's other novels)
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
The Complete Claudine by Colette (the Claudine novels)
Hunger by Knut Hamsun
The Complete Stories of Truman Capote
The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer
Island by Alistair MacLeod (stories)
No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod
Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien (stories)
The Country Girls Trilogy by Edna O'Brien
A Fanatic Heart by Edna O'Brien (stories)
Runaway by Alice Munro (stories)
The Master by Colm Toibin
Waiting by Ha Jin
When Heaven and Earth Changed Places by Le Li Hayslip (non-fiction)
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer (stories)
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott (non-fiction)
Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer (non-fiction)
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (non-fiction)
A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel (non-fiction)
Reading, Writing, and Leaving Home by Lynn Freed (non-fiction)
Limbo by A. Manette Ansay (non-fiction)
Bad Haircut by Tom Perrotta (stories)