Month: July 2010

What I’ve Reserved

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I start teaching a class at a local university in a little over a week, and so I have not read anything “for fun” until I have finished the required reading for the class.

But, I have put some books on reserve, getting ready for the time when I can read again.

First, Mockingjay! The final book in the Hunger Games Trilogy. It is coming out in a few days and I am number 2460 on the waiting list at the library.

Second, One Day by David Nicholls. This book follows the lives of two people, a single day a year, for two decades.

Third, Like Water for Chocolate. It’s the story of forbidden love that (I hope!) turns out well!

What I Never Finished. . .

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I never finished “The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie”. I just could not get interested in the book, it just moved along so slowly! But, looking at the reviews on Amazon, it seems as though people really enjoyed it and so maybe it picks up?!?!

What I’m Reading Now: The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie by Alan Bradley

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It’s the beginning of a lazy summer in 1950 at the sleepy English village of Bishop’s Lacey. Up at the great house of Buckshaw, aspiring chemist Flavia de Luce passes the time tinkering in the laboratory she’s inherited from her deceased mother and an eccentric great uncle. When Flavia discovers a murdered stranger in the cucumber patch outside her bedroom window early one morning, she decides to leave aside her flasks and Bunsen burners to solve the crime herself, much to the chagrin of the local authorities. But who can blame her? What else does an eleven-year-old science prodigy have to do when left to her own devices? With her widowed father and two older sisters far too preoccupied with their own pursuits and passions—stamp collecting, adventure novels, and boys respectively—Flavia takes off on her trusty bicycle Gladys to catch a murderer. In Alan Bradley’s critically acclaimed debut mystery, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, adult readers will be totally charmed by this fearless, funny, and unflappable kid sleuth. But don’t be fooled: this carefully plotted detective novel (the first in a new series) features plenty of unexpected twists and turns and loads of tasty period detail. As the pages fly by, you’ll be rooting for this curious combination of Harriet the Spy and Sherlock Holmes. Go ahead, take a bite. –Lauren Nemroff

Discussion Questions for Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen

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Questions from

1.Water for Elephants moves between a story about a circus and a story about an old man in a nursing home. How do the chapters about the older Jacob enrich the story about Jacob’s adventure with the circus? How would the novel be different if Gruen had only written about the younger Jacob, keeping the story linear and never describing Jacob’s life as an old man?

2.Did the chapters about the nursing home change how you think about older people? In what ways are the doctors and nurses condescending? How is Rosemary different? How do you treat older people?

3.In chapter two, the twenty-three year old Jacob starts his story by telling us he is a virgin. From the cooch tent to the erections the older Jacob gets when being bathed, sexuality is woven into the whole story. Why do you think Gruen added these details? What role does sexuality play in Water for Elephants?

4.When you first read the Prologue, who did you think murdered the man? Were you surprised by who the actual murderer was?

5.The book begins with a quote from Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss: “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant…An elephant’s faithful—one hundred percent!” What is the role of faithfulness and loyalty in Water for Elephants? How do different characters define loyalty? (Jacob, Walter, Uncle Al).

6.Why does Jacob get so mad about Mr. McGuinity lying about carrying water for elephants? Do you see and similarities of temperament between the young Jacob and the old Jacob?

7.In what ways is Water for Elephants a survival story? A love story? An adventure?

8.Water for Elephants has a happy ending for Jacob, but not for many other characters. Discuss Walter and Camel’s fates. How does tragedy fit into the story?

9.There is an “us and them” mentality in the circus between performers and workers. How does Jacob bridge these two classes of people? Why does each group hate another group? Does the circus merely mirror society in an exaggerated way?

10.Are you satisfied with the end?

11.In the Author’s Note, Gruen writes that many of the details in the story are factual or come from circus workers’ anecdotes. These true stories include the hippo pickled in formaldehyde, the deceased fat lady being paraded through town and an elephant who repeatedly pulled out her stake and stole lemonade. Gruen did extensive research before writing Water for Elephants. Was her story believable?