Once I belonged to a book group. Mostly women, we met every six weeks to discuss the book we democratically agreed upon. After a decade of participating in this group I learned a few things about book groups:
- More people will not have finished the book than have
- Division between who liked it and who didn’t will occur
- You will be forced to read books you normally would never pick up
- The best discussions come when readers identify with the characters
When I read The Muse I thought, I wish I had a book group for this novel! Burton writes very compelling characters who are complicated, not always likable, but are driven by passion. In many of the characters I found I could identify. Who among us has not wanted to belong, fell in love, suffered frustration over the limitations of your gender, was ambitious? You may walk away from this story with more questions than answers, which is just one reason The Muse will make for a satisfying discussion.
Here are the 7 discussion questions I’d want to chat about over a cup of tea or a glass of wine.
- Why do you think Isaac accepted the arrangement with Olive?
- Why do you think Burton made Odell Caribbean émigré? How is that important to the story?
- The Muse is a story about poverty and privilege. How do these complicated societal systems play into the narrative?
- Talk about the relationships between Olive and Teresa, Marjorie Quick and Odell. How were the relationships similar/different? How did these relationship make you feel?
- Do you think The Muse is a feminist novel? Why or why not?
- Ambition is another important theme in the novel. How does ambition affect the characters? The story?
- The novel is filled with secrets and deceptions, with Odell in the role of detective. Why do you think it was important to Odell to figure this mystery out? Why was she so driven to do so?
If you have read The Muse I’d love to hear your thoughts to the questions above. Happy reading!
Our public library had been closed for two years. So when it reopened this past spring I went on a book-borrowing spree. Which, to be honest, hasn’t stopped. I LOVE MY LIBRARY. Oops. Digression. This isn’t a blog about my love of libraries (to come, no doubt!) but about a book I borrowed, then sat to binge read over the course of a weekend.
To start with a warning: Read The Winter Girl by Matt Marinovich if you dare. Or if you are into stories about sick, twisted people. Some of us are, nothing wrong with that (just don’t *be* one yourself. Not ok). Read if you are intrigued by mystery and disfunction.
Don’t read this book if you are a person who cannot read very sad, disturbing stories. Or stories about abuse or horrible events. There are a few of these kinds of sensitive readers in my life who I would never recommend the book to. I don’t seek out such stories myself. My preference is a cozy mystery with a cat and a cup of tea. I read this book like I watch horror movies: against my better judgement, hands splayed across my eyes with just enough space between fingers to peep. I kept reading because I wanted to know why this stuff was happening.
There are a lot of books I don’t finish. The Winter Girl was read through to the end. That says something. Long after the book was returned to my library, the characters (none of whom, you should know, I liked) occupied space in my thoughts. To call this a creepy book with fascinating, disturbed characters seems accurate. Read at your own risk–you’ve been forewarned.
I joined Muse Monthly because of the promise of a page-turning read and a good cup of tea–they have yet to disappoint. July’s box contained a copy of Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, born in Ghana, raised in Alabama, graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. This was the book I had been waiting for all summer. Before my tea had steeped I was in deep. A novel whose narrative clings so tightly you don’t want to breathe for fear of letting go. Well developed characters who occupy your brain long after you placed your bookmark. Below are my four reasons you really ought to read this book.
- You will learn something about history. Forget what you think you know. This is a different perspective, grown out of the stories of Effie and Esi, two half sisters born into different villages. Fated journeys without choice have set the wheels in motion for generations to come: one woman becomes a slave and is sent to America, the other woman marries an English slave trader and remains in Africa.
- This is a story of hope. Each generation faces, head-on, the past and the present as they collide into their current circumstance. Along with the evils of slavery and racism shaping the lives and histories of these characters, goodness and love are in the world, too. As Ta-Nehisi Coates said, “I think I need to read a book like this to remember what is possible.”
- Homegoing will make for a good book group discussion. The issues at the core of the novel most of us aren’t comfortable talking about–slavery, racism, freedom, sin–but need to be discussed. You will also find individual struggles, meaning of family, love, tenacity, fear, and survival. When I finished the novel I couldn’t wait to discuss this with someone else.
- Homegoing is exceptional story-telling. Good stories are why we come to fiction. We want to be transported away from our own lives to temporarily live someone else’s, even if the story is uncomfortable or foreign to our experiences. You will cancel plans, be happy the train is running late, forget the wait in the doctor’s office– you will loose yourself in this story.
I welcome your thoughts on Homegoing. Please share them in the comments section here.