This page is for my In Real Life (IRL) Book Club.
To see past read (beginning with the Novmber 2013 meeting) go to the Wishfully Reading Past Reads Page.
Unless otherwise stated, all discussion questions on this page come from the fabulous LitLovers website.
All book illustrations are linked to the book on Amazon. If you use this link, I receive a small fee off of any purchase you make through this link.
Links to each meeting date
January 20, 2014
At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone.
Strayed faces down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.
Discussion Questions from LitLovers
1. “The Pacific Crest Trail wasn’t a world to me then. It was an idea, vague and outlandish, full of promise and mystery. Something bloomed inside me as I traced its jagged line with my finger on a map” (p. 4). Why did the PCT capture Strayed’s imagination at that point in her life?
2. Each section of the book opens with a literary quote or two. What do they tell you about what’s to come in the pages that follow? How does Strayed’s pairing of, say, Adrienne Rich and Joni Mitchell (p. 45) provide insight into her way of thinking?
3. Strayed is quite forthright in her description of her own transgressions, and while she’s remorseful, she never seems ashamed. Is this a sign of strength or a character flaw?
4. “I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told” (p. 51). Fear is a major theme in the book. Do you think Strayed was too afraid, or not afraid enough? When were you most afraid for her?
5. Strayed chose her own last name: “Nothing fit until one day when the word strayed came into my mind. Immediately, I looked it up in the dictionary and knew it was mine…: to wander from the proper path, to deviate from the direct course, to be lost, to become wild, to be without a mother or father, to be without a home, to move about aimlessly in search of something, to diverge or digress” (p. 96). Did she choose well? What did you think when you learned she had assigned this word to herself—that it was no coincidence?
6. On the trail, Strayed encounters mostly men. How does this work in her favor? What role does gender play when removed from the usual structure of society?
7. What does the reader learn from the horrific episode in which Strayed and her brother put down their mother’s horse?
8. Strayed writes that the point of the PCT “had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets” (p. 207). How does this sensation help Strayed to find her way back into the world beyond the wilderness?
9. On her journey, Strayed carries several totems. What does the black feather mean to her? And the POW bracelet? Why does she find its loss (p. 238) symbolic?
10. Does the hike help Strayed to get over Paul? If so, how? And if not, why?
11. Strayed says her mother’s death “had obliterated me…. I was trapped by her but utterly alone. She would always be the empty bowl that no one could fill” (p 267). How did being on the PCT on her mother’s fiftieth birthday help Strayed to heal this wound?
12. What was it about Strayed that inspired the generosity of so many strangers on the PCT?
13. “There’s no way to know what makes one thing happen and not another…. But I was pretty certain as I sat there that night that if it hadn’t been for Eddie, I wouldn’t have found myself on the PCT” (p. 304). How does this realization change Strayed’s attitude towards her stepfather?
14. To lighten her load, Strayed burns each book as she reads it. Why doesn’t she burn the Adrienne Rich collection?
15. What role do books and reading play in this often solitary journey?
Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver.
Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don’s Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.
The Rosie Project is a moving and hilarious novel for anyone who has ever tenaciously gone after life or love in the face of overwhelming challenges.
Discussion Questions from LitLovers
15. Were you surprised at the ultimate revelation of Rosie’s biological father? Did you suspect someone else?
Additional Questions by LiLovers
16. After his lecture on Asperger’s, Don confronts Julie with what he considers her lack of understanding: earlier, she obliquely refered to Asperber’s as a “fault”—as in “[it’s] something you’re born with. It’s nobody’s fault.” She also worries that the nickname “Aspies” will get “them thinking it’s some sort of club.” How do Don and Julie view Aspbergers? Do you agree with Don’s approach…or Julie’s?
March 17, 2014
The highly anticipated memoir of Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl from Pakistan’s Swat region who stood up to the Taliban.
‘I come from a country that was created at midnight. When I almost died it was just after midday. We’d finished for the day and I was on the open-back truck we use as a school bus. There were no windows, just thick plastic sheeting that flapped at the sides and a postage stamp of open sky at the back through which I caught a glimpse of a kite wheeling up and down. It was pink, my favourite colour.’
In 2009 Malala Yousafzai began writing an anonymous blog for BBC Urdu about life in the Swat Valley as the Taliban gained control, at times banning girls from attending school. When her identity was discovered, Malala began to appear in Pakistani and international media, campaigning for education for all. On 9 October 2012, Malala was shot at point-blank range by a member of the Taliban on the way home from school. Remarkably, she survived. In April 2013, Time magazine named her one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.
I Am Malala tells the inspiring story of a schoolgirl who was determined not to be intimidated by extremists, and faced the Taliban with immense courage. Malala speaks of her continuing campaign for every girl’s right to an education, shining a light into the lives of those children who cannot attend school. This is just the beginning…
Discussion Questions from LitLovers
1. Would you have had the bravery that Malala exhibited and continues to exhibit?
2. Talk about the role of Malala’s parents, especially her father, Ziauddin. If you were her parents, would you have encouraged her to write and speak out?
3. How does Malala describe the affect of the growing Taliban presence in her region? Talk about the rules they imposed on the citizens in the Swat valley. What was life like?
4. Mala has said that despite the Muslim prejudice against girls/women, she is a proud believer. Would you—could you—hold on to your faith given such overt discrimination?
5. Talk about the reaction of the international community after Malala’s shooting. Has the outrage made a difference…has it had any effect?
6. What can be done about female education in the Middle East and places like Pakistan? What are the prospects? Can one girl, despite her worldwide fame, make a difference? Why do Muslims want to prevent girls from acquiring an education—what do they see as the feminine role?
7. This is as good a time as any to talk about the Taliban’s power in the Muslim world. Why does it continue to grow and attract followers…or is it gaining new followers? What attraction does it have for Muslim men? Can it ever be defeated?