Welcome to the KPL Book Club Blogspot

Welcome to the internet home of the Kilbourn Public Library (KPL) Book Club. The KPL Book Club meets at the library once a month. A book is chosen for each month and then members of the book club meet the last Monday and Wednesday of every month for lively discussion and treats. While we can’t offer you treats via the internet, this KPL Reads blog was designed for those of you who would like to participate in the book club but don’t have time to join us at meetings. Each month KPL staff will post discussion topics and questions to get you “talking”. Join in the discussion by adding a post to the blog. Click on the word comments below the post you want to "talk" about and write your comment. Be sure to check back often to see feedback and comments.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The book selection for November for the Kilbourn Public Library Book Discussion Group is The Poison Squad by Deborah Blum. The Poison Squad is the 2019-2020 UW-Madison Go Big Read selection.

By the end of the nineteenth century, food was dangerous.  Lethal, even.  "Milk" might contain formaldehyde, most often used to embalm corpses.  Decaying meat was preserved with both salicylic acid, a pharmaceutical chemical, and borax, a compound first identified as a cleaning product.  This was not by accident:  food manufacturers had rushed to embrace the rise of industrial chemistry, and were knowingly selling harmful products.  Unchecked by government regulation, basic safey, or even labeling requirements, they put profit before the health of their customers. 

Over the next thirty years, a titanic struggle took place, with the courageous and fascinating Dr. Wiley campaigning indefatigably for food safety and consumer protection.  When the landmark 1906 Food and Drug Act was finally passed, it was known across the land, as "Dr. Wiley's Law."

Deborah Blum brings to life this timeless and hugely satisfying "David and Goliath" tale with righteous verve and style.

While the experiments on the Poison Squad were groundbreaking, they would likely not be possible today due to the risks posed to the human subjects.  Wiley also did not follow best practices such as maintaining a control group.  How could the Poison Squad experiments be improved scientifically and ethically?

Even with scientific evidence of the dangers of ingesting certain chemical additives, the fight to institute government oversight was an uphill battle.  Aside from business concerns, what other factors come into play when making regulations in the food industry?  Are there examples of this struggle in recent food legislation?

Wiley predicted the negative health effects of certain chemical preservatives, dyes, and even tobacco, but those in industry attempted to discredit his concerns, labeling them as mistrust and fear of the future of food in the modern age.  Today, chemophobia has led to negative consumer impacts, such as vaccine avoidance.  Can you think of other examples where the mistrust of chemicals by the public has led to controversy?

Let us know what you think of The Poison Squad, the dramatic true story of how food was made safe in the United State and the heroes, led by Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, who fought for change.
For October the Kilbourn Public Library Book Discussion Group read An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.  Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South.  He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career.  But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. 

This stirring love story is a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three people who are at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control.  An American Marriage is a masterpiece of storytelling, an intimate look deep into the souls of people who must reckon with the past while moving forward--with hope and pain--into the future. (From the publisher.)

Let us know what you thought of An American Marriage.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

For September the Kilbourn Public Library Book Discussion Group is reading A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. 

Ignatius J. Reilly is a flatulent frustrated scholar deeply learned in Medieval philosophy and American junk food, a brainy mammoth misfit imprisoned in a trashy world of Greyhound Buses and Doris Day movies. Set in New Orleans, the novel bursts into life on Canal Street under the clock at D. H. Holmes department store.

A Confederacy of Dunces is an American comic masterpiece.  Toole's comic classic is filled with unforgettable characters and unbelievable plot twists, shimmering with intelligence, and dazzling in its originality. 

The first chapter of A Confederacy of Dunces  is generally thought to be among the funniest in American literature.  Do you agree?  What other comic novels remind you of A Confederacy of Dunces and why?

The city of New Orleans plays a central role in the novel, seeming to be a character in and of itself.  Could this novel have been set in another American city?

Project Ignatius and Myrna into the future.  They are supposed to be in love, but find themselves fighting before ever leaving the city.  Will they make it to New York?  Can New York survive Ignatius?  What possibilities do you see for them?

Is Ignatius purely lazy or does his attitude toward work reflect his disdain for the modern world of commerce? 

The book is elaborately plotted, but does it work?  What do you find unbelievable or improbable?

In the twenty-plus years since its publication A Confederacy of Dunces has become a cult novel.  What does that mean to you? 

Let us know what you think of A Confederacy of Dunces!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Our book selection for August is The Library Book by Susan Orlean. 

On the morning of April 28, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library.  The fire was disastrous:  it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours.  By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. 

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

What has your relationship with libraries been throughout your life?

Were you at all familiar with the Los Angeles library fire?

How would you describe the fire's impact on the community?

Libraries today are more than just a building filled with books.  How has your local library evolved?

The Library Book confronts the issue of street people patronizing the library.  Is this an issue in your hometown?  How do you feel about the L.A. library's involvement, handling of the issue and the notion of inclusion?

What was you initial impression of Harry Peak?  Did it change throughout the investigation?

The Library Book chronicles the history of the Los Angeles Public Library from its origins to the present day. How were the library's ups and downs reflective of the city's ups and downs?  Are libraries a fair barometer to judge the mood of a city or a town?

Let us know what you think of The Library Book!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Kilbourn Public Library Book Discussion Group is reading Circe by Madeline Miller for the July book selection.

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child--not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power--the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man's world.

Circe struggles to find a place for herself as a woman in a man's world.  What parts of her experience resonate with modern day challenges that women face?

Throughout the novel Circe draws distinctions between gods and mortals.  How does Glaucus change when he becomes a god?

How does her time with Daedalus affect Circe?

What is the significance of Circe's meeting with Trygon?  How does it impact her emotional journey?

Were you surprised when Telemachus refused Athena?  Why or why not?

Circe encounters several famous figures from Greek myth.  Were any of their portrayals surprising?

Circe's gift is transformation.  How does she transform from the beginning of the novel to the end?  Why does she ultimately choose the path she does?

Let us know how you liked Circe by Madeline Miller.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The book selection for June for the Kilbourn Public Library Book Discussion Group is The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai.  The Great Believers is a novel of friendship and redemption in the face of tragedy and loss set in 1980s Chicago and contemporary Paris.  The story follows art director, Yale Tishman's career as it flourishes while around him the AIDS epidemic grows.

Yale's group of friends is very close.  In a sense, they are his "chosen family."  How is this explored in the book?  How does each character relate to their family, biological and chosen?  Do you have a "chosen family," and if so, what brings you all together?

Chicago is such a powerful presence in this novel that it is almost a character in itself.  Have you ever been to or lived in a place that exerted a strong influence on you?

How has the culture changed regarding LGBTQ voices and stories since the 1980s?

Fiona has suffered many losses in her life.  How do you think that affected her as a mother?  What are the ways in which trauma and loss are passed down through generations?

Do you empathize more with Fiona or Claire?

Do you see any parallels between the state of healthcare during the 1980s and now?

Is the creation of artwork always a collaborative effort?  How do you feel about the relationship between artist and muse?

What has been you knowledge of--or experience with, if any--AIDS or those affected by the disease?  Has reading this novel changed any ideas you have previously had about the subject?

Let us know what you think of The Great Believers!

Friday, April 26, 2019

The May book selection for the Kilbourn Public Library Book Discussion Group is The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. 

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision:  he will  move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America's last true frontier.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska--a place of incomparable beauty and danger.  The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature. 

Alaska is definitely a character in this novel.  The author clearly wants you to understand both the grandeur and the danger that are present every day in the Last Frontier.  How did the landscape create and shape this story?  Is this a story that could have taken place anywhere?  Or was the solitude of Alaska part of the fabric of the novel?

What aspects of the Alaska/homesteader lifestyle would you find the most challenging in the wild?  How would you handle the isolation, the interdependence among neighbors, the climate?  Would you have what it takes to survive?

The Great Alone is set in the turbulent world of America in the 1970's.  Why do you think the author chose this time period?  How did the world at that time, with the political unrest and kidnappings and plane hijackings, factor into the plot? 

Ernt was a POW for several years.  Do you believe, as Cora tells Leni, that he was "changed" when he came home?  Did the war and PTSD "make" Ernt violent, or do you believe he was violent before?

Why do you think Cora stayed with Ernt all those years?  Was it love?  Fear?  In general, why do you think women stay with abusive men?

Would you say Leni is a survivor?  Is Cora?

In many ways, The Great Alone, is a mother-daughter love story, but one with a broken spine.  How did Cora let Leni down in life?  How did she save her?  Do you think Cora was a good mother?

How did the building of Ernt's wall affect you as a reader?  As he was building it, what did you think was going to happen?

At the end of the story, Leni ends up back in Alaska--do you think there's an ultimate place where people belong?  How would you know if you got there?

Let us know what you think of The Great Alone!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The April book selection for the Kilbourn Public Library Book Discussion Group is The Sun Does Shine:  How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton. 

Anthony Ray Hinton was poor and black when he was convicted of two murders he hadn't committed.  For the next three decades he was trapped in solitary confinement in a tiny cell on death row, having to watch as--one by one--his fellow prisoners were taken past him to the execution room.  Eventually his case was taken up by the award-winning lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, who managed to have him exonerated, though it took 15 years for this to happen. 

How did Hinton cope with the mental and emotional torture of his situation, and emerge full of compassion and forgiveness?  The Sun Does Shine throws light not only on his remarkable personality but also on social deprivation and miscarriages of justice.  Ultimately, though, it's a triumphant story of the resilience of the human spirit.

Before being wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death, Anthony Ray Hinton was in trouble with the law for stealing a car.  Does this in any way make you less sympathetic to his plight?

Think about the friendship of Ray and Lester.  Can you imagine a friend who would visit you every visiting day for 30 years?  What does their relationship teach us about friendship?

Do you think the death penalty system is broken?  How would you like to see it changed?

The State of Alabama has not apologized or compensated Ray Hinton for his wrongful imprisonment.  Do you think he should be paid?  Some say he shouldn't be paid because he was never proven innocent.  What do you say to this argument?

Ray and Bryan Stevenson, his lawyer, both say that nobody is defined by the worst thing they have ever done.  Do you agree?  Does this help you have more compassion for those incarcerated or on death row?

What was the turning point for Ray in how he would survive in prison?  What does this teach you?

Does The Sun Does Shine make you feel angry or hopeful?

Let us know what you think!
The Kilbourn Public Library Book Discussion Group read Boar Island by Nevada Barr for the March book selection.  In Boar Island Nevada Barr brings National Park Ranger Anna Pigeon to the wild beauty of Acadia National Park. 

Anna Pigeon has had to deal with all manner of crimes and misdemeanors, but cyber-bullying and stalking is a new one.  The target is Elizabeth, the adopted teenage daughter of her friend Heath Jarrod.  Elizabeth is driven to despair by the disgusting rumors spreading online and bullying texts.  Until, one day, Heath finds her daughter Elizabeth in the midst of an unsuccessful suicide attempt.  And then she calls in the cavalry--her aunt Gwen and her friend Anna Pigeon.

While they try to deal with the fragile state of affairs--and find the person behind the harassment--the three adults decide the best thing to do is to remove Elizabeth from the situation.  Since Anna is about to start her new post as Acting Chief Ranger at Acadia National Park in Maine, the three will join her and stay at a house on the cliff of a small island near the park, Boar Island.

Let us know what you think of Boar Island.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The February book selection for the Kilbourn Public Library Book Discussion Group is The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner. Part foreign affairs discourse, part humor, and part twisted self-help guide, this book takes the reader from America to Iceland to India in search of happiness.  Using a mixture of travel, psychology, science and humor, this book investigates not what happiness is, but where it is.  Are people in Switzerland happier because it is the most democratic country in the world?  Is the King of Bhutan a visionary for his initiative to calculate Gross National Happiness?  Why is Asheville, North Carolina so happy?  Weiner answers these questions and many others in The Geography of Bliss.

Do you think that Eric Weiner achieved his goal in finding the happiest places around the world?

A few of the places mentioned in the book such as Iceland and Thailand seemed like surprising places to find happiness.  Were you surprised by some of the locations that he picked?

What locations around the world would you have assumed to be the happiest places?

If you were to visit any of the places mentioned in the book, where would you go and why?

What do you think makes people happy?

Should a country worry about the happiness of its people? 

Why do you think Americans aren't higher up on the happiness scale?

Let us know what you think of The Geography of Bliss.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Kilbourn Public Library Book Discussion Group  selection for January is In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende.  This is a sweeping novel about three very different people who are brought together in a mesmerizing story that journeys from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil.  In the Midst of Winter begins with a minor traffic accident--which becomes the catalyst for an unexpected and moving love story between two people who thought they were deep into the winter of their lives.  (From the publisher.)

Each of the three main characters--Lucia, Evelyn, and Richard -- experiences some king of isolation in their present life.  The book begins with Lucia physically isolated in her apartment during a snowstorm.  In what other ways is she isolated?  How is her isolation different from Evelyn's?  And from Richard's?

Evelyn's relationship with Frankie is very special, and reveals a lot about her character.  Why is she so successful at caring for him?  In what ways does she expand his horizons?

When Evelyn leaves her native village, she tells her grandmother Concepcion, "Just as I am going, Grandma, so I will return."  Compare Evelyn's relationship with her grandmother to her relationship with her mother, Miriam.  What positive things has each of them given to Evelyn?

When Richard arrives in New York with Anita, and his friend Horacio sees the state she is in, he says to Richard, "Make sure you don't let her down, brother."  In what ways does Richard end up letting Anita down?  Why do you think he does?  How does the fate of Anita and his children continue to shape his life long after their deaths?

"In the midst of winter, I finally found there was within me an invincible summer."  Why do you think Isabel Allende chose to include this quote from Albert Camus in the book's epigraph, title, and final scene?  Most of the story literally takes place during the winter.  But on the symbolic level, Evelyn, Lucia, and Richard are all experiencing a winter of the spirit.  What does that consist of, for each of them?  And what do you think the "invincible summer" is that each one finds within?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)