The Combined Book Group meets at the Main Library- 43 Church Street in Dedham, MA at 7pm on the third Wednesday of every month. Copies of each book will be available no less than a month before each meeting and kept at the circulation desk for your convenience. Clicking on the book's title will bring you to our catalog where you may also place a hold on the item for pickup at your local library.
Each section on this page details the book we will be discussing that month, and gives possible discussion questions to guide your reading. Please feel free to reach out to Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or concerns.
In her forties, with two children, a spouse, a dog, a mortgage, and a full-time job as a tenured law professor at Georgetown University, Rosa Brooks decided to become a cop. A liberal academic and journalist with an enduring interest in law's troubled relationship with violence, Brooks wanted the kind of insider experience that would help her understand how police officers make sense of their world--and whether that world can be changed. In 2015, against the advice of everyone she knew, she applied to become a sworn, armed reserve police officer with the Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police Department.
Then as now, police violence was constantly in the news. The Black Lives Matter movement was gaining momentum, protests wracked America's cities, and each day brought more stories of cruel, corrupt cops, police violence, and the racial disparities that mar our criminal justice system. Lines were being drawn, and people were taking sides. But as Brooks made her way through the police academy and began work as a patrol officer in the poorest, most crime-ridden neighborhoods of the nation's capital, she found a reality far more complex than the headlines suggested.
In Tangled Up in Blue, Brooks recounts her experiences inside the usually closed world of policing. From street shootings and domestic violence calls to the behind-the-scenes police work during Donald Trump's 2016 presidential inauguration, Brooks presents a revelatory account of what it's like inside the blue wall of silence. She issues an urgent call for new laws and institutions, and argues that in a nation increasingly divided by race, class, ethnicity, geography, and ideology, a truly transformative approach to policing requires us to move beyond sound bites, slogans, and stereotypes. An explosive and groundbreaking investigation, Tangled Up in Blue complicates matters rather than simplifies them, and gives pause both to those who think police can do no wrong--and those who think they can do no right.
Discussion questions are unavailable for this particular book, but we were able to find a video hosted by the author which can be viewed here!
“That was it. That was all of it. A grace so ordinary there was no reason at all to remember it. Yet I have never across the forty years since it was spoken forgotten a single word.”
New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were selling out at the soda counter of Halderson’s Drugstore, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a grim summer in which death visited frequently and assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.
Frank begins the season preoccupied with the concerns of any teenage boy, but when tragedy unexpectedly strikes his family— which includes his Methodist minister father; his passionate, artistic mother; Juilliard-bound older sister; and wise-beyond-his-years kid brother— he finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal, suddenly called upon to demonstrate a maturity and gumption beyond his years.
Told from Frank’s perspective forty years after that fateful summer, Ordinary Grace is a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God.
1. Discuss the final revelation of Ariel’s whereabouts. Had you guessed correctly?
2. Much of Frank and Jake’s knowledge comes from overhearing and snooping. Which instance of eavesdropping provided them with the heaviest, most important information? Is there a particular overheard conversation that led most directly to the loss of their childhood innocence?
3. Along those same lines, in what ways have the two boys been transformed by story’s end?
4. Who is ultimately responsible for the death of Karl Brandt?
5. A number of characters carry secrets that eventually come to light. Was there a certain catharsis once they were able to unload the truth? Did it do them any good? Consider especially Frank’s father, whose deeds in the war remained a mystery. Is there some merit to carrying the burden of a secret alone?
6. Though the title of the novel refers to a particular “ordinary grace,” what other small graces did you find in the book?
7. Why does Ruth leave her family? Do you think she was truly mad at Nathan? At God? Discuss the ways in which she and the other characters deal with their grief over Ariel.
8. Do you agree with Frank’s insight in the epilogue that “there is no such thing as a true event?” What makes a story real? How do we deal with varying perspectives and reflections of history?
9. Do you think Frank had a responsibility to tell Emil about Lise? Was there merit to Jake’s argument that her fenced-in estate was prison enough?
10. Do you forgive Emil for his moment of indiscretion? Is he in some way to blame for everything that happened in New Bremen?
11. Frank and Jake often make a case to come along to the sheriff’s office, crime scenes and pivotal confrontations during the upheaval in New Bremen. Should they have been allowed to bear witness to these things? Should children be shielded from the occasional darkness of adult life?
12. What do you make of Gus? Is he in some ways the backbone (though not a true relative) of the Drum family?
13. Do you agree with the sentiment of the older Warren Redstone? Is it true that the departed are never far from us?
In nationally bestselling author Fiona Davis's latest historical novel, a series of book thefts roils the iconic New York Public Library, leaving two generations of strong-willed women to pick up the pieces.
It's 1913, and on the surface, Laura Lyons couldn't ask for more out of life--her husband is the superintendent of the New York Public Library, allowing their family to live in an apartment within the grand building, and they are blessed with two children. But headstrong, passionate Laura wants more, and when she takes a leap of faith and applies to the Columbia Journalism School, her world is cracked wide open. As her studies take her all over the city, she finds herself drawn to Greenwich Village's new bohemia, where she discovers the Heterodoxy Club--a radical, all-female group in which women are encouraged to loudly share their opinions on suffrage, birth control, and women's rights. Soon, Laura finds herself questioning her traditional role as wife and mother. But when valuable books are stolen back at the library, threatening the home and institution she loves, she's forced to confront her shifting priorities head on . . . and may just lose everything in the process.
Eighty years later, in 1993, Sadie Donovan struggles with the legacy of her grandmother, the famous essayist Laura Lyons, especially after she's wrangled her dream job as a curator at the New York Public Library. But the job quickly becomes a nightmare when rare manuscripts, notes, and books for the exhibit Sadie's running begin disappearing from the library's famous Berg Collection. Determined to save both the exhibit and her career, the typically risk-adverse Sadie teams up with a private security expert to uncover the culprit. However, things unexpectedly become personal when the investigation leads Sadie to some unwelcome truths about her own family heritage--truths that shed new light on the biggest tragedy in the library's history.
1. Laura Lyons, despite her husband’s protests, wants to be a wife, a mother and a dedicated journalism student. Do you think women still face societal pressure today to only fill traditional roles? Do you think it’s possible to “have it all”?
2. The NYPL is very important to both Laura and Sadie. Is the library important to you? What role do you think your local library plays in your community?
3. How does Sadie’s character challenge stereotypes about librarians? Before reading this book, did you know the different roles they play in serving the public?
4. How did going to the Heterodoxy club change Laura? Do you see similar organizations at work today? What is the importance of having spaces where women can voice their opinions, stories and plans for the future?
5. What do you think of how Laura handles the situation after she finds out the identity of the book thief?
6. Losing the only copy of his manuscript is a devastating blow to Jack. Do you think the act of burning the manuscript was justified? Why or why not? How do you think technology has changed the value we put on the written word?
7. In her note, Laura writes that “it was all ultimately her fault, that her own actions initiated a cascade of tragedies.” Why do you think Laura believes she is responsible? Do you agree? Would things have been different if so much responsibility in the home didn’t fall only to Laura?
8. At the trial, Sadie argues for a harsher sentence for the book thief because what was stolen was more than a number of pages worth a certain amount, but “pieces of Western history and culture that have a dramatic impact...the loss of these items is a detriment to all of humanity.” Do you agree that the thief should receive a longer sentence? Given these items are priceless, do you think that locking them away is a viable solution? If not, why do you think it’s important for the public to have access to these items?
9. Why do you think Sadie was so closed off from people? In part, she used her grandmother’s life as a justification for her own. What do you think finding out about Laura’s real life did for Sadie?
10. Laura struggles with her conflicting commitments to school and the Heterodoxy club. Do you think she did the right thing? Would you have done the same? Why do you think it was important to the women of the Heterodoxy club to keep their discussions private? Why wouldn't they want their ideas disseminated?
In September 1969, a fumbling, cranky old church deacon known as Sportcoat shuffles into the courtyard of the Cause Houses housing project in south Brooklyn, pulls a .38 from his pocket, and in front of everybody shoots the project's drug dealer at point-blank range.
In Deacon King Kong, McBride brings to vivid life the people affected by the shooting: the victim, the African-American and Latinx residents who witnessed it, the white neighbors, the local cops assigned to investigate, the members of the Five Ends Baptist Church where Sportcoat was deacon, the neighborhood's Italian mobsters, and Sportcoat himself.
As the story deepens, it becomes clear that the lives of the characters--caught in the tumultuous swirl of 1960s New York--overlap in unexpected ways. When the truth does emerge, McBride shows us that not all secrets are meant to be hidden, that the best way to grow is to face change without fear, and that the seeds of love lie in hope and compassion.