The Senior Center Book Group meets at the Ames Senior Center (450 Washington Street in Dedham, MA) at 12pm on the third Friday of every month. Copies of each book will be available no less than a month before each meeting and kept at the circulation desk at the Main Library 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 Brittany at email@example.com with any questions!
Paris, 1939. Young, ambitious, and tempestuous, Odile Souchet has it all: Paul, her handsome police officer beau; Margaret, her best friend from England; her adored twin brother Remy; and a dream job at the American Library in Paris, working alongside the library's legendary director, Dorothy Reeder. But when World War II breaks out, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear - including her beloved library. After the invasion, as the Nazis declare a war on words and darkness falls over the City of Light, Odile and her fellow librarians join the Resistance with the best weapons they have: books. They risk their lives again and again to help their fellow Jewish readers. When the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.
Montana, 1983. Odile's solitary existence in gossipy small-town Montana is unexpectedly interrupted by Lily, her neighbor, a lonely teenager longing for adventure. As Lily uncovers more about Odile's mysterious past, they find they share a love of language, the same longings, the same lethal jealousy. Odile helps Lily navigate the troubled waters of adolescence by always recommending just the right book at the right time, never suspecting that Lily will be the one to help her reckon with her own terrible secret. Based on the true story of the American Library in Paris, The Paris Library explores the geography of resentment, the consequences of terrible choices made, and how extraordinary heroism can be found in the quietest of places.
Possible Discussion Questions:
Questions by Simon & Schuster
1. Chapter 1 begins with Odile noting that “numbers floated round my head like stars” (p. 1) as she runs through the Dewey Decimal system in her head. What does this opening say about her?
2. When Odile is first introduced as Mrs. Gustafson, Lily notes that she “donned her Sunday best—a pleated skirt and high heels—just to take out the trash. A red belt showed off her waist. Always” (p. 10). What does the red belt represent? And why, at the end of the novel, does she replace “her tatty red belt with a stylish black one” (p. 344)?
3. Miss Reeder “was adamant that there was a place here for everyone” (p. 3) at the Library. How do she and others like Boris and the Countess prove that throughout the Occupation?
4. Odile and Lily come from very different backgrounds, different countries, and different eras. Where do they find common ground?
5. Among the Library’s subscribers and habitués are many fascinating and eccentric characters, such as Professor Cohen and Mr. Pryce-Jones. Who is your favorite, and why?
6. Consider Odile’s Aunt Caroline, and how Caro’s experience informs Odile’s decisions regarding Paul and Buck. Do you believe Odile’s assertion that her mother would “cast me out, just like Aunt Caro” (p. 332)?
7. Why do you think Janet Skeslien Charles decided to interweave Lily’s story, set in Montana in the 1980s, with Odile’s story in Paris during World War II? What do the dual narratives reveal, and how do they reflect on each other?
8. How is Lily’s adolescence in Montana similar to Odile’s own coming-of-age in Paris? How do books and learning the French language serve as a refuge for Lily?
9. Odile refers to Bitsi as her “bookmate” (p. 50) and later reflects on their experiences by noting that “coming face-to-face with Bitsi is like looking in the mirror” (p. 166). How does their friendship develop over the course of the novel?
10. When Professor Cohen finishes her manuscript, she knows she cannot publish it, and she entrusts it to Odile, saying, “Books and ideas are like blood; they need to circulate, and they keep us alive. Without you, I couldn’t have continued this long. You’ve reminded me that there’s good in the world” (p. 240). What does this speech mean to you? Does this serve as greater motivation for Odile to continue her work?
11. Odile discovers the “crow letters,” letters and “denunciations…from black-hearted people who spy on neighbors, colleagues, and friends. Even family members” (p. 283) in her father’s office. Lily, too, finds the letters at Odile’s house. What do these letters, signed by “one who knows,” show? Why do you think the author includes them?
12. Toward the end of the novel, after the Liberation, we see the insidious cycle of violence as Paul and his colleagues attack Margaret, stating, “She wasn’t a woman to them, not anymore. They’d been beaten and humiliated. Now it was their turn to beat, to strike, to slash” (p. 312). How does this event change the course of the novel? How do these men perpetuate the cycle of violence? Would you have reacted as Odile does, or what would you have done differently?
13. At the end of the novel, Odile says that “it seemed that life had offered me an epilogue” (p. 342). How does Lily and Odile’s intergenerational friendship provide them both with a safe place to grow?
A young girl becomes the second Mrs. Max de Winter, only to find that she is not the mistress of Manderley. Instead the house and its occupants are dominated by the memory of Rebecca, her predecessor.
Possible Discussion Questions:
Questions by LitLovers
1. Du Maurier admitted that her heroine has no name because she could never think of an appropriate one—which in itself is a telling comment. What effect does it have on the novel that the heroine has no first name?
2. What kind of character is our heroine—as she presents herself at the beginning of her flashback? Describe her and her companion, Mrs. Hopper.
3. What kind of character is Maxim de Winter, and why does a man of his stature fall in love with the young heroine? What draws him to her?
4. The heroine describes Maxim thus: "His face...was arresting, sensitive, medieval in some strange inexplicable way...rob him of his English tweeds, and put him in black, with lace at his throat and wrists, he would stare down at us in our new world from a long distant past—a past where men walked cloaked at night, and stood in the shadow of old doorways, a past of narrow stairways and dim dungeons, a past of whispers in the dark, of shimmering rapier blades, of silent, exquisite courtesy." Why is this an apt description? In other words, how does it set the tone and foretell the events of the novel?
5. In what way does the relationship between the young heroine and Maxim change during the months after their arrival to Manderley?
6. What role does Mrs. Danvers play in this story—in her relationships to the characters (dead and alive) and also in relation to the suspense within the novel?
7. What is the heroine led to believe about Rebecca? In what way does the dead woman exert power over Manderley? At this point, what are your feelings about the new Ms. de Winter? Are you sympathetic toward her plight...or impatient with her lack of assertion? Or are you confused and frightened along with her?
8. What is the heroine's relationship with Maxim's sister Beatrice and her husband Giles? What about the advice Beatrice offers the heroine? ?
9. Both Beatrice and Frank Crawley talk to the heroine about Rebecca. Beatrice tells the heroine, "you are so very different from Rebecca." Frank Crawley says that "kindliness, and sincerity, and...modesty...are worth far more to a man, to a husband, than all the wit and beatufy in the world." What are both characters trying to convey to the heroine...and how does she interpret their words?
10. What are some of the other clues about Rebecca's true nature that the author carefully plants along the way?
11. How might the costume ball—and the heroine's appearance in Rebecca's gown—stand as a symbol for young Mrs. de Winter's situation at Manderley?
12. Were you suprised by the twist the plot takes when Rebecca's body is found...and when Maxim finally tells the truth about his and Rebecca's marriage? Did the strange details of plot fall into place for you?
13. How, if at all, do Maxim's revelations change your attitude toward him? Did you feel relief upon first reading his confessions? Can you sympathsize with his predicament, or do you censure his actions? What do you think of the heroine's reaction? In her place, how might you have reacted?
14. How does this new knowledge alter the heroine's behavior and her sense of herself?
15. After Favell threatens to blackmail him, Maxim calls on Colonel Julyan. Why? Why does Maxim act in a way that seems opposed to his own best interests?
16. In the end, what really happened to Rebecca? What is the full story of her death? Is it right that Maxim is absolved of any crime? Was he caught in an untenable position? Was Rebecca simply too evil—did she end up getting what she deserved?
17. How do you view the destruction of Manderley? Is it horrific...or freeing...or justified vengeance on Rebecca's part? Would the de Winters have had a fulfilling life at Manderley had it not burned?
18. Now return to the beginning of the book. How would you put into words, or explain, the sense of loss and exile that permeates tone of the opening? (You might think about a spiritual as well as physical exile.)
An inspired weaving of indigenous knowledge, plant science, and personal narrative from a distinguished professor of science and a Native American whose previous book, Gathering Moss, was awarded the John Burroughs Medal for outstanding nature writing. As a botanist and professor of plant ecology, Robin Wall Kimmerer has spent a career learning how to ask questions of nature using the tools of science. As a Potawatomi woman, she learned from elders, family, and history that the Potawatomi, as well as a majority of other cultures indigenous to this land, consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers.
In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowing together to reveal what it means to see humans as "the younger brothers of creation." As she explores these themes she circles toward a central argument: the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgement and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the world. Once we begin to listen for the languages of other beings, we can begin to understand the innumerable life-giving gifts the world provides us and learn to offer our thanks, our care, and our own gifts in return.
Possible Discussion Questions:
Questions by Rouge Reads
1. In the essay “The Gift of Strawberries,” Kimmerer introduces the reader to the notion of the “gift economy.” What are the pros and cons of the gift economy—or, in other words, what do you like or not like about this concept? Do you think you could incorporate the gift economy into your lifestyle? If yes, how would you do this?
2. Kimmerer describes Sweetgrass, “Breathe in its scent... and you start to remember things you didn't know you'd forgotten.” What did this book reinforce for you that you already knew, but had perhaps forgotten?
3. How do the “stories we choose to shape our behaviors” have consequences beyond our own lives?
4. Do you think humans can be raised by nature or plants like Kimmerer says she was “in a way raised by strawberries?”
5. Berries are the fruit of summer; nuts are the fruit of winter. Does knowing this change how you will eat in the future? How do you think our consumer culture of having everything available all the time instead of harvesting based on the season has impacted nature and our health?
6. A major theme throughout the book is reciprocity—that humans, the land, and environment depend on each other—and this relationship is sacred. What aspects of your life embrace this theme?
7. Living in the United States we are deeply rooted in Capitalism. Do you think we might be able to change our culture to become more gift oriented? If so, how could we start?
8. What do you think of Kimmerer’s observation that English is a noun-based language versus the verb based language of the Potawatomi?
9. Kimmerer explains her thoughts on the nature of animate and inanimate things in “Learning the Grammar of Animacy.” What was your reaction to this viewpoint that everything is alive? Even if you don’t agree, does this idea change how you think about the role plants play in our everyday lives?
10. In “Epiphany in the Beans,” Kimmerer speaks to having a “sense of place,” a place where you feel nurtured and supported. If you have a place where you feel “a sense of place,” where is it and why do you feel that way when you are there?
11. If you are a mother or a father, how did you or how will you commemorate your child leaving the nest? Will you celebrate or grieve?
12. In “The Three Sisters,” the story is about how corn, squash, and beans flourish better when they are planted together. How do you look at agricultural methods used by large scale farmers in comparison to traditional native gardening techniques differently after reading this essay? If you have a vegetable garden, will you do anything differently after reading this book?
13. Why is the world beautiful?
14. "…the most important things each of us can know is our unique gift and how to use it in the world.” How do you feel about this message? Do you know what your unique gift is? How does this individuality fit in a culture that emphasizes the group not the individual?
15. Are there practical insights from this book that you would like to incorporate into your daily life? What resonated the most with you? E.g., gift economy, reciprocity, gratitude, ceremony of the mundane to the sacred, etc.?
This is How it Always is - Laurie Frankel
Next Year in Havana - Chanel Cleeton
When We Left Cuba - Chanel Cleeton
A Long Petal of the Sea - Isabel Allende
A Woman is No Man - Etaf Rum
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone - Lori Gottlieb
In Pieces - Sally Field
Writers and Lovers - Lily King
The Great Alone - Kristin Hannah
One Summer: America 1927 - Bill Bryson
The Midnight Library - Matt Haig
This Tender Land - William Kent Krueger
The Push - Ashley Audrain
The Stationery Shop - Marjan Kamali
The Giver of Stars - Jojo Moyes
Dear Edward - Ann Napolitano
Britt-Marie Was Here - Fredrik Backman
The Pull of the Stars - Emma Donoghue
The Island of Sea Women - Lisa See
The Reading List - Sara Nisha Adams
The Good Left Undone - Adriana Trigiani
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman