Tag Archives: books

The Dinner by Herman Koch – Book Club Resources

My book club had an excellent discussion about The Dinner yesterday afternoon. As moderator this month, I had done some research and prepared a set of discussion prompts. This book generated one of the best meetings we’ve had, with its interesting structure and commentary on society, family, and politics.

I wasn’t able to find many resources for book clubs online for this novel, so decided to share my outline and some links to reviews and commentary here. I have edited my notes to make them more user-friendly. Resources are listed at the end. A PDF of the discussion questions can be downloaded here.

The Dinner by Herman Koch – Book Club Discussion Starters

Without saying why, how would your rate this book on a scale of 1 to 10?

(Our club often asks members to rate a book at the beginning and end of each meeting. Some interesting shifts occur after members have had a chance to discuss a work.)

Structure

  • The author structured the book around a dinner, but used flashbacks to tell the story. Did this work for you?
  • How did you feel about the narrator at the beginning of the novel? At the end? When did you realize that he was unreliable?

The Story

  • Do you need to like the characters in order to like a book?  How did you feel about the main characters in this novel?
  • How did you feel about the reveal of the narrators genetic disorder?

Morality

  • Were you surprised by how far the parents were willing to go to protect their children? Why do you think they did that? What would you do in similar circumstances?
  • To what extent can psychological factors mitigate criminality? What about those who elect not to take medication?

Society

  • What does the restaurant setting say about the society in which the novel is set?
  • Tolerance and moral superiority: Discuss the adoption of Beau/Faso and subsequent narrative about him
  • What, if anything, does the particular crime say about society, youth, or anything else?
  • What commentary does the novel make about today’s political system?

Other

Why did you rate the book the way you did at the beginning of the discussion and would you change your rating now?

Online Resources (a selection)

  1. Online interview with Herman Koch in The Globe and Mail (Canada). March 2013
  2. Review of The Dinner by Claire Messud in the New York Times. (March 2013
  3. Review in The Telegraph. (August 2012)
  4. Review in The Guardian. (July 2012)
  5. Review in The Independent (July 2012)
  6. Bios of Herman Koch (Wikipedia, Dutch Foundation for Literature, HKs homepage (in Dutch))

The Dinner has been adapted for the theatre (2012) and made into a film (2013), both in Dutch. Cate Blanchett will make her directorial debut in an American film of the novel.

Another one is ready to fly

The man-child is leaving the nest today. We’re packing up the SUV and he’s heading to Montreal where he’ll be studying music at McGill.

TSYO Winter 2013 Concert
TSYO Winter 2013 Concert

He’s my younger son, the one I that homeschooled for almost three years when we lived in Atlanta. He’s funny, sarcastic, and has been the household (and car) music director, always surprising us with what he has on his iPod.

Bermuda, 1995. With father and older brother, Alex.
Obligatory baby pic. Michael at 3 months.
Homeschooling project: making rock candy.
Homeschooling project: making rock candy.

He studied for a couple of years of Saturdays at the Toronto Japanese Language School, and won the Idea Prize for his depiction of the character for “Sword”.

Nihongo Art Competition Winner (2009)
Nihongo Art Competition Winner (2009)

Michael started studying the tuba in Grade 8 at St. Michael’s College School. He was disappointed that art got swapped out for music as the students moved into that grade, and signed up for private music lessons so that he could get out of music one period a week. An assessment of his embouchure led to the option of playing euphonium or tuba. Michael will be forever indebted to Dan Douglas, the music teacher at SMCS, for pointing him in that direction.

He has had a series of wonderful teachers. He started with Courtney Lambert who had to put up with his lack of organization skills and time management issues. She went on leave late in the school year (I hope it wasn’t because of Michael…) and Rob Teehan stepped in to fill the gap.

Rob was a young guy, starting out in his musical career, and Michael was (by choice) his only private student. Rob has since gone on to form and play with the Heavyweights Brass Band, the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, The Boxcar Boys and compose. He was composer-in-residence with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada winning a Juno-nomination for his work Dreams of Flying. He’s also started on a film-scoring journey. Michael very much looks to Rob as a mentor, and Rob is always available for advice and thoughts about life as a musician.

Michael met Sasha Johnson while playing with the Hannaford Youth Band. Sasha was a tubist in the Hannaford Street Silver Band at the time. Then Michael had the opportunity to study with him at the Interprovincial Music Camp and decided to start private lessons with him. He will continue to study with Sasha at McGill.

Michael jammed in a couple of last minute  lessons this week with his voice teacher, Paula Wickberg. He wants to try out for an early music vocal ensemble at McGill so he’s been preparing a piece by Monteverdi. He’s also hoping to put his trombone to use in Montreal, but we haven’t heard much from it his summer as he’s been playing tuba with the Weston Silver Band and preparing for ensemble auditions.

I joke that his room will become my sewing studio once he’s gone, but I will miss him dearly. His good-humoured presence and conversational skills have been a force for good in this household.

Seven Quick Takes Friday – High and Dry.

Seven Quick Takes Friday

  1. We were one of the lucky ones in Toronto this week: no water damage and no power outages. Didn’t even get affected by what I presume were rolling blackouts that hit my hair salon (and their tankless water heater) just as I arrived for my appointment. Luckily it was short and I didn’t need to have a cold-water shampoo. That being said, Zouheir had to walk down twenty floors to leave his building on Monday night as they had no power, and his commutes home were miserably long for a couple of days. But the humidity has broken and the city is drying out.
  2. My “nephew” Feras arrived from the LA last Saturday. I put nephew in quotation marks as he’s actually Zouheir’s first-cousin-once removed, but he calles us Amo and Tante as is the custom in the middle east (calling older family members uncle and aunt.) He’s originally from Syria, just finished high school there, and needs to learn English. Life in LA is pretty much constrained to arabic in his social circle so a summer in Toronto with a few weeks at a language school will be just the ticket to get him ready for college. Needless to say, the rain storm was somewhat alarming for him, but we assured him that this was atypical and he shouldn’t expect that kind of rain again during his stay. He’s heading up to the cottage with Alex and a passel of Alex’s friends this weekend, which should make for a grand introduction to the way young people in Canada spend their free time when there’s no internet. (I believe it may involve beer, barbecuing, and a hookah. And Alex just mentioned something about teaching Feras beer pong.)
    Feras and Zouheir whiling away some time during the big rainstorm.
    Feras and Zouheir whiling away some time during the big rainstorm.
  3. I am very excited about our upcoming trip to Istanbul in August. All signs are go for the voyage, and I’ve decided to craft a funky travel journal like this. I’ve picked up some fabric and have been collecting papers to incorporate into it. As soon as I finish up some framing projects, I’ll get started. (Pro-tip: scour thrift stores for ugly art in nice frames, make/buy new mats if necessary, and then frame the cheap but attractive art you buy when travelling. Have saved mucho dinero over buying new/pro framing.)
  4. Went to my first Fringe Festival performance yesterday, and it was fab. It was down at Theatre Passe Muraille Backstage, a one-man show called The Nature of a Bullet. Actor Nick Dipchand has been mentored by a friend of mine who encouraged me to see the show and she joined me there. Nick is a marvel, taking on a number of characters in his 50 minute performance. I’d met him a couple of times before and we had a little chat afterwards. If you’re in Toronto and don’t mind mature language, check it out.
    the_nature_of_a_bullet-250x251
    Nick Dipchand in The Nature of a Bullet.
  5. New books this week! For my birthday, my boys gave me a couple off my wish list: Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow by Anders Nilsen, a gorgeous story stitched together with emails, postcards, letters, etc., and My Canada Includes Foie Gras: A Culinary Life
    by Jacob Richler, all about his life experiences with Canadian food, starting out from his childhood at home with his father, Mordecai.
    In my ongoing fascination with the life and works of Dominick Dunne, my browsing at Value Village produced The Way We Lived
    Cover of "The Way We Lived Then : Recolle...
    Cover via Amazon

    Then: Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper by Dunne, a gorgeous memoir containing many black and while photographs, mostly by the author. I also found a book of fashion photography and closeups of fabric designs from the 60s called Flower Power. It also came with a CD containing the designs. The clerk, thinking it was a magazine, charged me 99 cents. The fabric design pages will make great wrapping/book-making paper.

  6. It was in one of Dunne’s books that I first heard the term “walker” to designate younger men hired to accompany aging socialites around town, sort of a good-looking personal assistant/escort. In yesterday’s National Post column by Shinan Govani, he prints a help-wanted ad, purportedly placed by one Alison Eastwood (who looks too young to need one, but who am I to judge?). Check it out here.
  7. From my Facebook feed today. This dog has been trained to detect American foulbrood, some kind of disease that wipes out bees. I just love working dogs, and if you do too, go and read the whole piece here.
    bazz-beekeeper-dog
    Bazz the beekeeping dog.

Unreliable narrators…

Apparently July 7 was “Truth Day”.  I’d never heard of this before until I saw a post in The Buzz about Books, the virtual book club at the Toronto Public Library. To celebrate, they blogged about unreliable narrators with some excellent reading suggestions.

Check it out here.

It’s Monday … what are you reading?

it's monday

I just finished up a second read of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking for my book club that met yesterday. I originally read it a year or so ago and, and as introvert married to an extrovert, it made a huge impact on my personal life. Our book club is made up of mostly introverts, with one who wasn’t sure. If you’re an introvert, married to one, or parenting one, it’s a highly recommended read.

I’m close to the end of Andrew Pyper‘s The Killing Circle. The book club read Pyper’s The Demonologist last month with a kind of “meh” reaction. I’m finding this one better, although I”m not really a fan of the supernatural thriller. I’ll post a review when I’m finished.  Next up in paper is Timothy Findley’s Spadework.

I’m also listening to the audiobook of Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens by Andrea Wulf. I originally picked it up to fulfill a part of a reading challenge I’m participating in over at Goodreads, as I’m not a huge fan of non-fiction history books, but it’s quite exciting. It details the attempt to measure the size of the solar system based on the collection of data regarding the transit of Venus past the sun on June 6, 1761. This exercise required astronomers, professional and amateur to travel to and take measurements from locations around the world, specifically relating to the timing of this phenomenon. If you’re interested in navigation, history of science, or astronomy, this fast-paced book may be for you. Next up in audiobook format is a collection of short stories by Haruki Murakami from 1995 called The Elephant Vanishes.

What’s on your night table, or in your bag, or next to your sofa?

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars!

Can I just say that this looks amazing? William Shakespeare’s Star Wars.
From the amazon.ca description:

Return once more to a galaxy far, far away with this sublime retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. ’Tis a tale told by fretful droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearstome Stormtroopers, signifying…pretty much everything.

Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter—and complete with twenty gorgeous Elizabethan illustrations–William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify Rebels and Imperials alike. Zounds! This is the book you’re looking for.

Click for link to amazon.ca
Click for link to amazon.ca

Seven Quick Takes

Seven Quick Takes Friday

    1. Spent a lovely weekend at the cottage with my extended family. While my boys didn’t come up with us, there being no internet and all, I had fun hanging with my sibs and their kids, and my mom. Zouheir got out in the Laser and polished up his sailing skills, and he, my brother-in-law and the kids headed out in the motor boat to watch the fireworks in Portland from the water.
    2. The VB6 eating plan is going pretty well. I have my new routine for breakfast and am eating more veggies in general. And have I lost any weight, you ask? Not a pound.
    3. The son of one of Zouheir’s cousins is coming to stay with us for a few weeks to improve his English. He’s 19 and hIs family moved to LA from Syria but he is having trouble getting out of his Arabic environs so that he can master the language and start university. He’ll be attending ILAC here in Toronto and we’ll show him the sights.
    4. Got my TIFF ticket packages a couple of nights ago.  I got 20 daytime tickets and 10 any-time. I’ll probably get a few daytime pairs so that I can bring a friend, or Alex and/or his girlfriend. As usual, am very pumped about the festival, even if one of our friends had the audacity to plan his wedding for the second Saturday!
    5. Am rereading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain for book club this weekend. It’s so well-researched that it’s a pleasure to revisit. If you haven’t heard of it, here’s a Ted Talk (that introvert Bill Gates has called his favourite) in which Cain discusses her thesis.
    6. My father Franklin went to Queen’s for medical school. I found this cutting from the Queen’s Journal amongst some photographs. His father’s name was David and his parents separated when he was quite young. This is a side of my father that I had never seen before.
      Void - Poem
    7. If you’re looking for a quiet, interesting little film in Toronto (unlike most of those in the theatres these days), consider seeing Museum Hours which is now screening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. It stars Mary Margaret O’Hara and amateur actor Bobby Sommer. Here’s the trailer.

Thanks for reading. I love comments so please feel free to leave one below.

Review: Triburbia by Karl Taro Greenfeld

TriburbiaTriburbia by Karl Taro Greenfeld

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A group of Tribeca fathers that have breakfast together after dropping their kids off at an elementary school makes up the cast of characters in this novel. Triburbia is built like a set of merging short stories and depicts these rather unlikeable (for the most part) men and their problems with relationships, families, and their careers, layered over with the changes happening in the neighbourhood.

Karl Taro Greenfeld has hit a high mark with this first novel. It is engaging and hits some important issues (bullying, infidelity, journalistic shenanigans, etc) without being preachy. His description of the relationships (or lack thereof) between these men seems spot on.

This book is definitely worth hanging in there for a while if the disconnectedness of the initial chapters is off-putting. It is ultimately satisfying.

View all my reviews

Review: Cockroach by Rawi Hage

CockroachCockroach by Rawi Hage

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hage’s writing never fails to seduce. His protagonist is not particularly appealing in the usual way, but I began to care for him even as he stumbles through life, seemingly unable to have normal relationships with those around him. Much of the novel takes place in a Montreal winter and our immigrant cockroach avoids the sun, stumbles along the frigid streets, bumming cigarettes and food, and stealing. He is (I believe) unnamed in the novel.

So why did I care?

Because there is some damaged core to this character. A childhood of violence and hunger in his homeland. A suicide attempt for which he is receiving free psychiatric out-patient care. Cockroach expresses his love for those around him in sometimes (very) inappropriate ways, yet we understand him, and want the best for him.

This is not a pretty story. But it is reality for those who live on the margins. Hage has captured these lives in previous novels and hits it out of the park with this one.

View all my reviews

Review: “Up and Down” by Terry Fallis

Up and DownUp and Down by Terry Fallis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A thoroughly enjoyable read, Fallis’ third novel hits the hot spots. Canadiana, Sherlock Holmes, feisty elderly female bush pilot, public relations, and the International Space Station are all part of this fast-paced work that kept me engaged right to the end. It lost a star for predictability, but even though I knew where it was going, it was a fun ride nevertheless. His rather broad humour is not for everyone, but i found it didn’t quite cross the line into slapstick (although it comes close a couple of times.)

View all my reviews

The Bootmakers of Toronto will be hosting Fallis for a gathering on September 21. I hope to be there.

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