Tag Archives: herman koch

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.

It’s Monday….What am I reading?

it's monday

Well, poppets. My alone-time is ripe for reading and I’ve got quite the pile on the go.

In paper:

  1. I started Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorderin audiobook on my road-trip to Montreal last week. It was so compelling, and I so badly wanted to see the diagrams, that I stopped at a Scarborough Chapters in the pouring rain and ran in and picked it up, along with his previous book, The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable Fragility”  (and maybe one more dated journal that will REALLY help me get organized this time.) Taleb has been accused of being a blow-hard, full of himself, and insulting to the finance and statistical communities. That may be (and, um, is), but he’s one smart cookie, and we mustn’t be guilty of argumentum ad hominem when we consider his writing. I have a lot of thoughts running round my brain on this one, but they haven’t settled down yet, so perhaps when I’m finished I’ll devote a post to it.
  2. I’ve just started Bee Season by Myla Goldberg and it promises to be a good, quick read. I have always shied away from watching spelling bees (either in real life or in movies/tv because the drama seems too much (seriously) but that’s just my lot. I think I can handle it in a book.
  3. I’ve put down Wife Dressing: The Fine Art of Being a Well-Dressed Wife because it’s a big heavy hardcover, but I think I may dip in to it again this week while I’m relaxing.
  4. Next novel up will be The Silent Wife which I found at Value Village when I returned a non-functional appliance and had to take something in exchange immediately. I’m really trying not to buy anything I’ll only read once, but I’m human.

In digital format:

  1. I finished up a re-read of The Dinner by Herman Koch last week as it’s this month’s book club selection. I think that the discussion should be excellent as there is much to mine in this slim novel about family relationships, criminality, and story-telling.
  2. I’ve been dipping in to Getting Results the Agile Way: A Personal Results System for Work and Life, billed as a simpler version of the extremely popular but massively difficult-to-implement Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. In my retirement, I find myself with a million small things to do, and some larger projects with lots of steps and I’m not very good at actually accomplishing the things that I should be able to. It’s sort of a forest-and-trees type problem.
  3. I’ve been reading some Edgar Allan Poe short stories as part of a Goodreads discussion group and have been running hot and cold on them. Some are interesting and compelling, and some seem endlessly dull. But I’m glad I’ve been reading them as it was something of a gap in this fairly well-read gal’s literary life.
  4. Next up will be The Stranger’s Child by the wonderful Alan Hollinghurst. I’ve read his novels The Swimming Pool Library and The Line of Beauty, and both were extremely engaging.

In audiobook:

  1. I may continue listening to Antifragile in audio (above), or move on to….
  2. Herzog by Saul Bellow. I’m not sure why I requested this from the library but it was ready for downloading before I left on my trip, so I’ll give it a go. I really wish the library had a spot where you could note what exactly made you ask for a book. I must put these things into Goodreads and make my notes there.

Books, books, books.

I’m just coming down off of a 3 month reading challenge at Goodreads, and am pretty happy with how it went. I read 19 books, all of at least 250 pages and a couple over 600.

As I’ve described before, the challenge proscribes a set of tasks for which you much read books to fulfill. Example:

20.5 Let Freedom Ring!
Multiple countries celebrate their independence during the months of July, August and September. Choose one book about a country’s struggle for independence or which is set during a revolution (Les Miserables, Madame Trousseau).

These challenges take place twice a year and they get me out of my reading rut, and to try new genres and topics. I read some non-fiction (e.g., arctic explorer Andree, astronomical measurement in the 18th century), old classics (The Grapes of Wrath, Tender is the Night), and I managed to fit my real-life book club books into a couple of tasks (Wolf Hall, The Dinner). These tasks also take me out of my comfort zone as they’re often not easy reads, and so once the challenge is over I’m back to going through my carefully curated to-read lists of things that I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy.

The same Goodreads group has a variety of monthly activities, one of which is “Short Stuff”. This month, they are reading and discussing the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe and I’ve decided to read one story per day for the month. I managed to grab Great Short Works of Edgar Allan Poe from the library (in ebook format) so I can read these in bed before I go to sleep. I need to take Poe in short doses because I find the writing quite intense, requiring dictionary (regular and translation) lookups and the old “parse the sentence after reading it three times” exercise. I think it may get easier as I get used to his style.  So far, I’ve read Mezengerstein (Oct 1) and Loss of Breath (Oct 2).

While searching for an epistolary novel for one of the tasks last month, I came across e Squared by Matt Beaumont, a humorous tale that takes place in a new-age ad agency, told in a series of emails, texts, and blog posts. I didn’t have time to read it for the challenge but it arrived from the library a few days ago so I’m halfway through that. I’m currently listening to Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes, a sort of fictionalized biography-mystery about, well, Gustave Flaubert’s parrot.

Later this month, I’ll be re-reading The Dinner by Herman Koch as it’s our October book club read. I saw the film based on the novel at TIFF 2013 and wanted to read the book prior to the screening. Sadly, my aging brain tends to forget what I read, so I’ll need to go through this one again. I’m also moderating the club meeting this month so I’ll be doing a little research about the author and the book.

What’s up next? Just loaded an audiobook of Nassim Taleb‘s  Anti-Fragile: Things that Gain from Disorder onto my iPhone after Alex recommended this author. Taleb is a controversial writer and academic in the area of statistics and risk management and takes a number of contrarian stances on standard statistical practice. I’ll also be getting back to clearing my bookshelves by reading and passing on from my collection.

So, what are you reading these days? I love comments. Click and post.

[Disclaimer: Links to books go to amazon.ca. I am an amazon affiliate and get a tiny commission (pennies) if you buy a book. No pressure. At all.]