The Year of Pleasures

Author: 
Berg, Elizabeth

Betta Nolan moves to a small town after the death of her husband to try to begin life anew. Though still dealing with her sorrow, Betta nonetheless is determined to find pleasure in her simple daily routines. Among those who help her in both expected and unexpected ways are the ten-year-old boy next door, three wild women friends from her college days with whom she reconnects, a young man who is struggling to find his place in the world, and a handsome widower who is ready for love.

Elizabeth Berg's The Year of Pleasures is about acknowledging the solace found in ordinary things: a warm bath, good food, the beauty of nature, music, and art. Above all, The Year of Pleasures is about the various kindnesses people can—and do—provide one another. Betta's journey from grief to joy is a meaningful reminder of what is available to us all, regardless of what fate has in store. This exquisite book suggests that no matter what we lose, life is ready to give bountifully to those who will receive. (From the publisher.)

Discussion Guide: 

1. Betta’s departure from Boston at the beginning of the book is abrupt, even rushed. Is her choice to move so quickly a good one? What is she running away from, and what is she running toward?

2. In the early pages of the book, while driving to the Midwest with all her belongings in tow, Betta finds a kind of freedom and relaxation on the road. What does moving, or even driving, have to do with this release Betta feels?

3. Betta refers to a belief that one is sometimes closer to someone after death than before. What does she mean when she says this? Have you experienced this, in your own life?

4. Moving to a new place fulfills a promise Betta had with John, but she makes the move alone. Discuss the ways that Betta finds strength and independence in her new life. In the moments when that strength falters, how does she cope?

5. Betta hopes to love John and to be loved by him after his death. Does she succeed? Do you think love can transcend death?

6. Do you agree with the philosopher Kierkegaard’s suggestion that no matter how many years have passed, when good friends meet again, they will simply pick up where they left off? How does this play out in the novel? In your own life?

7. Is Betta’s relationship with Tom doomed from the start? Why or why not?

8. Why do Betta and Matthew become friends? Do they want the same things from the friendship? Do you agree with the decision Betta makes, to rent the room in his apartment?

9. Betta says there are times when food is not just food. She uses food to heal, to comfort, and to seduce. Are there other ways in which food is important in this novel? In your own life, what roles do food and cooking play?

10. Finding joy in small things is important to Betta, and she uses joy as a vehicle for change. Do you agree with her philosophy? If so, what small things bring you great happiness? If not, why not?

11. What does Betta’s store symbolize? How does opening the store change her personality, and emotions? What is the importance of risk, and taking chances, in creating a new life? Have you ever undertaken a similar project?

12. A major theme of the novel is the transformation from tragedy to joy. Could Betta have found this certain kind of joy without the tragedy of losing John? How does the relationship between tragedy and joy operate, in the book and in your own life?
(Questions issued by publisher)