Humorous

The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion

Author: 
Flagg, Fannie

A new comic mystery novel about two women who are forced to reimagine who they are and what they are capable of.
 
Mrs. Sookie Poole of Point Clear, Alabama, has just married off the last of her three daughters and is looking forward to relaxing and perhaps traveling with her husband, Earle. The only thing left to contend with now is her mother, the formidable and imposing Lenore Simmons Krackenberry—never an easy task. Lenore may be a lot of fun for other people, but is, for the most part, an overbearing presence for her daughter. Then one day, quite by accident, Sookie discovers a shocking secret about her mother’s past that knocks her for a loop and suddenly calls into question everything she ever thought she knew about herself, her family, and her future.

Feeling like a stranger in her own life, and fearful of confronting her mother with questions, Sookie begins a search for answers that takes her to California, the Midwest, and back in time, to the 1940s, when an irrepressible woman named Fritzi takes on the job of running her family’s filling station. With so many men off to war, it’s up to Fritzi and her enterprising younger sisters to keep it going. Soon truck drivers are changing their routes to fill up at the All-Girl Filling Station. But before long, Fritzi sees an opportunity for an even more groundbreaking adventure when she receives a life-changing invitation from the U.S. military to assist in the war effort. As Sookie learns more and more about Fritzi’s story, she finds herself with new answers to the questions she’s been asking her whole life.

The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion is a perfect combination of comedy, mystery, wisdom, and charm. Fabulous, fun-loving, spanning decades, generations, and centered on a little-known aspect of America’s twentieth-century story, The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion is Fannie Flagg, the bestselling "born storyteller" (New York Times Book Review), at her irresistible best. (From the publisher.)

Discussion Guide: 

1. A lot of Southern identity is wrapped up in one’s family history. “Now, just who are your people?” is an oft-quoted phrase around the region. Sookie’s biggest crisis comes when she realizes that her “people” aren’t actually who she thought they were. How does Sookie’s discovery of her true family affect her identity? How does your own heritage affect your identity?

2. Though Sookie tells us that Lenore’s nickname, “Winged Victory,” came from the way she entered a room—as if she were the statuesque piece on the hood of a car rushing in—how might “Winged Victory” reflect Lenore’s personality in other ways? Does her representation as a classical goddess serve to heighten the air of history and tradition that surrounds her? How might the image of a winged woman tie Lenore in with the ladies of the WASPs?

3. Though Sookie tells us that Lenore’s nickname, “Winged Victory,” came from the way she entered a room—as if she were the statuesque piece on the hood of a car rushing in—how might “Winged Victory” reflect Lenore’s personality in other ways? Does her representation as a classical goddess serve to heighten the air of history and tradition that surrounds her? How might the image of a winged woman tie Lenore in with the ladies of the WASPs?

4. Sookie’s best friend, Marvaleen, is constantly trying different suggestions from her life coach, Edna Yorba Zorbra. From journaling to yoga to the Goddess Within group, which meets in a yurt, Marvaleen tries every method possible to get over her divorce. How does Sookie’s approach to dealing with her problems differ from Marvaleen’s? Do you think her friendship with Marvaleen might have helped push her to confront the question of her mother?

5. In The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion, we learn about a mostly unknown part of American history—the WASPs of World War II. These women went for thirty-five years without recognition because their records of service were sealed and classified. Were you surprised to learn about this? What parts of the WASPs’ story spoke to you?

6. As Sookie comes to terms with her new identity, so must the rest of her family. Sookie’s realization that “Dee Dee may not be a Simmons by birth, but she was certainly Lenore’s granddaughter, all right” becomes a comforting thought. Have there been times in your life when you have felt so connected to people that you considered them family? What types of circumstances can create such a bond?

7. Sookie tells her friend one day, “I’m telling you, Dena, when you live long enough to see your children begin to look at you with different eyes, and you can look at them not as your children, but as people, it’s worth getting older with all the creaks and wrinkles.” Have you experienced this change yet with your own parents or children? If so, what were the circumstances in which you began to see them in a different light? How did this make your relationship even more special?

8. “Blue Jay Away,” Sookie’s brand-new invention, keeps Sookie’s house finches and chickadees fed, while also making Sookie famous. Who do you think have been the blue jays in Sookie’s own life? Has she learned to manage them successfully?

9. As Pat Conroy says, Fannie Flagg can make even the Polish seem Southern. A large part of Southern and Polish identity is found in their culture—the food, the music, the values. What are some of the things that are unique to your culture? How do they help bring people together?

10. Throughout the book, Dee Dee and Lenore often represent many characteristics that Sookie finds frustrating about being a Simmons, such as the time Dee Dee had to be driven to the church in the back of a moving van so that her Gone with the Wind wedding dress wouldn’t be messed up. Once Sookie gains perspective on her family, however, she comes to love and accept Dee Dee’s obsession with their history. Have there been times when your own friends or family have frustrated you with their opinions? How were you able to gain perspective and accept their differences?

11. A major theme in this book is accepting your home. Sookie experiences a homecoming many times—after she first meets Fritzi and returns to Point Clear, when she goes to Lenore’s bedside at Westminster Village, and when she flies to Pulaski for the All-Girl Filling Station’s last reunion. What is your favorite part about going home? Who are the people who make home a home for you?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop

Author: 
Flagg, Fannie

Bud Threadgoode grew up in the bustling little railroad town of Whistle Stop, Alabama, with his mother Ruth, church going and proper, and the fun-loving hell-raiser, his Aunt Idgie. Together they ran the town's popular Whistle Stop Café, known far and wide for its famous "Fried Green Tomatoes." And as Bud often said of his childhood, "How lucky can you get?" But sadly, the railroad yards began to shut down and the town became a ghost town, with nothing left but boarded-up buildings and memories of a happier time. Then one day, Bud decides to take one last trip, just to see where his beloved Whistle Stop used to be. In so doing, he discovers new surprises about Idgie's life and about other beloved Fried Green Tomatoes characters, and about the town itself. He also sets off a series of events, both touching and inspiring, which change his life and the lives of his daughter and others. Could these events all be just coincidences? Or something else? And can you go home again?-- Provided by publisher.

Genre: 
Discussion Guide: 
1.There are so many wonderful (and a few not-so-wonderful) characters in this novel. Which character do you relate to most, and why? Is there a character you wish you could be more like?
2.“I’ve often wondered where all those memories go after we die,” Dot Weems writes in a Christmas letter. “Are they still floating around up in the ether somewhere, or do they die with us?” Memory is a major theme in The Won-der Boy of Whistle Stop: Characters cheer themselves up with happy memories, seek out characters who share their memories, and mourn mem-ories that fade. Share one of your favorite memories with your discussion group—or if you’re reading solo, write it down. What do you love about it? Has the memory changed over time?
3.Martha Lee is obsessed with status and the idea of “good” (meaning wealthy) families. Have you ever been tempted to think this way? Discuss what one loses—and the wonderful people they might not ever meet—by associating only with those deemed “worthy.”
4.Ruthie asks Bud to write his life story after reading an article saying that everyone should write out a life history for their family to have in the future. Did you ever ask your parents or grandparents about their lives? If so, what stories do you remember? What stories will you pass on from your own life? For inspiration, start with something Bud wrote about: What was the great-est day you personally lived through?
5.The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop shifts back and forth through time, and across multiple characters’ perspectives. What are the benefits of nonlinear story-telling like this? 6.Losing loved ones is a part of life, and so many characters experience heart-breaking loss in the book. Bud loses Peggy, Ruthie loses Brooks—you could even argue that Bud loses Whistle Stop. How does each character cope with loss differently? How have you dealt with loss in the past? 7.Sometimes, a loss causes a character to lose part of his or her identity. This happens to Bud when he loses his other half, Peggy; it happens to Ruthie when she loses her identity as a wife and mother (of young children); and it even happens to Martha Lee when she realizes she’s built her identity on a false lineage. What are some of the ways these characters rebuild their identities once they’ve been shattered? Have you ever experienced some-thing that caused you to have to rebuild or reconsider your identity?
8.There are so many female entrepreneurs and business owners in this book, from Ruth and Idgie to Opal Butts to Evelyn Couch. What hardships did these women face in trying to live their dreams? How did they inspire the women who came after them?
9.Though they aren’t related by blood, Evelyn and Ruthie decide to declare themselves sisters. Do you think we should be able to choose our families? Who are some friends in your life who have become more like family?
10.Regret is a natural consequence of life: We simply don’t get the chance to do everything we’d like, the way Bud and Peggy never got the chance to buy a house near Idgie and retire. How do characters deal with regret? How do you deal with feelings of regret in your own life? Do you think it’s possible to avoid these feelings? Why or why not?
11.At the end of the book, kismet and connection bring the descendants of former Whistle Stop residents together as they build a new town (an “all-gal town,” as Evelyn puts it!). What role have surprising connections and strange coincidences played in your own life? In what ways does the world sometimes feel like one big small town?

Bossypants

Author: 
Fey, Tina

Before Liz Lemon, before "Weekend Update," before "Sarah Palin," Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV.

She has seen both these dreams come true.

At last, Tina Fey's story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon -- from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence.

Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we've always suspected: you're no one until someone calls you bossy.

Discussion Guide: 

1. Readers and reviewers are all over the map on Bossypants: some see it as a revealing memoir, others as an act of concealment, revealing very little of her personal life. Where do you stand on Fey's book? Is the book a memoir...or a comedy book filled with one-liners. Is it humorous...or insightful...or neither? Do you want more? Or does it leave you satisfied?

2. Speaking of one-liners, which ones do you find funny or, perhaps, insightful? Talk about the lines that tickled your funny bone...or others that struck the philosopher in you.

3. Fey has never been afraid to poke fun at female vulnerability...or to twist it. How does she do that here? Do you appreciate her take on the feminine? What matters most to Fey about being a woman? What matters most to you—whether you're a woman...or a man?

4. Which essay pieces do you find most engaging or provocative—the women's magazine parody, the "prayer" for her daughter, the pretend facts-of-life brochure, or the satirical "me time" for parents?

5. How have Fey's growing-up years shaped her? Does she devote time (and ink) telling us? If not, why not?

6. Fey takes issue with various comments, by males, that women are not funny. Here is Fey's own comment on that stance:

It's an impressively arrogant move to conclude that just because you don't like something, it is empirically not good. I don't like Chinese food, but I don't write articles trying to prove that it doesn't exist.

Do you agree with her...or are men funnier than women? Is their humor different?

7. Artistically and philosophically speaking, authors tend to explore life's tragedies and the ways in which ordinary individuals cope with sorrow. Yet Fey finds that real life teaches her about comedy. What, then, is funny about life—is it funny? What kind of funny? Have you ever made observations—about people and situations—that could be turned into comedy skits or one-liners?

8. Talk about Fey's how-to advice on improv comedy. How did it prepare her for Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock?

9. What's with the book's cover? Why would Fey have given herself hairy, masculine arms?

10. What does Fey tell us about her personal life—her husband, for instance? What do we know about him?

11. What do you think of Tina Fey? Has reading Bossypants altered your view of her? Why or why not?

12. Is Fey really Liz Lemon...or is Liz really Tina Fey? Who wrote this book—Tina or Liz? In other words, are they one in the same?

Visiting Tom : a Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace

Author: 
Perry, Michael

Acclaimed author Perry returns with the tale of Tom Hartwig, an old-timer best known locally for building and firing homemade cannons. Famous for driving a team of oxen in local parades, Tom has an endless reservoir of stories dating back to the days of his prize Model A.

 

What can we learn about life, love, and artillery from an eighty-two-year-old man whose favorite hobby is firing his homemade cannons? Visit by visit—often with his young daughters in tow—author Michael Perry finds out.

 

Toiling in his shop, Tom Hartwig makes gag shovel handles, parts for quarter-million-dollar farm equipment, and—now and then—batches of potentially “extralegal” explosives. Tom, who is approaching his sixtieth wedding anniversary with his wife, Arlene, and is famous for driving a team of oxen in local parades, has stories dating back to the days of his prize Model A and an antiauthoritarian streak refreshed daily by the interstate that was shoved through his front yard in 1965 and now dumps more than eight million vehicles past his kitchen window every year. And yet Visiting Tom is dominated by the elderly man’s equanimity and ultimately—when he and Perry converse as husbands and the fathers of daughters—unvarnished tenderness.

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Discussion Guide: 

General Book Club Discussion Questions

1. What did you like best about this book?

2. What did you like least about this book?

3. What other books did this remind you of?

4. Which characters in the book did you like best?

5. Which characters did you like least?

6. If you were making a movie of this book, who would you cast?

7. Share a favorite quote from the book. Why did this quote stand out?

8. What other books by this author have you read? How did they compare to this book?

9. Would you read another book by this author? Why or why not?

10. What feelings did this book evoke for you?

11. What did you think of the book’s length? If it’s too long, what would you cut? If too short, what would you add?

12. What songs does this book make you think of? Create a book group playlist together!

13. If you got the chance to ask the author of this book one question, what would it be?

14. Which character in the book would you most like to meet?

15. Which places in the book would you most like to visit?

16. What do you think of the book’s title? How does it relate to the book’s contents? What other title might you choose?

17. What do you think of the book’s cover? How well does it convey what the book is about? If the book has been published with different covers, which one do you like best?

18. What do you think the author’s purpose was in writing this book? What ideas was he or she trying to get across?

19. How original and unique was this book?

20. If you could hear this same story from another person’s point of view, who would you choose?

21. What artist would you choose to illustrate this book? What kinds of illustrations would you include?

 

Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons

Author: 
Landvik, Lorna

The women of Freesia Court are convinced that there is nothing good coffee, delicious desserts, and a strong shoulder can’t fix. Laughter is the glue that holds them together—the foundation of a book group they call AHEB (Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons), an unofficial “club” that becomes much more. It becomes a lifeline. Holding on through forty eventful years, there’s Faith, a lonely mother of twins who harbors a terrible secret that has condemned her to living a lie; big, beautiful Audrey, the resident sex queen who knows that with good posture and an attitude you can get away with anything; Merit, the doctor’s shy wife with the face of an angel and the private hell of an abusive husband; Kari, a wise woman with a wonderful laugh who knows that the greatest gifts appear after life’s fiercest storms; and finally, Slip, a tiny spitfire of a woman who isn’t afraid to look trouble straight in the eye. 

This stalwart group of friends depicts a special slice of American life, of stay-at-home days and new careers, of children and grandchildren, of bold beginnings and second chances, in which the power of forgiveness, understanding, and the perfectly timed giggle fit is the CPR that mends broken hearts and shattered dreams.

Discussion Guide: 

1. During the sixties and seventies, the Angry Housewives smoked cigarettes and threw back highballs—even while pregnant—without knowledge of the harm it could do. If they could have glimpsed their futures then, what do you think would have surprised them most about their future selves? What is one thing you know now that you would have really appreciated being aware of ten years ago?

2. Why do you think groups like AHEB—women who live near each other, raise children together, and bond over books together—persist even in a climate of working moms and in a culture that is flooded with other types of media?

3. Discuss Faith's letters to her deceased mother. What kind of catharsis do they provide Faith, and how do the tone and nature of the letters change as the years go by?

4. Audrey gets a kick out of introducing Kari to strangers as a recently released convict. Discuss the women's jokes, nicknames, and embarrassing moments—how does humor work to solidify friendship?

5. Kari faces a critical decision when Mary Jo forbids her from telling Anders that the baby is his grandchild. Would you be able to keep such a secret? For which character is this secret most constructive; for which is it most destructive?

6. The women suggest that Slip thinks that by wearing revealing clothes Audrey perpetuates her role as a sex object and "'subverts [her] real self." Audrey replies that she takes no one's opinion into account when she dresses—she simply likes it. How much does physical appearance burden or bless the women in AHEB? Do you think it is easy to make generalizations regarding persons who dress provocatively?

7. Faith becomes a guardian figure after staying up with the gun waiting for Eric Iverson's return, and keeping watch over Slip in the hospital bed, prepared to confront the Grim Reaper. What do you think are her conscious or subconscious motivations for being ever watchful?

8. Audrey has a talent for sensing upcoming events. In what ways do her capabilities influence how she deals with her family? Does it differ from how they affect her friendships? How much do you believe in psychic phenomena? Would being endowed with such a gift help or hinder one's decisions?

9. Merit is ashamed that a part of her believes her mother's statement that her brave Aunt Gaylene—happily unmarried, fulfilled with friends and books—was "living half a life." What sides of Merit's character produce these contradictory feelings? How do you think the other women of AHEB would respond to this opinion, and why?

10. At the AHEB meeting for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the women toast their favorite and most influential teachers. In what other ways does the act of teaching influence the relationships in this novel?

11. Slip and Audrey allow a conflict between their children to seriously harm their friendship for a short time. If you ever had the desire to openly criticize a friend because of the way he or she raised a child, would you do so? How does Landvik's portrayal of differing parenting techniques and the children they produce function as social commentary within the novel?

12. What do you think caused Faith to (almost absent-mindedly) bring Audrey to Trilby? How did confronting Beau's sexuality help her have the strength to confront the reality of her own past?

13. Merit attributes her quiet acts of rebellion—trash rolled up furtively in her hair, choosing only banned books for AHEB meetings—to her maintenance of sanity during her years of marriage. What do you make of these coping methods? How do they compare to the methods of the other women in AHEB? Discuss your own strategies for staying lucid and balanced when confronted with situations that can be unbearable.

14. Kari and Mary Jo both question the timing and content of their admission to Julia after it's too late. Do you think it would have been wiser to have Julia grow up knowing the truth, or perhaps never knowing at all? How do you feel about Kari's impromptu decision to come clean in front of Mary Jo and without her prior knowledge? Was Julia right to be so upset?

15. How do you feel about the later inclusion of Grant as a member of AHEB? Did you think the inclusion of a male affected their particular group dynamic? What is valuable about inviting men to participate in women's dialogue?

16. Merit eventually finds Paradise, literally and figuratively. Do you believe that good things come to people who wait?

17. At the peace march, Fred states that, "Only by trying to help someone else save their life could I save my own." What do you make of this statement considering the horrors he experienced during the war? Do other characters in the novel embody or contradict this notion? Are certain characters better described as saviors than saved?

18. How are midwestern values portrayed in this book? In what ways might the book have differed if it had been set in the northeast or the south?

19. Slip is described throughout the book as the strongest— physically—of the Angry Housewives, in addition to her dynamic will and stalwart convictions. What emotions are stirred when someone who is perceived as invincible suddenly becomes critically ill? How does she continue to display conviction and energy? Do you think she will prevail?

20. Audrey says she believes in luck and God acting in tandem. What events in her life do you think contributed to this belief? How much weight do you give this sentiment regarding your own life? Do you think people tend to attribute life's painful events more to luck or to God? What about the joyous events?

21. Did you like the format of the book? How did giving every character the opportunity to voice their thoughts support the all-for-one and one-for-all theme of the book and the club itself?

22. This book covers a lot of ground, both personal and political. What do you think the most important lesson these women learn over thirty years is? Which characters were most ripe for change with the political and cultural tide? Whose story did you think most embodied the emergence of women as a growing force outside the home?

23. In order to attain a greater understanding of herself, Faith utilizes therapy, learns from her friendships and culls inspiration from books. How do these three supplement each other as means of self discovery? Which books and authors have inspired you most through the years?

24. What did you think of Merit's idea to unite mothers around the world to stop war and halt violence? Were you surprised this notion came from her?

25. Slip tells Merit that re-dubbing their book club Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons would be taking their husbands' words and "giving them and their chauvinism the finger." What other subversive techniques do the women display for giving chauvinism the finger? Do you feel it's an apt name for the club and all it turns out to be?

26. Discuss Kari's notion that her heart was able to put itself back together after the loss of Bjorn much like a lizard that can regenerate a tail. Do you think this sort of regeneration would have ever been possible without the arrival of Julia?

27. Marjorie McMahon has a plethora of nicknames: Slip, Warrior Bear, the Big Kahuna; and she is called everything from a leprechaun to a member of a "bloodstained group of nuts." What in her character lends itself so well to these various labels? Which do you think is the most accurate?

28. What do you think about Merit's final interaction with Eric Iverson? Was the slap beneath her or just what he deserved?

29. How does AHEB compare to your book club? Are there any ideas in the novel, like themes for meetings, which you'd like to incorporate?

30. Which character was your favorite? Was she or he the one you identified most with?

31. A number of the characters in the book harbor secrets. What does secret-keeping do to characters like Faith and Fred, who fear their actual secrets as opposed to Kari or Beau who fear the reactions of others?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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