We’ve got a tremendous variety of reading selections for this week’s book club. I’m looking forward to the small group discussions — like the high school students described in last week’s reading on Socratic Seminars, I find that debate among peers can be incredibly instructive and push me to see things in a new way or to reconsider my ideas.

My group’s selections range from The Federalist Papers, which I don’t think I’ve read since ninth-grade history, to one of my all-time favorite short stories “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J.D. Salinger.

I’ll touch on some details and questions that struck me as I read our stories and articles in preparation for discussion.

“All the Books in the World … Except One”
The bittersweet nostalgia of this comic is poignant. I don’t often read comics or graphic novels, but I do enjoy seeing how they present visual stories. In this one in particular, I loved how the art cues the reader into the shifts in time and puts us inside the characters’ reveries of past loves and regrets.

Question for discussion: What does this story say to you about books as material objects or artifacts, and what role do they play in our lives in that sense?

The Federalist Papers, No. 1
The language in this piece is a strong contrast to the other, more contemporary stories and articles. I feel like I need a refresher in the historical context of that time, but am interested to discuss how we might approach a historical text from a modern era.

Question for discussion: What phrase or section stuck out to you and why? How does the writer’s syntax contribute to the development of his powerful tone?

“The Blind Spot”
Like several of the works of fiction chosen for this week, this story relies on dialogue to build dramatic tension and to keep the reader “in the dark” in order to build to a surprising ending. I connected the details of the characters’ feast to the twist at the end, but I am not sure I understand the relationship among the characters or their motivation.

Question for discussion: How do culture and social class play out in the dynamics of this story?

“Murder and Suicide, Respectively”
I couldn’t help but think of the famous thought experiment known as Schroedinger’s Cat as I read this piece, presented as a dramatic dialogue between two scientists. I love the way the reader can follow the scientists’ thought process as it unfolds. I’m a bit lost at the end, though, so I’m interested in how others interpreted the notion of time travel.

Question for discussion: What are some of the implications of this machine that can predict the future via blood samples — how might we imagine this story playing out if it had gone on longer?

“A Perfect Day for Bananafish”
I adore this story. The narrative voice is sharp and economical, and the details well-seen. I especially love how the scene between Seymour Glass and the little girl is presented — it hovers at the edges of unsettling, while using the innocence of the girl and the setting to hold those darker emotions at arm’s length, allowing for a bit of relief before the shocking final scene.

Question for discussion: How does the larger context of this story — namely, postwar America of a certain social class — affect our understanding of the characters and scenario? How might we read it differently without this shadow, or transported to a modern time?

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