1. Early in her work in philanthropy, Melinda confesses that she became overwhelmed by it all and was ready to quit. When has saying "I quit" let you to accept a deeper commitment? ("I suspect most of us, at one time or another, say "I quit." And we often find that "quitting" is just a painful step on the way to a deeper commitment." 24)
2. "Wisdom isn't about accumulating more facts; it's about understanding big truths in a deeper way...What do you know now in a deeper way than you knew it before?" (27)
3. At the end of her book, Melinda provides a resource guide of organizations that work to empower women and children. What groups would you add to this list?
4. "American billionaires giving away money will mess everything up!" (30) Do you agree or disagree -- where do you fall on that scale? Has this book changed your views? (Also see p.171.)
5. "Saving lives starts with bringing everyone in. Our societies will be healthiest when they have no outsiders." (53) What would it look like in your community to "bring everyone in" -- including children in discussion, saying hi to neighbors, greeting the homeless...?
6. "It's not enough to help outsiders fight their way in-- the real triumph will come when we no longer push anyone out." (53) How does 'fighting their way in' look different from 'no longer pushing anyone out'?
7. "No matter what views others may have, I am the one who has to answer for my actions, and this is my answer." (74) What do you make of Melinda's tone throughout the book? How does she strike a balance of firm, yet humble (and vulnerable)?
8. "There will never be a system that captures everything, so there will never be a substitute for hearing women's stories. But we have to keep working to get better data so we can understand the lives of the people we serve." (77) What is the role of data versus stories? How do you feel about the balance of data and anecdotes in this book?
9. "Sometimes the best thing a mother can do for her children is not have another child." (78) Melinda sets this sentence apart so we can process it. How do you react?
10. "I've come to learn that stigma is always an effort to suppress someone's voice. It forces people to hide in shame. The best way to fight back is to speak up -- to say openly the very thing that others stigmatize. It's a direct attack on the self-censorship that stigma needs to survive." (79) How have you seen this play out in your own lives and your own culture?
11. Reading Melinda's description of tenuous policy in the USA, how shocking is the precarious state of progress? (see p. 84-88)
12. Regarding 10-year-old Sona's request to have a teacher, Melinda makes it sound simple enough to talk to the government and make it happen. How much hard work and red tape is involved in this work really?
13. How do you feel Melinda balances the stories from the USA with those around the globe? Are the sides lopsided? Are we really so different from each other?
14. Remember Vicki's story about growing up in rural Kentucky and her stepdad threatening to disown her for going to college. How do you react to Melinda's observation that "as they see it, their culture doesn't hold people back; it holds people together. In their eyes, pursuing excellence can look like disowning your people”? (97)
15. What do you make of her statements regarding the importance of love? "The first defense against a culture that hates you is a person who loves you." and "Only love can safely handle power." (113) What does that look like in practice?
16. Melinda writes, "If there is any meaning in life greater than connecting with other human beings, I haven't found it." (119) Do you agree or disagree? What do you find meaningful?
17. "According to MenCare, stay-at-home dads show the same brain-hormone changes as stay-at-home moms, which suggests that the idea that mothers are biologically more suited to take care of kids isn't necessarily true." (130) What are these hormone changes? Anything like insanity?
18. Melinda enters very private, sensitive conversations. Indeed, what gives her the right to get involved? (see p. 171)
19. What do you make of the writing style and organization of this book? Where did you want more or less of Melinda's personal story?
20. What do you make of Charlotte's critique of the culture -- "It's not okay for women to cry at work, but it's okay for men to YELL at work. Which is the more mature emotional response?" (211-212)
21. Melinda talks about how her faith influences her work. How did you react to this, given your religious or non-religious background? (see p.73 and p.212-3 and elsewhere)
22. What do you make of her assertion that tech will decide how we live, therefore necessitating contributions of a diverse group of people? (see Joy's work on facial analysis software, page 228)
23. What do you make of the study that found gender diversity good for results? "...collective intelligence of a workgroup is correlated to three factors: the average social sensitivity of the group members, the group's ability to take turns contributing, and the proportion of females in the group...Gender diversity is not just good for women; it's good for anyone who wants results." (229)
24. What do you make of the data that the USA is one of only 7 countries that does not provide paid maternity leave? (see p.237)
25. What do you make of her take on successful social movements, asserting that they are driven by "strong activism and the ability to take pain without passing it on." (256) She adds that "the most radical approach to resistance is acceptance -- and acceptance does not mean accepting the world as it is. It means accepting our pain as it is." (259)
26. Do you share her belief in the power of women's groups? "I believe women's groups are essential for each of us individually but also for society generally -- because progress depends on inclusion, and inclusion begins with women...This is not about bringing women in and leaving others out. It's about bringing women in as a way to bring everyone in." (261-2)
27. Melinda claims "the supreme goal for humanity is not equality but connection." (263) Do you agree or disagree? Could humanity have a supreme goal?
Thanks so much for coming out to discuss The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates. We were a smaller group but managed to have a spirited conversation about this one!
I personally identified with Melinda Gates so much (aside from her billions of dollars and apparently incredible help with childcare) that when I finished it I found myself hoping for the same kind of closeness and longevity that she has found through her women's groups (spiritual group, jogging group, coworkers). Also similar to her, looking out to the world causes me to reflect on what kind of change I want to see in myself and in my own community.
Critics and book club members alike wished at times for more of a memoir from Ms. Gates, when, to me, it seemed her goal was to present situations where empowering women led to stronger relationships and communities. She could have co-written this book with one of the workers on the ground in India (as some suggested would have been more interesting) in order to hear more about the process of the work, and yet, while that would have been a valuable message, I wonder if her structure as is opens doors to a greater opportunity: As Ms. Gates learned these lessons from her foundation's work, she was convicted to turn inward and examine gender equality in her own marriage, in her own workplace. And I felt her invitation to us, to seek connection and equality in our own lives.
Ms. Gates is a philanthropist, a software engineer, a businesswoman. But she has an incredibly hard time expressing herself, which is perhaps one reason why we don't hear more personal reflection and anecdotes.
But she put herself out there, and I am glad she did. Ms. Gates seemed influenced by Brene Brown who she describes as "a genius in stating big truths with few words" (231). I was fortunate to be rereading Daring Greatly for a book group at church while reading The Moment of Lift, so Brown's definitions were fresh in my mind. And I think Ms. Gates dared greatly, despite not being a writer or being comfortable with vulnerability.
At the end of her book, Ms. Gates lists organizations that work to advance the rights of women and children. Some were more familiar to us than others, and we entered an honest discussion about the struggle of how to decide where to give money. Should you give a dollar to the woman on the side of the road? We had valid arguments for yes and for no.
I want to pass along the advice of a mom who recently told me she believes that "if you are moved to give, then give. You don't have to worry about where that money will go. You meant it for good and God will honor that." If that's too religious a statement, then consider this. I believe that at the very least, when you give, you cultivate a spirit of kindness and generosity that you want to see in the world. I like the way Brene Brown puts it in Daring Greatly, that sacrifice means to make sacred or to make holy. Whether you give to individuals or organizations, locally or abroad, I believe your gift is similarly set apart.
I share Ms. Gates' belief that the ultimate goal of humanity is connection. To use Brene Brown's analogy of twinkle lights, I believe this book club is more than reading books together. I believe that when we come together as women, we are the twinkle lights that remind us of the hope we have in dark places.
And as we enter a literally dark season...please join us in December for a party and book swap! Grab any old or new book from your shelf and look forward to hearing about titles from everyone else. Also, please bring a suggestion for January's pick if you have one -- we'll place them in a hat and draw a choice. If you can't make it, feel free to email in your suggestion, and I'll make sure it gets in the hat. If you have a chance to bring a drink or treat to share, that would be wonderful too.
Hope to see you there!
I am interested to hear what you thought about this book. In the beginning I found it slow, dragging and predictable, but around page 266, as the Yale and Fiona plots started to come together, I found that the characters' emotions and my investment grew and only accelerated towards the end. There is much we could discuss, and you can find suggested discussion questions below.
Drop us a line and let us know if we can hope to see you!
1. What did you like / dislike?
2. What was the best part? (Stylistically, I really liked the July 15, 1986 chapter when Yale learns he tested positive.)
3. How did you reconcile the Fiona of 1985 with the Fiona of 2015?
4. What did you make of the narrative structure -- the merging of two times and places?
5. "Ageism is the only self-correcting prejudice, isn't it?" says Richard, p.113. What do you make of his assertion? Does it make you realize who you expected to survive? ("How utterly strange that Julian could have a second life, a whole entire life, when Fiona had been living for the past thirty years in a deafening echo. She'd been tending the graveyard alone, oblivious to the fact that the world had moved on, that one of the graves had been empty this whole time." 360)
6. When did you know Charlie cheated? Did he cheat?
7. What do you make of the book cover art?
8. Fiona comments that Jake couldn't understand the trauma of the 80s AIDS epidemic. What is the author's message to young people today? What should we remember and understand about inter-generational trauma by retelling the stories from that time? ("Julian came up there every single day. He wasn't the smartest guy, but he was loyal and he felt things more than other people. You, you numb out with alcohol, right? Some people actually feel things." (165) "I've been processing for thirty years...since you were watching Saturday morning cartoons in your pajamas." 171)
9. After Nico's father kicks him out of the house, Fiona blames her mother for not standing up to him. What do you make of her mother's response: "You'll never know anyone's marriage but your own. And even then, you'll only know half of it." (201)
10. If the defining relationship of the book is Yale and Fiona's, then how does it work that there is no conflict between them? What keeps this story and set of stories moving?
11. What did you make of the character development in this book? Who did you know well? Who did you want to know better?
12. Was it the author's intent to remind readers that AIDS is still a serious killer? ("A million people in the world had died of AIDS in the past year, and she hadn't cried about it once. A million people! She spent a long time asking herself if she was racist, or if it was about the width of the Atlantic Ocean...And maybe, too, she only had room in her heart, in this lifetime, for one big cause, the arc of one disaster." 345)
13. How is judgment portrayed in this book? Did you want to judge? Is there any room for judgment? ("The thing is," Teddy said, "the disease itself feels like a judgment. We've all got a little Jesse Helms on our shoulder, right? If you got it from sleeping with a thousand guys, then it's a judgment on your promiscuity. If you got it from sleeping with one guy once, that's almost worse, it's like a judgement on all of us, like the act itself is the problem and not the number of times you did it. And if you got it because you thought you couldn't it's a judgment on your hubris. And if you got it because you knew you could and you didn't care, it's a judgment on how much you hate yourself. Isn't that why the world loves Ryan White [hemophiliac, AIDS poster child] so much? How could God have it out for some poor kid with a blood disorder? But then people are still being terrible. They're judging him for being sick, not even for the way he got it." 326)
14. Is the author trying to make a distinction between or comment on sex and love and friendship? What roles do each play? And what do you make of Yale finding friendship at the end? ("And was friendship that different in the end from love? You took the possibility of sex out of it, and it was all about the moment anyway. Being here, right now, in someone's life. Making room for someone in yours." 383)
15. Are there any honorable parents? Are there any dishonorable parents?
16. What do you make of Fiona and Claire's relationship? Why do you think the author chose to use the Hosanna cult as a mechanism to show the disconnection between Fiona and Claire? Why the added layer of another belief system?
17. What do you make of the quotes at the beginning of the text?
"We were the great believers. I have never cared for any men as much as for these who felt the first springs when I did, and saw death ahead, and were reprieved -- and who now walk the long stormy summer." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald, "My Generation"
"the world is a wonder, but the portions are small" -- Rebecca Hazelton, "Slash Fiction"
18. Did you want Asher to return to Chicago when Yale was dying?
19. Is that really what Yale believes of love? As he looks at Ranko's self-portrait: "But here it hung, and it was an artifact of love. Well--of a homeless, doomed, selfish, ridiculous love, but what other kind had ever existed?" (395) What about Fiona's love for Yale?
20. How do we remember a life? By it's ending? By going back to the beginning? "As he got sicker, it was more and more often how he thought of people--of Charlie, certainly, and of everyone else here or gone: not as the sum of all the disappointments, but as every beginning they'd ever represented, every promise." (396)
21. What did you appreciate of the ties between Yale and Nora? The link of death by congestive heart failure.... Nora's assertion that life is time travel and Yale's desire to visualize parallel lives... Nora's love for Ranko compared to Yale's love to ...? Neither Nora nor Yale living long enough to see themselves in a famous art show...
22. Both art shows revisit the past. How do they play into Nora's wish for reincarnation?
23. How much better can you describe heartache than this: "If we could just be on earth at the same place and same time as everyone we loved, if we could be born together and die together, it would be so simple. And it's not. But listen: You two are on the planet at the same time. You're in the same place now. That's a miracle. I just want to say that." (401)
24. What is it about the hype of your last meal? "One of the volunteers had told him a long time ago that whenever someone had a good breakfast, that was it--the patient only had a few hours left." (402) My dog also ate breakfast the day she died...and I remember a patient of mine whose diet I liberalized at the end -- she immediately ordered grilled cheese and fries and died a few hours later.
25. What do you make of the parallel description of the opening of Nora's show at the Brigg and Richard's at the Pompidou?
26. What do you make of the symbolism of water and death by drowning in this book?
Every mention of Lake Michigan.
Yale swimming at Hull House where Asher was.
All of the bodily fluids.
"She stopped and looked at Yale before she left the room, a look you'd throw a drowning man as you took the last life preserver." (300)
"The room was dark, and Roman smelled like honey and cigarettes, and Yale walked through the door like he was diving into a sunken ship." (314)
"He drowned. I said that to the doctors and they said, no, that wasn't quite it, but I know what I saw. He drowned." (388)
"Your pupils were just so dilated. It was like watching someone trapped in a tank of water." (403)
"Yale had a dream that he was swimming at the bottom of the Hull House pool, looking up but unable to surface--and when he awoke, it was to struggle for breath in a room devoid of air." (404)
Thanks for coming out in the drizzle last night to discuss The Great Believers and celebrate the Tipsy Mamas' Book Club turning three! Thank you for bringing such delicious treats and beverages! If you didn't get a chance to swipe a goody bag on your way out, I have extras!
While we had some critiques about plot points along the way, we appreciated Rebecca Makkai's effort to tell a compelling story of inter-generational trauma. Thank you so much for sharing your personal histories with the AIDS epidemic -- how it influenced your education...and your families...
For next month, please join us for a discussion of The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates. We hope this will be an uplifting report at a time of year (and life) when we could all use a boost. However, it seems that we might have some readers in our midst who have worked with philanthropy and so might bring a more complex perspective to the table. We don't want to cause undue angst through our book choices, but if you can stomach facing something hard, please, please bring your voices!
Hope to see you there!
The second reason is this: As I was reading, I found much to chew on...but I thought if I highlighted what really jumped out to me, I may reveal my issue. :) I mean, this is book club, right? Not therapy? Then again, maybe there are aspects of book club that dovetail therapy -- see questions #3 and #17.
Drop us a line and let us know if we can hope to see you!
1. Did you like this book?
2. Is this a memoir or a self-help book? What did you make of the format?
3. What stood out to you from the text?
4. Did it change your perspective on therapy (or a bad breakup)? He [Wendell] knows what all therapists know: That the presenting problem, the issue someone comes in with, is often just one aspect of a larger problem, if not a red herring entirely. He knows that most people are brilliant at finding ways to filter out the things they don't want to look at, at using distractions or defenses to keep threatening feelings at bay. He knows that pushing aside emotions only makes them stronger, but that before he goes in and destroys somebody's defense -- whether that defense is obsessing about another person or pretending not to see what's in plain sight -- he needs to help the patient replace the defense with something else so that he doesn't leave the person raw and exposed with no protection whatsoever. As the term implies, defenses serve a useful purpose. They shield people from injury...until they no longer need them. / It's in the ellipsis that therapists work. (47-8)
5. Have you ever associated numbing behavior with being overwhelmed? People often mistake numbness for nothingness, but numbness isn't the absence of feelings; it's a response to being overwhelmed by too many feelings. (56)
6. Lori describes a therapist's work as imagining her patients down the line. We do this not just on that first day but in every single session, because that image allows us to hold for them the hope that they can't yet muster themselves... (58) What does holding hope look like in your line of work?
7. What do you make of her concept that the future is also the present? We tend to think that the future happens later, but we're creating it in our minds every day. When the present falls apart, so does the future we had associated with it. And having the future taken away is the mother of all plot twists. But if we spend the present trying to fix the past or control the future, we remain stuck in place, in perpetual regret. By Google-stalking Boyfriend, I've been watching his future unfold while I stay frozen in the past. But if I live in the present, I'll have to accept the loss of my future. / Can I sit through the pain, or do I want to suffer? (66-7)
8. Did anyone else want her to name her Boyfriend? At least a pseudonym so we wouldn't have to keep reading Boyfriend?
9. Did anyone else feel a certain irony when she quotes Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Worried All the Time, suggesting, as these sources do, that there's no need to write yet another helicopter-parenting book when it's already been written (132)...except that she is writing another memoir about a breakup...that surely has already been written! Plus, I gather she would never tell her parents to just "get over it" when they present with common problems that ail the human condition. To me, it seemed like she was searching for a more "legitimate" reason for not writing the parenting book than the simple fact that she didn't want to. She wanted to write a therapy book.
10. Recently, one of my pastors suggested that we don't lash out because we are angry. We lash out because we are empty. That really resonated with me. Lori echoes the sentiment here: So many of our destructive behaviors take root in an emotional void, an emptiness that calls out for something to fill it. (135) How does this concept sit with you?
11. Lori writes that she is: a writer - it's not just what I do but who I am -- and if I can't write, then a crucial part of me goes missing. (130) What do you do regularly that you would consider to be a crucial part of yourself?
12. Was it just me or was it hard to read (aka cringe-worthy) the sexual references in descriptions of therapy? (John saying Lori was his hooker (5); Wendell suggesting she could have an orgasm but it wouldn't help her long-term (124) or her calling Skype "doing therapy with a condom on" (136))
13. Not that we can't talk about sex. But maybe a better place to start would be to consider her point that touch is: a deep human need. It's well documented that touch is important for well-being throughout our lifetimes. Touch can lower blood pressure and stress levels, boost moods and immune systems. Babies can die from lack of touch, and so can adults (adults who are touched regularly live longer). There's even a term for this condition: skin hunger. (168) So...along that theme, have you read a good sex book that you'd recommend?
14. Lori says she made the best decisions of her life when she was nearly forty -- to have a baby and to become a therapist. What have been the best decisions of your life?
15. Did you lose interest at all throughout this long text? Where there places you wanted to edit? For me, I slowed down a bit in Part 2. But she hooked me again on p.214: It takes awhile to hear a person's story and for that person to tell it, and like most stories -- including mine -- it bounces all over the place before you know what the plot really is.
16. There are several pastors at my church and a different one from the one I mentioned above once recommended that we (the congregation) listen to his sermons and consider their application to us personally. He knew that too often we tended to identify someone else in our lives who would really benefit from the message (an "ah, this sermon must be for him!). And so, I wonder... As you read Lori's book, did you reflect more on your own life? Or did you more often find yourself wishing you could pass along her advice and insights to other people in your life? (Did you think of recommending the book to those people?!)
17. What do you like about book club...and why do you keep coming back? :) (I know it's not the low-budget wine because there's always plenty of that left over!)
Thanks so much to Lara for hosting a lovely discussion of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb.
Thank you to Angelica for pointing out this book's focus on connection. In the opening line to her acknowledgements, Lori Gottlieb stresses the importance of understanding how our lives are "peopled", as she calls it. I may be paraphrasing a combination of Lori Gottlieb and also the authors of another book I'm reading right now (Making Small Group Work), but I think both highlight the truth that we grow through our connection with others.
We spoke last night about the importance of acknowledging our individuality, and how that sense of self might not be as black and white as traditional options offer. I agree with the importance of the individual.
But I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest a philosophical thought that perhaps isn't well defined at this point...
I also think of individuality as a double edged sword, a place where we can too often focus on our problems and fail to see the good in ourselves and in the world around us. Is it not our sense of feeling alone (our disconnection) that is drawing our society (and young people) towards addiction and depression and suicide?
I think movements that support individuality are worthwhile...but I am very curious to see how our culture develops ways of connecting to each other and bridge the gaps across the distance between our islands of self-reflection. Sebastian Junger's Tribe comes to mind.
And so, in the spirit of building connection, I will confess what I was too tongue-tied to say last night -- that I too, like Lori Gottlieb, let a bad break-up direct my emotions and my life for a long time. For sure, her idea of having the future being taken from you really resonated with me. And I would love for my ex-boyfriend to read her book!
For next month, please join us as we journey to understand connections across culture and time in Rebecca Makkai's acclaimed work The Great Believers. (N.B. This is on the longer side, apologies...and is in high demand at the library. I just ordered a copy off Amazon -- it's cheaper in hardcover ironically...and would be happy to lend it after I finish...)
And, for those of you who like to read ahead, in November we will discuss The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes The World by Melinda Gates.
Hope to see you there!
Come and join us this Thursday for a little get together...and unveiling of our survey winner! If you haven't had a chance to enter your votes for your favorite fiction and non-fiction reads for this past year, use this link to access the survey. Just do it before Thursday! All participants will be entered for a raffle during the social night -- winner need not be present to win. As always, if you'd like to see what we've read and discussed, check out the list and discussion questions here.
Hope to see you there!
Thanks so much for coming out last night for our social! So nice to see you guys and chat about the summer and what everyone's been reading. A lot of good titles out there...
Congratulations to Lisa who won our drawing for a gift from Porter Square Books! Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey! The overall non-fiction winner was Educated, although Becoming received the most #1 votes. The overall fiction winner was The Hate U Give, although Crazy Rich Asians received the most #1 votes. I think the long and short of the data analysis is that we picked a lot of good ones last year. Here's to hoping for another year of the same!
We are looking forward to reconvening in September to discuss Lori Gottleib's Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.
Hope to see you there!
Did you get to Bad Blood this month? Or watch the documentary? Do you have any experience in lab science? Psychology? Medicine? Law? Tech start ups? Have you lost faith in America?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, please join us Wednesday evening for a discussion of John Carreyrou's investigative report of the Theranos scandal. (And then, if you've read anything particularly uplifting this summer, will you share that title?! Because I could use an antidote right now!*)
Suggested discussion questions are below...but I believe these really only crack the surface. I know there are several people traveling this week. Please send in commentary by email if you'd like! We will miss you!
Drop us a line and let us know if we can hope to see you!
*I have read a few other books since I originally drafted this email, so I feel better about things in general, but I always love hearing about new titles!
1. Did you like this book?
2. For expository writing, there is a heavily slanted tone to this book, even from the get-go (Author's Note) when Carreyrou writes that Holmes declined to cooperate with any interview. He cites examples of her behavior that paint a picture of possible mental health issues and manipulation. Was there any other side to the story? What tale would her parents tell?
3. "Imagine detecting breast cancer before the mammogram..." (83). Um, was I born yesterday? Is there a known protein marker for breast cancer?! Why does no one see how flawed this system is!? And how do we not get an actual doctors' opinion on this until deep into the book -- with Kate's wife opinion that is only described as, "Tracy asked some questions that no one on the Theranos end of the line seemed able to answer. That evening, she told Kate she was dubious that the company had any truly novel technology" (157).
4. How did this go on for so long without Holmes being found out? (Perhaps because people are motivated by greed and the fear of death?? Just a thought.) Was it really that everyone understood the importance of keeping information confidential? (Referring to the advertising agency hired in 2012, "In Patrick's experience, all tech startups were chaotic and secretive. He saw nothing unusual or worrisome in that" (160).)
5. What was the real draw to Holmes' pitch? Apparently there were already devices on the market (that may not have been able to perform so many tests), like the Piccolo Xpress, that only used a few drops of blood. What did she say that convinced so many people to invest in her? (97)
6. Similarly, did anyone else think it was odd that new employees only interviewed with Elizabeth and Sunny? Normally, employees meet several members of the team they will be working on, to see if they will fit into the culture. But I get the sense that they skipped that and just focused on controlling one-off hot shots who could be seduced by her "deep baritone".
7. And besides their technology, why isn't a doctor making a comment that one blood test is just one tool in the work up of a patient. In terms of saving lives, I can only think of two tests -- the hematocrit and blood type and screen -- that could be used to make immediate life-changing decisions, such as whether or not to transfuse a patient. Other tests aren't usually so urgent. Medicine moves slower than people think. Or am I missing something?
8. I was really struck by the unhealthy nature of the competition between Walgreens and CVS. Have you ever been exposed to that kind of rivalry or fear of failing to make a profit?
9. "Even though the startup had never said anything about outsourcing some of the testing, [Safeway CMO Kent Bradley] discovered that it was farming out some tests to a big reference laboratory in Salt Lake City called ARUP" (112). How did he find this out? What information leaked and what didn't under Elizabeth's web of security?
10. Anyone else get the sense when reading the "Lighting a Fuisz" chapter that the parties involved were behaving similarly to the cats in that children's tale, Millions of Cats in which the disgruntled characters all kill each other off?
11. How much did your stomach turn to find out that Holmes was paying Boies in stock? She's a magician! (139)
12. What do you make of how the story unfolds -- the back and forth in time as Carreyrou follows different threads? In particular, what do you make of the placement of Ian Gibbons' story? For someone as influential an employee as him (ten years there! they were his patents!) with such a heartbreaking story (especially when coupled with his wife's story with her own grief over her mother's death), why place this deep into the book?
13. What was missing from the book? What else did you want to know about? (For me, what other research was she building on? "The ability to perform so many test on just a drop or two of blood was something of a Holy Grail in the field of microfluidics. Thousands of researchers around the world in universities and industry had been pursuing this goal for more than two decades, ever since the Swiss scientist Andreas Manz had shown that the microfabrication techniques developed by the computer chip industry could be repurposed to make small channels that moved tiny volumes of fluids." 181. Were LabCorp and Quest working in this area? Was there any underlying truth to her paranoia that they would develop this technology first or steal hers?)
14. Does Carreyrou imply that Silicon Valley start-ups operate on an unethical premise? Or is he making excuses for tech start-ups as he distinguishes Theranos as a healthcare company? ("The term "vaporware" was coined in the early 1980s to describe new computer software or hardware that was announced with great fanfare only to take years to materialize, if it did at all. It was a reflection of the computer industry's tendency to play it fast and loose when it came to marketing. Microsoft, Apple, and Oracle were all accused of engaging in the practice at one point or another. Such overpromising became a defining feature of Silicon Valley. The harm done to consumers was minor, measured in frustration and deflated expectations." (296))
So nice to see you tonight. For those of you who couldn't make it, we loved hearing your thoughts on Bad Blood via email and would love to hear more in person next time!
I don't know what scandalized us more -- the fact that had she not picked a medical device to develop, Elizabeth Holmes' scheme might have gone on indefinitely...or the fact that so many knowledgeable people failed to see what was going on for so long...or the fact that it seems like it's nearly impossible to gain any protection as a whistle blower when corporations seem to have all of the leverage. As one of you pointed out, thank goodness for the continued life of hearty investigative reporting.
We are changing gears for next time...back to memoir... Please join us next time (date TBD) for a discussion of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb.
Hope to see you there!
How's it going? I have to stare at the calendar each day to remember what to do. This is such a busy time of year. This Wednesday, please unwind with us and take a night off from worrying about what you're going to bring to the next potluck. And no reading required (not that it ever is) for this one.
Drop us a line and let us know if we can hope to see you on Wednesday!
Good to see you last night. Corinne, the lights and table were beautiful -- even with that pesky spider who thought he was invited to the party.
Did anyone discuss Becoming any further? I didn't get a chance to bring it up. But I wanted to share a story that is sort of related.
A couple of weeks ago I took my son to his swim class at the Arlington Boys and Girls Club. He spotted a poster of a famous person on the wall and asked, "Is that the president?" I did a double take and said no. Trump is white, last I checked. But then I realized that my son was asking if the black man on the poster was Barak Obama. "No," I added, pausing for a moment to jog my memory, "That's Shaquille O'Neal. He's a famous basketball player." (N.B. The poster was large, but not life-sized.)
The culture is changing. Even if just regionally. At the school spring concert last week, the kids concluded their selections by inviting the audience to join them in singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing" which African Americans have dubbed the Black National Anthem (originally written in 1900, set to music in 1905, adopted by the NAACP in 1919, performed by famous black singers every since).
I didn't know there was a Black National Anthem.
Okay, it's raining and I'm expounding on the state of the nation, but we do have room in this email for less serious matters -- like frivolous and escapist summer reading and viewing recommendations! One of you mentioned Mira T. Lee's Everything Here is Beautiful which I found to be a breath-taking, poignant debut, so I feature it here. Please click here to view the entire list I've compiled so far on my blog**. (Since there are several newcomers to this list, I have a note about the blog below.) If you have other recommendations, please send them my way and I'll add them to the list!
Next month, join us for a discussion of Bad Blood by John Carreyrou. You may also want to check out the HBO documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley.
Hope to see you there!
**Note: While I hope to uphold the opinions and recommendations of the Tipsy Mamas as a separate entity from my blog, I am aware that there is other content on the site that does not represent the views of the Tipsy Mamas. If you like, dislike, or disagree with something, please feel free to comment directly on the blog or otherwise more personally offline. As always, I love discussing books and ideas with you all!
I hope you had a chance to pick up a copy of Michelle Obama's Becoming. If not, I hope you get to it at some point. She tells her story with incredible humility, downplaying all of her accomplishments and all of the sacrifices she made to be successful in her work. She made me believe that anything is possible, that the everyday (wo)man can take intentional steps to change the world in concrete ways.
As the plot accelerates towards the end she encourages her reader to "bear with me here, because this doesn't necessarily get easier. It would be one thing if America were a simple place with a simple story. If I could narrate my part in it only through the lens of what was orderly and sweet. If there were no steps backward. And if every sadness, when it came, turned out at least to be redemptive in the end. But that's not America, and it's not me, either. I'm not going to try to bend this into any kind of perfect shape." (379)
And yet, I thought it was perfectly crafted to show we are all a work in progress, that if we would just choose to do so, we could all "become."
She writes with increasing passion as she describes how she loved her country "for all the ways its story could be told." She writes:
"For almost a decade, I'd been privileged to move through it, experiencing its bracing contradictions and bitter conflicts, its pain and persistent idealism, and above all else its resilience. My view was unusual, perhaps, but I think what I experienced during those years is what many did-- a sense of progress, the comfort of compassion, the joy of watching the unsung and invisible find some light. A glimmer of the world as it could be. This was our bid for permanence: a rising generation that understood what was possible-- and that even more was possible for them. Whatever was coming next, this was a story we could own." (416)
I have never been a political person, but, reading her words, I thought maybe I could be. At the very least they made me wonder what more I could do in my own life to "invite one another in" as she admonishes in her epilogue.
Come on over on Tuesday and let us know your thoughts on Becoming. Suggested discussion questions are below.
1. Did you begin this book with any assumptions regarding what this book would be about or how the story would be told? (For me, I sort of expected a story of struggle, of rising above discrimination -- racial and possibly gender related. I also wondered how much would be truthful -- how do public figures choose what to tell about themselves?)
2. What did you make of the title Becoming? How does it relate to her writing: "I was ambitious, though I didn't know exactly what I was shooting for. Now I think it's one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child -- What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that's the end." What should we ask our children instead? Compare to later when she writes about making the transition to becoming a First Lady: "If I'd learned anything from the ugliness of the campaign, from the myriad ways people had sought to write me off as angry or unbecoming, it was that public judgment sweeps in to fill any void. If you don't get out there and define yourself, you'll be quickly and inaccurately defined by others" (285). And later, at the end, "becoming isn't about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn't end." (419) And how do we become? "Let's invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same. It's not about being perfect. It's not about where you get yourself in the end. There's power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there's grace in being willing to know and hear others." (421)
3. What did you make of Michelle's mother and her parenting mind-set that Michelle describes as "a kind of unflappable Zen neutrality"? (46)
4. What happens to the Michelle Robinsons of Chicago who don't get to attend Whitney Young Magnet School? As Michelle's mother points out about her own children: "They're not special at all. The South Side is filled with kids like that." And Michelle adds that "we just needed to help get them into [VIP] rooms." (355)
5. What do you make of her memory of her guidance counselor saying "I'm not sure that you're Princeton material," and her observations about overcoming the doubts of others: "The noise doesn't go away, but the most successful people I know have figured out how to live with it, to lean on the people who believe in them, and to push onward with their goals" (67). Was there a time when someone doubted you? Were you able to push through that doubt?
6. Does the "burden of integration" fall mainly to one group over another? "The hope was that all of us would mingle in heterogeneous harmony, deepening the quality of student life across the board....But even today, with white students continuing to outnumber students of color on college campuses, the burden of assimilation is put largely on the shoulders of minority students. In my experience, it's a lot to ask." (74) (It's funny but I feel a burden to seek out people of color, to understand different people groups and feel like a failure when I can't break through cultural or language barriers.)
7. What do you make of Suzanne's story? Cautionary tale? Reminder that life is short? Reminder not to judge others' decisions?
8. While Michelle is suffering through law and realizing she wants a different path, what do you make of her mother's response: "I say make the money first and worry about your happiness later." Is there any truth to Michelle's statement that "fulfillment, I'm sure, struck her as a rich person's conceit"? (135)
9. When Michelle decides to set strict dinner and bedtimes for her girls and not wait up for dad, she writes: "I didn't want them ever to believe that life began when the man of the house arrived home. We didn't wait for Dad. It was his job now to catch up with us." (207) Is this extreme feminism? Is it really playing to patriarchy to wait for dad? Or is it just about wanting to include the whole family and operate as one unit?
10. Michelle writes that her "goals mostly involved maintaining normalcy and stability, but those would never be Barack's", repeatedly pointing out how they differ from each other. (211) But does she give herself credit? Is she not brave and adventurous herself in her pursuit to improve the lives of those around her and engage in the world? How about the number of times she reinvents herself -- as a corporate lawyer, as a city hall employee, in a community relations role at the University of Chicago, in a community relations role at the University Medical Center, working her way up to be a vice president?
11. She shares many personal details. What is she not saying? About how she made her job decisions? About how she decided to move out of her mother's house (finally) to her own apartment, then condo, then house? About what her working mother home/work balance was like?
12. Relatedly, who is her audience? She writes that during the first presidential campaign she noticed that reporters "rarely asked about my work...[and speculated] that I'd been promoted at the hospital not due to my own hard work and merit but because of my husband's growing political stature" (241). And now? In her own book? Why spend so much time on his campaigns and not devote the same detail to telling the reader about her careers?
13. Were you as sheepish as I was when she wrote: "Along the [campaign trail in Iowa], reporters and even some acquaintances began asking me some form of the same questions: What was it like to be a five-foot-eleven, Ivy League-educated black woman speaking to roomfuls of mostly white Iowans? How odd did that feel? / I never liked this question. It always seemed to be accompanied by a sheepish half smile and the don't-take-this-the-wrong-way inflection that people often use when approaching the subject of race. It was an idea, I felt, that sold us all short, assuming that the differences were all anyone saw." (237) She continues to describe the ways she connected with those around her through what they shared. "These interactions felt natural, genuine. I found myself hugging people instinctively and getting hugged tightly back." (238) Did you make the same assumption? That the differences would stick out more than the similarities?
14. Have you read American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld? It's fiction (about Laura Bush), but I was struck by the difference in Michelle's reaction to voting for her husband. (274)
15. How hilarious is it that Michelle's mom was able to keep such a low profile in Washington that she could even deny her identity?! "Anytime a stranger commented that she looked exactly like Michelle Obama's mother, she'd just give a polite shrug and say, "Yeah, I get that a lot," before carrying on with her business. As she always had, my mother did things her own way." (296)
16. What did you make of the theme of being "good enough" and how it connects her to others? Michelle wonders this when she matriculates to Whitney Young. She wonders this when Barack begins each campaign. And then she hears the same question from within the girls around her at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School in England...and she encourages them, acknowledges that they are enough, each and every one of them. (318-320)
Thank you so much for a great discussion of Michelle Obama's Becoming!
As readers, we found ourselves struggling with an interesting tension -- that of wanting to hold this First Lady to a certain ideal and preserve her story to be read for all time...versus craving more of the parts that were personally relatable to each of us in unique ways -- as daughters, wives, mothers, lawyers, natives of Chicago, Princeton alum, community organizers, and hopefuls for a better world. For me, I think this is a book I will be recommending to people for a long time -- and probably for different reasons since it speaks to so many kinds of people. That will be my small testament to her wish for us to discover our similarities rather than letting presumed differences divide us.
For next month...let's have a party! We traditionally skip a book in June in order to wind down and blow off some steam in the midst of a busy season. Then let's meet in July to discuss John Carreyrou's Bad Blood, a read that sounds salacious, thrilling and perfect for summer!
Hope to see you there!
April vacation week may be over (for better or worse), but don't let that get you down. Book club is Wednesday! Please join us to discuss The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
Drop us a line and let us know if we can hope to see you!
1. Did you like this book?
2. Why create Starr as a partial outsider / partial "queen" of her neighborhood? How does that unique combo contribute to the importance of her voice?
3. What do you make of the title and reference to Tupac -- "The Hate U...Give Little Infants F---s Everybody"? (17) What is the significance of that name "thug"? ("You said it yourself, he thought Khalil was a drug dealer," Daddy says. "A thug. Why he assumed that though?" 52)
4. These days kids are asked to juggle their online identities (hashtags, Tumblr) and their real identities. Was there any equivalent inner struggle pre-internet?
5. This book is mostly dialogue. What do you make of that stylistic choice?
6. Who is Thomas's intended audience? Does she have an agenda? (I was particularly thinking of Starr's conversation with her dad - p167-171 - and again on p181: "If they [Starr's parents] break up, it'll be one more thing One-fifteen takes from me." Plus, mentioning the hard decision about whether moving away from Garden Heights means abandoning your people and the cause.)
7. Beyond the story, what do you make of Thomas's "rally cry" in the acknowledgements to "Be roses that grow in the concrete"? (According to Epicreads.com "Tupac penned a poem called “The Rose That Grew From Concrete.” It’s a metaphor for young people who grow up in bad situations but are still something to be in awe of. Angie attempted to make Starr, Seven, and all the characters in The Hate U Give roses in their own ways.")
8. When Starr finally spoke out in the interview were you proud of her or fearful for her? (p286-290)
9. What do you think of Starr's mom and how protective she is ("then Momma on top of us..." p317) compared to Tara Westover's mom who chooses not to act?
10. What did you make of Iesha? Was she always standing up for Seven -- or did she only help after Seven yelled at her at his graduation party?
11. Many of the characters serve to introduce a new point of view. Is there a point of view missing from the story that you wanted to hear? (Chris's parents? Maya's mom?)
12. How did she decide the timeline for the events -- When it Happens / Five Weeks After It (six weeks for grand jury) / Eight Weeks After It / Ten Weeks After It / Thirteen Weeks After It -- The Decision. Any basis in how long these cases typically take? (From a quick search of a couple of the cases, it seems this is a possible timeline, though most take much longer.)
13. Are police officers trained in making non-fatal shots in self-defense?
14. How does milk treat burns and smoke damage? (Some sites say the fat and protein content can soothe skin, but other sites warn that bacteria in milk can cause a skin infection.)
15. Is Starr going to be charged for throwing tear gas? How are arrests decided at protests?
16. How real were her characters and how natural the transition to the the list of names at the end, ending with Emmett Till! (1955, Money, MI)
Oscar Grant (2009), Oakland, CA
Aiyana Jones (2010), Detroit, MI
Trayvon Martin (2012), Sanford, FL
Rekia Boyd (2012), Chicago, IL
Michael Brown (2014), Ferguson, MO
Eric Garner (2014), Brooklyn, NY
Tamir Rice (2014), Cleveland, OH
John Crawford III (2014), Beavercreek, OH
Ezell Ford (2014), Florence, Los Angeles, CA
Sandra Bland (2015), Waller County, TX
Freddie Gray (2015), Baltimore, MD
Alton Sterling (2016), Baton Rouge, LA
Philando Castile (2016), Falcon Heights, MN
Thanks again to Lara for hosting our discussion of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas! The library just sent me a notice that the DVD is waiting for me -- I am excited to watch it this weekend and compare it to the book.
Thank you to Katie for introducing Angie Thomas' next book On the Come Up which seems to be a more personal tale.
Join us next month as we discuss Becoming by Michelle Obama.
Hope to see you there!
Please join us on Wednesday evening to celebrate the first day of spring (!) and discuss Educated by Tara Westover. I know many of you have many thoughts and reactions to this, and there are a few discussion questions below to stir additional conversation. Looking forward to this -- and feel free to bring book ideas for April!
Drop us a line and let us know if we can hope to see you!
1. Did you like this book?
2. Tara writes in the beginning that this book isn't about Mormonism. What is it about?
3. What makes a book like this so attractive to so many people?
4. What shocked you or surprised you? (I liked the way she anticipated the reader -- she gets the questions of Mormonism and mental health out of the way so she can focus on the story she wants to tell.)
5. What is the tone of this book? What is Tara's attitude towards her childhood as she looks back?
6. Could you get a sense of how poor her family was? How does that play a part in their choices? (Not as blatantly poor as Trevor Noah's family, for example.)
7. In what ways does Tara's family choose to ignore opportunities (whereas, in contract, Trevor Noah's family never had the choices to begin with)?
8. Are there no child protective services in Idaho? What about seat belt laws? How is no one sent to the hospital or to jail after those car wrecks?
9. What did discipline look like in the Westover house? Did Gene ever use the rod? Would that (or some other kind of discipline) have helped prevent Shawn's rages -- or were those due to mental illness?
10. Did you need to remind yourself that this is present day? (I guess there are other pockets of the world where people are stuck in time. This is the case for the protagonist of the fictional work The Elegance of the Hedgehog who was raised in poverty just outside of Paris along with her 13 siblings.)
11. Did this book stir up any emotions in you? Which ones? How so?
12. What do you make of Tara's relationship with her sister Audrey? (I found her curiously absent throughout most of the book, but felt that omission explained by the events at the end.)
13. In contrast to Crazy Rich Asians, what does character development look like in this story?! ("At the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, I stood before Caravaggio's Judith Beheading Holofernes and did not once think about chickens." p.268)
14. What is her tone at the end as she suggests the reader might call her new self "falsity" or "betrayal"? (329) Does she really accept her new self or is she still sitting in judgment?
15. How can we trust our memories? (This brings to mind other books I've read recently about shifting memories -- Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith by Martha Beck and Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson.)
16. Could you picture the mountain princess?
17. Tara writes in the beginning that her father never told her how she'd "know when it was time to come home" (xv). Did she go home in the end? How does she reconcile her two "selves"? ("That night [in front of the mirror] I called on her and she didn't answer. She left me. She stayed in the mirror. The decisions I made after that moment were not the ones she would have made. They were the choices of a changed person, a new self...I call [this new self] an education." (328-9))
Thank you for such a thought-provoking discussion of Educated by Tara Westover. We were so eager to discuss this book that we completely skipped our traditional cocktail hour, never moved from the kitchen to the living room and only answered an ice breaker question at the very end of the evening.
We are hoping for another "really good read", and I suspect we may find it in The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Please join us in April to discuss.
Hope to see you there!
Hope you all had a good vacation week. My kids fell sick one after the other -- I think they had the flu -- and we had to cancel many plans. So I am really looking forward to unwinding with you this Tuesday evening as we discuss Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan! Suggested discussion question are below.*
Drop us a line and let us know if we can hope to see you!
*N.B. I did not do any Wikipedia research for these discussion questions!
1. Did you like this book?
2. Could this book have been written by a woman? How would she tell the story differently?
3. Did you try to learn the characters and family trees or did you just trek through?
4. Would you have agreed to fly to Singapore to meet Nick's family if you were in Rachel's shoes?
5. Was there a character you identified with?
6. Was there a time you wanted to jump into a character's shoes -- either to be them or to steer them in a different direction?
7. Was there a character you read with more or less favor as the book progressed?
8. What did character development look like in this book?
9. What do you make of the attitudes and habits of the "old money" families compared to the "new money" families?
10. How does Nick's life in NYC compare and contrast to the life his family lives in Singapore?
11. What do you make of the fusion of cultures in Singapore?
12. The author drops names of designers and describes details (in furniture and otherwise) that would unnoticed to the untrained eye. Which characters share this knowledge? Do Rachel and Nick share it? Would Rachel really describe things in this way? And if this is their language, is it possible for someone to know this language in detail and still be as indifferent to it as Nick is?
13. Kwan writes from many different perspectives, sometimes multiple points of view per chapter, and yet, do the characters have distinct voices?
14. How does Rachel react to the wealth around her?
15. Which characters give any consideration to the needs of those around them or the needs of the rest of the world? Was anyone generous in this book? (Nick, when referring to the newspaper coverage of Colin's wedding, p 167; Michael Teo on p 265: "I can't watch those people spend a gazillion dollars on a wedding when half the world is starving.")
16. Has there been a time in your life when you've felt trapped in your circumstances, like you couldn't imagine another way of life? (Francesca Shaw, for example, details down to the penny her reasons for requiring a certain level of income. p 201-2.)
17. Dr. Gu regrets the chance to tell the real story about Dr. Young (p 235-6). What other real stories do you wish you knew of these characters' lives? It's as if this book reads like a gossip magazine and leaves us craving genuine news.
18. How did growing up without a mother affect Nick and Colin's outlook on life and help them avoid the materialistic world?
19. What types of marriages tolerate affairs (Fiona) or not (Neena), and how does Astrid struggle with what she can tolerate and mend in her own marriage?
20. Can you blame Michael for faking an affair? What do you make of how the family treats him, like a handyman?
21. Throughout the book we continually scrutinize Nick and his family, but how did your opinion of Rachel evolve? In particular, what did you make of her request to Nick to get her a hotel room in order to get away from him in a taxi (361)?
22. Was there a point when you would have wanted to walk out on Nick? Would you have picked the moment Rachel did?
23. What parallels can you draw between this tale and Pride and Prejudice or Wuthering Heights or other works?
24. Are Nick and Rachel going to make it? What type of life would satisfy all of their values?
Thank you for coming out on such a chilly night to discuss Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan! We agreed that while we were entertained, we weren't sure that meant we liked the book. Still, some of us might go on to read the second and third volumes of this outlandish trilogy. We considered trekking to Singapore together to partake of the hawker stalls, but since so many of us enjoyed the movie, perhaps we should take a book club field trip to see the sequel when it comes out in the theater? :)
For now, with great anticipation, we look forward to discussing Educated by Tara Westover in March!
Hope to see you there!
The Tipsy Mamas' Book Club is co-hosted by Corinne Foster and myself, though the spirit of our discussions is flavored by many readers.