Start an LGBT book club

A book club is a group of people that decide to read the same book in a certain amount of time. They then gather together to discuss what they’ve read (IDEA: why not get together to bake cupcakes via our vegan cupcake get-together so that they’re ready for your first book club meeting as a snack!)

We’ll provide you with an awesome list of suggested reads and possible discussion questions about the works. These are only suggestions, though. If you think of some better books to add to the list email them to us! [link to email] If you come up with your own discussion questions you can email those too!

Books and Discussion Questions:

Stone Butch Blues” by Leslie Feinberg

(note: some of the discussion questions below have been borrowed from this discussion guide.)

  • How do class and geography inform the gender presentation here?
  • How does Jess clash with the borders defined by lesbian feminism, butch-femme, and the labor union?
  • Can the shared experience of violence define a subjectivity?
  • Discuss this quote from Leslie Feinberg: “Gender is the poetry each of us makes out of the language we are taught.” (Leslie Feinberg) What do you think Feinberg means by this? How can we look at the text through this quote?
  • Discuss this quote from Stone Butch Blues: “If I’m not with a butch everyone just assumes I’m straight. It’s like I’m passing too, against my will. I’m sick of the world thinking I’m straight. I’ve worked hard to be discriminated against as a lesbian” Why do you think Feinberg feels this way? Do you agree/disagree with the sentiments being put forth?

Brokeback Mountain” (short story) by Annie Proulx

(note: some of the discussion questions below have been borrowed from this discussion guide.)

  • Find as many Marlboro cigarette advertisements depicting male cowboys as possible. Then examine how male cowboys are represented in these ads and discuss what these images might tell you about the concept of masculinity in general.
  • Identify the traditional mindset of the 1960s cowboy culture and discuss to what extent and in what ways Brokeback Mountain is in line with such a mindset.
  • Brokeback Mountain takes place between 1963 and 1983. Discuss how the major social/ historical events in the States, such as the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, might help you understand the main issues depicted in the story.
  • Examine how Annie Proulx describes “settings” (e.g. the ranches on which Ennis and Jack were raised and Brokeback Mountain) in her story. How do these settings help you understand the characters and the issues in the story?
  • Identify how the author uses “nature” in relation to characters’ psychology and the issues dealt with.
  • What might Ennis and Jack’s fathers and Joe Aquirre represent in the story? What is their function in the story?
  • What might Joe’s binoculars signify as a metaphor?
  • Comment on what external and internal forces might make Jack and Ennis say the following: “…Ennis said, ‘I’m not no queer,’ and Jack jumped in with ‘Me neither…”
  • Comment on the following quote from the story: “Even when the numbers were right Ennis knew the sheep were mixed. In a disquieting way everything seemed mixed.”
  • What do you think about the author’s depiction of Alma? How do you react to this character?
  • What might the intertwined shirts as described at the end of the short story symbolize? Where are these shirts kept and what could this signify?

Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides

(note: The discussion questions below have been borrowed from this discussion guide.)

  • Describing his own conception, Cal writes: “The timing of the thing had to be just so in order for me to become the person I am. Delay the act by an hour and you change the gene selection” (p. 11). Is Cal’s condition a result of chance or of fate? Which of these forces governs the world as Cal sees it?
  • When Tessie and Milton decide to try to influence the sex of their baby, Desdemona disapproves. “God decides what baby is,” she says. “Not you” (p. 13). What happens when characters in the novel challenge fate?
  • “All I know is this: despite my androgenized brain, there’s an innate feminine circularity in the story I have to tell” (p. 20). What does Cal mean by this? Is his manner of telling his story connected to the question of his gender? How?
  • Calliope is the name of the classical Greek muse of eloquence and epic poetry. What elements of Greek mythology figure into Cal’s story? Is this novel meant to be a new “myth”?
  • Middlesex begins just before Cal’s birth in 1960, then moves backward in time to 1922. Cal is born at the beginning of Part 3, about halfway through the novel. Why did the author choose to structure the story in this way? How does this movement backward and forward in time reflect the larger themes of the work?
  • “I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever,” Cal writes (p. 217). How does Cal narrate the events that take place before his birth? Does his perspective as a narrator change when he is recounting events that take place after he is born?
  • “Everything about Middlesex spoke of forgetting and everything about Desdemona made plain the inescapability of remembering,” Cal writes (p. 273). How and when do Desdemona’s Old World values conflict with the ethos of America and, specifically, of Middlesex?
  • What role does race play in the novel? How do the Detroit riots of 1967 affect the Stephanides family and Cal, specifically?
  • How are Cal’s early sexual experiences similar to those of any adolescent? How are they different? Are the differences more significant than the similarities?
  • Describe Middlesex. Does the house have a symbolic function in the novel?
  • How is Cal’s experience living within two genders similar to the immigrant experience of living within two cultures? How is it different?

The Hours” by Michael Cunningham

(note: The discussion questions below have been borrowed from this discussion guide.)

  • Clarissa Vaughan is described several times as an “ordinary” woman. Do you accept this valuation? If so, what does it imply about the ordinary, about being ordinary? What makes someone, by contrast, extraordinary?
  • Flowers and floral imagery play a significant part in The Hours. When and where are flowers described? What significance do they have, and with what events and moods are they associated? How do flowers affect Virginia? Clarissa?
  • Cunningham plays with the notions of sanity and insanity, recognizing that there might be only a very fine line between the two states. What does the novel imply about the nature of insanity? Might it in fact be a heightened sanity, or at least a heightened sense of awareness? Would you classify Richard as insane? How does his mental state compare with that of Virginia? Of Laura as a young wife? Of Septimus Smith in Mrs. Dalloway? Does insanity (or the received idea of insanity) appear to be connected with creative gifts?
  • Virginia and Laura are both, in a sense, prisoners of their eras and societies, and both long for freedom from this imprisonment. Clarissa Vaughan, on the other hand, apparently enjoys every liberty: freedom to be a lesbian, to come and go and live as she likes. Yet she has ended up, in spite of her unusual way of life, as a fairly conventional wife and mother. What might this fact indicate about the nature of society and the restrictions it imposes? Does the author imply that character, to a certain extent, is destiny?
  • Each of the novel’s three principal women, even the relatively prosaic and down-to-earth Clarissa, occasionally feels a sense of detachment, of playing a role. Laura feels as if she is “about to go onstage and perform in a play for which she is not appropriately dressed, and for which she has not adequately rehearsed” [p. 43]. Clarissa is filled with “a sense of dislocation. This is not her kitchen at all. This is the kitchen of an acquaintance, pretty enough but not her taste, full of foreign smells” [p. 91]. Is this feeling in fact a universal one? Is role-playing an essential part of living in the world, and of behaving “sanely”? Which of the characters refuses to act a role, and what price does he/she pay for this refusal?
  • Who kisses whom in The Hours, and what is the significance of each kiss?
  • The Hours is very much concerned with creativity and the nature of the creative act, and each of its protagonists is absorbed in a particular act of creation. For Virginia and Richard, the object is their writing; for Clarissa Vaughan (and Clarissa Dalloway), it is a party; for Laura Brown, it is another party, or, more generally, “This kitchen, this birthday cake, this conversation. This revived world” [p. 106]. What does the novel tell us about the creative process? How does each character revise and improve his or her creation during the course of the story?
  • How might Richard’s childhood experiences have made him the adult he eventually becomes? In what ways has he been wounded, disturbed?
  • Each of the three principal women is acutely conscious of her inner self or soul, slightly separate from the “self” seen by the world. Clarissa’s “determined, abiding fascination is what she thinks of as her soul” [p. 12]; Virginia “can feel it inside her, an all but indescribable second self, or rather a parallel, purer self. If she were religious, she would call it the soul . . . It is an inner faculty that recognizes the animating mysteries of the world because it is made of the same substance” [pp. 34-35]. Which characters keep these inner selves ruthlessly separate from their outer ones? Why?
  • Each of the novel’s characters sees himself or herself, most of the time, as a failure. Virginia Woolf, as she walks to her death, reflects that “She herself has failed. She is not a writer at all, really; she is merely a gifted eccentric” [p. 4]. Richard, disgustedly, admits to Clarissa, “I thought I was a genius. I actually used that word, privately, to myself” [p. 65]. Are the novel’s characters unusual, or are such feelings of failure an essential and inevitable part of the human condition?
  • Toward the end of Clarissa’s day, she realizes that kissing Richard beside the pond in Wellfleet was the high point, the culmination, of her life. Richard, apparently, feels the same. Are we meant to think, though, that their lives would have been better, more heightened, had they stayed together? Or does Cunningham imply that as we age we inevitably feel regret for some lost chance, and that what we in fact regret is youth itself?
  • The Hours could on one level be said to be a novel about middle age, the final relinquishment of youth and the youthful self. What does middle age mean to these characters? In what essential ways do these middle-aged people–Clarissa, Richard, Louis, Virginia –differ from their youthful selves? Which of them resists the change most strenuously?
  • What does the possibility of death represent to the various characters? Which of them loves the idea of death, as others love life? What makes some of the characters decide to die, others to live? What personality traits separate the “survivors” from the suicides?
  • If you have read Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, would you describe The Hours as a modern version of it? A commentary upon it? A dialogue with it? Which characters in The Hours correspond with those of Woolf’s novel? In what ways are they similar, and at what point do the similarities cease and the characters become freestanding individuals in their own right?
  • For the most part, the characters in The Hours have either a different gender or a different sexual orientation from their prototypes in Mrs. Dalloway. How much has all this gender-bending affected or changed the situations, the relationships, and the people?
  • Why has Cunningham chosen The Hours for the title of his novel (aside from the fact that it was Woolf’s working title for Mrs. Dalloway)? In what ways is the title appropriate, descriptive? What do hours mean to Richard? To Laura? To Clarissa?

Me Talk Pretty One Day” David Sedaris

(note: The discussion questions below have been borrowed from this discussion guide.)

  • What better place to start a discussion of a Sedaris book than with the parts you find the funniest? Which parts make you LOL (laugh out loud)? Go around the room and share your belly laughs with others.
  • Are there sections of the book you feel are snide or mean-spirited? Perhaps his criticism of Americans who visit Europe dressed “as if you’ve come to mow its lawns.” Or perhaps the piece about his stint as a writing teacher. Is petulance a part of Sedaris’s schtick…his charm?
  • Talk about the Sedaris family, in particular his parents. How do they come across? Whom does he feel closest to? Sedaris makes an interesting statement about his father: it was a mystery that “a man could father six children who shared absolutely none of his interests.” Is that unusual?
  • David Sedaris is a descendant of Woody Allen’s brand of humor—personal idiosyncrasies or neuroses raised to an art form. What does Sedaris reveal about himself, his insecurities, angst, secret hostilities, and do you find those parts funny or somewhat touching, even sad? Actually, do you like Sedaris as he reveals himself in his book?
  • Are there parts of Me Talk Pretty that you disliked, didn’t find funny, found overworked or contrived?

Orlando” by Virginia Woolf

(note: The discussion questions below have been borrowed from this discussion guide.)

  • What different types of literature does Woolf parody in Orlando? How does her writing style change to fit each age?
  • What does the novel say about English values? What does Orlando learn about herself while she is in Turkey?
  • How, according to Woolf, do men and women experience the world differently? Are these differences the result of biology or social practice?
  • Describe the scene in which Orlando changes sex from a male to a female. Explain why Woolf chooses such specific imagery (and the characters of Purity, Chastity, and Modesty) to describe the sex change.
  • Discuss the idea of writing in the novel. Are certain styles of literature held to be better or worse than other kinds? What does the novel have to say about the fame of writers?

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