Book Club Questions

Questions to be discussed during March Book Club Meet Ups;

Becoming – Michelle Obama

1. Mrs. Obama begins her book with a story about making cheese toast on a quiet night at home, a few months after leaving the White House. Why do you think she chose this story to begin her memoir?

2. Mrs. Robinson is the opposite of a helicopter parent. She was tough and had very high expectations for her children, and she also expected them to figure some things out on their own and learn from their missteps and the process of making choices. She gave her children agency at a very young age. How did that shape Mrs. Obama? What is the balance between discipline and trust?

3. In Becoming, we get to know the constellation of Mrs. Obama’s extended family through her eyes. Her grandfather, Southside filled his house with music and makeshift speakers and merriment. Years later, Mrs. Obama would fill the White House with music and culture through live performances and several programs aimed at children. How do those kinds of early memories leave an imprint on us as we grow older? What were the sights and smells that you remember from visiting grandparents or other elders, and how have they left a mark on you?

4. In discussing her neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, Mrs. Obama writes, “Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result. It’s vulnerability that breeds with self-doubt and then is escalated, often deliberately, by fear.” How did this insight shape Mrs. Obama’s work and mission as First Lady? What can we all do—as individuals, parents, and community members—to help break this cycle?”

5. Mrs. Obama writes about the early influences of her mother, Marion Robinson, and her TV role model Mary Tyler Moore. One was a single, professional living on her own in the big city. One was a wise and supportive stay-at-home mother, who later went to work to help pay for her children’s education. Where do you see the influences of both of these women in Mrs. Obama’s life?

6. Early in her senior year at Whitney Young High School, Mrs. Obama went for an obligatory first appointment with the school college counselor. Mrs. Obama was treasurer of the senior class. She had earned a spot in the National Honor Society. She was on track to graduate in the top 10 percent of her class and she was interested in joining her older brother, Craig, at Princeton University. The guidance counselor said to her, “I’m not sure that you’re Princeton material.” How did Mrs. Obama handle hearing that statement? How does one avoid having one’s dreams dislodged by someone else’s lower expectations?

7. In high school Mrs. Obama said she felt like she was representing her neighborhood. At Princeton, faced with questions of whether she was the product of Affirmative Action programs, she felt like she was representing her race. Was that more than a feeling? Was she actually representing her communities in those settings? Have you had moments in life where you feel as though you are representing one of your communities?

8. In her early life Mrs. Obama writes about being a “box checker,” but as she gets older she learns how to “swerve” to adjust to life’s circumstances. What does it mean to swerve and how do we develop that skill in life?

For more questions;
Download the Becoming Reading Guide

When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

1. How did you come away feeling, after reading this book? Upset? Inspired? Anxious? Less afraid?

2. What did you think of Paul’s exploration of the relationship between science and faith? As Paul wrote, “Science may provide the most useful way to organize empirical, reproducible data, but its power to do so is predicated on its inability to grasp the most central aspects of human life: hope, fear, love, hate, beauty, envy, honor, weakness, striving, suffering, virtue. Between these core passions and scientific theory, there will always be a gap. No system of thought can contain the fullness of human experience.” Do you agree? 

3. How do you think the years Paul spent, tending to patients and training to be a neurosurgeon, affected the outlook he had on his own illness? When Paul wrote that the question he asked himself was not “why me,” but “why not me,” how did that strike you? Could you relate to it?

4. Paul had a strong background in the humanities, and read widely throughout his life. Only after getting a Master’s in English Literature did he decide that medicine was the right path for him. Do you think this made him a better doctor? A different kind of doctor? If so, how? How has reading influenced your life? 

5. What did you think of Paul and Lucy’s decision to have a child, in the face of his illness? When Lucy asked him if he worried that having a child would make his death more painful, and Paul responded, “Wouldn’t it be great if it did,” how did that strike you? Do you agree that life should not be about avoiding suffering, but about creating meaning?

6. Were there passages or sentences that struck you as particularly profound or moving?

7. Given that Paul died before the book was finished, what are some of the questions you would have wanted to ask him if he were still here today? 

8. Paul was determined to face death with integrity, and through his book, demystify it for people. Do you think he succeeded? 

9. In Lucy’s epilogue, she writes that “what happened to Paul was tragic, but he was not a tragedy.” Did you come away feeling the same way?

10.  How did this book impact your thoughts about medical care? The patient-physician relationship? End of life care?  

11. Is this a book you will continue thinking about, now that you are done? Do you find it having an impact on the way you go about your days?

12. Lucy also writes that, in some ways, Paul’s illness brought them closer – that she FELL feel even more deeply in love with the “beautiful , focused man” he became in the last year of his life. Did you find yourself seeing how that could happen?