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The Year of Pleasures Reader’s Guide

By Elizabeth Berg

The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg


Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Betta’s departure from Boston at the beginning of the book is abrupt, even rushed. Is her choice to move so quickly a good one? What is she running away from, and what is she running toward?

2. In the early pages of the book, while driving to the Midwest with all of her belongings in tow, Betta finds an unexpected freedom and relaxation. What does moving, or even driving, have to do with this release Betta feels?

3. Moving to a new place fulfills a promise Betta had made to John, but she makes the move alone. Discuss the ways that Betta finds
strength and independence in her new life. In the moments when that strength falters, how does she cope?

4. Do you think Betta has made a mistake in forsaking her friends for the intensity of a lifetime with John? How do you balance the intimacy of a partner and children with female friends in your own life?

5. John and Betta never had children. Do you think the intense closeness they shared would have been diminished or improved if they had been able to have children? Would Betta have been as close to John if she had to find a place in her life for children? And would her grief have been helped if she had had someone else to share her loss with?

6. Betta hopes to love John and to be loved by him after his death. Does she succeed? Do you think love can transcend death?

7. Betta refers to a belief that one can be closer to someone after death than before. What does she mean when she says this? Have
you experienced this in your own life?

8. Do you agree with the philosopher Kierkegaard’s suggestion that no matter how many years have passed, when good friends meet
again, they will simply pick up where they left off? How does this play out in the novel? In your own life?

9. Is Betta’s relationship with Tom doomed from the start? Why or why not?

10. Why do Betta and Matthew become friends? Do they want the same things from the friendship? Do you agree with the decision Betta makes, to rent the room in his apartment?

11. Betta says there are times when food is not just food. She uses food to heal, to comfort, and to seduce. Are there other ways in which food is important in this novel? In your own life, what roles do food and cooking play?

12. Finding joy in small things is important to Betta, and she uses joy as a vehicle for change. Do you agree with her philosophy? If so,
what small things bring you great happiness? If not, why not?

13. What does Betta’s store symbolize? How does opening the store change her personality and emotions? How important is taking
chances when creating a new life? Have you ever undertaken a similar project?

14. A major theme of the novel is the transformation of tragedy into joy. Could Betta have found this particular kind of joy without the tragedy of losing John? How does the relationship between tragedy and joy operate, in both the book and your own life?

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